The key exchange of tonight’s episode took place between Dexter and Angel at a bar, as the two commiserated over batshit Lila’s attempt to win Dexter back by framing Angel for rape:
Dexter: “If I got to choose a person—a real person—to be like, out of anyone it would be you.”
Angel: “Um…I’m not really sure what that means, but thanks.”
The tragicomic dialogue says plenty about Dexter’s shame about his sub-human nature, but it’s Michael C. Hall’s expression that tells the rest of the story—his eyes filled with regret and exhaustion, he knows he can’t transcend who he is and what he’s done. A few scenes earlier, in a quiet exchange with Doakes, director Marcos Siega pulled the classic visual trick of framing Dexter as if he were the one trapped in a cage. At this point, he only has two options and either one put him behind bars literally or metaphorically: He can come clean, redeem an innocent man, and start taking responsibility for what he’s done, which would wreck the lives of those closest to him, specifically Deb, Rita, and the children. Or he can keep on covering his tracks and frame Doakes as the Bay Harbor Butcher, which would satisfy Rule #1 of Harry’s Code (“Don’t get caught”) while burdening his conscience all the more. For the show to continue, he’ll have to pick the second option, but it’s a lose-lose proposition.
Regarding Dexter’s predicament, I’m reminded of how mothers respond to insincere atonement: “Are you sorry because you mean it or are you sorry because you got caught?” I think that scene with Angel makes it clear that he’s sorry because he means it, but perhaps it took getting caught by Doakes to really force him into sincere reflection. More so than even Lila, Doakes (who has killed a few people in his time, too) has the best read on what makes Dexter tick and he’s persuasive enough to convince Dexter to turn himself in, at least for a time. These testy little heart-to-hearts between the two have really given the last couple of episodes a boost, and I’m a little sad to see it end.
After the major character revelations last week, “Left Turn Ahead” does a lot of table-setting for next week’s big finale, but the plotting is mostly strong (as it’s been all season, really) and not entirely at the expense of character, either. Heading into last season’s finale, too much was already worked out: We knew that Deb’s boyfriend was the Ice Truck Killer (actually, many of us figured that out the second he came on the screen) and that she was now a damsel in distress, waiting for her brother to rescue her. Granted, the ITK brought Dexter to a critical decision by laying Deb out so tantalizingly on a slab, but the ending was perhaps a bit too rote and predictable. I’m more heartened by the way this season has developed, but it’s going to be hard for the writers to bring it all home without essentially erasing the board for Season Three.
So what to do about Doakes? For a while, Doakes has Dexter convinced that he should consider taking responsibility for his actions and turn himself in. He takes some serious steps towards that goal, too—by having a final day out on the boat with Rita and the kids, by dragging a notary public to Deb’s desk with papers regarding his living will (love the lack of inflection on “We’re all going to die eventually”), and by frying up some steaks with Deb as foreplay to the big confession. Dexter braces himself for an unfavorable response—that montage of possible Deb reactions was another comic highlight—but he winds up having an inevitable change of heart. Ultimately, Dexter has to look out for numero uno, and it’s the easier choice to save himself, even if a decent, innocent man like Doakes has to pay for his crimes.
As Doakes works on getting himself out of the cage—only to get nabbed later by gun-toting drug-runners and thrown back in the clink by Dexter—the other loose cannon, Lila, presents a threat of another kind. Some commenters were complaining on the boards last week that Lila’s rape frame-up on Angel was a pretty desperate and ill-considered ploy, but I think we’re intended to see it that way. She’s crazy and irrational enough to believe that whenever Dexter is in duress, he’ll fall back into her arms, curled up in a fetal ball. And if the rape scheme doesn’t work, she can always just destroy his friend’s life out of spite. Dexter sees through her plan instantly, of course, and Deb takes steps to boot her out of town, but Lila isn’t the sort to skedaddle when she’s not wanted; she’s more like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, turning up the burners for a little rabbit stew.
Then there’s Deb and Lundy, determined to get a few gross lovey-dovey moments in before the case closes. I’m not sure how things will play out next week, but I’m a little disappointed by the Lundy character, who seemed at first like a strong, cool-headed adversary for Dexter, but has now gotten permanently sidetracked by this May-December romance. His instincts still tell him that Doakes may not be his man, despite all evidence to the contrary, and he’s interested in quietly helping (or at least indulging) Maria’s attempts to exonerate him. But now that his boss is in town, railroading his case in favor of an all-out manhunt on Doakes, Lundy can do little but play footsie in the meantime. I still like Keith Carradine’s relaxed and confident performance, but he’s fading fast as a relevant player this season.
Nevertheless, the Lila-Doakes meeting makes a nice cliffhanger for the big finale. Granted, the circumstances leading Lila to the cabin stretch credulity a lot more than I’d like: I know he’s been sloppy lately, but why would someone as meticulous as Dexter leave the address on his GPS? If they teach you anything in Master Crook 101, it’s that if you have a cabin that houses cocaine, a dismembered body, and a locked-up police detective, you do anything you can to keep other people from finding it. It’s just common sense.
• When Doakes escapes from the cabin and encounters an alligator, did anyone else flash back to Elisha Cuthbert’s run-in with a mountain lion on 24? Thank God the animal was only metaphorical here.
• Funny bit with Angel dragging the microwave into work for Masuka to check for prints. Even funnier to think about Lila making microwave popcorn, which is about the least edgy thing a crazy person like her could do.
• “Like an Old West sheriff.” Dexter finds a way to see himself as a hero again—and not a moment too soon.