Dexter: “Suprise, Motherfucker!”
C-

Dexter: “Suprise, Motherfucker!”

C-

Dexter

“Suprise, Motherfucker!”

Season 7, Episode 12
C-

Dexter

“Suprise, Motherfucker!”

Season 7, Episode 12

Community Grade

  • A
  • A-
  • B+
  • B
  • B-
  • C+
  • C
  • C-
  • D+
  • D
  • D-
  • F

Your Grade

?

If someone had told me a few weeks into this season of Dexter that I would end up liking last season’s  finale, “This Is The Way The World Ends,” more than this finale, I probably would have made my Doakes mean-mug at the person and called him a lying creep, motherfucker. But I like that episode more than I liked “Surprise, Motherfucker!” even though the season that preceded it is, despite its misshapen second half, a vast improvement over the last one. I definitely didn’t see that coming.

“This Is The Way The World Ends” was admirable, ambitious even. Sure, everything that led up to the final three minutes was complete garbage. But that ending was so audacious, and led the show in a direction that we thought it might never go, toward actually exposing Dexter to the harsh reality of having the people who love and care about him most having to learn his awful secret. “Surprise, Motherfucker!” has a gut-punch ending, to be sure, but if the goal was to bait the hook for next season as well as “This Is The Way The World Ends” cued up this season, it failed on that front.

“Surprise” failed in a lot of ways actually, but it also succeeded in many ways. It’s an episode that neatly summed up all the strengths and weaknesses of the season such that watching this single episode would be a great way for the time-crunched to have the season seven experience and save 11 hours for something else. On a plot level, this finale frustrated me for all the reasons Dexter has always been frustrating. Everyone acts incredibly stupidly in exactly the ways that allow the show to continue apace, while the writers still request the latitude to suggest the characters aren’t incredibly stupid when that’s more convenient.

The plot issues stem from the fact that when Dexter got arrested by LaGuerta so early in the episode, it seemed as though the episode might have a really interesting structure, perhaps one that found Dexter behind bars, completely powerless to stop the noose from tightening around his neck. Instead, everyone acted like a moron, because it was what was most convenient for Dexter at the time. What I’m still unclear on is why it seems so easy for everyone in Miami Metro to accept that Doakes was the Bay Harbor Butcher, but the possibility of it being Dexter is completely far-fetched, despite the damning, if circumstantial, evidence mounted against him.

When LaGuerta brings Dexter in, everyone immediately takes his side, and she is left without a single ally.  This is something I can’t make sense of, no matter how hard I try. I mean, it’s not that I can’t make sense of it if the concept of this show is supposed to be that there’s a serial killer who works for a police department, but it all works out because said police department is made up of lobotomized detectives. What I can’t make sense of is that Batista would stumble onto the crime scene in which Quinn shot George to defend Nadia’s honor and figure out in minutes that Quinn wasn’t telling the whole story, but is immediately like “DEXTER CAN’T POSSIBLY BE THE BAY HARBOR BUTCHER LALALALA I’M NOT LISTENING I LOVE DEXTER, AND I WISH HE COULD BE MY REAL DAD.” Which is more or less what he said.

I can’t make sense of the fact that it was more sensible to everyone that LaGuerta would try to frame an innocent cop for no other reason that, years and years after the fact, she’s suddenly become rabid about proving a guy she used to date was an innocent man. She also used to date Batista and seemed to be able to keep her head on straight about it. As a matter of fact, as I recall, LaGuerta was incredibly flirtatious with Dexter in the first season of the show, but that doesn’t seem to be clouding her judgment either. It only makes sense if you’re willing to accept the idea that this is a world in which Dexter always gets away in the end.

And look, I get that the show is called Dexter, I get that he has to get away, I get all of that. But it’s a frustrating viewing experience to watch this show keep pretending there are any stakes to any of this. When there are stakes, they always seem to affect someone else’s life far more than Dexter’s, and yet we’re supposed to continuing rooting for the guy somehow as he ruins the lives of everyone around him. If the show is called Dexter, there’s a problem if I’m more worried about Hannah, Debra, Harrison, and Jamie than I am about Dexter. This is an issue I thought the show was on the way to fixing, judging from last season’s ending. But it was a tease. Dexter will always tiptoe out of the corner he’s been painted into on a path paved with contrivances.

All that said, thematically, “Surprise, Motherfucker!” was actually pretty strong more often than not. While I almost invariably cringe at a visit from Ghost Dad, I think it’s an important point to distinguish exactly who Dexter is and what it means that he’s a serial killer now that the Dark Passenger is no longer an active component of the show’s mythology, and the James Remar scenes hammered that home. This episode swatted in that general direction as Dexter walked through his decision to kill LaGuerta before she could catch him. The Dexter That Murders LaGuerta is a fundamentally different person than the character we’ve been watching up until this point, and while I’m not sure that character works as the lead of a show, it’s a progression that seems logical.

