Dexter – Are You…?

by deerinthexenonarclights

I reviewed the last season of Dexter, season six, on this blog out of morbid curiosity. I had all but given up on watching the show for its merits, for enjoying it in a straight and simple manner and needed the extra layer of interest and interaction to get me through the episode’s each week. There is a new term that many would apply to this activity and it is ‘hate watching’ but personally I don’t think it applies because I honestly don’t have a lot of time for TV shows that I don’t like; if they’re no good I simply stop watching them and so it must have been something else that was bringing me back.

I think it was love. Dexter at its best is an amazing show: it doesn’t happen often but its action can be as ballisticly suspenseful as Breaking Bad, its stories as thematically potent as Mad Men and its wit as wryly funny as Parks & Rec. So even though it was none of those things in Season Five I stuck with the show the only way I could, by criticizing those errors that had become comical in the wrong way. It was tough love but love nonetheless and it is because of that love that I am so glad to have enjoyed this episode sincerely and to be able to  say that based only on this premiere – the potential for future flaws and F-ups is still there – this season seems to be the shows return to form. Sometimes even a dead body can get back up it seems.

Now, before we get too ahead of ourselves I need to temper that praise somewhat. Is this episode as good as Dexter in its prime? Is it all those things that I just said the show could be? No. It still has a long way to go but it’s trying and that is enough for now. Even though the hype for this premiere had been mostly positive I was still sort of hesitant going in; sure, they might not have Deborah hit her head and forget everything right away but Dex could still talk his way out of things right? There were still escape routes available and the real revelations could yet be delayed, but no, Are You..? has her asking all of the right questions and I loved it for that.

Given the pace of the show in the past, specifically the predilection for spinning its wheels – as many of the Showtime hits did under the Network’s previous head, this and Jackie proof of how that model has now changed – it would also be easy to assume that this premiere would simply describe the plan for the shows future and leave the real digging for later. Not so, the show breaks ground fairly on in the episode and doesn’t let up from there, featuring a continuous stream of shovel loads, some carried by characters that you wouldn’t expect. So that by the time the final scene comes and that question is asked – and it is a stunning scene and a chilling question – the show has dug itself in so deep that there is now nowhere to go but further down, right where we’ve wanted it to head from the beginning.

I was also surprised by just how satisfying the shows other elements were; were this not the season that things started wrapping up this would still have been a solid episode on its own. There is a crime of the week for Dexter to solve in his usual sordid way, the introduction of an ongoing case for the season and some personal drama between the supporting cast and while there are as many hits as misses here the material all works overall because of the way that it is tied together. The man that Dex must kill is directly involved with the ongoing case, a straightforward but strong mafia murder that Dex and Deb have to deal with side by side; her constant glances at him lending the now bland blood and body analysis some extra excitement and the little beats played out with the buddy cops nicely reflects the fact that we all hide secrets from those close to us. Hell, even LaGuerta looks to be in on the action this year.

The one element of Dexter that disappointed this week was…well, Dexter himself. He has always been a bit of a tough character to write – fail to make us fall for him and we won’t want to watch, but make him too charming and then you are almost condoning his behavior – but I feel like the current writing staff are simply failing to even try. The voiceovers that once separated this show from all those other crime procedurals, that allowed for the wittiest of lines, the densest of thematics and the establishing of his character are reduced to nothing. Now if he speaks aloud it is one line at most and even then something standard and arbitrary.

Without this important element the performance that Hall gives loses a lot and guy just comes off as sad, creepy and a basement sociopath. This may well be the point, the script makes a lot of references to him being crazy and of course he is a serial-killer, which would be fine were it not so suddenly different from what came before. I’m not saying that he needs to be loveable, just that this is a lame way to turn us against him if it is the intention and one that makes the show a little less compelling. I shouldn’t want the camera to follow Deb out the door instead of lingering on him, not when his is the name that the show took.
So it’s far from perfect but by god if it isn’t a step or seven up from where we were. Whether the later episodes will keep this pace up, whether the side-plots will regain their painful nature, whether the overarching case will warp and become silly; these and many others are questions that I would have worried about over the last few seasons, that i would have predicted negative answers too. Love though is a funny thing, one that can be rekindled in an instant and as mine has been all I can really think about now is how much I want to see the next episode and that is a sign of the show doing its job properly.

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