Dexter is a fascinating show, due in part to its refusal to be outright terrible. Even in the sixth season, Dexter’s nadir, and the only time the show has become full-on silly, there was that final moment with Debra barging in on her brother’s brutal ritual. It was as if the writers spent the season trying to convince the audience the story had run out of gas, then at the last possible moment tossed in an irresistible cliffhanger to taunt us.
By “us,” I mean the Dexter fans who watch the show mostly out of habit and because its stench has never gotten strong enough to clear the room, even though its overall return-on-investment hasn’t been favorable for at least three seasons. Dexter doesn’t make me cheer or wince with any sort of consistency, but when I do enjoy this show, I really enjoy it. “Every Silver Lining” is proof that, even in its last gasps, Dexter will continue to be as hard to invest in as it is to abandon.
“Every Silver Lining” improved on the season premiére in every way imaginable, and began building a thematic framework that is as intriguing and robust as anything the show has explored. I talked last week about how all of Dexter’s relationship dynamics have been exhausted, but given his budding relationship with Vogel, I was wrong about that. I could be forgiven for thinking there were no more ways to skin this cat, since the writers have so often leaned on the Biney-Lila-Prado-Trinity-Lumen-Hannah model of introducing Dexter to someone who almost-but-not-quite fits into his unusual life. While there’s nothing to suggest that Dexter’s involvement with Vogel won’t follow the same broad strokes of that model, it’s a wily enough twist on it that I’d be surprised if it turned out to be business as usual, especially with the series finale looming.
The episode auspiciously builds on the premiére’s muted cliffhanger, explaining who Vogel is, and why she’s so important to the Dexter mythology. It’s quite tricky, this late in the game, to introduce a character that so dramatically reshapes the audience’s understanding of the show and its main character. But it’s working here with Vogel in an impressive way. If there are seams, I can’t spot them.
The installment began with Dexter watching a conversation between Vogel and a visibly disturbed and discomfited Harry, in which Harry is describing a 10-year-old Dexter’s fascination with blood after Harry caved in and took his son to a murder scene. Vogel comforts Harry, and tells him there is a way to put his son on a positive trajectory. That’s the basis for the Code of Harry, which we find out is really more the Code of Evelyn, as Vogel is the one who convinced a conflicted Harry to help Dexter assimilate into society despite his radically anti-social tendencies. Like so many ingenious ideas throughout history, the Code of Harry is the case of a shrewd man getting the credit for something whispered in his ear by a far shrewder woman.
Normally, the introduction of a vital but heretofore unseen character like Vogel means huge, cumbersome chunks of exposition have to be shoehorned into the episode, which usually means stilted scenes that call attention to their purpose. Not so in “Every Silver Lining.” There were huge chunks of exposition, but they were handled deftly by writer Manny Coto, who also penned last season’s “Sunshine And Frosty Swirl,” another episode that required an elegant deepening of the mythology. Charlotte Rampling is to be credited here as well, as her subtle yet authoritative performance makes Vogel as much of a live-wire this season as Ray Stevenson’s Isaak was last year. Rampling’s scenes with Michael C. Hall are an absolute treat, and between their duets and Hall’s scenes with Jennifer Carpenter, who is damn near showing off at this point, there’s an emotional heft I didn’t anticipate based on the premiére.
Vogel has a compelling reason to emerge from the shadows. The Brain Surgeon, who carves out the portion of his victims’ brains responsible for empathy, has been leaving the stolen slabs of brain matter on Vogel’s doorstep. Dexter is the only budding psychopath she set on the vigilante path, but she has used other unorthodox and apparently illegal techniques to help her young patients, and if one of her patients has gone rogue, she’s potentially exposed. Dexter resists; he doesn’t trust Vogel, and the code he once viewed as a natural progression of a father’s love, he now sees as a clinical trial conducted without his knowledge. It’s an especially bad time for the code to be recast this way, as Dexter’s guilt over Debra’s downward spiral continues to crest.
As usual, Dexter manages to stay one step ahead of his inept colleagues and tracks down Lyle Sussman, whose fingerprint was found on the plastic bag used to asphyxiate the latest victim. But Dexter arrives to find Sussman swinging from a noose, and a DVD later left for Vogel shows Sussman was forced to kill the victim at gunpoint by a killer still at large. Dexter is frustrated, having been wrong about Sussman and confronted with the fact that he was spinning his wheels as the real killer is plotting the next move. Vogel wastes no time in comforting him as his self-appointed “spiritual mother,” a role Dexter went from resisting at the episode’s beginning to embracing at its end. Their deformed mother-son bond is still taking shape, but to be told by Vogel that he’s perfect so shortly after being told by Debra that he’s cancerous is powerfully comforting for Dexter and justifies the swiftness of his change of heart.
