"Road Kill" is as close a look as Dexter has ever given us at another character through Dexter's eyes. It's an unblinking glimpse into the dark heart of Arthur Mitchell, and while it's still not quite Dexter at its best, there's a solid quality to it that last week's episode lacked. One of the major problems with the show over the past two seasons has been that it simply isn't as perfectly plotted as the first two seasons were, and in "Road Kill," there's a sense of certain plots lurching haphazardly to life, even though they've lain dormant for a long time. But the main thrust of the episode - Dexter and Arthur taking a trip to Tampa where Arthur plans to kill himself and Dexter plans to kill Arthur - ends up being a quite well-done bit of character study for both characters.
Start with Arthur going to his childhood home to see the bathroom where his sister died (after collapsing through a glass shower door at the sight of young Arthur in the mirror). Recounting the story of how she bled out through a cut in the leg (just as he kills his first victims), Arthur is almost horrifying in his desire to purge himself of the awful memories, of the way he, too, was made a killer by the sight of that much blood. Even as the house's new owners entreat upon him and Dexter to leave, he still wants to see this sight, to relive the moment one last time before he unburdens himself of his past forever. Believing Dexter to be someone who accidentally killed a man while hunting, he asks him, after sharing the story of his sister's death, "Now don't you feel better?" But the look on both men's faces indicates that "better" is still a long, long ways off.
Look at the scenes immediately following this as well. Arthur, unburdened of the core of his identity, of the story that made him who he is, seemingly turns into a complete loon, running around the house and frightening its new owners or seating himself with a family who wants nothing to do with him at lunch. There was some talk in the comments section a few weeks ago about how most serial killers, no matter how controlled, eventually find themselves fraying around the edges, finally snapping when confronted with just who they are, and there's a real sense that Arthur has reached this point in these scenes. John Lithgow hasn't used a lot of the bug-eyed, comic shtick he's become known for since Third Rock from the Sun in this performance, but there's an element of it here, though pushed just a few steps too far into outright craziness. That's what makes all of his moments here have the extra power they need to really land. He's a man who's finally coming unmoored, and Dexter's there to see it.
I'm less certain about the scene where Arthur attempts to kill himself and is saved by Dexter at the last moment. For one thing, everything in its construction is awfully convenient, from how Dexter figures out where he is to how he gets there at just the right moment to how the other guys just happen to show up to haul Arthur in. Some of that, of course, is to be expected, but it all almost felt like the whole thing was conceived of solely as a way to put someone's life in Dexter's hands where he'd want to kill them but dither about it just long enough to end up seeming like a savior. Similarly, we're just a little too far outside of Arthur's thought processes for any of this to really land psychologically with us, outside of Dexter's quick voiceover about how maybe someday he, too, will end up having to commit suicide as the only possible escape from the life he's trapped himself in.
Elsewhere in the episode, there was, as mentioned, a sense of plotlines lurching to life. The show first raised the idea of Rita having a new, handsome neighbor way back in the premiere, but it hasn't really done anything with that card since first bringing it out. Tonight, Elliott is back and taking the kids fishing, and after he's done with that, he comes back to the Morgan house for an impromptu fish fry that ends with him and Rita drinking wine and talking about their pasts. They're both obviously into each other, but this whole thing feels like it's coming both slightly out of nowhere and a little late for it to really work. Had Elliott been around more when Dexter was pissing Rita off, it would make more sense to have her contemplate an affair and/or have potential as a "Is Dexter's marriage REALLY in trouble?" plot, but coming here, it mostly just feels like a way to give Rita something to do other than raise the ire of people on the Internet.
Similarly, we're back to LaGuerta and Batista having an affair, as the two inevitably fall back into bed together after working a late night to try to unlock the funds needed to perform the random DNA sweep Deb believes will be needed to catch Trinity (and this episode further convinced me Lundy picked a stupid name for this killer with Deb's little discussion of why he's called that). I generally don't mind these characters when they're bouncing off of Dexter - look at how much fun Quinn can be when in Dexter's orbit compared to any time he shares the screen with the reporter - but every time the show attempts to give them storylines, even potentially really dramatic storylines like LaGuerta and Batista potentially sacrificing their jobs to be together, it ends up feeling like an attempt to either give Michael C. Hall a little time off or give the other cast members something non-crime related to do.
Once again, then, Deb sort of ended up being the most compelling character by default, as she realized that there was no way Trinity could have shot her, enlisted Masuka in her attempts to figure out what happened and casually swore her way in and out of the lead position on the Trinity case. Deb's always at her best when she's working hard on something and has a personal vendetta driving that something, and even if I felt her grieving process was a little rushed in the wake of Lundy's death, I've been fairly impressed with the way the show has written her straight-up, head-first plunge into work as she tries to catch his killer. The show seems to be setting us up for a sequence where Deb suspects Dexter of being her shooter (though why she'll think this, I have no idea), if the cut from Deb realizing Trinity's too tall to be her shooter to Dexter hanging out with the much taller Trinty was any indication, and if we're headed in that direction, I'm more than thrilled to go there.
The end of the episode, then, showed Arthur proving he'd lost his seeming death wish as he evaded one of the random DNA sweep road blocks on the way back from Tampa after a few well-placed cues from Dexter. More important here, I think, was the revelation that Dexter's feelings of remorse at killing an innocent man took him further into the "real boy" category he's always seemingly wanted to fit into. The thought of Dexter making Dexter into something more like a human and less like a sociopath is an idea that rather makes me queasy, but the subtle coloration the show is providing is so far not so overt that I think it's created a situation where it's going to corner itself. But it's coming damn close to painting itself into that corner, and I'm not sure there's an exit strategy.
- That conversation between LaGuerta and Deb in the bathroom is one of the more clumsily written scenes this show has done. Just a lot of on-the-nose lines where the characters spoke without a single hint of subtlety.
- Lord, Dexter's voiceover is getting bad. Hall is still selling it, but the show really needs to tone down having him explain absolutely everything that's going on.
- I'm intrigued to see where all of this is going, but I'm also rather losing patience. Around this point (with five episodes left), Dexter should be hitting the part where everything perks up to its boiling point, but things have mostly quieted down to a low simmer. If the tension abruptly ramps up in the next few weeks, it could feel too sudden. Still, the writers pulled together most of the messy strands of season three to come up with a mostly satisfying conclusion, so there's hope yet.