Problematic Pretentious Paternalistic Protectors

As an Australian, I finally got to see “I Smell a Rat” True Blood episode, and exciting thoughts ensued. For those that don’t know which one that is, the finale is Eric locking Sookie in the basement.

Now, do I believe that book Eric would lock Sookie in his basement? HELL. YES. One of the lines he gave from CD was “as long as I can be your friend without jeopardising my own life. Or the future of my Area.” That’s what that means. Eric’s life is in jeopardy, and not surprisingly, he chooses himself. Eric’s brutal honesty means that when he says stuff like that, he would totally follow through with it – hence Sookie’s fear and mistrust of Eric.  You can trust Eric right up to the time you can’t because he’s out for himself.  Perhaps TB has painted itself into a corner with this strategy of having follow through, but that remains to be seen. It hasn’t done CH any favours not to set out the failings of Eric, who is seen by many fans as a virtual saint, who is also honest and yet says such things without apparently meaning them – so there’s some heavy dissonance going on there.

But one of the themes that I loved about that episode was the paternalism.  I thought it was an excellent episode just for that theme alone. For once, I actually empathised with Sookie. I felt her deep frustration. I want her to keep acting like that, personally – and see that attitude more. I want to see her rage about the paternalism she’s constantly subjected to.  It varies in extent from one man to another, but it exists there at all times. It’s something that Sookie does rage about in the books and last night on the show – and I don’t blame her.

Any of the paternalistic protectors, when cast in that role, are absolutely crap at it. Every single one of them are the shittiest bodyguards in the world. If they are her protectors, they should get their arses roundly kicked. Mainly because for a woman with a whole host of men “looking after” her, she sure does get hurt a lot. Rather than give her information to arm herself, they just keep their mouths shut, are not vigilant enough and Sookie pays the price.

In the episode last night, Sookie is virtually patted on the head by Bill and has details kept from her by him – details that if she had them – like the Queen’s plot, she could act differently and know what it is that she’s fighting. Bill has done this to her before as well – making sure to keep her in the dark about stuff she ‘doesn’t need to know’, and then dropping the ball. How differently would Sookie have reacted if she’d been informed about Lorena, instead of Bill trying to hide it in Season 2? And then Bill drops the ball – as he always does – in protecting her from Lorena in Godric’s nest.

My lovely husband pointed out that this is an ego building exercise for Bill, and a nice bit of species contempt – keeping information from Sookie and painting himself as her Protector.

I personally, have been loving the dynamic between Bill and Jessica. In the last couple of episodes, Bill and Jessica have really been going gangbusters. He’s been teaching her how to fight, how to feed, how to act. I’ve been adoring it – and it’s just beautiful – particularly that scene where she cries and he holds her and lets her know that he can’t protect her – that he’s not powerful enough. I really felt sorry for Bill in that scene, because he is the ultimate rock and a hard place guy – the Queen and Eric and Russell – all breathing down his neck. If only Bill would have the same damn amount of respect for Sookie that he has for Jessica. And therein lies the clever contrast.

It could be argued that Sookie is “too stupid” to be told important facts about her own life. Sure. Jessica is a fucking mental giant? I don’t think so. Jessica accidentally killed people herself, and was all over the place. She’s a seventeen year old girl, with not nearly as many bits of knowledge as Sookie. No, the real issue is control and contempt, and how Bill likes to see himself reflected in Sookie.

Bill’s real opinion of Sookie is that he doesn’t really love her as herself – and he’s not interested in building her up so that he can leave her to defend herself. Bill wants Sookie to rely on him and only him. By painting himself as the protector – who certainly fails quite spectacularly in that he attacked her himself – let alone what it is he’s trying to protect her from, like say Eric or Russell. If Sookie leaves her protector, she’s fucked. In order for Sookie to “need” him, all he has to do is leave her alone to get hurt and flounder, and his biggest task is doing absolutely nothing.

In contrast, Bill sees Jessica as an asset – one that he can build up into being his back up and his helpmeet, like Pam is to Eric. Sookie is a mere human, who can’t really do much more than be a feed or fuck, as far as Bill is concerned. Sookie will soon die, or not be his concern, and so who cares if she stays as she is – helpless and a victim. Jessica, however, will be with Bill for far longer. She needs to defend herself and defend Bill. He nurtures her like a father nurtures a child, not to do only as she’s told, but more importantly to think and do for herself.  But in the paternalistic relationship with Sookie, he shelters her, while not actually sheltering her.

