One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed in the comments here over the course of this Dexter season is the question of whether Dexter has truly declined in quality over the years or if the show was always terrible and we’re finally seeing for what it is. It’s something I’ve been thinking about week to week, but it wasn’t until “Talk To The Hand” that I felt really confident about where I land on that question. I think Dexter started out as a very promising show, and delivered on its promise for two seasons. It’s not in the upper echelon of contemporary television classics, but like Michael C. Hall’s last television gig, Six Feet Under, I’d put it somewhere in the second tier. I enjoyed season two more than many critical Dexter viewers. I didn’t hate the Lila character, though she was definitely cartoonish, and using her to solve Dexter’s Doakes problem was cheap, and is the beginning of the slow, mostly steady decline into the creative trough the show now lives in. There were flashes of promise in the third, fourth, and even fifth seasons, but Dexter has never really gotten its mojo back. And “Talk To The Hand” is the lowest point of a terrible season.
I don’t even think that “Talk To The Hand” was the worst individual episode of the season, but it’s nearly impossible to judge the penultimate episode of a serialized television season on its own merits. At this point, all the errors the writers have made this season are coming to bear and there’s nowhere else to hide. Worse still, the mistakes are still happening. When Dexter realized at the end of “Ricochet Rabbit” that Travis’ Wormwood tableau involved poison gas and anonymously called in the threat, there was suddenly an urgency that has been lacking for the entire season. The DDK case is one that doesn’t feel urgent or important no matter how many times the characters say it’s important. I think that’s the consequence of keeping Dexter separate from Travis for three-quarters of the season just to deliver the Ghost Gellar twist. Dexter’s motivations fuel the season, and keeping Dexter distracted long enough to pull off that godawful twist gave me just enough time to totally stop caring about Travis or Gellar, or any of it really. Suddenly, with Wormwood on the loose, there were genuine stakes to characters that I’ve at least known for a while, even if I don’t exactly like them. But the tension fizzles out almost immediately when Dexter spots Beth and locks her in an interrogation room with the poison gas bomb (thanks to a serendipitous visit to a social networking site), neutralizing the threat before anything remotely interesting happens. Batista is rescued in an equally tension-deflating fashion, as Fuck-Up Quinn arrives just in time.
One lasting result of the Wormwood threat is that Debra feels indebted to and in awe of her brother. A visit to her psychiatrist gets testy later, when the shrink suggests that the reason Deb always chooses unavailable men is because she’s actually in love with Dexter. Deb, naturally, becomes indignant, but is clearly giving the idea some consideration. I saw some mentions of this in last week’s comments, but without having seen the previews for this episode I didn’t know how seriously to take the “Dexter Bangs Debra” commentary. Oddly enough, I sort of admire this choice on the part of the writers. Don’t get me wrong, I find the idea of it pretty gross, but as a story I don’t find it silly, and though it’s taboo, it’s probably the least silly thing happening on Dexter right now. The tidal wave of utter nonsense that has washed away all of Dexter’s narrative architecture continues to spare Debra. The idea that she’s in love with her brother is naturally going to be polarizing to the audience, but something about it works for me. I can buy the idea that Debra can be a great detective and still not pick up on the fact that something weird is going on with her brother because she loves him. I can buy it even more if there’s some degree of romantic affection mixed in there too. There’s also a really masochistic part of me that wants to see the story of a quasi-incestuous romance carried out by the writers responsible for this season of Dexter.
In order to do that though, they’ll first have to figure out how to get Dexter back on dry land, since his confrontation with Travis resulted in his nearly being incinerated at sea in Travis’ final tableau. It’s tough to describe how cold I was left by the whole thing. At this point, I don’t want Dexter to kill Travis because he’s a threat to the public, or because he’s a threat to Dexter, or anything like that, I just want Travis to die because it represents the end of this truly horrific season. The light at the end of the tunnel grows nearer.
- This week’s grade has as much to do with the cumulative frustration of this season as with this individual episode.
- Colin Hanks had his moments this week. Actually it was one moment, his pep talk to Beth before she infiltrated Miami Metro, but it was a strong scene in an otherwise weak performance.
- I still cannot swallow the idea that Dexter would be able to call 911 and report a possible terrorist threat that ultimately causes Homeland Security to swoop in and never be identified as the caller. That’s absolutely ridiculous. Why would the caller have that information? Is the caller involved, and does he represent a threat? There’s just no way no one would follow up on that.
- This week in Louis weirdness: He draws with Sharpies on the prosthetic hand, then wraps it in a box to mail to Dexter. So… yeah.
- Deb’s dinner with Matthews and the aftermath is yet another example of the show’s nonsensical storytelling. Matthews leans on Deb to drop the Jessica Morris case by invoking Harry as an emotional appeal, and it works. In the meantime, LaGuerta leaks the information and gets Matthews bounced. So Matthews confronts Deb about having screwed him over, because it never occurs to him that perhaps LaGuerta, the woman who has previously blackmailed him to advance her career, might be responsible. It makes absolutely no sense that Matthews would have gotten LaGuerta involved in the first place, given the history of their relationship, his personal relationship with Deb’s father and the fact that he handed Deb the lieutenant job on a silver platter. If he had to confess his culpability to someone, why would it be LaGuerta and not Deb to begin with? Sigh.
- I laughed so hard when I saw Travis’ fresco of Dexter as Satan. It was no “Hello, whore,” but it was pretty funny.
- Masuka’s riff on “po-tay-to, po-tah-to” with “bukkake” was pretty funny as well.