(Here be spoilers)
Oh Dexter, you fickle bitch.
You spent almost the entirety of season six laboring over painfully obvious twists, trotting out magical negroes who leave as fast as they arrive, introducing the worst villain since, I dunno, last season, and keeping Dexter from interacting with the killer or doing any killing of his own. You made it so easy to give up and not care.
Then you return to your core competencies in the season finale. You by no means redeemed the previous 11 hours of television, but you reminded me why the show, even when it’s not good, can still be fun. The show was lying dead on the table, bloody cheek and all, about to be plunged in the heart with a knife, when it was given something of a reprieve.
Dexter has been, despite (or due to) growing ratings, losing favor with its early fan base as well as critics over the past couple seasons. While season five was considered a low-water mark for the show, season six proved that it could be taken to new depths. Addressing all of this season’s myriad shortcomings in detail would turn this article into an opus, but the few high points of this season were completely eclipsed by the following:
LaGuerta and her wig, Angel BatEEEEEEsta, Quinn, Masuka, videogame guy/forensics intern, and nanny girl. This season relegated all of them to “featured player” status, in which they were essentially milling about in the background over the course of 12 episodes. They were never terribly compelling to begin with, but I was hoping at least Quinn would be killed. Actually, I hoped they would all be killed and we’d get a fresh team coming in for what are probably the final two seasons.
In earlier seasons, much of the show’s tension and efficacy stems from Dexter’s precarious double-life. When Deb unwittingly allowed Dexter to flee last season, that tension took a major hit. This season, it seemed that Miami Metro couldn’t detect their way out of a paper bag, allowing Dexter to break from his normally staid and secret rituals to drown a man on a public beach, send video messages to the Doomsday Killer, and enabling him to manipulate the PD at his every whim. Harry’s code, the central tenet of Dexter’s existence, became a non-factor, upending the premise of the show.
Bear in mind that the crux of the season hinged upon Dexter’s ability to take an unconscious body and a toddler down from the roof of a skyscraper in daylight, then to his car blocks away with no one noticing. Very odd. Also, the fact that Miami Metro doesn’t even enter a crime scene until the blood spatter analysis guy gets there was pretty convenient, considering the killer had painted Dexter’s face on the wall. Lots of lucky breaks for Dex this season. Thousands, it seems.
That’s not true, but he didn’t kill regularly. He also didn’t interact with the big bad this season, save for the last two or three episodes. One could argue that the writers were instead devoting that screen time and energy to exploring further who Dexter is, but one would be wrong. We examine who Dexter is through the dichotomy of his life. The writers of this show have never been capable enough to examine a dichotomy (or anything else) in a subtle fashion, so a glaring juxtaposition between his killing ritual and his daily rituals (much like we see in the opening credits) suffices. And while it might not demonstrate the deft, subtle hand of a Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, watching Dexter kill people has usually been fun enough to allow us to forgive the show’s sins.
First, finding out that Hanks’ villain and Olmos’ were the same person was painfully predictable, so laboring over the reveal for nine episodes was cringeworthy. This season (the highest-rated season thus far) felt like it was playing to a broader, duller audience, with everything from the Saw-type contracptions, to the giant leaps forward that can only be made in police procedurals, to the squandering of Mos Def in the meaty role of Brother Sam. The twist was predictable, but even if it had been a grand revelation, the fact remains that nobody cared enough about “either” villain to give a damn. The struggle between Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos was boring, and I’m comfortable splitting that blame equally between uninspired writing and a Hanks performance so uninspired that it they easily could have replaced him with a bowl of lukewarm oatmeal.
The season was a total debacle with sophomoric, incompetent writing (which relied on Dexter’s painfully obvious voiceover in lieu of any exposition or credit due the audience), bad acting, and a general sense that the producers could reverse engineer logic to fit their painfully tedious story arcs.
Julie Benz was the sole bright spot during the entirety of the season, having Deb rival Dexter as the reason for continuing to watch the show, in spite of everything listed above. Her acting sold her struggles with lost love, trauma, stress, office politics, and finally, unresolved feelings for her brother. Fortunately, the cliffhanger in the final scene means that she and Dexter will have to contend with his secret going forward, which allows the viewer to witness the show’s two best assets (as characters and actors) in concert.
Initially, these felt incidental and, as the season ambled on, destined to be wrapped up neatly by episode 12. However, the fact that these stories are left with seasons to play themselves out might mean that a little more effort and attention is paid to them, rather than just the struggle between Dexter and the big bads. One can hope for a writing shake-up (desperately needed). Deputy Chief Mathews and the hookers appeared to resolve itself with a whimper over a dinner meeting, when it’s pretty clear that Dexter isn’t written well enough to resolve ANYTHING over a meal.
Quinn’s downward spiral made him a very easy character to say goodbye to, with the expectation that he would perform a redeeming act that would cost him his life. I completely expected his rescue of Batista to be that moment. Then I expected him to jump off the roof of the building in at the end of the finale.
Finally, we have the most shoehorned storyline of the season; the millionaire video game programmer who spent most of the season just lingering around as a lab intern in a fashion so obvious that he might as well have had a cardboard sign around his neck that said “stay tuned.”
I can’t guarantee that these plotlines will get any more interesting in the next season, but at least they weren’t subject to sloppy resolutions in this season.
Dexter moved with purpose in the finale, a purpose and urgency that the show hadn’t demonstrated in more than two seasons. The final kill table and nonchalant killing of the Cuban gunman reminded me that even when this show drags ass and treats me like an idiot, much can be forgiven simply by watching a thinly-veiled serial killer doing his thing.
I have never found Dexter to be a particularly good show. It doesn’t handle subtlety well, and the actions of the characters generally don’t mesh well with what we know about them. Convention has ruled, especially this season. But while many fawned over Dexter’s wife’s death at the end of season four, the “outing” of Dexter to Deb has the potential to actually change the trajectory of this show, which is a blessing, because it was wallowing in some shit-infested waters up until that point.
Yeah, I guess I’ll watch next season.