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postmortems

True Blood Showrunner Brian Buckner: ‘I’m Sort of Defiantly Proud of What We Did’

"TV shows are hard" is how True Blood showrunner Brian Buckner begins his explanation of the difficulties inherent in writing a series finale, and from the sound of it, that's an understatement. Could there have been a more complicated and thankless task than concluding a show like True Blood, with its wildly disparate story lines, characters, and tones, not to mention its sliiightly passionate fanbase? And that's to say nothing of the undeserved backlash it's had to deal with these last few seasons. So if Buckner sounds a bit beleaguered the morning after his divisive series finale, "Thank You," closed the coffin on a seven-year legacy, it's for pretty good reason. "I've done a little bit of reading today."

In addition to explaining that actor scheduling prevented certain characters from sharing screentime (think Eric and Pam's often-isolated scenes from the rest of the show) to the intentionally unimportant identity of Sookie's husband ("This [mystery] is not on the level of The Sopranos finale"), Buckner also brought clarity to his rationale behind certain other creative decisions. For example, I asked whether he saw a conflict in presenting vampirism as a gay allegory only to then have the romantic lead opt to commit suicide rather than live as one, and he had this to say:

"I've done some thinking about this one. What I will say to that is yes, True Blood is an allegory about otherness, but when you read a novel that is allegorical, it's usually about one character. To maintain allegorical correctness across the board with 20 characters is sometimes impossible. You have to pick a center. So, for us in this story line, I think it's obvious from the seven years that Sookie and Bill were not meant to be [in] true love forever. So now you've got to pick whose otherness you're going to protect. I think the allegory to be protected was Sookie's. So we chose to call her the center of our story. We've got a show that was based on The Sookie Stackhouse Novels, and her otherness and her specialness was the thing that we chose to protect. So that's how I reconcile it. You can't have a show without a center, and the allegory can spread out in all directions from there. But I don't think it's a show where Bill is No. 1 on the call sheet. And I don't think it's a show where Eric is No. 1 on the call sheet. So that's how I would defend it."

When asked whether Bill's ultimate suicide made him heroic or (in my admittedly wishful-thinking theory) subversively villainous, Buckner held strong on that front as well:

"What Bill came around to was similar to what Godric came around to, which is that a human life is extraordinary, too. And we kept hitting this point through different characters' mouths. Gran told Sookie in a flashback that you can have any kind of life you want, but these are the things that matter. That having children and the natural cycle of life is beautiful in and of itself, and that death gives life meaning.

"Here's what I think the confusion is: Sookie has been asking for a normal life. To be normal. She has felt conflicted, but also empowered, with her power. So I don't think Bill was being a crap-weasel for suggesting to Sookie, 'Use your light.' I don't think it was weak, I don't think it was, If I can't have you, no vampire can have you. I don't think it was any of those things. I do believe it was heroic. So that's the thinking. So, yes, I think he was meant to be heroic, and I am not confused by it, but he is certainly made more complex, and it is ultimately Sookie's story, not a Bill story."

In the end, it all came back to how difficult it was to navigate all these narratives while keeping an already divided fanbase happy, a sprawling cast engaged, and HBO executives appeased, and on that front, Buckner remains rightfully proud of his landing: 

"It might be fun to do the last season over again. But you make choices. I'm sure it could be told a different way. But we can't break stories from fear of how people are going to be disappointed. And the show had to end somehow. So I'm sort of defiantly proud of what we did, with the understanding that you can't please everyone. You just can't."

Photo: null/John P Johnson