'True Blood' postmortem: Inside the twists of 'Karma'

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Image Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO

This post contains plot details of “Karma,” the True Blood episode that aired on July 27. Read our full recap here.

 

The writer/director of Sunday’s installment of True Blood, Angela Robinson, took EW inside the big Sarah Newlin reveal and her personal inspiration for Bill’s legal consultation.

What was the genesis of the idea that Sarah Newlin would be the antidote to Hep-V?
We really wanted to bring Anna Camp back, and Sarah Newlin was still out there. We didn’t really want to create a whole new Big Bad for this season. Instead of having the story spiral out, we wanted to bring it in and center it around Bon Temps and all the characters we already knew and loved. So the idea was to continue her story, and then there’s this really fun development that she hid out at an ashram and decided that she’s gonna be a Buddhist. We were trying to figure out how to follow through on the plot of Eric and Pam searching for Sarah, and then I don’t know who came up with the brilliant idea that Sarah had drunk the antidote and was in fact the antidote—but it came up when we were breaking story in the early part of the season, and everybody loved the idea. How great was Anna Camp in her crazy scene?

Tell me about writing that scene where Sarah explains everything to her sister.
I was talking to Brian Buckner, the showrunner, about how Sarah’s so craven, but that she really believes everything she’s doing. [Laughs] She’s such a narcissist, and she’ll take on any ideology that suits her purposes. So at first, I had to go and talk to my friend who was really into Buddhism and Hinduism. I basically had to go and figure out how to get it right, and then to write the scene, I had to get it wrong because Sarah Newlin would get it wrong. It was hard to write a character who was expounding certain beliefs, but getting them all jumbled into this crazy mish-mash that ultimately was entirely self-serving.

The shot you did of Eric, Pam, and Gus Jr. walking up to the house at the end was just cool.
One of the fun things about writing for True Blood is that you have a lot of freedom, and historically, you get to pick the final song. The episode is usually named for the song after the end credits or for a song in the episode. So, I write the episode, and then I try to extract a theme that the episode is around. Then I rewrite the episode to bring out that theme. The theme of this episode was karma, and the idea that everything that goes around comes around. And it’s largely about waiting—all the characters are waiting in this kind of purgatory to find out information that will determine the rest of their lives. They have a lot of time to sit around and think about what got them here and why they’re here. In my research to try to figure out the Sarah Newlin speech, I started thinking a lot about karma, and then ultimately I just went to iTunes, and there’s like 100 songs with the word “karma” in them. So I just listened to every one, and then I came across this incredible tune by Lady, and I stuck it in, and it worked perfectly.

Moving on to Bill: It’s karma that Sookie’s blood is what brought him to town, and now it’s what could kill him?
Yes. Thinking about the end—all they’ve been through together, all the terrible things he’s done, as well as all the good things he’s done, was it love or was it desire—that’s why this season Bill’s having different flashbacks to the Civil War when he was a human. We’re trying to wrap the whole thing around: What does this all mean? Not to get super metaphysical on you [Laughs], so there is the literal thing that it is Sookie’s blood, but it always comes back to Sookie and her blood.

Bill being Hep-V positive: I was like, why didn’t I think of that when he fed on Sookie? Of course she was infected that night in the woods. Why give Bill the disease?
We really wanted to try to get back to a feeling of the first season, and it’s difficult once you reach the seventh season of a series with this much carnage. We really thought about ways in which you could kind of remember why you love and care about these characters, and to tell the story in such a way that there were still emotional stakes for the audience—even after there’s been so much gore and death. I think the decision to give Bill the disease came out of that. There are real stakes for the characters, and also, there’s a lot of humanity to them. One of the things the show often revolves around is the notion of humanity, and whether vampires have it or not, and how that affects their lives. This idea of having to confront your mortality, again, is really at the heart of this show.

What was the inspiration for the lawyer scene, and the fact that Bill ends up killing her?
In the first draft I wrote of the script, Bill just went and told Sookie and Jessica that he was sick, and it was incredibly undramatic. [Laughs] It was a really, really boring episode of True Blood. And so I recrafted the episode so that Sookie and Jessica found out on their own, so we wouldn’t have to have that boring conversation about something the audience already knew. And then there was the question of Bill being in this purgatory, of what he would do in the meantime. I’m married to my wife, Alex Kondracke, and the idea came from practically, what he would do? And one thing was to get his affairs in order.

