Honestly, "Circle Us" might be about as good as one of these mid-season episodes of Dexter can get. There was minimal time spent on embarrassing storylines for the supporting cast. There were some big revelations uncovered. There was the bare minimum of silly dialogue from Dexter voiceover. There was no Harry being stupid. There was some solid movement forward on most of the season's big arcs. About the only criticism I can come up with about the episode on a macro level is that I can't possibly imagine watching this episode independent of any other episodes of the show and having any clue what was going on. But that's been a criticism one could level at the show for quite a while now. In almost all ways, "Circle Us" was a solid episode of the show, one that just took the time it needed to tell the bits of the story it needed to tell.
The big revelation here was one that's been pretty apparent for a while now: Jordan Chase, the motivational speaker that Boyd was always listening to in his truck, is somehow in on all of these sexual assault shenanigans. At first, it seemed like it might just be his security chief, Cole, but as the episode went on, we eventually got a scene where Jordan told Cole that it was good he sent the cops off after Boyd in the matter of all of the dead women scattered across the street, rather than continuing to sniff around Cole and Jordan. (In actuality, Dexter had planted Boyd's wallet, as an attempt to give Lumen a way to make peace with what happened to her by keeping Cole on the streets a while longer.) On the one hand, I wanted the show to draw out the question of whether Jordan was complicit in these evils a bit longer. On the other hand, he was so obviously evil that I ultimately didn't mind when the show just let us know upfront what was going on.
I've been theorizing since the second episode that this season might have episodes that are more interdependent on each other than some of the other seasons have had, and the show seems bent on proving that hypothesis correct. Random stuff is popping up back on the show's radar, and the series is slowly drawing together the web connecting all of the major plotlines this season, in a way that suggests that once we get to episode nine or 10, the shit's really going to hit the fan. This is fairly typical for the show, but this season is relying so heavily on this technique that the quality of the end game will have to be ridiculously high to redeem some of the meandering from earlier in the season. Again, it's interesting to see how the show is drawing together Lumen and Dexter, and all of the time spent building her character was necessary in that regard, but without the proper climactic fireworks, it could all feel for naught on rewatches.
That said, one of the problems I increasingly have with Dexter is that it seems to take place in a clockwork universe. In the show, every single character has a role or a part to play in that season's storyline, and there's nothing in the way of an expanded universe. This far into Dexter's run, what do we know about the world it takes place in, other than the fact that the populace seems to consist solely of cops, serial killers, and people getting killed? When LaGuerta's boss comes down to chew out the department for getting unfavorable notices in the press, it doesn't feel threatening at all because the press is largely an unknown entity to us. It doesn't feel like the public turning against the police department would hurt all that much because it largely seems like everyone we know already works for the police department. This is not a big deal when the show is so plot-driven, but it does keep the show from being one of the great dramas, keeping it on the side of fine entertainment. This season, every little element that's come into play has had larger implications for the story as a whole, and the only real challenge to the audience at home is figuring out how, say, the nanny's going to slot into the picture.
But as I mentioned, this is one of the finer episodes the show has done at this point in a season. There are a lot of good reasons for that, but the chief one is that the storyline is finally lurching forward in interesting ways. We talked about the discovery of Jordan and Cole earlier, but I was solidly impressed with the way the show let the cops in on the little secret of Boyd's corpses and how Dexter had to underplay what he knew about the situation, while trying to distract the cops from the real criminal in the investigation process. Similarly, the way the show keeps dangling tantalizing hints about a show where Dexter and Lumen make an unstoppable serial killer team, sort of like Hart to Hart, only with the partners killing people, is a lot of fun. And the way Peter Weller's investigator keeps tossing Quinn little hints about Dexter's secret life (now, he knows about Lumen, though he doesn't know who he is) suggests the web drawing ever tighter. I even atypically enjoyed the story with Deb and Quinn trying to figure out their relationship, particularly since Deb treats Quinn like shit when other people are around, usually in an amusing fashion.
Even the Santa Muerte case took an interesting turn this week, as a small operation at the club to bring in the Fuenteses went horribly, horribly wrong, resulting in deaths (including Deb finally being able to kill the guy with a headshot) and injuries, as well as the bad press the characters were worried about earlier. The shootout at the club was a rivetingly filmed sequence, and even if a lot of the build-up to this plotline all season has felt turgid, it feels like we're getting somewhere, particularly since the Lumen plotline is coming to center on something else that's very like a cult, in the weird, borderline worship of Jordan Chase. Could these two plots be related? I'd bet just about anything they are.
All in all, "Circle Us" offered a Dexter that was solidly entertaining without being embarrassing in too many places. Sure, we could quibble with Dexter taking a stand about the St. Brigid statue, then immediately caving on that stand, or with the scene where the camera took in an overhead view of the many corpses littering the street, then botched everything by having Dexter tell us LITERALLY what we were seeing, just in case we were stupid. But that wouldn't be in the spirit of the way Dexter is slowly but surely pulling all of these threads together. This is a season for the patient, and I'm starting to think we might get a fairly major payoff. If we don't, a lot of this is going to feel majorly disappointing. But if we do, this slow building sense of menace will be a big reason why the season worked in the first place.
- Dexter remarking that his firm handshake with Lumen was exactly like his prom was one of the funnier uses of the voiceover in a long time.
- Another obvious but funny joke: Lumen sees a photo of Masuka and Jordan and says she doesn't recognize Masuka, though he's obviously a freak.
- I guess I'm not sure why the Santa Muerte thing is such a cock-up that the press is getting all over the department for it. It feels like the homicide department has had many more obviously terrible cases over the years.
- That's Jonny Lee Miller, late of the underappreciated series Eli Stone (which was finding its voice in its first season, right before the network insisted on retooling), as Jordan Chase. Interestingly, on Eli Stone, the main character's visions eventually settled on him being something very like a vague cross between a prophet and a motivational speaker, so maybe this is a stealth sequel to that show. We'll know for certain that it is if the lovely and talented Julie Gonzalo turns up.
- Quinn should probably hire a new investigator. Lumen just has that package sitting on the doorstep all day, and the dude doesn't go check out the name and address on it, just to see who it's for? If it's Lumen's name, he has plenty of information. If it's Dexter's name, he at least knows Dexter's getting secret packages at his old house. Bad, Rowboat-Cop!
- Lumen's return to Boyd's house was chilling and well-done. In general, I'm with the show every time it tries to put us in her head space. I can see where the people who are having trouble sympathizing with her aren't enjoying this season as much.
- OK, this was pretty stupid: Cole has a photo of him and dead dentist and Boyd palling around 15 years ago or so (though it looked like it dated to the mid-80s, based on film quality and clothing). Who else is in that photo? Truxton Spangler?