With the tear Dexter has been on since the season began, it was easy to forget that a lull had to come at some point. “Do The Wrong Thing” certainly feels like a lull, though it has more than enough solid moments to justify its existence, and it wasn’t a chore to watch. More than that—and this is where I start to worry again—“Do The Wrong Thing” is the first episode of this season in which the writing is beginning to feel a tad contrived. I almost hate to use the word “contrived” to describe the writing in this season of Dexter just because that word has been applied to so many scenes, characters, and ideas far worse than anything we’ve seen this year. And still it applies, as suddenly it seems like the writers’ fingerprints are all over the place.
Much of this has to do with the way the writers have structured the season. It seemed like the plan was to set up a bunch of dominoes and tip them to see if Dexter could handle the weight. But now, Isaak is temporarily out of the picture, and Hannah McKay has become Dexter’s primary focus. As the season progresses, it may become obvious that there was a very good reason for putting Isaak out of commission for a while, but right now, it feels like an abrupt shift to a story that has all the markers of middle-third filler.
As filler goes, the increasingly weird relationship between Dexter and Hannah is fairly entertaining, even as it feels a bit aimless. Michael C. Hall and Yvonne Strahovski have terrific chemistry (so much so that I wish their connection had been implied more than forced upon the audience), and there’s something I like about the idea that Dexter could develop such conflicted feelings for someone like Hannah. It’s not like we haven’t seen Dexter paired off with another murderous woman. But Lila was a predatory interloper dead set on luring Dexter away from Rita, and all that is good. Lumen was the wounded bird who gave Dexter the chance to protect and rescue a woman, something he wasn’t able to do for Rita. But Hannah is another animal, and there’s something fresh about the idea of Dexter being able to develop such conflicted feelings about a person. There is moral ambiguity to what Dexter does, but Dexter himself doesn’t do well with ambiguity. People are innocent or they are guilty; the former live, and the latter die. This is an in-between place.
Who knows where this relationship leads, but even if it fizzles, for someone who has been watching Dexter for this many years, seeing Dexter slash through the plastic mummy-wrap and have angry, kill-table sex with the victim is satisfying. It makes sense. You can’t help but think, “Oh my God… sex on the kill table. Obviously. Yes. This.” It’s just kind of fun, which is something Dexter hasn’t been in a long time. Last season, we got stuff like Dexter’s adventures at his high school reunion, which was supposed to be fun, but was in fact merely wacky. Now Dexter feels rebellious again.
Even the more functional scenes work better this year than before. I loved Lauren Gussis’ writing in the scene with Deb and LaGuerta discussing the Barrel Girls case. Deb is a police officer because her father was one, and it’s the only thing she can imagine doing for a living; and now, she’s helping to cover up an old and ongoing serial-murder spree. There were moments in the scene where Deb seemed like she was trying to pump LaGuerta for information and others where she was reflexively participating in the detective work. Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s been so long since Dexter has worked quite this well, and the further into the season we get, the more I want to rewatch seasons one and two. Maybe Dexter is the best it’s ever been.
But my praise is starting to sound pretty effusive for the episode I’ve liked the least so far. “Do The Wrong Thing” had only slightly more peaks than valleys, and any episode that forces me to talk about how Batista wants to own a restaurant is not going to be met favorably. Batista is appearing to float away from the story, and Quinn’s involvement with Isaak’s gang feels disparate too, even as I know it directly impacts the story we’re watching. Not to mention, there’s a good amount of Ghost Harry in this episode, and it’s the version of Ghost Harry I like the least. I love Flashback Harry, and I’m also fond of Ghost Harry Who Talks About The Past As If To Simulate A Flashback. This Ghost Harry, the one who is merely an alternate delivery method for Dexter’s inner monologue, is at the bottom of my Ghost Harry ranking.
The bigger issue, though, as I mentioned before, is that the transition from Isaak to Hannah felt so abrupt and so bumpy it made the entire episode feel disjointed and meandering, even as it delivered some terrific individual moments. There was very little of Isaak this week, although he is doing quite well in prison, thanks for asking! So the episode had to rest on Strahovski’s slight shoulders, and I think she’s doing a fine job. I wasn’t a loyal Chuck fan and am otherwise unfamiliar with her work, so I’m not sure how this compares, but there’s an emptiness behind Hannah’s warmth that’s quite chilling. If Strahovski is playing Hannah as a sexy automaton (which is an idea of the character that makes sense), good for her! If Strahovski is always around 10 percent wooden in any role she plays, then hooray casting! In any case, it’s working.
- Ideas for names of Batista’s restaurant? I’m thinking Tio Angel’s Tamale Roadblock…
- The scene between Deb and Dexter when she pressed him on Lumen was absolutely phenomenal. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter will have tons of material to pore over come Emmy time.
- Remember when Masuka was on this show?