Character Rehab: Sam Merlotte on 'True Blood'
Here at EW, we have a new weekly series in which we — and readers — weigh in on ways to rehab much-maligned characters on some of our favorite shows.
Season 6 of True Blood is coming to a close, and the numerous deranged plot lines have shown fans just how far most of our staple characters have strayed from their simplicities of season 1. Although it is impossible to define any True Blood character as “normal,” there are a handful (a small handful) of Bon Temps regulars that, for quite a while, seemed to satisfy that homegrown, sense-of-comfort presence in their little Louisiana bubble.
Before he became his own worst enemy, succumbing to the baggage carried by numerous venal female love interests and burdensome family members, Sam Merlotte was one of those presences that fell on Bon Temps’ “normal” spectrum. So he’s a shifter, so he has a dirty past of conning and stealing — the gentle, supportive bar owner still made a living on maintaining the town’s favorite local establishment and the local relationships that came with it.
The books may have already penned Sam’s fate, but as the HBO adaptation continues to stray into unpredictable realms of crazy, it could be possible to salvage Sam’s charming humanity. Maybe I stand alone, but as this addictingly ludicrous show progresses into another season of sex, drugs, and supernatural creatures, it would be nice to see the once-uninvolved Sam take a much needed emotional bath.
But how can he start fresh? Let’s brainstorm:
Find a male best friend. Frequently roped into complicated relationships with women, it would be fun to see Sam develop a better relationship with a True Blood dude. Of course he has his local buddies — Lafayette, Terry before his death, Andy — but these relationships are cordial and convenient at best. Sam’s moment of reconciliation with Alcide by offering up “a beer with your name on it” showed us a glimpse of the potential buddy-buddy guy that Sam could be. And I’m not opposed to a bromance between the stocky werewolf and the compassionate shifter. After six seasons of being a doormat to ruthless women, lacking a familial outlet, and spending a lot of time emotionally fending for himself, having a buddy to go fishing with, share a beer, or play pool at Merlotte’s may bring the companionship and humor that Sam hasn’t really found.
Get a dog. As we know from early on in the show, Sam’s favorite go-to animal when shifting has been the collie. In the form of a lovable pup, his animal exterior always seemed to match his human interior (remember that polite look-away while Sookie undressed before bed in season 1?). A shifter is going to have to shift. Whether it’s a full moon, a need for a de-stressing forest run, or just a method to stay true to his shifter roots, Sam will always need that escape. Why not have a pet as some baggage-less, quiet company? If we take a look back at his run-ins with other shifters along his plot trajectory, the Mickens family was hardly a healthy outlet, Daphne was revealed to be Maryann’s shifter servant and a chess piece in his attempted sacrificial murder, and Luna introduced yet another complicated family element into Sam’s life, along with an entirely new breed of supernatural something or other, the skinwalker. With a loyal pup by his side, Sam can still communicate and have a pal to let loose with. Yes, it’s probably much more fun stripping down with some attractive shifter lady. But as his past has proved, those women have turned out to be animals in more ways than one.
Fire Sookie. Before the hysterics are unleashed, let’s take a quick minute to process the option that we already know will never happen. The girl never shows up to work anyway, she leaves Arlene and Co. understaffed too frequently, and it’s her presence that lures outside drama into Merlotte’s, the should-be local safe haven. With the overload of conflict the bar has already seen (Rene’s attempted Sookie-assassination, Daphne’s dead body in the freezer, the death of Terry), the danger whore herself is the last person who should be serving meals to innocent bystanders. For those of you who have read the books (it’s not a spoiler if it’s already been published, in my defense), we know that Sam is Sookie’s endgame. But the show has already taken many “artistic” liberties, and it’s unpredictable at this point where her heart will eventually settle. Why not avoid the Sookie temptation altogether and instigate a cordial breakup between the blonde and the bar? Hey, maybe he could even hire a male waiter. In episode 8, Sam shoved a snappy reality check in Sookie’s face when she hinted at her lingering feelings for her old friend. Maybe he really is as fed up with her fickle presence as we are.
Take a break from Nicole. I shame myself a little for even dancing around the idea that the father of Nicole’s child should abandon his baby mama. But in retrospect, the couple (if you can call them that) are a poor fit and a rebound that made viewers cringe and eye-roll the moment that the two kissed in that motel room. Nicole got unnecessarily caught up in Sam’s custody fight for Emma, as Luna’s dying wish was affirmed. With a recent death of his last girlfriend, the separation from the closest thing to a daughter he has ever had, and the smoke still clearing from a werewolf feud, glossing over his losses with a new girl and new child is hardly a rational next move. Sam has already put the innocent liberal advocate and her mother in danger, and Nicole has little knowledge of the supernatural creatures with whom she continuously tries to involve herself. By all means, if the 23-year-old wants her baby, have the baby. Sam can even remain a loyal father and close friend and support system. But a newborn with another girlfriend? The relationship is enough of a newborn itself. Maybe Nicole should take advantage of those plane tickets, move home and work together with her mother and Sam’s support to raise the baby, but leave some time for him to get back on his own feet simultaneously. Diving into an unexpected family affair with Nicole seems like a short-term fix for many other lingering voids in his life.
Or take a break from women altogether. Maybe Sam simply shouldn’t pursue a love interest at all. Then again, don’t we need all the Bon Temps men with lady friends in order to get the episode-contains-nudity stamp we shamelessly anticipate? We’ve got the lovely Jason, Warlow, Eric, Bill (for however long the show keeps them all around), and even Jessica’s new vamp pal for that, and it hasn’t exactly been Sam’s raunchy scenes that have stolen the show anyway. The most endearing Sam Merlotte moments are those when he is doing what Sam does best: being the familiar face and friend of the town. And there are still glimpses of that Sam. Whether it’s the flashback to his hiring of Terry during his PTSD hysteria or the frequent quippy scolding of Lafayette for pouring bottomless shots of tequila, Sam is the best version of himself when he is not clouded by estrogen.
We don’t want to see Sam move away (didn’t he try that once?), or see Merlotte’s in anyone else’s hands. He is the stuffed animal of True Blood: Bon Temps feels like home when Merlotte’s feels like home.
It’s your turn to weigh in: Is anyone else nostalgic for the single, simpler Sam? What is coming for him next season?
Sookie, Bill, Eric, Lafayette, Sam and the other residents Bon Temps deal with vampires, werewolves, fairies, and shape-shifters—not to mention romance and drama