Mythology: True Blood vs. Twilight
By Martin Felipe
July 14, 2010
For the first time in their short histories, the two big vampire franchises of the moment have concurrent new product, the third season of True Blood, and the latest Twilight film, Eclipse. While neither enjoy any sort of critical acclaim, both are pop culture phenomena in their own right. True Blood has been labeled HBO’s new Sopranos, for the ratings if not for the quality, and, by now, the Twilight films’ box office success is legendary.
Thing is, despite its weaknesses, as I’ve said before, I kinda dig True Blood. It’s lurid, kitschy, over-the-top, offensive, and even a bit dull, but I still find things to like. Twilight, on the other hand, is more than just a bit dull - it bores me beyond belief. I started thinking about why this would be. Why would I forgive the sins of one vamp hit, yet condemn the other?
I’ve also gone on record as saying that the best vampire saga of the recent mythology show era is Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and, what the hell, I’ll throw Angel’s series in there too as an addendum). What do Buffy and True Blood have that Twilight lacks? Vampire mythologies tend to vary from story to story, and Twilight’s vision of vamp society and vamp rules is certainly no better or worse than any others. The sparkling-in-the-sun thing tends to get a lot of derision, but it doesn’t bother me.
No, the problem with Twilight goes beyond mythology and dips right into character, the most important thing in any story, even those about the undead. All three tales, Buffy, True Blood and Twilight, tell of forbidden romance between human and vampire. And here’s the key, Buffy and True Blood show us why it’s forbidden, Twilight only tells us.
Now, I have yet to see Eclipse. By all reports, Edward gets pretty badass in it. Up to then, however, all he does is talk a big talk. Or should I say, whine a big whine. The archetype of the good vampire does require a ton of brooding, but we see why Angel and Bill brood. They’re pretty savage killers, and they don’t particularly like that aspect of their personalities. They’ve earned the right to whine. Edward, on the other hand, is just a bunch of “blah blah blah, I’m so dangerous, blah blah blah, I might hurt you,” and so on. Dude, put your money where your mouth is.
It all goes back to the age-old rule of visual storytelling, show don’t tell. I hate to get into such clichéd territory, but this is a cliché for a reason. Angel, even before we discover he’s also Angelus, joins Buffy on her demon ass kicking missions. Bill, right from the start, gets all violent to save Sookie’s life, and in Bon Temps, violent is Violent with a capital V. In Twilight, Edward talks a big talk, but all we see vamps do is threaten, fly, play baseball, and, yes, sparkle. The only real violence we see is against other vamps, and even that violence is more implied than anything else. It’s all portent with little to no payoff. If I’m to take Edward’s danger to Bella seriously, I’m gonna need more than just him claiming that there’s a danger.
Now, as I said, I have heard that we see a little more of Edward’s dark side in Eclipse. Perhaps I should hold off until I’ve seen it to judge, but I won’t. If he is a danger in the third movie, why do we have to wait until the third movie to see this? By this point in the saga, Edward’s about as unthreatening a vampire this side of Sesame Street’s The Count. It’s a band-aid fix to an intrinsic flaw in the series.
Another storytelling cliché is the three-act structure. Showing Edward’s violence so deep into the tale isn’t character development. It’s an afterthought. We need to see how dangerous he is right from the start if we’re supposed to believe he poses any threat to Bella’s life. Otherwise, he comes across as a self-obsessed jerk, wanting to be big and bad, but really just toying with her emotions.
Clearly there’s something I’m missing. Despite True Blood and Buffy’s success, Twilight is a phenomenon in a class of its own. It would be easy for me to dismiss it as a silly obsession for teen girls, but not only is that condescending, it really doesn’t address the issue. Vamp/human love is a recurring theme in genre storytelling. Twilight is really nothing new in this respect. However, as popular as this theme is, none have reached the level of Twilight in the zeitgeist. The most popular of the vamp love stories is also the most safe. And this seems to me to contradict the entire notion of the forbidden love. I don’t have an answer, so I’ll just go watch some Buffy instead.