'True Blood' postmortem: Inside Sookie's 'May Be the Last Time' choice

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Image Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO

This post contains plot details of “May Be the Last Time,” the True Blood episode that aired on Aug. 3. Read our full recap here.

The writer of Sunday’s installment of True Blood, Craig Chester, took EW inside the big Sookie and Bill reunion, Arlene’s sexy, emotional scenes with Keith, the joys of researching Violet’s sex dungeon, and the moment he and showrunner Brian Buckner (aka Bucky) first felt like the series was truly coming to an end.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Fans are going to be talking about Sookie and Bill having sex. She finally seems to accept that he’s dying and realizes she wants to stay with him until the end. That was obviously written to be very reminiscent of their first time together in season 1.
CRAIG CHESTER: A lot of discussion went into that scene, which I think some people have been waiting for for a very long time and others have maybe not. [Laughs] We did shoot, shot-for-shot, Sookie running to Bill’s house in a white dress, so it is literally a callback to episode six of season 1. But one of the things that we talked about is that these are two very different people now that are reconnecting, who obviously have this deep love for each other. It’s loaded with this history between them. That was something that Anna [Paquin] and Stephen [Moyer] beautifully conveyed, having played these characters for so long and knowing exactly where they’re at as they rekindle their feelings for each other.

When this season started, I remember thinking there was no way the show could get me to like Bill again and to root for him and Sookie. But it happened. Was that response something the writers worried about coming into this year?
We had a lot of discussions in the writers’ room about first love, and what it means to have a connection with someone that’s maybe not ideal in every way. I think a lot of people can relate to having that kind of intense connection with one other person that has its ups and downs. I think the fact that Bill is dying is the thing that allows Sookie to let go of whatever resentments that she might have had or accumulated over the years. When someone’s dying, it’s like all of the stuff that happened between you goes out the window. Everything suddenly becomes very real and very urgent. And I think that Bill is actually genuinely sorry for what he’s done to her. That transformation in him—I’m glad you said it feels organic—feels like the right thing for him.

In a way, it’s like his character hit bottom coming into this season. One of the reasons we’ve had all these flashbacks to his human life is that he’s reflecting on what that means: Who was he before he was turned into a vampire against his will and set off on this course in his undeath? He lost his family, he lost everything that he knew and loved. His feelings for Sookie, I think, are really real. I don’t think he intended for them to be real, but he did fall in love with her. When we were shooting episode 5 this season, which I also wrote, there was a scene on the porch where Anna and Stephen have a goodnight hug. I remember watching them shoot that scene and talking to Howie Deutch, who directed that episode, and going, “There is something undeniable about these actors’ chemistry.” It is one of the reasons why this show took off. And then they got married in real life, so it’s real. So it makes sense that of course, this was going to, in a very full circle way, go back to how it all began, which is this remarkable dynamic between these two characters and these two actors.

We still have three episodes left of the series. Do Bill and Sookie get time to enjoy this?
I think a lot of fans will watch the end of this episode and have expectations of where it’s going. There are a lot of people who want Bill and Sookie to wind up together, and there are people who don’t. I think the answer to your question is it’s very complex. One of the things we’re not shying away from is the complexity of that relationship. That’s all I’m gonna say.

The return of Niall [played by Rutger Hauer] came at a nice time.
We knew we wanted to bring Niall back at some point. We talked a lot about the first two seasons when we were starting this season, about going back to the more character-driven elements of the show that made us and fans love it. In the beginning of the series, Sookie had Gran to bounce things off of. There’s been an absence in her life of a sounding board, and Niall became that in this episode. He gives her a little bit of hope and then takes it back with a dose of reality: Magic can’t cure everything. It goes back to that theme: What does it mean to be human?

Seeing Dr. Ludwig [played by Marcia de Rousse] again was awesome.
When we were breaking this episode, I think it was Bucky who thought, “We should bring back Dr. Ludwig.” One of the things we talked about was how to make Sookie more active this season. She was trying to save her friends from the H-vamps at Fangtasia. We’re continuing that pattern of hers: Bill’s sick, and she’s not going to accept it. What can she do to try to help him? Of course, call Dr. Ludwig, who treated Sookie when Sookie was injured by the maenad. She’s such a fascinating character and a fascinating actress.

