After last week's sensational season premiere, Dexter probably had to take a couple of steps back to keep the show from getting too dark and despairing. In the process, though, the series re-acquired a case of the stupids it seemed to have set aside last week. "Hello, Bandit" isn't terrible or anything, but it has moments in it that are as idiotic as anything the show's ever done (and that's saying something), as well as largely useless subplots for the supporting cast. I like where the episode ends up - in a place that's very dreary - but it sure seems like the road there is riddled with problematic decisions and weird plotting.
Last week, I praised the plotting of Dexter for drawing the noose ever tighter around its main character. This is true, but only to a point. I like the relentlessness of the plotting on Dexter, but it's rarely unpredictable, and that can be death to a suspense show like this. Now that Quinn is on the trail of Kyle Butler and playing mix and match with the three sketches the Mitchell family came up with (and, honestly, they all had trouble describing Dexter?), it's fairly obvious that he will eventually come to the conclusion that Kyle was Dexter, and that Dexter has a weird connection to Arthur Mitchell. From there, he will presumably make the leap to realize that Dexter is a serial killer somehow. Now that the show has introduced this plot, I already want it to be headed into its end game, precisely because I don't terribly foresee the show tossing any random methods of gumming up the works.
But maybe I'm wrong. For one thing, I figured that the FBI investigation of Dexter would take up much more of the season, but it was quickly dispatched with via some pretty nifty continuity: Dexter can't be Rita's killer because he was involved in the raid on Arthur Mitchell's house, a plot point I'd entirely forgotten about from last season. It's seemed so often that the seasons of Dexter are closed off from each other, with little crossover in plot points between them, that it's surprisingly effective for the show to simply call back to the Arthur Mitchell storyline, even as it's not really doing anything but pulling in off-screen evidence. The Mitchell family doesn't appear at all, yet their presence looms over the episode. Finally, the past is starting to have echoes for what Dexter does, and that's a good thing.
The main plots of the episode, however, are more problematic, placing good and bad right against each other. Dexter rents a moving van to help move the kids' stuff out of the house where Rita was murdered, and when he's in the process of renting the van, he notices a blood splotch on the wood of the van's floor. This comes complete with sudden, sharp focus on the stain and weird harp glissandos on the soundtrack, so you know that what Dexter has found is IMPORTANT. From there, the storyline proceeds haphazardly, as pretty much everything goes exactly right for Dexter to be able to find the previous renter of the van (including Dexter's preternatural ability to guess employee passwords), who turns out to be an animal control officer with a weirdly enthusiastic attitude toward his work, including a big barrel full of animal carcasses in his backyard.
Up until Dexter goes to the guy's house, this storyline is pretty stupid. The constant highlighting of the blood stain is yet another example of the show continually underlining plot points that the audience has already figured out. The show probably only needed the one rapid focus on the blood stain to explain just why Dexter became so interested in that particular van. And the pursuit of animal control dude is the very laziest kind of writing, mostly shoehorned in around the other plots so that the show can get back to the central franchise of Dexter pursuing the worst of the worst and making them pay for their crimes. But once Dexter gets to the guy's house, the plot randomly becomes intensely exciting. Our villain comes home from work as Dexter is digging around the house, and Dexter has to play cat and mouse with the guy inside his own house as he rants about how he needs to reach out there and TAKE what he wants. Sure, it's a little convenient that this dude just left a lock of some girl's hair out on the floor, but it eventually leads Dexter to discover that, yep, he's been killing blondes and leaving them in barrels out in the swamp.
Meanwhile, the emotional core of the episode gets more attention, which is why the thing's not a total loss. Astor and Cody are, understandably, still traumatized by the loss of their mother, and though Dexter tries to help, he has little to no idea of how to guide them through this. The episode, then, becomes about how he tries to get back in the good graces of Astor, the better to keep them around him. He needs them, both to maintain his cover and because he - even though he'd likely never say it - loves them. The final scene, when the two head off with their grandparents, is oddly touching, even if it's clearly a way for the writers to free up Dexter to kill with impunity again.
If the Dexter stuff was a mixed bag, then the supporting cast stuff was largely awful. Angel found out that La Guerta has a large sum of money in a savings account, and she doesn't want him to have access to it. Oh no! Deb stumbled upon - and I swear I am not making this up - some sort of cultist ritual murder that involved removing a woman's head, then cutting out her tongue and eyes. There's an attempt to suggest her husband did it, then shot himself, but this is Dexter (not to mention television). We all know it's going to be the crazy cult that's doing this. I suppose there's a way this plot could be carried off with some sort of grace, but it more or less suggests a season finale where Dexter has to infiltrate a cult, wearing secret robes, and that seems ... stupid. Also, Quinn was sad that Deb didn't like him more, and Masuka didn't like doing Dexter's job. It'd be one thing if all of these plots were only in a scene or two, but they took up a surprising amount of running time, and not a one of them had much, if any, worth to them.
The early going in any season of Dexter is going to have some rough spots. The show is so plot-driven that getting the plot going always involves a certain amount of dragging it bodily onto the rails. So I'm not going to get too worked up about "Hello, Bandit," since I'm still convinced the show is doing the tough work of letting Dexter grieve his wife's death in his own way. But there are so many stupid and shoddy decisions scattered throughout the episode that there's that element of fear, that element of concern that all of this is going to play out in the most hackneyed way possible. I'm keeping the faith for now, but I've also spotted a telltale stain on the wooden floor, and the camera is wildly zooming in on it while spinning around as a calliope plays menacing circus music on the soundtrack.
- This episode has a great final shot that makes the whole of what preceded it feel more melancholy and terrifying than it has any right to feel.
- Honestly, this is the first time I've liked the use of Harry in a long, long time. If the new regime at the show at least makes Harry a useful character again, that will be one thing they've accomplished for the show as it looks toward its future.
- I do like the term "fuck-puddle."
- Dexter had its biggest season premiere ratings ever last week, which suggests that we'll have this show with us for at least another season and likely two.