The good news about hitting rock bottom is that there’s nowhere to go but up. So the silver lining around “Get Gellar” is that after weeks of coming to this space to challenge the fundamental viability of Dexter as a television show, I can now offer a little praise, even if it’s of the extremely faint variety. “Ricochet Rabbit” isn’t the worst episode of Dexter I’ve ever seen, because that position was filled last week. It was, however, still a deeply inept hour of television that boggled my mind, and did nothing to dissuade me from swearing off Dexter after this season wraps up.
I don’t want to minimize the degree to which “Ricochet Rabbit” was a brisker and more engaging episode of the show than we’ve seen in weeks. It wasn’t any better written or plotted, but the Ghost Gellar twist was such a drain on the season, regardless of whether or not you saw it coming, that having the secret out in the open created the illusion of forward momentum that had been missing for weeks. In order to pull off the twist, it wasn’t possible to have Dexter doggedly pursuing the Doomsday Duo. He had to have his hands full with other things—The Tooth Fairy, Harrison’s illness, Brother Sam’s murder, Brian’s brief return—because it would strain credulity that Dexter could have meticulously observed Travis as he normally does his prospective victims, and not figure out that Gellar wasn’t real. The Ghost Gellar twist was awful to its core, a poorly executed take on a shopworn idea. But like it or not, that’s the idea the writers went with, so it was unavoidable that the story would meander as the season snaked toward that embarrassing reveal. Now that Pandora’s chest freezer has been opened, the story can shift out of neutral.
The problem with that though, as we’ve been discussing in the comments for weeks, is that after the Gellar reveal, the burden of carrying the season immediately shifts to the frail shoulders of Colin Hanks. I’m convinced that even in spite of Hanks’s shortcomings, there is a way this story could have been carried off in an interesting way. How would it fit into Dexter’s code to kill a man who clearly suffers from psychological issues? Dexter’s victims are typically people of sound mind who kill out of greed, anger, or narcissism. What about one who is just a victim of childhood trauma and faulty brain chemistry, much like Dexter himself? The fourth season of True Blood explored a somewhat similar idea of having a villain and an innocent person cohabitating in one body, and even that show—which has always emphasized outlandish, Twitter-worthy moments over coherent storytelling—managed to explore it in an intriguing, gradual way. Travis could have been an opportunity for the show to wade into the moral greys that its writers seem to studiously avoid now. What if, for example, Dexter had known early on that Travis was taking orders from an imaginary Gellar and felt like it wouldn’t be appropriate to kill him given the circumstances, but also, for whatever reason, wasn’t able to push the Miami Metro gang towards apprehending Travis without compromising himself? That would have been interesting. But with “Nebraska,” the writers of Dexter made their fear of moral ambiguity absolutely clear. Travis was one way, now he’s another way, the writers seem to be saying. Work the particulars out on your own, that’s not our responsibility.
The result is that in “Ricochet Rabbit,” Travis had to immediately transition from a misguided milquetoast into a gleefully homicidal zealot in the span of a single scene. The hilariously written exchange between Travis and Ghost Gellar established a bunch of things really quickly: Gellar was never involved in the tableaus; the only reason he got fired to begin with was that Travis stole the dagger; he encouraged Travis to get professional help and Travis responded by killing him. Travis vows to find new disciples to carry on the mission (I guess because he’s tired of rigging those tableaus alone, and who could blame him?) and stalks away. Everything about this scene was confusing and awkward. It required that Dexter intently watch a one-sided conversation, while occasionally entertaining quippy remarks from his own Ghost Dad, even though all the pertinent information he needed was revealed as soon as he opened the freezer, and all he was doing by watching the half-exchange was giving Travis ample time to escape. It also required that Gellar and Travis swap roles in an instant, and the mechanism by which this happened is still kind of murky to me. Is Gellar a figment of Travis’s imagination or an actual ghost? If it’s the former, why is the Travis-projected Gellar suddenly arguing with Travis about the wisdom of his actions? If it’s the latter, there are seriously ghosts on this show now? If it sounds like I’m admitting that I don’t, and maybe never have understood the Harry character, it’s because I am. Season six is beyond bad now, it’s corrosive. It’s been handled so poorly, now I’m questioning the fundamental concepts on which the show is built. I’ll give extra credit for anyone who can explain the evolution and current exact meaning of the term “Dark Passenger.”
Unfortunately, the problems of “Ricochet Rabbit” extended beyond the goofy coda to Dexter and Travis’s church confrontation, mostly because to a greater degree than perhaps we’ve seen all season, it required people to act in bizarrely convenient ways to accommodate the story. People have to be able to leave video comments on Blogger, and they have to fill out profiles about themselves detailed enough that any law enforcement professional could track them down to question them about, say, the video they left on a serial killer’s personal website in which they encourage said killer to continue his work then announce their participation in it. They have to give out information freely to whoever directly asks for it, without the least concern for who is asking and why. I understand that at this stage of this show, listing these types of complaints is a case of “Waiter, there’s some soup in my soup,” but I feel like while the show has gotten mighty stupid on its fringes, it has tended toward fair play regarding Dexter and his investigations. The chain of events that led Dexter to Travis was careless, lazy and bereft of logic, and that was a shame given that Dexter’s pursuit of Holly Benson was the closest thing in a while to an A-story with genuine stakes. By the end of it, Holly is dead, as is Travis’s new disciple, and Dexter is no closer to catching Travis, who is targeting Miami Metro with a poison gas attack.
Showtime president David Nevins said in a recent interview that the writers of Dexter are preparing to conclude the show in two seasons, and that the final two episodes of the season will start the ball rolling towards the show’s end game. How true that is we’ll know in a couple of weeks, but I’ll be curious to see if a major game-changer in the finale means Scott Buck will remain in his position as showrunner for the duration, or if someone else will be brought into execute the idea. I can’t imagine the portion of the Dexter audience that feels the way I do about this season sticking with the show in the absence of both a jaw-dropping finale and a shake-up in the writers’ room. With this week’s Debra stuff, though, the writers are really telegraphing that Debra will learn something about Dexter before this season is out. And I should finally take a moment to applaud Jennifer Carpenter. I’m not as big a fan as some, and I find her irritating about half the time, but Debra is the only character to have an interesting, rich, and plausible throughline for the season, and Carpenter has played it well. If someone could ground the rest of the show the way the writers have grounded Deb this season, it’s not inconceivable that Dexter could have a late-in-life resurgence. Stranger things have happened.
- “Hello, whore.” I’m not the only one who laughed at this. I can’t possibly be.
- Before Dexter leaves the church he said he has to “strike the kill room.” In addition to being a science geek in high school, he was also a theater geek.
- I’m sort of out of steam on the Louis subplot. I’m confused enough at this point to just see how it plays out before I say anything else about it. But I don’t understand why he thinks a homicide detective would be tickled by a serial-killer sim. And isn’t there supposed to be a likeness of Batista in this game or was that another project?
- Batista, a career detective in a major American city, sees the Gellar mini-library in the Dorseys’ home and thinks it’s a better idea to confront Beth right away rather than calling for back up, or asking to search the house, or any normal detective stuff. Fine.
- Speaking of Steve and Beth, what a smug, cynical portrayal of people of faith. Having Travis represent faith gone mad is one thing, but having Steve and Beth as the jes’ folk, murder-cult zealots next door is just kind of offensive.
- Debra knows about Matthews now, LaGuerta’s leading briefings again, and Matthews wants to meet with Debra for a private dinner. So… yeah, “Lieutenant Debra” is to Dexter as “Jim is co-manager” is to The Office.
- The voiceover was aggressively awful this week. I think it can’t get worse and then it does.