Vogel spent much of the episode calming Dexter, reassuring him, burnishing his self-esteem, and telling him he can stalk and kill anyone if he applies himself, just as a mother would. And it’s what he needs to hear now that he’s playing the captive audience to Debra’s post-LaGuerta shame spiral. Debra manages to sidestep scrutiny on Briggs’ murder, and even succeeds at retrieving the bounty from Briggs’ jewelry store heist. But after courting death in a bruising confrontation with El Sapo, Debra does sloppily what her brother does so neatly—she stalks and kills him. It’s unusual enough to see an episode of Dexter in which there’s not a kill-of-the-week, but who would have imagined an episode in which Dexter doesn’t murder anyone but Debra does?
Dexter’s reaction to finding out what Deb did was both fascinating and credible. As Dexter figured out last week, Debra is his emotional rock to an equal if not greater degree than he is hers. More than that, Deb has been the person who reminds Dexter why he does what he does and why it matters. Because there are people like Debra in the world, people who are moral and just, and driven by a deep sense of order, fairness and justice, someone has to step up to close the loopholes in the legal system so innocents like Debra aren’t killed by predators. But Debra is far from innocent now. Killing LaGuerta was one thing, a poorly improvised solution to a wrenching dilemma, but the instinct that made Deb kill El Sapo comes from a different place, one even she can’t make sense of. It’s a side of his sister Dexter wouldn’t have wanted to know about, much less participate in, and just like that, Dexter is placed in the same awkward position he put Debra in last season.
This willingness to tighten its vise on Dexter and feed him his own medicine is part of what made “Every Silver Lining” work so well. Dexter has, more often than not, allowed its main character to float above not only the horror of his deeds, but the consequences of those deeds, which continue to clobber everyone around him. “What kind of gift destroys everything it cares about?” Dexter asks, struggling to believe Vogel’s sunny spin on his role in the food chain. Maybe it should have clicked for Dexter after Doakes was incinerated. Or perhaps after he found Rita in an overflowing bathtub of blood as Harrison sloshed around in it. Perhaps the epiphany should have come when Harrison was later kidnapped and nearly killed by Travis “Hello, whore” Marshall. But finally, in losing Deb, Dexter is forced to confront the cost of his actions rather than rationalizing them or wrapping them in superhero metaphors.
With Vogel now involved, this inner-conflict has the potential to give the final season its special sauce. Vogel isn’t Dexter’s first time experiencing unconditional love, but it is his first time experiencing in this way, with someone who valued and appreciated everything about him long before even he grasped an understanding of it. Dexter’s experience of being mothered is limited to Laura Moser, whom he watched get eviscerated with a chainsaw, so it only makes sense that he would become intoxicated by the maternal love Vogel gives him. The question becomes, will he be so intoxicated by Vogel’s motherly reinforcement that he readopts the notion that his path is righteous, even as evidence to the contrary continues to mount?
- Coto deserves a lot of the credit for this episode’s success, and he’s demonstrated a skill for skillfully deploying the elements of Dexter that can so easily spoil its broth. In particular, Coto has a knack for using the often redundant and unnecessary voiceovers and conversations with Ghost Harry in smart ways. Showrunner Scott Buck is not nearly as good as this, if the premiére is any indication. The voiceovers this week were illuminating and often funny, as opposed to last week, which was mostly Dexter finishing people’s sentences for them.
- There were a ton of great lines this week, most of them in Dexter’s scenes with Vogel. Dexter: “You experimented on me. That’s what mothers do?” Vogel: “I developed a framework for your survival. That’s what mothers do.”
- Generally speaking, Vogel’s role in the story makes Ghost Harry’s role feel less intrusive. Ghost Harry has been pulled back into the current events in such a way that these interactions makes sense and seem fruitful, rather than being an alternate method of communicating Dexter’s inner-monologue.
- Batista to Quinn, on how he figured out Quinn and Jamie are dating: “I’m a good detective.” Those words will taste like poison in your mouth, sweet Angel, should the season end with Dexter’s arrest.
- Sussman suffocated the victim while Mama Cass Elliot’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music” played in the background. For a second I was like “OMG, the killer is inside the hatch.” It was only a second though.
- Last week’s opener continued Dexter’s flawless streak of year-over-year audience growth. Given how aggressively Showtime has pushed the show to the press based on this being the last season, I doubt seriously the network would decide to cough up another season or two. But when it comes to Showtime’s shows, you can never totally rule out a jaw-dropping renewal.
- This was Hall’s directorial debut. Congrats to him.