With “Scar Tissue,” I’m beginning to lose faith in the final season of Dexter, but that means something different than it has in any season that preceded it. Any other time, the slow decline of a Dexter season would feel like another steep slope in the show’s gradual decline. And back when its weirdly reliable ratings guaranteed more installments, a waning season was harbinger of more unfulfilling years in a relationship I haven’t been strong enough to walk away from. Every wobbly episode was like the awkward, sexless Valentine’s Day of an unhappy married couple with years to go before the kids are out of the house and they can officially drop the façade.
But because this is Dexter’s last slash, if somehow the writers manage to craft a pitch-perfect ending, the individual steps they took to get there will be of far less consequence. There hasn’t been much gas in this engine for some time now, but that isn’t as troublesome when the destination is a stone’s throw away. So at the risk of obviating my own reviews, there’s not much weight to my grade for “Scar Tissue,” which will likely be the case for the season’s middle portion. I’m mostly sticking around to see how it all ends. The biggest problem with “Scar Tissue,” though, is how it suggests Dexter might have missed its best opportunity to stick the landing.
In the episode’s opening scene we see what appears to be Debra’s traumatic memory of New Year’s Eve, when she shot LaGuerta and permanently altered her life’s trajectory. Except it’s not a memory at all; it’s the what-if scenario Deb has been clinging to since that night. What if she had shot Dexter instead of LaGuerta? How would things be different? How would she feel about the choice? About herself? The scene was intended to frame Deb’s work with Vogel, which seemed to be clipping along quite nicely, as there’s been a significant time jump since the last episode. But the scene felt intuitive, like it would have served as a pretty stunning ending to the series, with Deb having to put down her brother, her hero, her rock, after months of trying to cure him with unconditional love failed. Now, not only does Dexter have to nail its ending, it has to beat that one, which could prove difficult.
Unfortunately, the choose-your-own-adventure prologue was about the best thing “Scar Tissue” had going for it, given that the season’s bright spot—Evelyn Vogel—grew dimmer by the episode’s end. While it was clear Vogel and Deb had to interact at some point, their interactions made Vogel seem far less interesting and far less useful as a character. Vogel’s scenes with Dexter, especially in the second episode, were electric, and shaded in portions of the show’s mythology without cheating. She has been instrumental to understanding the finer details of how Dexter came to be, and her admiration and affirmation of Dexter has been an intriguing counterpoint to Deb’s repulsion. To position Dexter between two women jointly responsible for shaping his identity—one going to great pains to insinuate herself into his life, while the other is trying desperately to climb out of it—felt like fertile ground.
But the issue with “Scar Tissue,” as has always been the problem with Dexter, is the show’s obsession with keeping Dexter above reproach, which completely neuters a show built around an anti-hero (see: “Nebraska”). The audience is supposed to identify with Dexter, but only because the story is told from his perspective, not because he’s some sort of blood-spattered saint. I guess it’s fitting in a way, how much the writers fall over themselves to prove Dexter’s worth to the audience; one of the characteristics of psychopaths is their obsession with forcing other people to see them as they wish to be seen. But Debra is the closest thing Dexter has to an audience proxy, so the effect of having Vogel spend an episode convincing her she did the right thing in that storage container does two disservices in one, extinguishing the tension in their bizarre love triangle while making the audience feel like Dexter’s value is being crammed down its throat.
More than that, Vogel’s interactions with Deb dilute her professional detachment, which is part of what made her relationship with Dexter so interesting. Vogel works better as a character the more level-headed she is, since the murderer-groupie angle has been played twice on Dexter, between Lila and Hannah. (Three times, if you want to count Deb among his groupies.) In her breathless defense of Dexter’s role in the food chain, Vogel became less outré clinician, more Squeaky Fromme with a sexier accent.
