To the degree that I have any doubts about the direction of this season of Dexter, it's to the extent that I'm always nervous the writers will suddenly decide to take the easy way out, as is this show's wont.
This fear cropped up for me last week after we saw the aftermath of the Ray Speltzer affair. I don't want the solution to Deb's issues with who Dexter is to be paved over with a conveniently timed lesson in how Dexter's behavior can be somewhat beneficial when applied under an ideal set of circumstances. When Dexter and Deb watched Speltzer's fumes waft away, I was again concerned that the knots were being slowly untied, and the tension between the characters that has salvaged the show would go with it.
Five episodes in, and Dexter finally has me believing it's a different show, not hopeful about a start that could quickly deteriorate. I'm genuinely back on board now in a way I could have never anticipated last season watching Travis Marshall paint his risible fresco. Deb still wants to see the best in her brother, and wants to find a way to make the situation he's put her in one she can abide by. But, as is the case with addicts, Dexter thrives on secrecy, and the more he lets her in on what's actually going on with him—and always because he's forced to do so—the more she realizes the depth of the morass he has pulled her into.
"Swim Deep" is a dense, taut episode that manages to avoid many of the show's stumbling blocks. There is no kill of the week. The supporting characters all feel part of the story in an organic way, and are used when there's a valid reason for them to be there. Even the deployment of Ghost Harry is merciful in its brevity, and he engaged Dexter in an illuminating conversation about the evolution of his relationship with Deb.
Despite the absence of the show's usual tropes, "Swim Deep" didn't feel fatty. Because of the deft way the writers have laid out the story strands and started braiding them together, the noose is slowly tightening, not just around Dexter and Debra, but around the entire department. And for perhaps the first time, Dexter seems evenly matched with his foe. The consequence of this is that Isaak can seem a little too formidable at times. He sits waiting for Dexter in his apartment with no back up at all, just a spread of torture apparatus (arranged as neatly as Dexter's roll of knives). He spends the rest of the episode stalking Dexter with none of his goons in tow, which is how he ends up shooting and stomping his way out of a Colombian bar in which he is outmanned and outgunned.
"So we're looking for the fucking Terminator," says Deb, and the degree to which Isaak has been turned into a vengeance robot is a bit troubling. But that's merely a consequence of Dexter's indestructibility over the years. The only way to strike fear into Dexter (and he seemed genuinely scared during his face-to-face with Isaak) is to pit him against someone with his unique combination of skill, luck, and absolute ruthlessness. Isaak is definitely that guy, and while I'm starting to feel like a broken record, Ray Stevenson is absolutely beasting in this role. If the writers keep giving him these monologues every week, he'll be in as good a position come Emmy submission time as John Lithgow was after season four.
Jennifer Carpenter will be in a pretty good spot too, as she's been given some dynamite material to work with now that she's Dexter's unwitting accomplice, not to mention his... love interest? For those who have hopefully theorized that Deb's romantic feelings for Dexter have been left on the season six scrap heap, I'm not so convinced. I think the writers are figuring out a way to weave it back in, and when Dexter and Deb were sharing recollections of their childhood vacations to Myrtle Beach, there was more of a romantic tone to the conversation than a familial one.
But Carpenter had great moments this week outside of her usual duets with Michael C. Hall, as Deb essentially transforms into LaGuerta before she even realizes what has happened. It's bad enough that after chastising Dexter for sabotaging crime scenes so that he can deliver his own justice, she's sabotaging LaGuerta's investigation into the blood slide. And then, she's strong-arming Batista into dropping his probe of Mike Anderson's killer, much in the way LaGuerta intimidated Deb again and again to advance her own agenda. It's a sad thing to watch someone become the thing they hated, but it's fertile ground for an actor, and Carpenter is having a great time with it. She was heartbreaking in the final scene, when she tells Dexter that if she can't change him, all she can do is extricate herself from that part of his life. She'll never be able to accept him as he is, regardless of the Speltzer demonstration.
I imagine there will only be more terrific moments to come when Deb discovers that Dexter has broken yet another promise to her. After admitting how he originally attracted Isaak's attention, Deb makes Dexter promise he'll never meddle with Miami Metro's work again. But after putting together than Hannah McKay had far more to do with Wayne Randall's crimes than she's admitted to, Dexter falls back into his familiar pattern, holding his theories close to the vest as he figures out how to solve the Hannah problem on his own. And once Isaak gets sprung from jail (which apparently happens all the time in Miami), our anti-hero will really have his bloody hands full.
- I loved Deb's breakdown in the elevator after she talked to LaGuerta. "Fucking fuck-nugget" stuck out in particular.
- I was a bit bothered by the characterization of Phillip Barnes, the Dexter victim Deb and LaGuerta questioned. I wish that, for once, there could be another serial killer on this show besides Dexter who is a basically stand-up guy if not for the whole murder thing. Barnes isn't just a murderer, he abused his wife and son, who were all too happy to see him disappear. That's pretty facile.
- Great idea to cut together Dexter's analysis of the bar crime scene and the flashback of Isaak's daring escape. I think that's the first time we've seen this.
- Quinn is taking money again, bringing his past as a dirty cop back to the fore. It's almost as though someone has been reading the show's bible lately and decided to return the characters to their original forms.
- Deb: "Are you lying to me?" Dexter: "I don't think so."
- Some nice scenes between Hall and Yvonne Strahovski this week, though the writing was way too on the nose at times.
- It is decided: Isaak is totally gay, and is pissed because his boyfriend got killed. He's basically Miami's Omar Little.