Dumbing Down for Readers: a True Blood Cautionary Tale

(check out part 1 of this series. And, spoilers below.)

In True Blood, Season 7 episode 9, “To Love Is to Die,” there’s a sequence that describes the heartfelt goodbye when Sam leaves Louisiana. But the writers missed the mark when they dumbed down the joke for the viewers. Lemme explain.

Excerpts from the True Blood wiki describing the scenes:

They both enter Sam’s trailer to find that it has been completely emptied except for the stripped furniture. Bewildered, Sookie wonders aloud where he has gone. Jessica finds two letters on the coffee table; one is addressed to Sookie. Jessica asks if she wants some privacy while she reads the letter, but Sookie tells her that she doesn’t want to be alone. Sookie sits down on the couch to read Sam’s letter out loud; Jessica joins her on the couch.

Later, Sookie gives Andy his letter:

Sookie asks to speak to him privately, and they retreat to the back office. Sookie tells Andy that Sam has written letters to both of them, and she hands him the second envelope. She tells Andy that her letter had been emotionally charged, and figured it would be better to have him read his letter in private. Andy thanks her for her prudence. She then asks if he wants to be alone, but he tells her that she may stay while he reads the letter. The anticipation builds to reveal the full contents of Andy’s letter: “Dear Sheriff Bellefleur, I resign. Sincerely, Sam Merlotte.”

What the summary doesn’t say–and the heart of this storytelling lesson–is what happens right after this.

dumbing down

Sookie says something like, “so that’s all the letter says? Which means the whole privacy thing was…”

“Totally unnecessary,” Andy says.

It’s in this last exchange that the sin lies. There’s a joke here, and the writers completely spoiled it by over-explaining. Since Sookie’s letter was so heartfelt, we’re anticipating the same thing with Andy’s letter, but the irony is… it’s short! Bada-BING! It’s not a great joke, but they could have pulled it off if they’d been subtle about it.

Instead, the writers wanted to make sure the viewers got it, and ruined it in the process.

Don’t over-explain. Trust your readers to get the joke, or get the meaning behind the words. That’s one of the golden keys in the difference between showing and telling.