Dexter: “Chemistry”
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Dexter: “Chemistry”

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Dexter

“Chemistry”

Season 7, Episode 7

The Dexter Redemption Express is beginning to sputter. That’s not to say that season seven is suddenly a debacle; this season’s ratio of hits to misses is still nearly unprecedented in the series’ history. But the ascendancy of Hannah McKay has, at the very least, delayed the promise delivered by the first few episodes. What made the beginning of this season so auspicious was the much-needed sense of urgency, and the budding romance between Dexter and Hannah feels anything but urgent. It feels meandering and inessential, and because “Chemistry” focused so much on that relationship, the episode suffered for it.

As I wrote last week, the idea of the relationship between Dexter and Hannah is an interesting one, and I can understand why it would gain traction in the writers’ room. If someone says, “Dexter should have sex on his kill table,” such a fun conversation begins that I can see a story starting to build around it without a ton of effort. But the courtship of Hexter (the portmanteau we should just go ahead and embrace now) isn’t working nearly as well in practice as it does in theory.

The biggest reason for this is that it returns the show to the familiar pattern it seemed to be breaking away from this year. Granted, the kill-of-the-week format seems to be a thing of the past now, and thank goodness for that. But with Hannah, we’re seeing yet another, slightly different iteration of the “Dexter finds a playmate, but at what cost?” arc present in nearly every season of Dexter. There are subtle differences here, which Dexter mentions himself as he ticks off his list of ill-fated ex-girlfriends in comparison. Lila was attracted to his darkness, while Rita was oblivious to it, and Lumen required it. In Hannah, Dexter says, he’s finally found a woman who neither fetishizes nor is repulsed by who he is. She sees all of him and accepts him anyway, and that has become mutual. Dexter is falling in love.

Again, that’s conceptually fascinating. But in addition to feeling like a story we’ve already seen before, the Hexter relationship runs the risk of presenting yet another version of Dexter that seems not to jibe with the one we’ve seen at other points in the series. It’s tricky with a long-standing character to show growth without turning the character into someone the audience doesn’t recognize. It’s especially tricky with Dexter, because he is a person who lacks the most essential traits of a human being, and the most obvious evolution—from murderer to non-murderer—is one he can never make. Back in season three, the writers deftly threaded this needle when Dexter proposed to Rita by stealing his lines from the perpetrator of a crime of passion. Then, Dexter was no closer to being a real boy, but he was learning how to attend to Rita’s needs even as he didn’t completely understand them.

Now it seems Dexter is developing actual feelings for a woman. That’s only a bad thing for those who want Dexter to remain the same character he began as, or for those ,like me, who like the idea of an evolving Dexter but worry about the cumulative effect of playing fast and loose with the character’s basic operating principles. I’m intrigued, but the whole Hexter saga is a bit of a wet blanket, because after a season full of revelations from and callbacks to seasons past, Dexter is feeling again like a show without a solid grasp of its history.

Beyond the broad issues with the story, I didn’t find the main thrust of “Chemistry,” with Dexter and Hannah racing to deal with the Sal Price threat, terribly engaging. Sal Price was not a character. He was a device designed to deepen and intensify the relationship between Dexter and Hannah and to push Deb off the deep end. I liked the final scene of Deb giving Dexter her blessing in killing Hannah, an endorsement he’s been angling for, as the prospective victim slept soundly in his arms. But I didn’t like the use of Sal Price to get to that moment. I see how the case could be made that after spending some time viewing the world through Dexter’s lens, Deb eventually warmed to the idea of what Dexter does, and watching Hannah escape justice was the final straw. But given how dramatic a transition this is for Deb, I wish it had been carried out in a way that didn’t feel like Deb wanted Hannah to get her comeuppance because a guy she went out with one time was her victim. Given how much great material has been wrung from Dexter and Deb’s differences, I don’t want to see them on the same page until there was a great reason to get there, and I don’t think Sal Price or Hannah McKay qualify.

Fortunately, the return of Isaak didn’t take quite as long as I’d feared. Thanks to Quinn stealing evidence, there’s nothing to hold Isaak for, so now he’s back on the streets with his hunger for revenge more insistent than ever. I’ve been amazed every week by Ray Stevenson’s ability to project genuine menace on a show that is constantly introducing its audience to horribly evil people. When Isaak and Dexter caught up over lunch, Isaak’s response to Dexter’s detailed account of Viktor’s demise was Stevenson at his best. It was simple: a mournful, vacant gaze and the line “You’re gonna regret sharing that with me,” but it was totally convincing, and it terrified me for Dexter. Isaak Sirko is like a Happy Fun Ball. You do not taunt him.

All that said, for all the faults “Chemistry” had, it was busy setting up a lot of elements that could yield an end to the season that is as urgent and exciting as the season began. With LaGuerta sniffing around to bear out her theory about the Bay Harbor Butcher and Isaak back on the prowl, season seven might just be sharpening its knives.

Stray observations:

  • I love James Remar, but I need him to not be a regular cast member on this show anymore. I’ve had enough.
  • This episode was cowritten by Manny Coto, an ex-24 writer who wasn’t able to jump to the Good Ship Homeland along with Chip Johannessen after Johannessen left Dexter.
  • The voiceover nearly killed me this time around.  
  • For those still watching for Yvonne Strahovski nudity, you can move along. It’s not gonna happen.