We always love it when it’s like the taxi or airline for vampires, the doctor from the first season. In seasons past, there were these fun vampire-only things that happened in the world that were offshoots. Somewhere along the line, we stopped doing those as much, and so I basically pitched, “Wouldn’t it be fun if there was an estate attorney who just dealt with vampires and the kind of minutia?” Because I’d gone through this whole thing of being gay: First we were domestic partners, and then we had a baby, and then I had to adopt him. But then the laws kept changing, and the Supreme Court said gay marriage was okay, and then we married. So over the last couple of years, there was a lot of these meetings with lawyer. The idea of your identity in a relationship to the state constantly changing just worked its way into the scene, which I thought was really interesting. There’s always the gay metaphor with vampires with them coming out, but the idea of whether someone’s alive, or dead, or not alive, and also the idea that all the vampires are dying and whether or not the government would take advantage of all of that property—usually you don’t have time to go into it. But then I just wrote that one scene, and I guess Bill just kills her at the end. [Laughs]

Your frustration coming out?
The pure bureaucracy of it, and also that she was so craven and trying to make a buck off it all. And the waiting room was kind of inspired by Brazil and Beetlejuice, when Bill goes in and there’s all those crazy characters. It was stylistically a little bit different from most episodes of True Blood but not outrageously so. That was really fun to do. Everybody who did the costumes and makeup did such incredible work. If you rest on any frame of that, it’s really fascinating to look in the background.

Violet leading Adilyn and Wade off was a good cliffhanger. She could have killed them there if she wanted to so…
All I can say is Violet’s playing the long game. [Laughs]

So Lettie Mae is really dealing with Tara trying to tell her something and not just high on V?
This episode is a turning point. Part of Lettie Mae’s story, and Tara’s story by extension, is that everybody in town thinks that she’s an addict, but she’s experiencing something in our world that is real to her. It’s almost her paying for her sins, that nobody will believe her because she was such an awful mother to Tara. She’s trying to, for once, honor something and make people believe it. Lafayette sees it, too, and it’s a turning point where he wants to help her.

We need to talk about the opening Eric fight scene. I love that he kept hold of the jaw the entire time.
[Laughs] You know I actually have to give a shout-out to the script coordinator, Amanda Overton. It was her idea for him to keep the jaw and fight with it in his hand.

And it was great to watch him kick ass, then struggle, then kick ass again.
On the day, [Alexander] Skarsgard added in that hilarious beat where he gets tired in the middle of the fight, and he leans over, and more Yakuza come, and he’s like, “Really?” It was a really fun scene to play. My vision of it was that the camera keep circling around Eric and didn’t stop until he heard Pam. That is actually a very technically difficult thing to do, especially with the vamp speed in it. So Hiro Koda, who is the stunt coordinator, designed this incredible fight to be shot in one fluid motion. There’s a few cuts in there, but not really. Then our camera operator and Steadicam guy, they just did this masterful dance. Skarsgard went and learned the fight.

It was also nice to see Sookie and Jason get some time together.
They’re both such incredible actors, and sometimes they don’t get the screen time to just be brother and sister. It sounds funny, but one of the things that all the writers and the actors have really enjoyed this season is that we tried to make time for characters to talk to each other. [Laughs] Ryan [Kwanten] and Anna [Paquin] did such a good job on that scene where they’re just sitting in the back of Alcide’s truck just talking about their relationships and what it means. I found it so poignant that Jason was with Sookie when she got the call, and Anna’s performance was so incredible where she’s just listening on the phone. And I think it’s so heartbreaking again when she goes to deliver the news to Jessica.

I feel guilty that I kind of want Nicole to leave town without Sam. Am I a horrible person?
[Laughs] No. I don’t know. One of the most difficult things about writing and directing for True Blood, and I’m sure acting on it, is that every day is the worst day of your life, as Deborah Ann Woll once put it. It’s a direct pickup [from episode to episode], so everything is incredibly heightened. So how do you make it emotionally track when all of these terrible things are happening all the time, and you’re in jeopardy all the time? What was interesting about Nicole’s character is that she’s still an outsider, and I loved her speech in the previous episode, and the sentiment continues into this episode, which is, “You guys are not normal. The way you respond to things is not normal. The emotions are not normal. This town is f–ked up. This is not okay.” [Laughs] It was just nice to have a character point to it and be like, “What the f–k?”

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