At this point, I think it's no secret that I have more of a love-hate relationship with Dexter than many of you do. Indeed, in comments a couple of weeks ago, some of you suggested I stop being so hard on the show. And yet, it's episodes like tonight that make it so easy to turn on the show at a moment's notice. For every nicely done moment, for every point where it felt like the show was moving toward some sort of catharsis, there was something else that was largely terrible, just an excuse for the show to move a bunch of plot elements out of the way in time for the finale. And for a season that's been haphazardly plotted at best, having a haphazardly plotted penultimate episode is ... an issue, particularly for a show where the airtight plotting has always been the chief selling point. (Even in my least favorite season prior to this one, season three, the plotting was generally very tight.)
Let's start with the biggest bust: Through a fairly clever callback (Dexter can see the video feed monitoring him and Lumen on his baby monitor), Dexter becomes aware that someone is spying on him. As the episode goes on, he becomes convinced it has something to do with Quinn, then spends his time staking out his neighborhood to figure out just which van or RV or abandoned apartment the video feed could be emanating from. So far, so good. He finally narrows it down to the van Liddy is using (a rental), then stalks over there to take out who he believes to be Quinn. Instead, Liddy gets the drop on him and tosses him into the back of the van, taking him out to an abandoned beach parking lot to get a full confession from Dexter. He's not entirely sure what he's got, but Liddy knows enough to know he's got a very big fish, though he'll need a confession for any of his evidence to stick. The bait he dangles in Dexter's face? Lumen gets to go free.
After nicely teasing out the Lumen and Dexter relationship for the better part of a season, the show needs it to have gotten very serious, very quickly, the better to push Dexter off his game. This isn't such a bad conceit. I can buy that for Dexter, it's amazing to have someone who bonds with him on such a fundamental level. I'm not sure I needed constant reminders of how much in love the two were, since every scene showed them kissing tenderly or holding hands or something, but the show has never lacked for constant reminders of the characters' situations. So Dexter's tempted by this offer, and when Liddy turns on the camera to get the confession ... Dexter kicks him in the face. There's a brief struggle, and Dexter manages to plunge the knife into Liddy's heart just as Quinn walks up to meet with Liddy about the big bust Liddy was going to make. Everything works out just fine at the last possible moment, though some of Liddy's blood drips on Quinn's shoe.
All in all, this takes about 10 minutes.
If Dexter were a better show, if it really were giving us a sense that all of the plots that have happened this season were coming down around the characters' ears all at once, I might be inclined to go with tossing this little short story into the midst of everything else and giving it a hectic pace all its own. But the overwhelming sense the storyline gives off is that all involved just wanted to take care of the Liddy storyline as quickly as possible, to get back to the Jordan Chase stuff. There's no real sense of menace. Once Liddy gets Dexter in the van, you know that Dexter's going to dispatch Liddy with a minimum of hand-wringing (after all, Harry's code provides for self-preservation). So the scene takes on an oddly perfunctory quality, as if the show were simply washing its hands of a plotline it put a lot of time and development into. Sure, Quinn knows a few suspicious things now, and this gave us at least one nice little scene between Deb and Dexter (though I'm less and less enamored of her psychic crime-fighting skills), but the whole thing feels like a waste of time and Peter Weller. It's introduced, only to be gotten rid of.
I'm sure some of you will argue that Dexter killing Liddy will show how far he's strayed from Harry's code or something like that, and I might buy that if we ever got the sense that anything on this show is cumulative, that moments in the past have an effect on the future. There have been moments this season, namely a couple of callbacks back when Dexter was under suspicion of Rita's murder, where it felt like the show might finally start to pull all of its sundry plot points from over the years together, but those moments ended up being just another stall. Dexter has killed innocent men before. He's killed people who were on his trail before. I know from watching this show that he'll maybe think about it for a scene or two and then get on with things. I'm not the first person to make this comparison, but with the way that nothing on Dexter feels like it adds up to anything more than the season it's contained in, the show has the feel of something like 24, where every season is its own plotline and there's very little crossover between seasons.
What's shocking to me is just how much "Hop A Freighter" feels like a placeholder episode, especially this late in the game. There are certainly nice moments and nice scenes throughout, and I think that Dexter trying to track down Jordan and Lumen is a pretty great idea for the finale. But the overall sense was of the show marking time before it really had to get into the nitty gritty of wrapping all of this up. Deb and the crew at homicide close in on Jordan Chase and the link between him and the many men who've been mysteriously disappearing. (There's a funny scene in this storyline where Quinn unintentionally makes a grieving woman's pain all the worse by telling her her husband wasn't gay but ... was a rapist. Nice going, Quinn.) Deb's vigilante theory gets more credence thanks to something Masuka finds. Deb and LaGuerta have it out. Jordan kills Emily. Dexter tracks Lumen and Jordan using his blood spatter analysis skills (a scene that's pretty nifty, honestly).
But the episode wastes a lot of tension that's been building all season long by dispatching of Liddy in such a perfunctory way. I get that Liddy's body is still floating around out there, just waiting for someone to discover it and tie everything to Dexter. I get that Quinn now knows enough to start pasting together pieces in his lunkheaded brain. And I get that the many threats on all sides are making Dexter sloppy. But this would all be a little more tense if I thought it would have any bearing on the show's future whatsoever. Without a firm end date, there's essentially nowhere for this show to GO. There's just Dexter hanging out and doing his thing and then the fate of whatever guest star happens to drop in for that season. Put another way, the Dexter and Lumen relationship has been the most fascinating thing in the show this season, but now that the two are in love, there's a definite sapping of tension out of the relationship. We've always known Lumen would need to leave one way or another; the question has stopped being who Dexter would be to her when she left and has boiled down to something far less interesting: How will she leave?
- Toward the end, Dexter is following the blood trail and asks whether everything he loves must end in blood. Honestly, I expected him to rip open his shirt and start howling at the fucking moon.
- Dexter is headed up to Orlando soon for Harrison's birthday party. Lumen invites herself along, which means she's probably gonna die. (Though, honestly, given the zig-zaggy nature of the season, I'd guess she just hops on a plane and goes elsewhere for the duration of the show's run.)
- Dexter was renewed for a sixth season, so we'll have the show to kick around for at least another year. This season has been the highest rated yet, so I'm sure we'll have the show for at least another two years, if not three, actually. It's far too valuable to Showtime, and Showtime doesn't have even an ounce of artistic credibility at this point. (Exhibit B: Weeds, which apparently had a good season but is STILL ON?)