Let’s move on to Violet taking Wade and Adilyn to her sex dungeon.
That was so much fun to write, to describe.

I was going to ask, did you write specific things you wanted in the room, or did you let the props department handle all that?
I got pretty specific. I did my own research online. But this is what I love about working on True Blood: What other show can you work on where you have meetings about dildos, and which dildos are better than other dildos? The production team on this show was just top-notch. Suzuki Ingerslev, who’s up for an Emmy, is just a genius. And the prop guys… I would sit down, and I would be presented like 10 pictures of different dildos, and I would have to pick which one I thought looked like something Violet might have versus another. [Laughs] It was quite an education to learn about the history of sex toys. They’ve been around for quite a long time. It says in the script that the first strap-on was created in Zanzibar in the 19th century, which is true. I take pride in the fact that the sex dungeon is historically accurate.

What is Violet’s plan?
This is a 700- or 800-year-old vampire who finds her man cheating on her with a very young baby vampire. Violet is, when push comes to shove, a product of her medieval times. I think that’s one of the things that her dungeon and house reflects. She definitely is playing the long game here. But I probably shouldn’t say what that is. The thing that’s great as you watch the next three episodes is there’s so many surprises. One of things we worked really hard at was to not make it predictable.

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Image Credit: John P. Johnson/HBO

The Arlene and Keith scenes were arguably my favorite of the episode. I totally thought her sex dream was real, which is rare for the show. And then having Keith just be happy to dance with her in real life was so sweet. At this point in the season, fans really need that kind of moment.
It’s what Arlene really needs. Arlene has been through a lot this season, a lot in her life. It was really important to us that Keith [played by Riley Smith] be a good guy. It was also really important to us that Keith be extremely hot, which he is. He’s also a brilliant actor. Riley and Carrie [Preston] have such great chemistry. Watching the two of them together was just like gorging on a chocolate sundae. We’ve had so many sex dreams at this point in the series, I think it was a conscious decision to make it seem extremely real. So when she does wake up out of it, it’s a little bit of a jarring exit from the scene. We want to keep people guessing. I was so happy that I got to write this episode because Arlene, of everyone on the show, started off as someone who was so against vampires and humans being together. To have her finally be slow-dancing, and kissing, and maybe winding up with a vampire is such a great arc for her character.

I also loved the scene of Arlene talking to Sam about whether he should leave Bon Temps. There’s a new calm about Arlene.
What’s happening with all these characters is they’re growing up, as they should be. When the show started, everyone was very innocent. It was a whole world that was yet to be explored. And now it’s sorta like the characters are asking themselves these big questions of, “What do I really want?” Sam’s asking it, and so is Arlene. There’s a history now between all these people, and it’s something the writers talked about: We want to give people the feeling that these people are family. That’s why it’s a dilemma for Sam: Sam has a new family with Nicole and their unborn child, and yet he’s got his family of friends, which is just as legitimate of a family to him. That was the last scene that Sam Trammell shot in his old bar. So it was a very emotional scene for him. As we would go through the season shooting, there would be a lot of these “last”s for the actors, and you can feel it. What Sam Trammell’s feeling about shooting his last scene in that set is going into what he’s saying as Sam Merlotte, this nostalgia. It was a very meaningful scene for both Sam Trammell and Sam Merlotte.

The scene where Andy broke down by the peaceful lake was also really moving.
When Bucky and I saw that scene for the first time edited, Bucky turned to me and said, “You know, for the first time in the series, I got the feeling that it’s ending.” There was something about that scene that hit both of us in a way that this is ending. Arlene and Andy started this series off as comic relief. And what I loved about writing this episode is it’s the episode where they both kind of come full circle as fully fleshed-out three-dimensional human beings. Arlene giving in to her loneliness and keying into Keith’s, and her crying and slow-dancing—we were all bawling on the set when she did that. Working with Carrie Preston is like watching a brilliant athlete at the top of her game—the way she goes from comedy to drama. The same with Chris Bauer.

