Welcome to the 10th anniversary of the beloved, bonkers delight that is True Blood, which premiered on September 7, 2008. In preparation for this high holiday of bloody madness, I returned to pilot, “Strange Love,” to see what creator Alan Ball birthed into the world a decade ago on HBO. The result? A sense of shock.
While it’s surprising to remember how truly good the vampire drama’s first season is — Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and Bill Compton’s (Stephen Moyer) crackling sexual tension! That serial killer mystery! Gran! — the opening credits sequence proved to be one of the most striking aspects of the entire viewing experience. The True Blood title sequence is fantastic. That gravelly, room-shaking, bayou-flavored song alone! But, it's also so layered, it's practically a short film onto itself.
So, 10 years after we first saw those dazzling opening credits, the obvious foremother to the memorable ones belonging to Sharp Objects, it’s time we investigate what they really mean. Because the “Bad Things”-backed interlude is the key to understanding the Southern gothic tale that is True Blood.
One portion of the minute-and-a-half sequence, which doesn't include anyone from the cast and instead leans hard into the vibes of a deep-South town like the series' fictional Bon Temps, reminds viewers of the deeply religious roots of the parish. We see women feverishly praying, at least three shots at a Black church (the only time you see Black people in the opening, they’re praying), and a white woman being baptized by two men.
Hypothetically, that baptism scene could be the last image of the title sequence. I actually thought it was for some time. It’s big and dramatic and beautiful, which is exactly what True Blood is. But, it’s not. Instead, three quick images flash on the screen: nude bodies having sex, a decaying image of Louisiana (the photo literally bubbles and crinkles like a ruined piece of film), and a woman in a dive bar writhing under a red light.
This switch from salvation to the sexy, sexy void is the theme of both the credits and True Blood itself.
Yes, the fictional town of Ben Temps is steeped in religion. Its denizens are people who would say they love and respect God. Yet, the people of this story cannot avoid their darkest impulses, whether those be sexual or bloody. The aforementioned dive bar is shown repeatedly. A couple makes out on a pool table, two men flirt in a corner, a woman grinds on a man in a sleeveless flannel shirt, and later slinks around on the dance floor. Earlier, we see a black lingerie-clad woman from behind as she poses on a bed. In between all of this, flashes of multiple nude people enjoying group sex in various positions pop on screen so quickly, you might just think you’re imaging them.
Clearly, all of this naked lust is painted as moral bankruptcy in the face of the fervent prayer we were talking about. They’re sins these people are hiding in the shadows, the “bad things” Jace Everett is crooning about. But, despite the fact that there’s a lot of moral failing to go around, the title sequence reminds us how much bigotry and discrimination plays into the True Blood world. Somehow, these individuals think they’re better than other people. To drive that point home, the series shows us an implied flashback to police abusing a Black person during the civil rights movement and a present-day sign that reads “God Hates Fangs.” There is God here, there is sex here, and there is hate. A lot of hate.
That is why one of the most memorable scenes in the entire Jace Everett-tuned opener is the image of a young boy clad in a KKK robe and cone-shaped hat, his massive, unblinking eyes staring back at you. If you really look at the moment, an already horrifying visual becomes even worse — an unseen adult KKK member is holding a baby bottle. A baby is at this event fueled by hate. That is how deep the racism goes here; it’s practically dropped into one’s bloodstream in vitro.
The confusion of all of these competing elements may explain why the only other layer here is death. There is so much death and decay throughout the sequence. Venus fly traps eat frogs. Animals carcasses are mounted, hung, or left on the asphalt. Famously, True Blood makes us watch a battered fox corpse slowly be overtaken by thousands of maggots. There’s even an easy-to-miss scene where a gunshot randomly goes off in a convenience store, suggesting a murder has just taken place.
The entire thing is a bloody, deadly mess, which makes sense. You can’t have conservative religion, raw, insatiable desire, so much discrimination, and now vampires in a powder keg of a town and not expect a few catastrophes. Just ask True Blood.
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