Executive Producer Angela Robinson Talks Tara, Gay Relationships on “True Blood”

Angela Robinson is a treasure to anyone who likes media for, about, and by lesbians. She wrote and produced our beloved The L Word, gave us Lucy Diamond and D.E.B.S., and created Girltrash!, still my favorite web series of all time. She is now an executive producer on True Blood and wrote this season’s pilot episode, so we brought her our questions about the fate of Tara and the Jessilyn chemistry.

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AfterEllen.com: So I wanted to talk to you mostly about True Blood, because I finished watching and recapping last week’s episode and I had a lot of questions. So I was like, “Why don’t I just ask those questions to the woman who wrote the episode?”

Angela Robinson: Sure!

AE: So the first question is—and you can be honest because it’s just between you and me and the internet—is Tara really dead?

AR: She is really dead, yes. She had the true death.

AE: WHY?

(laughter)

AE: OK, a better way to phrase that is: In the writers’ room was the decision, “We need to kill someone to show that the stakes are really high going into the last season” or “We need to kill off Tara just because her time has come?”

AR: In the writers’ room we had a lot of discussion about the final season and how to bring the show to an end. It’s the seventh year of this incredible TV show and we wanted, collectively, to reign in the show a little bit and bring it back close to season one in its intimacy. [And we wanted] to focus more on the characters and their relationships to each other. As the seasons went on there were a lot of werewolf storylines and fairies, and it took us all sorts of places, which was really exciting. But for the final season we wanted to bring it back to Bon Temps and tell stories about the town and about Sookie’s relationship to the town. And this put Sookie back in the forefront of the story. And when there’s so much death that happens all the time in the series, we wanted to dramatically figure out a way where death mattered. At the end of last season, we were contemplating “life matters.”

AE: Yeah, that was my favorite episode.

AR: There’s been so much death on the show that we felt that the stakes of anybody dying were getting lost, like it wasn’t feeling meaningful anymore. So we focused on Terry’s death and the idea that life mattered, and that each individual life matters. So in a simplistic way [we wanted] to raise the stakes but it wasn’t really about raising the stakes. It was about wanting to bring home the impact, something that would impact the characters, to say that this is real, and that what’s happening in this final season is going to affect people. And we needed it to affect all of our characters. Tara had always been the closest to Sookie and then she’s become a vampire…but it’s not like we wanted to kill Tara. Nobody wanted to kill Tara, we just felt that there wasn’t anybody else who would impact the story in a way where the characters could even feel anything. Because there’s been so much death. But Tara’s death affects Sookie and Jason and Sam and Pam and Eric, so in our discussions, we felt that in order to tell the story we wanted to tell the final season we needed a character that would refocus the stakes and would matter. And if we killed a character who wasn’t as integral to the show, it just wouldn’t matter. Like, you wouldn’t feel anything, but also it wouldn’t motivate our other characters to act the way we needed them too. It was actually because she’s so integral to the show that we made the choice to kill her.

AE: Well, I understand that choice and I’ve seen that—not to minimize it—but that trick of killing a character to change the dynamic and change the story but it seemed like everyone’s reactions to her death were sort of numbed out. Lafayette had this whole thing about “God, at this point I don’t have anything left to feel.” And the fact that it happened off-screen was also just confusing for people who were like, “Is she really dead?”

AR: I understand. Those were all choices we made collectively in the writers’ room because, tonally, the idea for this season was a little darker. Actually, we spent so much time on the values of “life matters” and Terry’s death in the last season, that we decided to play it so it was brutal and like from Sookie’s perspective, because she didn’t experience it. I thought a lot about people who are in war. Because the strange thing about writing for True Blood is it’s this fun show about vampires but you have to make it emotionally true, what the characters are going through. And they’re under attack ALL THE TIME and brutalized. And, in the context of this one really dark night, they all question what to do with your grief. So the characters talk about how they’re not able to feel any more; even Jason articulates, “Why are we going on with our lives?”

On this show, you have to look a lot of different ways at the same subject: death. The show is all about death. So I feel like in essence that was kind of the point, in that it was brutal and unsatisfying and abrupt. But that story is not finished. Inasmuch as we will address the fact that she wasn’t fully mourned later in the season. That’s part of the story. But I am a huge fan of the show and (laughing) I always hate it when writers do that, but it was one of the choices and it was intentional. I understand that people have feelings about it and if I were watching the show I would too. That’s not necessarily a bad thing from our point of view, but I might actually be really pissed off. But for the story of this season we felt it was appropriate.

And just informationally, we did shoot a scene where Pam reacted to Tara dying. She was in Morocco and weeping in a bathroom where she felt it. She was grieving for her. We did write that, but when it was all put together the scene felt weird and out of place because Pam was on the other side of the world, so it didn’t make it into the final cut.

AE: I hope that gets released on DVD because I would love to see that scene.