I also wrote the proposal scene for Andy and Holly in episode 5. For me, writing the scene for him at the lake house is an extension of that. It’s very important for us that you believe them as a couple. The love they have for each other is so grounded and so real. I said to Bucky, “I feel like all Andy’s been doing this season is running around looking for people. At first it was Holly, now it’s his daughter. I feel like if it were me, I’d hit a wall at some point.” Bucky was like, “That’s what we should do with Andy. Andy should hit a wall.” He’s been this stoic guy for seven years, the sheriff always trying to help everybody else. But what about Andy? It was really time for him to have a moment where we get to see that he’s just a person. And that’s what Holly actually says to him when he breaks down. It gets back into that theme again: What does it mean to be human?

When we shot that scene, everybody was so torn up watching Chris, because it’s Andy. Andy’s crying. Oh my god, it’s really bad if Andy’s crying. And her reaction to that is our reaction to that—the first time you see your man cry, it’s a big deal. That’s one of my favorite scenes in this season because it’s very real. It’s what we’re going for this season—we’re getting into the characters. There’s a lot of love for these characters, and it’s really important that that come across because we’re saying goodbye to them. I think that’s why Bucky said, “I feel like that’s the first time I realized this show is ending.”

Moving on to Sarah, tell me about her breakdown, where she was hallucinating seeing Jason, the guru, the severed head of Gov. Burrell, and of course, fan favorite Steve Newlin. In the end, as Eric and Mr. Gus close in, she chooses not Christianity or Buddhism, but herself.
You drink her blood and you don’t die—I mean how much of a messiah complex do you need? [Laughs] She is the vampire savior. All of that stuff was so much fun to shoot. It’s so rare to work with a director like Simon Jayes who’s visually oriented and is also just so great with actors. We rehearsed that scene the night before with the actors and a camera—so the sequence was highly choreographed. When the camera would move, the actors would move to a different position to get there in time for their line. It was really a fun, cool way to shoot that scene. When I would talk to Anna Camp, I was like, “This is your Blue Jasmine moment.” She was like, “Okay, I got it. I got it.” This woman is being pursued by the Yakuza and Pam and Eric. She’s been up for days. It makes sense that she would go to the place where she felt happiest, which is when she was a star at the Fellowship of the Sun retreat with Steve. Anna is such a fun person to work with.

I’m glad Mr. Gus kept his word and waited for Eric and Pam to go corner Sarah.
I think Mr. Gus and Eric are very similar: They’re both capitalists and self-serving, but they both have this sense of honor. The scene in the bedroom where Mr. Gus proposes that they partner up, you see that these are two men that are good at negotiating and are businessmen—they both have something that the other one needs.

Let’s talk about Jason’s reaction to Hoyt’s girlfriend, Brigette. At first, I was mad at him, because I want Jason to only be thinking about Jessica. But then I’m thinking 1.) Brigette looks like Crystal, so we know Jason is attracted to that type. And 2.) He had to show interest in Brigette so we could give him credit for resisting it.
It goes back to what I was saying about all these characters growing up and trying to make different choices—or if they make the same choice, to try to do it in a more adult way. I think with Brigette, it’s like poor Jason: Here’s Hoyt, and yet again, he’s with this extremely hot woman who Jason’s extremely attracted to, and he’s doing his best to avoid repeating history. A lot of writers are very hung up on their dialogue—they love it, they’re proud of it. Working with Ryan [Kwanten], I so didn’t care about my dialogue. He’s such a brilliant nonverbal actor—his facial reactions to things, the way he plays subtext in a scene—I love to watch what he does in between the lines of dialogue. That’s where Jason lives, in a way. [Laughs] I can’t say enough good things about Ryan Kwanten.

Have we seen the last of Hoyt and Brigette?
Bringing Hoyt back was a very big deal. If they stay, how long they stay—I’ll let people guess. Again, there’s so many surprises coming in the next three episodes that you would probably never guess, and we all worked very hard to make it that way.

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