Dexter is always at its best when it feels like it's headed somewhere momentous. The first few episodes of this season, particularly the ones that were showing us Trinity's methodical killing patterns, had a bit of this feeling, but since then, the season has often felt lost in the woods (and, indeed, had one episode where the characters literally were out in the woods). Last week's Thanksgiving episode was enjoyable for its scenes between Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow, but it was also easy to get the sense that it was yet another episode where the writers were treading water. Not so with "Lost Boys," which essentially grabs every damn piece the show has placed on the board this season and begins moving them about willy nilly, all the while adding a few new pieces to the equation. Fundamentally, there's nothing different here from previous seasons, but the show is moving with such confidence that it feels like there's something exciting going on. And that makes "Lost Boys" by far the most enjoyable episode so far of a fairly uneven season.
But let's start with some of the things that didn't work in the episode. For one thing, I'm still not quite buying the sheer, convenient coincidence inherent in the fact that Christine is Arthur's daughter (from a previous relationship we know nothing about). The show tries to explain all of this away - Christine clued in to Arthur's doings because she saw him killing the first Miami bathtub murder victim, then used her smarts to figure out that he was killing lots of women around the country (making kind of an intuitive leap based on a memory from when she was 5, if we're being honest). Because she desired protecting the father who held her at arm's length - which makes psychological sense - she somehow managed to recruit just the right cop in just the right precinct to be able to keep an eye on Lundy, which fortuitously led to her being able to shoot him and Deb.
It's the whole, "She just happened to be Quinn's girlfriend!" thing that bugs me here. If she had been introduced as the reporter in the episode where Lundy had been shot, it might have been easier to realize she was the culprit, but it also might have felt less like the twist came out of nowhere. From there, the show could have her get involved with Quinn or fistfight Masuka or whatever it wanted. Even as the show tries to explain this away as her keeping an eye out for her dad, it feels like the series is tap dancing to explain away something that was a cool twist that didn't exactly stand up to logic. The work put in to making sure that she made sense as the murderer was much more organic, and even if it was frustrating to watch Deb and Angel stay just a few steps behind the audience at picking up on this, it was the kind of thing the whole Christine-Arthur relationship could have used just a little bit more of.
Similarly, the show needs to figure out a better way to use Harry and the Dexter voiceovers, or it needs to abandon them next season. I get why everyone involved wants to keep James Remar around, and there are always one or two bon mots in any given episode from Dexter's brain, but one of the things that made Trinity so compelling a character the whole season was the way the series let us observe him and draw our own conclusions for the most part. Every so often, Dexter would drop by and yap away on the soundtrack, but we were usually observing Arthur in something approaching his natural element and getting a sense of who he was and how he functioned. With Dexter and Harry and the voiceovers, you get entire scenes that drag on and on and on because everything needs to be fit in there, like the one where Dexter seemingly searched every missing child report in history when everyone could have gotten the point after two or three.
But you know what? These are minor points in an episode that was genuinely suspenseful and fun to watch throughout. Putting a kid in danger is kind of an overdone way to generate a ticking clock of suspense, but when Arthur kidnapped young Scott, it provided just as much insight into why he is the way he is as it did create a deadline for Dexter to push up against. (Also, the method Arthur used validated my wife's longstanding fear that those back window decals that show a family and all of the members' names are a kidnapper's best friend. Again, these Arthur scenes are so good precisely because the show doesn't over-explain what he's doing to us.) At the same time, everyone back at the precinct was dealing with Deb's increasingly less crazy notion that Christine was bad news. Seeing Angel working on a case reminded me of just how much fun he can be in the police procedural aspects of the show, and watching Masuka try to figure out how to tell Dexter what he saw on Thanksgiving was fun too.
And even after it seemed like the show was bringing up every possible little clue it dropped all season long, right down to Dexter enlisting Jonah in his search for the missing boy (without Jonah even knowing), it just kept plunging forward, with a sort of bravado that suggested the series has been waiting to get to this point for a long time now. Valerie, the woman who's going to shed light on Harry's past for Deb and presumably put her on the trail of Dexter as serial killer, turned up again, as if the show wanted to remind us she was still out there. The notion of Dexter killing an innocent man - dropped surprisingly quickly earlier this season - was brought back up in the context of how much guilt it made him feel for using his family as a human shield. Hell, Dexter slipping away from the camping trip a few episodes ago even came up, drawing Cody into a fight.
There's a good reason the best Dexter episodes tend to involve the guy playing cat and mouse with someone who either wants him dead or knows his secret. Those are the episodes that create a real, palpable tension between what we know should happen (Dexter should go to jail) and what we want to happen (Dexter should remain free to kill again). The biggest problems with all of the suburban ennui and assorted plotlines come from the fact that much of this tension gets shoved to the background in favor of bumbling suburban antics. This is not to say that the show can't play Dexter's emotional growth for real pathos and heart - look at how well it's dealing with the fact that he's started to realize how deeply he feels for the kids this season. It's to say that the show gets more mileage when the serial killer has something real and vital at risk, not when it feels like a crazy fish-out-of-water programmer from the mid-80s.
- OK, one more complaint. Watching Dexter haul the kid out of the cement was really pretty cool, but having Arthur just escape like that made him seem too much like a supervillain. No matter how much I want to see the guy turn the tables on Dexter to see what happens, I'd prefer he remain human.
- "Hey, Venus" now joins Johnny Mathis' "Wonderful, Wonderful" on the list of songs that have been made unbearably creepy for me thanks to television.
- Predictions on how this is all going to shake out? I'm holding fast to my "Deb figures out Dexter's secret" prediction from way back when, but I also think we're going to say goodbye to Arthur in next week's episode, with the final episode devoted entirely to Deb/Dexter machinations. (And this is total guesswork, based on nothing more than my own fevered dreams of how I'd write the show. Your mileage, as always, may vary.)