In this week's premiere beginning True Blood's final season, a monstrous threat has descended on Bon Temps during its greatest moment of unity—and by sunrise after this first night of zombie vampire attacks, almost everything healed and soothed by last year's time jump has been undone, pretty brutally. Spoilers ahead.
One of those moments of reversed mercy from the finale—a heartbreaking reconciliation between vampire Tara Thornton and her crazy, shitty mother Lettie Mae—was positioned to be so awe-inspiringly graceful and sweet that most viewers dismissed it out of hand: There had to be an agenda, Lettie Mae was luring Tara into a murder of some kind, she was poisoning her vampire daughter with infected blood, she was suicide bombing in some elaborate way or another.
The largeness of the grace in that moment, it seemed to me and still does, was so unfamiliar that for a lot of people it just didn't fit into their heads. Too big, too kind, too twisty for a world built out of constant betrayal, idiotic and hypocritical Christian strawmen, country bumpkin ugliness and sexual brutality. And the reactions and questions and doubts continued after this week's premiere, when Tara seemed (off-screen) to die for the second and last time.
But the Lettie Mae shocker last year, in which she bared her body to feed her vampire daughter in recompense for a lifetime of neglect, wasn't the first time the show's ambitions outpaced its remit. Sometimes the show's more smarty-pants moves are either unearned, unintentionally offensive, or both—and yes, often they are ignored outright by the show's diverse audience. But by providing closure for the character in last season's finale, the show may have earned the right to make Tara its first big death of the year. (Or maybe they did this just by making her a huge ass-ache in the first place.)
Because this all implies that Tara ever had a plan, or a point, beyond continual reinvention as a plot device. In a show famous for bending character in service of plot to a heretofore unknown degree, Tara always made for the biggest casualty of each season's themes. Whether it's the season she spent as the pathetic foster daughter of an orgy-causing goddess or her audience-decimating stretch as a hilarious sex slave to a hilarious white vampire psycho, by the end of season four Tara's first death—leaping in front of protagonist Sookie Stackhouse to take a bullet, of course—produced mostly shrugs in the show's audience: There was nothing left to do to her.
When Tara came back as a vampire in the next premiere, she seemed to have a new lease on life. It was a powerful reboot... That quickly devolved into repetitive arch bitchiness (and the snide racism of the show's particular South Park Republican sort), as she became the sidekick of a sidekick and the side-piece to one of the show's most enduring relationships. Already overused—the campy, Dowager Countess of True Blood—Pam didn't need any help being annoying, but at least it gave them both something to do. For a while.
Tracing the arc of Tara's abandonment issues is easy—abuse from her drunk, creepy mother leads her to the aforementioned social worker/cult leader Maryann, which after several seasons gets us to a sexual relationship with her own "vampire mother," and finally a nonsexual but very physical, intimate reconnection with her birth mother—and it's a fine time to let her go. She went from being one of my favorite characters to being a real drag by season three, to something much like a viable presence in the last year or so, though, so I may be biased. (Or, just maybe, overthinking it.)
Either way, I can't help wondering whether that sigh of relief heard across the country Sunday night—for her, and for us all—wasn't the same sound you'd have heard in the writer's room the day they decided she was done for. When you think about Tara Thornton, what do you think about her? She's been so many people. Any favorite memories or quotes or gifs to share? Do you think this off-screen death is typical of the show's privileges, or is there something deeper going on? And do you think it bodes well for the season?
[Images via HBO]