Bill protects Sookie while he’s there, but he’s not always there. He says in his own words that he is inadequate to protect Jessica – and she doesn’t have half as many people after her as Sookie does. As far as I’m concerned, if Bill is going to keep things from Sookie, shelter her and lie to her, he better damn well have his shit together. But he doesn’t. Bill is a fucking consistent failure for all of his flowery words about wanting to keep her safe. Bill plain old doesn’t respect Sookie enough to tell her the truth, which is great, because he’s also fucking her.

Of course, Eric is only marginally better. Marginally. Mainly because he doesn’t profess to be Sookie’s protector. But, I wanted to kick his arse around the block tonight that he didn’t tell her – Pam and her “vampire emergency” which wasn’t an actually an immediate stunning new emergency – or not. Yeah, I get that Russell is going to try to kill them soon, but seriously, Pam has to barge in right then? She’ll wait 2 seconds, but she won’t wait 8! But Eric doesn’t get a free pass on not telling Sookie what’s going on, even though it’s all about to be brought down on her head.

Sookie asked him straight out what Bill was lying to her about, and Eric didn’t tell her. Since Eric must know it’s all going to go down, the least he could have done is told her what questions to ask, but he’s a bit of a callous bastard and a coward about that.  Eric would rather leave it to Bill, and it doesn’t serve Eric’s purpose to have Miss Stackhouse angry up the blood. After all, what sensible person would trust Eric with anything after he revealed that the man who’s been fucking her is a dirty rat? Sookie would in all probability move states away from Eric, and that doesn’t really serve his purpose.

Eric only has himself to blame for it for being a twisty, manipulative bastard, so I don’t feel sorry for him. Awww – poor Eric used Sookie one too many times and openly tricked her and now she doesn’t trust him – cry me a fucking river. It’s not Eric that will pay the price for that, though. It’s gonna be Sookie. She’ll pay the price for being lied to by Bill, and for Eric knowing the plot and doing just not enough about it. Honestly, it just makes me want to punch them in the face, or failing that, shoop them into something emasculating.

Eric’s not about to put himself in the role of protector, and considering the spectacularly crap job he did in Dallas – basement almost rape and Lorena – then that’s a good thing for Sookie. I’m sure that many excuses can be made for Eric, but he does no better job than Bill at the whole protector thing – he’ll help, if he’s there, but other than that, it’s hit and miss.

No, where Eric really shines is that he doesn’t, in fact, treat her as stupid. I’m not saying he hands it to her on a platter – and that would be antithetical. Eric shines because he makes Sookie use her own brain – not his. Unfortunately, he waits way too long to do that, but he does give her the edge of the conundrum to work out by herself.  That doesn’t make him a saint, or a protector, but somebody interested in an intelligent asset.

Eric treats Sookie like he treats Pam, and like Bill treats Jessica. He doesn’t make life easy for her, he doesn’t hand her stuff on a plate with “Look at how Bill tricked you” – he expects her to work it out for herself. But nor does he assume the rather condescending Bill attitude of “What you don’t know won’t hurt me“. Eric actually thinks she is worthy of the truth – if she can work it out herself – which is a skill that will serve both of them later.  To Eric, she is more than a feed and a fuck, and like Pam, is an asset to be nurtured, so that she may serve him better. I’m not foolish enough to think it’s romantic love for her – but Eric sure doesn’t disrespect her like Bill does.

Of course, the relationship is the same in the books. Bill continually tells Sookie that he will keep her safe, and then fails to actually do so. He professes his love, can’t live without her, blah, blah, blah. For a woman with a vampire protector hundreds of times stronger than her, she sure does take a lot of beatings from humans and weres.  So Bill is giant fucking fail on that.

Eric is no better, of course. If he had promised her protection, he fails in a spectacular way. Bubba, for example, is the shittiest bodyguard in the world. He comes and goes at his own will, without concern to telling Sookie his plans. That’s no kind of bodyguard. Sookie was staked in the same room as Eric, and he couldn’t get to her side faster than Tara, which makes him truly craptacular in the bodyguard business. You would fire a bodyguard who never actually did his job – you wouldn’t give him a glowing reference such as “Eric Northman didn’t save me from a staking and a raping” because frankly, Eric would be laughed out of the bodyguard business for being spectacular fail.

No, who is good, for protection which is actual protection are the two “ams” – Pam and Sam. Pam serves to give information to Sookie – real information, and pushes Eric to do so too. Sam as well, gives Sookie real information. Now, Sookie goes off and does things, but when it comes to protection that actually works, the “ams” rock out with their sock out.