The endless conversations Dexter has been having with Deb about why and how he murders people, and her shrewd, probing questions about the nature of his behavior and Harry’s Code sufficiently laid the tracks for a Dexter identity crisis, and I liked those elements here. And I’ve also loved Deb’s season-long identity crisis, which was leaned on heavily here as well. Hannah tore down the teetering tower of rationalization Deb had built up with just a few well-placed comments. There’s no difference between Deb protecting Dexter and Dexter protecting Hannah, or Hannah protecting herself, or whatever. Hannah is the only one who seems to be able to admit her self-preservation instinct. Dexter and Deb are not so much bound by murder as they are bound by a deep, profound hypocrisy.

The hypocrisy is on display when Dexter shows up to visit Hannah in prison and tries to explain that he can love her and have her imprisoned to prevent her from hurting Deb, even though he had no issue killing her father. (A fact of which she’s still unaware, let’s not forget.) It’s back in the fore when Deb shows up to Hannah’s arraignment. And it’s really on display in that well-played, if not well-conceived, final scene when Deb has to ultimately decide whether it means more to her to do the right thing, to do the cop thing, or to have her brother in her life.

I’m very curious to see what everyone thinks of that scene, because there’s quite a bit in it to process. First, I’ll give credit to Jennifer Carpenter, who absolutely nailed it. I stayed tuned after the episode to watch the interview with head writer Scott Buck, and was all the more impressed with Carpenter when Buck revealed that her decision to collapse onto LaGuerta was her decision, not a scripted one. There was some genuine suspense there, and a bit of shock when Deb shot LaGuerta instead of Dex. (Though I’m not clear why shooting Dexter was obligatory, exactly, or why LaGuerta couldn’t have called 911 while Dexter and Deb squabbled, but I guess I shouldn’t tug at that thread.) If this was the scene that was going to end the episode, the scene was executed about as well as it could be.

But the impressive execution of the idea doesn’t make it a good one, and I’m not sure it is one. Having Debra actually shoot LaGuerta instead of Dex is certainly an interesting choice. But it’s problematic that the show is written in such a Dexter-centric way that all the other characters are sidelined, minimized or made to look like idiots, and I still somehow walk away from the finale not wondering what any of this means for him. I want to know what’s going on in Debra’s head, what kind of person she’s becoming, and the psychological toll she’ll pay for being this unwaveringly loyal to her monstrous brother. It’s hard to be excited about finding out the answers to those questions, because I know that they’ll always be secondary to whatever’s going on with Dexter, the character who can never be made to face any actual consequences. So many interesting ideas, so little faith they’ll be explored in a way that doesn’t feel completely separate from the actual plot.

After the frescoes, the tableaux, the “Hello, whore” and the cult-bumpkin Jordana Spiro of last season, I can say that I came out of that season more excited about the show than I went into it. And here, the opposite is true, and it seems Dexter’s shot at redemption may have only lasted half a season. Surprise indeed!

Stray observations:

  • So much of this episode strained credulity that I didn’t want to get into counting the ways in my main comments. But… Dexter tossing Estrada in the SUV at a park in broad daylight? Right after being arrested? Too much. Though I did chuckle at Dexter and Deb conversing in truck with Deb only realizing at the very end that a doped-up Estrada was third-wheeling it in the backseat.
  • I think LaGuerta is a generally annoying and useless character, but given how suddenly sober and competent she became this year, I’ll be disappointed to see her and Lauren Velez go. The scenes of Dexter and Deb squirming during LaGuerta’s investigations were among the best of the episode.
  • I wasn’t completely sure of the utility of the Doakes flashbacks, other than to lend the episode its superlative title, but I enjoyed them all the same, and Erik King hasn’t aged a day since season two.
  • Hannah to Deb: “How do you justify arresting me and not him? Or is the law something you make up as you go along?” She has a point, Deb. Oh, and Hannah is on the loose!
  • Back to “Dude, seriously?!” for a moment: Please explain why Hannah was able to have someone slip her pills, then take them, then escape as a result of that happening. Man, that’s really quite stupid. And truthfully, the fact that Hannah is free is far less interesting, given who Debra is now. Deb might as well be Hannah’s maid of honor at this point.
  • Terrible Ghost Dad voiceover of the week: “LaGuerta’s house… what is it you’re hoping to find here Dexter? You know, inside LaGuerta’s house, where we are now?” Okay I added that last part.
  • Transient Black Lady Detective looked SO disappointed when Dexter was brought in after his arrest. 

More TV Club