I had an illuminating conversation with a friend the other day about this season of Dexter. I rifled off a litany of complaints about how this season is shaping up, and I said “I feel like the writers think I’m stupid because they keep trying to pretend the professor is real when he’s so clearly not.” She says, “The professor’s not real?” I hesitated a little and told her I couldn’t say for sure, but it was the impression that I got. She immediately thought it made sense after I mentioned it, but said that it had never occurred to her prior to that. The interesting part is that she characterized this season as “absolutely fucking terrible,” and she’s a Dexter diehard since season one, and a bit of a season five apologist.
The thing about writing for a site like this one, which boasts such a savvy, critical, close-reading commentariat is that it becomes harder to gauge how John and Jane Public are experiencing the show. I talk about the show with the folks who read this column, people who would notice such things. But my friend hates this season anyway, which reinforces the gut feeling I’d had all along, that season six is wrong all over the place. At all once, every element of the show seems out of whack, and there is a noticeable drop in the basic storytelling quality of the show. All season, the writers have pained themselves (and us) figuring out how to keep the secret that Gellar wasn’t real, and now after seeing “Get Gellar,” the shockingly inept reveal, it appears all the work was for naught. The real risk in structuring this season this way wasn’t the possibility that people would figure out that Gellar wasn’t real early on, it was the possibility that people would find out and still not give a shit.
I would imagine, though, that the experience of watching this episode had to have been a more enjoyable experience for a Dexter viewer to whom the validity of Gellar’s existence hadn’t occurred. For me, “Get Gellar” was absolutely painful, and more than a little embarrassing. I felt like I didn’t quite know this Dexter. I also felt like I didn’t quite know this Dexter. Dexter Morgan has been a more elastic character this season than ever before. There’s no coherence to any of the faith, redemption, or forgiveness themes that have pinballed off each other all season, no cumulative effect of Dexter’s fumbling attempt at spiritual awakening. Instead, Dexter is given his marching orders by the script of the week and follows them to the letter. Be friends with Brother Sam, the script says. Are you sure?, says Dexter. Then the script is all, Dude, seriously, do it. It’s gonna pay off big. This week, the script demanded that Dexter protect Travis and use him to track down Gellar, ending the Doomsday killings and freeing Travis of his dark passenger.
I’ve never bought Dexter’s almost paternal connection to Travis. I get it—Dexter has a son now and wants to believe he too can be redeemed—but I don’t buy it. Of course, Harry was in this episode to force down my throat much as he did with Brother Sam in “Just Let Go,” that there was a good reason why Dexter is behaving so out of character. But it feels completely contrived on so many levels. I do not believe that Dexter, the world’s biggest serial killer fan boy, wouldn’t have read enough David Berkowitz biographies to know that sometimes serial killers take orders from unlikely sources. Like dogs. Like the ghost of their dead fathers. Or the ghost of weird religion professors. I do not believe Dexter would try to redeem Travis without certainty that he wasn’t directly involved in the murders himself, regardless of Gellar’s influence. I do not believe that the Dexter we were introduced to, the preternaturally gifted detective with the Ghost Dad and the eagerness to kill murderers, would walk Travis around on a leash chasing a hallucination for this amount of time, and still not figure anything out until he found Gellar’s body in the freezer. No sir. I don’t want any of that.
Worse still, there’s a whole lot of show between Dexter freeing Travis from the church and those hilarious last few minutes, and not a whole lot of value to do with them. So what happened between those book ends? Quinn had a hangover and Batista helped him track his gun and cell phone to a Waffle House waitress Quinn had sex with after leaving the strip club. Then Batista’s car broke down and they got into big fight after Quinn insulted him. Louis, who is still an internet magician, tracked down the source of a new post on Gellar’s blog. He did this because he thought then Batista might see that he’s good enough for Jamie. Masuka gives him a weird pep talk, and next thing, Louis and Jamie are making it do what it do in Louis’s tacky loft. But…Louis has the prosthetic hand from evidence! Debra’s psychiatrist clears her schedule to dive into the mud pit that is Debra’s psyche. The upside of all that self-work is that Debra finally put LaGuerta in her place and vowed to reopen the dead call girl case. Matthews was the other person in the room when the call girl died, so now LaGuerta and Matthews are teaming up to take Debra down, setting the stage for her exit from the lieutenant position.
I do have to acknowledge the most awesome thing ever though (and the reasoning for the plus on my D), in which the Miami Metro gang stumbled on the murder scene of atheist professor Trent Casey and were pummeled by bowls full of entrails. The getting there was hard. The sequence in which Dexter and Travis tried to catch Gellar in the academic building made me feel as uncomfortable as I do watching a stand-up comedian bomb really badly. That it wouldn’t occur to Dexter after finding Casey’s body at the same location he and Travis had just been that maybe Travis was still involved (seeing as how he’d been stuck in an elevator the whole time) absolutely boggles the mind. But whatever, he is shocked to stumble upon the victim he was unable to save, and the team can’t find where the blood and guts from his hollow midsection have gone, only to have them rain down from above. I laughed and cheered when it happened. For one thing, it was an awesome image, equal parts Carrie and You Can’t Do That On Television. But beyond that, it was kind of like “Yeah, fuck you stupid characters and your stupid show!” It somehow didn’t feel like something the writers had put into a script and planned to put in the show. It felt, for a second, like the God of Television had been angered and was raining down his wrath on the terrible pacing, dull villains and non-twisty twists.
I wrote some episodes back about how season six of Dexter is a pivotal one, one that will largely define the impression of the show as it enters what are likely its last two or three seasons on the air. If the show had recovered after season five, it could have powered through to a compelling conclusion. Now I’m not sure what happens. I’m not sure how Dexter gets back to being the show it once was, or if it’s even possible now. I can say that in all likelihood that this is going to be the last season of Dexter I’ll watch. If this is the game now, I don’t want to play anymore.
- I was really disappointed that Matthews wound up being the person LaGuerta was talking to last week. I know I wrote it in last week’s Stray Observations, but I was hoping that for once the show might be able to pull off a surprising reveal. Alas, no. Matthews, just as I’d thought.
- What do we think is the over/under on Quinn’s death now? The writers are still continuing with his downward spiral and it seems like Deb is about to have a lot more to talk to her therapist about.
- The chair/table runner was sort of funny.
- Say what you will about Edward James Olmos’s performance as Gellar, but the man looked downright smart in that white cardigan.
- The idea that Gellar is Travis’s “Dark Passenger” is totally bizarre and doesn’t fit with the concept of a Dark Passenger as it’s ever been utilized on the show.
- I hate that Gellar is dead. If Gellar had been held captive alive in the cellar, it would have jolted the story even for people who guessed early on that the Gellar Travis was interacting wasn’t the real Professor Gellar. Instead, he’s dead in a freezer. Another opportunity squandered.