It’s a sign of a television show’s strong footing when it can sell you on choices you initially balked at. And when that show is Dexter, which at its nadir served up about a dozen dubious choices per episode, it’s pretty exhilarating to feel that sense of confidence again. “Argentina” had that swagger about it. It wasn’t the best episode of the season, but it’s one that made a stronger case for elements of prior episodes than those episodes made themselves.
I’m specifically referring to “Do The Wrong Thing” and “Chemistry,” with their jarring pivot from Isaak’s pursuit to Dexter’s bizarre love affair with Hannah. First, I should mention that I’ve watched those episodes again since writing my first impression, and found both episodes went down a little better upon the second viewing (the latter moreso than the former.) That’s not to say either was a terrific episode, but upon a second glance, both episodes felt like they were playing their role in the overall structure of the season, if not in the most engaging way.
But “Argentina” helped to acquit both the episodes that preceded it by wringing all the best stuff out of Dexter’s relationship with Hannah, such that it’s easy to forgive that it was initially jarring and didn’t quite jibe with the fundamentals of Dexter’s character. I know from reading the comments that many of you were hoping that Debra’s romantic love for Dexter had been expunged with the rest of season six, but if Deb being in love with Dexter is the direction the writers decided to go, putting Dexter in the world’s weirdest love triangle was a smart next step to take.
Dexter is deeper in shit now than at any point in the show’s history. There’s a relentless, heartbroken barbarian hunting him down, LaGuerta is closing in on him, he can’t hold onto his son without putting him in danger, and he’s off his regular kill schedule. Add to this the feelings for Hannah he is completely unfamiliar with and ill-prepared to handle, paired with Deb’s confession of her own romantic feelings for him, and we’ve got a situation that has left Dexter more flat-footed than we’ve ever seen him before. From the beginning of the season, Dexter has been repeating the same mantra over and over again, some variation of “I’ll handle it,” “Leave it to me,” or “I’ve got it under control.” He says it to Deb, he says it to Hannah, and he says it to Ghost Harry. At a certain point, you have to start wondering whom he’s really trying to convince.
The season seven reboot of Dexter reminds me, in a way, of the Daniel Craig-era James Bond films or Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. I certainly wouldn’t compare Dexter in terms of overall quality, but it seems as though Scott Buck and his writing team have figured out that a superhero isn’t interesting if he’s never out of his depth. Dexter had a fine adversary in Arthur Mitchell, but he has never seemed quite so vulnerable, and it’s giving Michael C. Hall the best material he’s had to work with in years.
The core of “Argentina” was the conundrum Dexter was left with in last week’s cliffhanger: How would he respond to Deb’s request that he deliver justice to Hannah McKay, his new girlfriend-ish situation? He gets her to back off by convincing her that participating in his acts would debase her in ways that she wouldn’t be able to deal with. It’s a fair and valid point, but as he mentions in his voiceover, even thought he was telling the truth, he was still lying. This is Dexter at his most despicable, and he’s never seemed more like an addict. After spending so much time trying to get Deb to cosign his behavior, he starts talking her out of it because now it conflicts with what he wants. Given how hard Dexter works to frame what he does as a public service, his actions are starting to seem increasingly selfish. What Dexter does is for Dexter, and if it happens to benefit others, so much the better.
The problem is that what Dexter does will always have negative ramifications on others. Take Astor, for example, who comes to visit with Cody and Harrison while her grandparents deal with a medical issue. She seems like a typical teenage girl, testy and brooding with a casual pot habit. But Astor is clearly a different person than she would have been had her mother not been murdered, and that happened because Dexter had to get close to the Trinity Killer and learn his secrets. Deb is an emotional basket case since finding out about his pastime. Isaak has been disowned by the Koshka Brotherhood and is now merely an elegant, handsome gay man in Miami with a broken heart and a difficult-to-market skill set. Dexter isn’t a force for creating balance in the universe; he creates havoc.
There was a lot of time for this kind of rumination in “Argentina,” which is perhaps the most thoughtful episode of the season, and its languid pace allowed for quite a few lovely scenes. As usual, Hall and Jennifer Carpenter had some great duets—although Carpenter gave into some of her worst actorly instincts in the scene where Deb confesses her feelings to Dexter. But the most powerful scene came when Dexter and Isaak had a drink together in a gay bar, when Isaak admits to Dexter why Viktor meant so much to him, and why it’s so imperative that he see Dexter suffer. Ray Stevenson has been an absolute gem this entire season, but he really got an opportunity to deliver here as he forced Dexter to think about how romantic love clouds one’s judgment. I didn’t love that Arika Lisanne Mittman’s script spelled out so explicitly that Isaak was gay, but I hate to quibble over such a fine scene. Isaak may be one of the best characters Dexter has delivered yet.
What I’m waiting for now is to see the noose grow ever tighter around Dexter’s neck as LaGuerta gets closer to finding out the truth behind the Bay Harbor Butcher. I’m also really eager to read the reviews of Batista’s restaurant.
- Stevenson also killed it in the scene where Dexter shows up to his own crime scene (“You couldn’t have described it better if you’d been there yourself!”) I’m sure we’ve seen Dexter show up to his own scene before, but when? I remember something like that with Lumen in season five…
- There was WAY too much Ghost Harry this week. I hate to be a broken record about this, but c’mon…
- “What’s a booty call?” Oh, Dexter!
- I liked that Deb invoked Speltzer as the reason she was so eager for Dexter to dispatch Hannah. Just that one flick made that idea work better.