Even when she’s not actually there for Sookie, in DITF she gives her a knife and tells her what she needs to do – and like an intelligent asset, Sookie does it. Pam actually does her the biggest service – not keeping her in the dark and making out like she can handle it, when she can’t, and letting Sookie get hurt in the process of not coping; but by actually giving her information that will serve her well in dangerous situations. If there was a protector who actually gets the job done, it’s Pam.

Sam too, gives Sookie information while taking care of her.  He doesn’t expect her to do all, but he’s a little more on the paternalistic side. Unfortunately for Sookie, the two “ams” don’t serve that purpose in the show (yet/maybe will soon), and we’re left with the rather more paternalistic style of Eric and Bill – which is, when it comes down to it, sadly fucking lacking and involves more pain.

Both of them had no problem with putting Sookie in danger, or with Sookie being in danger. Bill doesn’t actually warn Sookie about going to Fangtasia, and once she’s there, Eric gets his hooks into her, with nary a word from Bill. Since Bill promised to keep her safe and in the books actually lets Eric know there’ll be a raid, then that makes Bill a fucking failure of the first order, same as he is on the show.

Eric is himself, in the books, only marginally better than Bill, as he never promised to be her protector.  So he threatens her and monsters her just like TB Eric and  wouldn’t have taken “No thank you” as an answer. Eric wouldn’t have taken a break up with Bill as an answer either.  Bill must have known this – and yet he doesn’t tell Sookie until after it’s all done, because he’s too damn concerned with keeping it from her so it won’t make her run from him.

On the show, Nan says that the interconnectivity between selling V, the Magister and Sophie Anne is Eric. Never a truer word spoken. The man is King of the Shitstorm Sweepstakes. If he’d lied to Sookie about what he could do to protect her, well that would just be a lie.  Eric errs towards that in the books too. Eric, King of Shitstorm Sweepstakes graces Sookie’s life with Charles Twining, Victor Madden and Longshadow – a long line of assassins that have nothing to do with wanting Sookie’s telepathy, and everything to do with Eric’s personal shitstorm.

What really surprises me about the whole thing is that there is so few – relatively speaking – advocates for more information for Sookie among fans. When it comes to True Blood, it’s all a matter of which suitor – Bill or Eric – they want to see taking on the spectacularly failed role of protector. Which vampire they want to do everything for Sookie. Now, that’s not really on the cards from Eric as he doesn’t really ever step up to the protector plate, but it is for Bill, and fans make out like it should be Eric’s job.

This is the self-same trap that fans have put CH into.  It’s who is best to care for Sookie? The answer is neither of them. They absolutely fucking crap at it – and actually serve to hurt Sookie, not protect her.  The best protector for Sookie is ultimately Sookie. If she has information she can act in her own best interests.  But the reality is that her own best interests are to get the hell away from vampires.  Neither of them are about to allow that. So they err towards a paternalistic style. But at least if she had information, she could serve to save herself in a situation rather than become a victim of the two male vampires’ machinations.

In the case of being in the Fangtasia basement, Eric certainly fucking put her there. He is to blame for her being there. He doesn’t get to skip responsibility on the basis of “she would have run away”. Well, if she did, that would, in fact, be sensible, even if it failed. But Eric never gives her a chance, and I don’t think that’s his intent anyway. Eric is salting away an asset to use later if he has to. Nor did he inform her of his plan after he’d chained her. It would have at least served Sookie’s interests better if she was quiet when Russell arrived – but that doesn’t serve Eric’s interests, so he’s a prick about it.

Bill, also, gets a portion of the blame for her being in the basement.  He doesn’t respect Sookie enough to empower her with her own protection – no – he gives that to Jason. Truly – if you’re going to use the argument that Sookie is too stupid to protect herself, then what the fucking hell is Jason going to be good for? He’s dumber than a box of hair – nice guy, well intentioned, but he’s all over the place. Bill’s lies lead Sookie to that basement because he couldn’t bear to have her recoil from him – which makes it all about Bill, while Sookie pays the price.

What sucks is that they’re cheered on all the way. What’s worse still is that Sookie is in fact, blamed for everything that happens to her. Like Sookie had a choice with not having any information.  Maybe she doesn’t want to hear about their emotional truths when they want to tell her, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want someone who’ll tell her to look out. If she fails to look out, that’s the way it goes.  Sookie can’t be perfect all the time – despite what women sitting in comfy office chairs with no threat to their lives think – so it’s inevitable that sometimes she makes mistakes.  But at the very least, they are her mistakes and not the mistakes of an abysmal protector who keeps following the same pattern, getting the same results and still being surprised.