To even get to that, though, one first has to accept that Deb, Debra “Fuckity Fuck Fuck” Morgan, would be acquiescent to Vogel’s therapy to begin with, and this humble viewer doesn’t buy it. While I’m glad the writers avoided a rote kill-of-the-week path by leap-frogging over three names on Vogel’s list between episodes, they also leaped right over Deb’s undoubted resistance to working with Vogel, which felt cheap. Vogel’s ultimate theory is that Deb has fixated on the idea of shooting Dexter instead of LaGuerta because deep down she knows she would never have done that, and that feels true. But their relationship, which apparently involves Deb actually living with Vogel, feels contrived. Worse yet, Jennifer Carpenter overplays her hand in many of her scenes this week. I’ve grown to appreciate Carpenter over the years as I accept her shrillness as a character choice, but there are limits, and she crossed them.
I realize I’m not talking much about Dexter this week, but there isn’t as much to talk about, as he was unusually inert in “Scar Tissue.” Another issue with the Vogel character, as much as I enjoy Charlotte Rampling’s performance, is that Vogel takes away Dexter’s agency. In seasons past, Dexter has had more of a personal stake in stalking his prey, even if it was only because he needed his murder fix. Despite last episode’s his-and-hers brain boxes, which established the killer’s awareness of Dexter, it still feels like Dexter is doing someone else’s dirty work, not achieving his own goal or even protecting himself. That could change now that Dexter has tracked down AJ Yates, a cable installer with a brain-surgery scar and a killer shoe collection. After discovering Vogel’s notes about him on AJ’s computer, in which Vogel suggested Dexter’s love for Deb is just self-delusion, Dexter rebukes her and declares that once AJ is finished, so are they.
I’m still parsing my feelings about much of this. Tim Schlattmann’s script reshuffled the season eight deck alright, but in ways that can’t be properly evaluated out of context. Speaking of Schlattmann’s script, it was especially heavy on loathsome Dexter voiceover, which here acted mostly as a play-by-play. But at least there was no Ghost Harry; instead “Scar Tissue” featured VHS Harry, overtly telegraphing his suicide plans after seeing the monster he created in action. I’m not in love with the Harry video device, but it served to reveal to Deb that Harry killed himself, which is a significant reveal. Vogel tried to use the videos to make Deb feel better, like she’s just a chip off the old block, blindly devoted to the people she loves. Deb finally sees the parallel, but not in the way Vogel was hoping for. She realizes Harry was, as is she, another one of Dexter’s victims, another innocent person put in an untenable position so Dexter can realize his best psychopathic self.
With this revelation, she lures Dexter into a sense of security so completely that when Deb asks him about Harry’s suicide, he blithely tosses out the answer as if now that he reeled her back in, she’ll never find reason to swim away again. But we learn it’s a ruse, as Deb jerks the car’s steering wheel, pointing them toward deep water. This was the last opportunity for “Scar Tissue” to redeem itself, and as is so often the case with Dexter, the opportunity was squandered. I was actually surprised at this, since cliffhangers are about the only thing Dexter still gets right with any consistency. But this one was botched. Instead of cutting out on a silent shot of the water as Deb instinctually dove under to pull her brother out seconds after being rescued herself, there was the final shot of her emerging with his limp body. Of the missteps in “Scar Tissue,” this one was perhaps the worst, because it called attention yet again to how Dexter goes off the rails when its grey-area premise is executed in a decidedly unambiguous way.
- The latest around Miami Metro: Batista was torn between giving the sergeant promotion to Quinn or Miller, the latter of which scored higher on the exam; Masuka found out he’s Becky’s father; and Quinn tried to alienate Jamie as much as possible with his obvious Deb devotion.
- I’m assuming, or perhaps hoping, that AJ Yates isn’t the complete answer behind the Brain Surgeon mystery, because it felt quite anti-climactic.
- That said, I loved that Yates pulled out his father’s breathing apparatus to give himself a chance to escape. It was almost a challenge, as if to say “Here’s what a real psychopath looks like.”
- Love interests have now appeared for the Morgan siblings, between Deb’s continued flirtation with Elway and Dexter’s introduction to his smitten neighbor Cassie.
- It was interesting to start the episode with Vogel and Debra in the shipping container. How often has the show started without a Dex-centric scene?
- Quinn, on his successful exam: “I’ve never been this happy to get back a positive test.” He’s such a rake!