On last week’s message board, after I enthused about Dexter powering into its third act, reader “anon” cautioned:
Unlike you, I'm not a fan of the third act shift. The need to bring things to a head and also wrap them up tends to mean plot dominates over character. I don't deny enjoying the ratcheting up of the tension, but at the same time I expect that Dexter will emerge "victorious" (= not imprisoned) somehow. Expecting too much from the plot mechanics would leave me open to disappointment if they're creaky.
There were times during this week’s episode, “Resistance Is Futile,” where I could see what he was getting at. Even now, I’m having trouble figuring out what to write about the episode because so much of it involved the gears of the plot doing a lot of grinding, while leaving Dexter’s characterization on the back burner. And yet I still found it a riveting hour, partly because the thriller mechanics were mostly very satisfying and partly because the writers found ways to make them illuminate character. In his distress and scramble to tie up numerous incriminating loose ends, Dexter is still telling us a lot about who he is.
Tonight, we’re reminded that Rule #1 of Harry’s Code is “Don’t get caught.” Turns out that now is an excellent time for Dexter to return to his stepfather’s teachings, because not getting caught naturally supercedes any other concern in his life at present. It was great to see James Remar return for the first time in weeks to make plain the consequences of a killer getting found out; seeing his own reflection superimposed against the visage of someone in the electric chair definitely made a lasting impression on young Dexter. Self-preservation is paramount for an obvious reason: If he gets caught, he dies. And so self-preservation trumps any other tenet in the Code, which now makes Dexter capable of doing anything to anyone if it means saving his own ass. Heading into the final three episodes, Rule #1 helps to clarify his actions and makes him more dangerous than usual.
With Lila out of the way—at least in his heart and mind, though definitely not in reality—Dexter seems to have found his old self again, the man that was on the road to relative normalcy before Lila and revelations about his past had him lurching in an unfamiliar direction. When he apologizes to Rita on the lawn, he seems surprised by his sincerity (“I feel such regret, which is rare for me”) and reveals that he really does care about her and the kids and what they might mean for his future. He’s remorseful about his affair with Lila and he’s sincere enough that we believe Rita is convinced. This isn’t a “performance,” meant to restore the mere impression of normalcy that’s so important as a cover for his serial killing ways; it’s simply a regretful guy speaking from the heart. That’s progress.
Still, “Resistance Is Futile” had lots of narrative business to get out of the way, so let’s get to it. A gold star for those of us—which is to say, everyone—who predicted that Doakes was going to get set up for the BHB fall. One has to question the wisdom of Doakes pilfering Dexter’s slides and sticking them in the back of his car; given his suspension for erratic behavior and the fact that he’d broken into Dexter’s apartment, he had to know that the slides would incriminate him more than his nemesis. Still, it fits his character: He’s the sort of no-bullshit guy who lumbers his way to the truth without worrying about what anyone thinks of him or his freewheeling methods.
But for an episode that was all about tying up loose ends, there seemed to be new problems with each solution, and I tip my hat to the writers for keeping things less than tidy. That showdown with Doakes seemed at first like a conventional way to end their little cat-and-mouse game, with Doakes finally catching Dex in the act, only to have the tables turned on him. But even with Doakes caged up, Dexter has a lose-lose situation on his hands: If he kills him, he loses the prime, open-and-shut suspect in the Bay Harbor Butcher case and his chance for a clean getaway. If he doesn’t kill him… well… what’s he going to do then but hope that his word is more convincing than Doakes’? And how’s he going to explain that bullet wound in his thigh? Or slip back into the apartment that the FBI guys have been guarding all day? Or finally dispose of Santos Jimenez’s body?
And then there’s the loose cannon that is Lila, who isn’t deterred by Dexter’s ominous warnings at the end of the last episode. Why should she be? She’s a brazen, obsessive figure who’s locked onto Dexter, and doesn’t know nearly as much about him as she thinks she does; yes, he has a dark side behind that mask of his, but does she know her life is in danger? Probably not. And if she did know, maybe she’d feel like she was still in command of the situation anyway. Whatever the case, her involvement with Angel isn’t good news for Dexter—though it’s not bad news for Angel, who finally has something to do—and her knowledge of Jimenez is a trump card that she’s bound to play when the time is right.
I guess that leaves Lundy and Deb to talk about, but I’ll take a pass on that for now. Just thinking about that pillow talk gives me the heebie-jeebies. “Mad skilz?” Shudder.
• I don’t know how I failed to mention that hilariously literal dream sequence that opened the episode. I’m generally not a fan of the dream-sequence-as-psychological-lynchpin (e.g. The Sopranos), so it was refreshing to see Dexter’s anxieties laid right out on the table: “My subconscious is not even bothering with symbolism.”
• When Dexter says of Lila, “Can’t live with her, can’t kill her,” is that just a cute twist on the old expression or should we take him at his word? I really don’t see how she can escape this season with her life.
• Should Doakes wind up taking the fall for Dexter, does this mean Maria will become the new Doakes? She’s pretty convinced her friend isn’t the BHB and Lundy doesn’t give a half-damn about it. And since it’s his investigation, her protestations currently don’t amount to a hill of beans in the short run, but may come back to haunt Dexter in the long run.