AR: It’s a brief scene, but there was a lot of discussion about how Pam would feel her death and react to it. Originally there was a scene where she reacted, so when she talks about “Everything I touch dies, everyone I love leaves,” in the draft of the episode she reacted to Tara dying in the bathroom and then later went and played Russian roulette. And the scene with the daughter where she goes and gets information about where Eric is was originally in episode two and was moved up to episode one so that we could accelerate her search storyline.

AE: Well, you know AfterEllen…

AR: Yeah, I read it all the time! You guys are my favorite!

AE: So the people I write for probably have some of the strongest feelings and reactions about Tara’s death and about the gay storylines.

AR: Of course. Even in the writers’ room, I was like “I’m gonna have to answer for this.”

(Laughter)

AE: Well yeah, you’ve always been very outspoken about representation so I know that Tara meant something to you and to all of us, so it’s not just about the story. Also the same day—which is such a double whammy—or the day after the most recent episode aired, the actress who plays Adilyn, Bailey Noble, did an interview where she said that Adilyn was originally written as a lesbian but that was scrapped. And in that episode, she had some very intense chemistry with Deborah Ann Woll. Although I think she could have chemistry with an empty room. So do you want to address that at all?

AR: That’s really interesting. Because I am always looking out for the lesbian fans, because I am one of them. So on the Tara side, I came on in Season 5, but one of the things I really tried to do—I didn’t introduce it but it was important to me—the Tara and Jessica friendship. I would try to highlight it in my episodes and give more time to those relationships, even just the female friendships. In the very early initial talks, there were talks of whether Adilyn might be a lesbian, but we decided to go in a different direction.

AE: I do have to say, and I’m not trying to be adversarial, but I don’t think that the gay relationships have gotten the same treatment as the straight ones on True Blood, which I actually think is really interesting, and maybe a little bit indicative of how times have changed since True Blood started. I know you didn’t come on until season five, but I think the most intense and most romantic and not merely sexual gay relationship that we saw was between Lafayette and Jesus. And that obviously ended very badly. But it’s interesting in a show where the central conceit is a metaphor for the gay rights movement, that the main romantic storylines have always been straight. Do you have any comment or thought about that?

AR: Well I don’t want to move off the Bailey thing quite yet: I just want to say, first of all, vis a vis the Bailey quote, that there were initial talks of Adilyn’s character being a lesbian, but very early on, but we didn’t necessarily follow up on that with story. And the second thing is, it’s really interesting to me, tracking Jessica’s grief over Adilyn and killing the fairy sisters. In some of those story discussions I had with Deborah Ann Woll and Bailey, although it’s not something we’re making overt, I said that there’s a real intensity to their interactions. And in my head, as I wrote it, we’re not playing them as a romance necessarily, but in episode 701, that’s how I viewed it. There’s this really intense connection, and the bloodlust and the pull that Jessica feels, [is because] we’re playing a parallel of Sookie and Bill, of how vampires and fairies are drawn together. So it’s interesting to me that the audience is picking up on a tension that was intentional, although not played as text.

AE: Well, it’s really hot, so it will be maintext for me. I will Rizzoli and Isles this shit until the bitter end. It’s happening for me. I don’t care.

(Laughter)

AR: I thought it was really interesting and wanted to pursue it, but we only have ten episodes. I do think that it’s in there and I’m always trying to insert it—even if I can’t insert it as text, I still like to play that value. One of the first things that Alan Ball told me when I interviewed to write on True Blood was that all vampires are bisexual. And I thought that was one of the most interesting things about the show. So I feel that is present in all the vampires dynamic, all of them. Personally. I don’t know if you asked the other writers that they would say the same thing, but I do.

AE: I’m watching Alan Ball’s earlier show, Six Feet Under, for the first time, and I love and so impressed by that show. It’s amazing how dated it feels; it’s not that old but it feels old now, but since then I can only think of a couple shows that did as good a job of giving their gay storylines real equal treatment. And obviously he’s always sought that out and so have you in your careers.

AR: Yeah. And I personally am very sad…Rutina Wesley is an extraordinary actor and I was really sad about Tara meeting the true death. And the fact that I was so upset about it is why I ultimately felt like it was the right decision for the show. Because I cared, and that’s what we want people to do is care about these characters and what’s happening to them.

AE: I’m really looking forward to seeing how the season wraps up. Obviously the show is ending, but everything you do, lesbians want to watch, so can you tell me about your upcoming projects?

AR: Right now my partner Alex Kondracke and I are writing a pilot about Old Hollywood and the lives of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.

AE: Oh my god, that would be awesome.

AR: That was announced would be in production with Megan Ellison and Annapurna, so that is what I’m working on right now. Which would be super cool.

AE: That is so fantastic. I’ve been reading about Old Hollywood gays recently, and it’s just like: everyone. Every single person was gay, apparently.

AR: Yeah, it was a super queer time.

AE: That is tremendously exciting and I hope it happens for you.

The final season of True Blood airs Sundays on HBO at 9/8 central.

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