It’s not complimentary when I say that I never know what to expect from the sixth season of Dexter. Usually I might use that as a compliment, to say that a show is so narratively bold that it goes place I didn’t anticipate. But after watching “A Horse Of A Different Color,” I say it more in the sense that I have no idea what kind of show Dexter is going to be from one Sunday to the next.
“Smokey And The Bandit” is an episode I enjoyed mostly as a curio. It was Dexter imagined as a mostly self-contained show about vigilante justice that was surprisingly breezy for something so gory and dark, which is a totally valid vision for the show and could work if a showrunner committed to it and executed it cleverly. The aptly titled “A Horse Of A Different Color” was a complete departure from that vision. There was no kill-of-the week in sight, just character beats with Dexter’s ongoing exploration of faith and the usual Miami Metro shenanigans going on in the background.
I’ve complained about the overuse of the kill-of-the-week structure, which at this point has become perfunctory and doesn’t serve to illuminate Dexter’s personality the way it did in the early going. But I damn near missed it while watching the episode. The problem here is that Dexter is neither hunting a killer in an episodic story, nor is he involved in the Doomsday killings to a greater degree than anyone else is. For the show to have any sense of urgency, Dexter has to be engaged in some kind of cat-and-mouse game at all times, and there was nothing of the sort in this episode. Surely, now that Dexter has “discovered” Travis that will all change, but this was quite the trough in between.
The biggest problem I’m having with Professor Gellar, Travis, and the Doomsday killings is not just the draggy pace of the story, but how detached Dexter is from it all, even as it directly affects everything around him. I found it odd when, at the horrific horsemen crime scene (or tableau, as Mike Anderson would call it), Dexter corrected Deb’s saying that Miami Metro was dealing with a serial killer by pointing out that they were still one victim short of the three required to earn the distinction. Last week, Dexter was flipping through a teenage scrapbook of news clippings about serial killers. He was so positively giddy when he thought he might have stumbled upon The Tooth Fairy that he canvassed the neighborhood surrounding the crime scene until he found the nursing home the killer lived in. Yet when it comes to the Doomsday killings, which have gone from intriguingly elaborate to goofy and over-the-top, Dexter seems totally content to sit on the sidelines, letting his colleagues do the heavy lifting while he ruminates on faith with Brother Sam. Dex’s uncharacteristic lack of interest is that much more baffling seeing as how he looked so electrified when he saw the snakes wriggle out of the first victim and was just as awestruck by the horsemen tableau. It’s just a good thing that third victim showed up by episode’s end, otherwise Dex might have very well sleepwalked his way through the entire season.
In spite of how cold this episode left me overall, I’m still very much enjoying Mos Def’s performance as Brother Sam. I initially worried that between Brother Sam and the Doomsday Duo, there would be thematic redundancies. Clearly, creating those redundancies is the whole object; Brother Sam and the Doomsday Duo are dueling examples of the redemptive and destructive power of faith, providing an opportunity for Dexter to learn that religious beliefs are much like the knives Dexter uses—whether they are a force for good or evil depends on who’s wielding them. But I still wish the Doomsday Duo’s killings weren’t so literal in their Biblical inspiration, because if the season’s villain was doing something that didn’t involve religion at all, the Brother Sam/sick Harrison stuff could have worked as an interesting, nuanced secondary thread for the season. Thanks mostly to Mos Def, Brother Sam feels like an actual character rather than merely being a foil for Dexter, and Mos nailed his scenes with Michael C. Hall this week. He’s outclassing just about everyone else in the cast.
That includes both Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks, who still have yet to make an impression as Professor Gellar and Travis, respectively. This is perhaps the first time that Dexter has seen a Big Bad that gets less interesting over time rather than more interesting. I can’t help but question the wisdom of showing the audience who was perpetrating these crimes from the very first episode. In season one, Dexter’s dance with the Ice Truck Killer was fascinating because the audience was forced to do its own profiling, imagining the type of person who would go to such trouble to commit a murder. Considering how involved and meticulous the Doomsday killings are, a similar approach might have been more effective here. As it stands now, the murders themselves are far more interesting than the people committing them, and even that stands in jeopardy as the murders approach Saw levels of ridiculousness. But maybe that’s not the right cinematic comparison. This season is becoming like a much longer, not nearly as ingenious version of Seven, with killers who aren’t as smart or crafty and cops who are really engaged in the case one minute and could care less about it the next. (And a black guy explaining the killer’s literary inspiration in a sonorous voice.)
Even the Miami Metro drama that I thought sort of worked last week sort of didn’t this week. Clearly there’s an effort underway to build sexual tension between Mike and Deb, though I’d love to see a love interest-free season for both Dexter and Deb. Quinn and Batista got high, set to “Spill The Wine,” no less. LaGuerta continues to be a miserable bitch, although her victory over Deb was short-lived, as Matthews heard rave reviews about his new, spunky, foul-mouthed lieutenant. Masuka confronted Ryan, who was trying to auction off the piece of evidence she stole to make rent. And while I sincerely hope there’s more in store for that story, I’m also not sure I care that much. The writers could still course-correct, but they’ll have to do so in a hurry. This season is headed off the rails.
- I didn’t say anything about the Harrison story, but I didn’t have much to say about it. All’s well that ends well I guess, and it struck me as a rather manipulative way to get Dexter to grapple with his faith, especially when that theme is already being reflected so many other places.
- Deb sure is committed to believing the best about her brother. She’s all “So you’re the Ice Truck Killer’s brother, and you’re all buddy-buddy with Brother Sam now? Whatever, anyone want Jell-O?”
- “Has anyone ever died of crotch asphyxiation?”
- I hope the murder of Erin, the waitress who inexplicably bedded Travis, is as over-the-top as the Doomsday killings get. A literal swarm of locusts? The more elaborate the murders get, the more incredulous I’ll become about Miami Metro’s inability to catch the killers.