“Nebraska” is a tough episode to grade. On the one hand, it’s exactly the episode I expected following last week’s, so it met my expectations but did nothing to reverse or even contain the issues with the way this season was conceived. I wasn’t electrified by the return of Brian Moser last week, not because it’s a faulty idea but because it’s an interesting idea that I knew wasn’t going to be explored in earnest. Had Brian been introduced somehow in the first or second episode of a season, I’d have been really intrigued by the idea of Dexter not only probing the Code of Harry for weaknesses, as he’s done before, but imagining what life would have been like had he accepted Brian’s invitation. To present that idea this far into what has been a fairly rudderless season so far turns a story thread with real potential into a sleight-of-hand trick intended to distract from the Doomsday Duo as long as possible.
I’ll get into the Doomsday Duo, and then I’ll jump back to Brian ‘n’ Dexter’s homicidal, rock-n-roll road trip. It is, of course, no coincidence that Travis and Gellar’s creative differences overlapped with Brian’s return. I wondered throughout the season how the writers planned to pull off Ghost Gellar with so many ghosts running around already making the possibility beyond obvious. I’m still totally convinced that the Gellar we’re seeing is not a flesh-and-blood person, but having Travis try to return to a quiet life with his sister, leaving Gellar to “carry on” in his absence, would have muddied the water if I hadn’t made up my mind already. I caught some flak in the comments last week for having given short shrift to Travis’s release of the would-be Whore of Babylon. But stuff like that, or anything that transpired this week between Travis and Gellar, is only of interest to me if it flies directly in the face of the idea that Travis and Gellar are one and the same. So when I see Travis release the “whore,” or argue with Gellar about wanting his life back, it’s hard for me to get invested in any of it. (Even though the latter scene was one of the first in which Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos both held my attention.) There’s still a vacuum where a villain is supposed to be, and the Doomsday Duo still isn’t cutting it.
That means the only real red meat in the episode came in Dexter’s impulsive road trip to Nebraska. To add to all the stress he’s been going through since the death of his instant best friend Brother Sam, Deb had more bad news. Arthur Mitchell, the Trinity Killer, had managed to find his family in their small-town hiding place. He killed his wife and his daughter, and only Jonah managed to escape the ordeal alive. Of course, Dexter killed Trinity, after setting the mood with a little music, so he knew instantly that Jonah must be responsible. Jonah killed his mother and sister, and staged the scene to look like Trinity had returned. The scene with Dexter, Deb, and Brian highlights the problem with the execution of Brian’s return for me. The writing for Brian was cute and quippy, not unlike Dexter’s voiceover, which was cut this week to make room for Brian’s voice. While that makes sense logically—this is not Brian Moser, but Dexter’s manifestation of him—to lend Brian this madcap energy and lean on him for comic relief takes out the danger and menace that the character represented. This Brian Moser didn’t seem dark or sinister as much as wacky and impetuous, which is not the version of this story I’d have imagined.
Yet, there was something really fun about seeing Dexter cut loose. As much as Dexter says stuff like “Time to play” when it’s time to take down one of his targets, and even though he looks to be having a good time, it often doesn’t feel like fun to the audience because it’s such an painstaking, effortful and meticulous process. It’s like watching a type-A neat freak organize a closet; you can believe that it’s fun for them, but it’s not fun to watch. Seeing Dexter have a hasty hookup with a barely legal gas station attendant, then steal a pistol and speed down the road shooting at road signs actually looked fun. There were moments in this episode that I liked so much, I hoped the writers would hang on to this idea and see where it led.
The problem is that the writers of Dexter seem to always feel like they are walking a razor-thin line with the character. Even as they throw out the idea of Dexter and Brian on a rampage, they seem frightened that to push him too far in that direction would turn the audience against him. So the rampage didn’t end up yielding many kills. In fact, Dexter’s only victim winds up being Norm, the shady, pot-growing motel attendant who swipes Dexter’s knives and forensic equipment. After confronting Jonah with his theory and losing him, Dexter confronts Norm to get his tools back, and not only does Norm extort him, but he points a gun at him and threatens to kill him. The execution of this moment is telling, because it demonstrates the degree to which the writers were trying to avoid moral ambiguity at all costs. It might have been interesting if Norm was merely trying to extort him. It would have put Dexter in a precarious position, sure, but wouldn’t have been an instance in which killing the guy would have been called for according to Dexter’s code. “Brian” took over and actually stabbed Norm with the pitchfork, but did he even have to? At the point that Norm threatened Dexter’s life, killing him became justifiable, not just according to Dexter’s code but according to… y’know, the laws of nature.
Jonah lures Dexter into a trap to try to kill him, but Dexter gets the jump on him and gets him to admit the truth of what happened. Becca committed suicide, driven to madness by her mother who was still grieving the loss of the man who victimized them for so long. After finding her body, he snaps and kills Sally, and now, he can’t live with the grief. Dexter doesn’t end Jonah’s misery, even though Jonah is begging for death and Brian is egging him on. And after a brief confrontation, the return of Brian is in the rearview by the time Dexter gets back to Miami. I’m curious to know if the viewers who were excited by Brian’s return were satisfied by the way things played out. Considering the manner and speed with which the idea was burned through, I’d say the execution was lacking. “Nebraska” was more enjoyable than last week’s episode, but for a road trip episode, it sure felt like the wheels were spinning in place.
- This week in Miami Metro: LaGuerta is a bitch to Deb, but because Deb’s solve stats are terrible; Deb and Quinn have a moment of catharsis but agree to stay single; Louis was busy between narrowing down suspects, dating Jamie, and working on his Miami Metro video game.
- Even though I only mentioned it in passing here, I really did enjoy the scene between Deb and Quinn.
- We opened with Dexter disposing of Nick’s body, and Brian tosses Dexter one of the bags. Between that and Brexter’s murder of Shady Nick, it seems that however we see Gellar interacting with the physical world doesn’t contradict the idea that Gellar isn’t real.
- The perils of auto-correct: “I texted my boss that I had two tickets to Jizz Fest.”