It's October, Halloween is coming, and True Blood is back on UK TV screens. Huzzah! Even better, season 5 features an actual Roman-period vampire as a main character for much of the season. Salome is not a Roman citizen - she's a Jewish princess, a royal from a client kingdom - but she's definitely Roman period and she's from the Roman world. She's best known to us now from the New Testament.
Salome is a vampire character in Book 5 of The Southern Vampire Mysteries, but there we're not given any detail about her background. I think we're probably expected to assume that Book!Salome is the Biblical Salome, in the absence of any information to the contrary, but it could just as easily be a coincidence. She doesn't really feature heavily enough in the book to provide any clues as to her origin.
In this episode, however, having been introduced to her last week, TV!Salome is confirmed to be the famous Salome from the Bible, who danced for Herod Antipas (with or without seven veils) and when offered anything she wanted, asked for the head of John the Baptist.
The theme of this episode, as the title implies, is about what and more specifically who made our heroes and villains the people they are, both in the literal sense and, more importantly, the figurative one. Perhaps unsurprisingly (especially given True Blood's tendency to let one episode blend into the next), it's one of the most satisfying episodes of the season. Jason's story is probably the least surprising and least compelling, though it adds a bit of depth to his persona (and his scene with Jessica at the end is lovely), but the vampire stories are great, as we see the final part of the story of how Eric made Pam, neatly combined with Eric and Bill's first meeting. Eric and Bill's bromance is one of the most fun elements of this season and the flashback to the beginning of their relationship incorporates both their rivalry and tendency to try to kill each other, and the mutual respect that exists underneath it.
Interestingly, we don't get any details about how Salome ended up a vampire, but her seduction technique includes an explanation of that most famous incident from her human life. I really like the interpretation of Human Salome here. The Salome of the Bible is revealed as an abused girl, used by her mother and stepfather for their own purposes, and the 'dance' refers to her being forced to prostitute herself to her uncle to please her mother. Obviously, this sort of interpretation belongs in fiction as there's no historical evidence for it, but it seems pretty convincing to me. I especially like some of Salome's dialogue about her treatment in the histories:
Salome: Don't believe everything you read... they made me a convenient villain, a symbol for dangerous female sexuality. I was just a girl with a severely f*cked up family.
Bill: So you didn't ask for a man's head on a silver platter?
This sounds so exactly like the way ancient sources treat any number of historical women (Livia, Agrippina the Younger, Messalina... OK some of them might have been pretty dodgy themselves but still). I love the mixture of implying a core of truth to the stories (the demand for John the Baptist's head) but a lot of twisting and exaggeration in the telling of it.
Salome plays both Bill and Eric (lucky Salome) but you sense she has more of a connection with Bill, and that she's telling the truth when she says she admires the fact that Bill is still ruled by his heart. Her scene with Eric, on the other hand, placed right after the flashback of Eric in bed with Pam, emphasises the complete lack of connection between Salome and Eric. She also comes away understanding Bill better (he's looking for something to believe in) without really understanding Eric, who she thinks is only out for himself (only partly true). (You have to feel for Eric, though, when Bill makes a crack about 'sloppy seconds').
On the less exciting side, Salome also continues the grand tradition of portraying the Romans and those living in the Roman period as especially violent by claiming that 'The humans of my youth... were far more savage than any vampires I've known.' But then, the Romans did enjoy gladiatorial combat and crucifixion, so I guess she might have a point. On the other hand, she's clearly lying or deluding herself when she says, ''The world's different now, and so am I,' since she immediately proceeds to let Roman use her and her body in the exact same way her mother once did. Granted, on this particular occasion it's a fairly pleasant task (which is possibly why two other female characters makes jokes along those lines in this episode, plus two reminders that Sookie's had both of the vampires in question as well), but that's not really the point, is it? She slept with Herod Antipas to get John's head for her mother, and she slept with Eric and Bill to get information for Roman. Plus ca change.
Roman is the leader of the Vampire Authority - the name doesn't appear to have any special significance, though I like to think it's because he was a Roman (though really, if that were the case, he'd probably have a regular Latin name...) In the books, the Romanovs from Russia appear (together with an actual Roman) but the TV series doesn't seem to be going in that direction, at least not yet (and they can't follow the book story exactly anyway, because TV!Eric's maker is Godric, not a psychopathic Roman called Appius Livius).
The episode is bookended with Pam and Tara, whose story reflects the theme especially literally - but they don't talk about Romans. Or beheadings.
It's only mentioned briefly in this episode, but there is another ancient reference here; one of the major ongoing storylines of season 5 concerns an ancient, mythical vampire named Lilith. But it'll be easier to talk about her once the season's over. Well, possibly. Possibly not.
More True Blood reviews