It seemed like things were going really well for a while, didn’t it? I didn’t imagine the beginning of this season, did I? Seriously, there’s a whole comments section below, so if I’m by myself on this, let me know. But this season started off cracking, and now it’s fizzling in a pretty shocking way. And honestly, I’m bummed about it.
As I’ve mentioned many times, what excites me about television as both a viewer and a critic is that a show can find its footing at any point in the process, from one season to the next, within the same season, and so on. It’s an advantage the television medium has over pretty much any other. I loved the narrative of a resurgent Dexter, of a show that has very recently been borderline unwatchable, but suddenly reclaims its swagger and becomes a totally different thing. After a few episodes in, I had stopped waiting for shoes to drop.
But then, George shot Isaak. I wrote last week about how the premature death of Isaak and his replacement with the Phantom Arsonist, a character who doesn’t work on any level really, seemed like it would take the urgency and tension out of the season. It was one thing to suspect that, and another thing entirely to watch “The Dark…Whatever” and see it happening. It was nice to go from not caring about Dexter to suddenly caring deeply. But now, I’m far closer to how I felt about the show in its “Hello, whore” phase, and I’m feeling the whiplash. I really don’t care much about what’s going on anymore now that Isaak is out of the picture.
If it sounds like I’m saying “The Dark…Whatever” is as bad as Dexter has ever been, let me make clear that’s not what I’m saying. It’s safe to say season six represented the show’s nadir, now and forever. Plus, it’s hard to hate an episode that has as much game-changing potential for the show’s endgame as this one does without first seeing how that endgame shakes out. This was a clunky, unpleasant, and most of all boring episode that certainly doesn’t bode well for the future of Dexter, but it will remain to be seen what comes from the major thematic developments we got here.
All that said, I have to make a judgment right now: I hate the choices the writers are making. I questioned the wisdom of killing off the season’s most interesting character—if not the most interesting in the show’s history—but I was willing to excuse it if something worthwhile was going to fill the vacuum left by Isaak’s absence.
Instead, we got the hunt for the Phantom Arsonist, which manages to not sound any less goofy no matter how many times it is said (not unlike “tableau” last season). So much of this is problematic. While there is some credit to be doled out here for not making Investigator Basso the culprit, that character is a fairly pointless misdirection, since the real culprit is discovered shortly thereafter. And that discovery is not sold well by any means. After getting so bold as to torch someone alive on a city bus, Miami Metro lucks out and is able to lift a print. Then, following approximately 45 seconds of conversation, Dexter and Deb conclude the fires are linked somehow to the killer’s childhood, and Dexter breaks into the juvenile records office to investigate.
Even if I was willing to buy any of that, which I’m not—I hate that, once again, every character here is in service to Dexter. There is no reason to be a guest character on this show unless you can impart some sort of wisdom to him, wisdom that will be swiftly forgotten as all the pieces are moved back into place in time for another season to start.
But the real issue with “The Dark…Whatever” isn’t the medium as much as the message. I’ve been writing a lot this season about how Deb’s discovery of Dexter’s behavior had turned the show into a pretty straightforward addiction narrative. Dexter thinks of his behavior as an addiction, as something he could, at best, use to rid the world of evildoers. He was stuck with his Dark Passenger forever, he thought. But now that Hannah has poked holes into the very notion of the Dark Passenger, Ghost Harry has shed new light on it, and the Phantom Arsonist helped hammer it home, Dexter has figured out that the Dark Passenger was really just a concept he invented himself to rationalize his own behavior.
My issues with this are myriad. First, back to the medium for a moment, the plot concerning the arrival of Hannah’s asshole father is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on Dexter. Yet another person crawls out of the woodwork to threaten the last person you should be threatening, and this time it’s Clint McKay, played by Jim Beaver of Justified and Supernatural, among others. Any scene that involved Clint and Hannah was absolutely painful. Still, it might have been somewhat forgivable if it was a vehicle for an interesting development, but all it did was help Dexter figure out that he doesn’t have to kill people—he does it because he wants to.
I’m not an adamant devotee of 12-step programs, but if one was looking at this season of Dexter as an addiction narrative as I have been doing, it’s a pretty disturbing thing to watch Dexter regress from watching Dexter rationalizing his destructive behavior because he felt like he had no choice, to deciding that, no, he actually just likes killing people. The Code of Harry is dead, it seems, not in a half-hearted way as we saw last season in “Nebraska.” Dexter is officially off the leash. But I’m not sure that’s a character I want to watch anymore.
I’ve complained in the past about the writers’ unwillingness to turn the audience against Dexter, so they’ve done everything in their power to keep his hands clean so he doesn’t seem like any other horrible murderer. But now, it seems Dexter has the opposite problem. Flawed characters are terrific. It’s fine for Dexter to wrestle with an addiction and give himself permission to engage in behavior that is destructive to him and to the people around him if he feels like it’s out of his hands. But now, if he’s engaging in behaviors that could very well leave his sister jobless and his child parentless—assuming they didn’t get killed—because it’s just a hobby he really enjoys… well, then that makes Dexter Morgan a really, really horrible asshole.
I’d have preferred another rote, cheesy kill scene like the many we’ve seen before to this recasting of a character that has been taken apart and reassembled so many times now that it’s beginning to feel difficult to connect to him emotionally at all. The supporting characters on this show, save for Deb usually, are cogs. That’s the nature of the beast at this point. To bend, mold, and stretch Dexter in the way the writers are doing is dangerous in that it feels like it’s about one person as much as Dexter does. Dexter might be growing a heart, but Dexter is starting to feel more and more hollow at its core.
It’s hard to believe there’s another entire season of this thing, considering the developments of “The Dark…Whatever” seem to lend themselves to cuing up a series finale. The hardest thing to believe, though, is that Dexter’s comeback season could derail in such a spectacular fashion.
- LaGuerta and Matthews are still closing in on Dexter, in scenes that are getting ever the more silly to watch. How many weird coincidences will it take to get someone to take action? It seemed simple enough to pin everything on Doakes. Why is Dexter such a hurdle for everyone to get over, in spite of the mountain of evidence against him?
- Quinn and Batista… and Nadia or whatever… George is dead. All that stuff happened.
- I really hated the abandonment of the Dark Passenger concept, because it finally seemed like it was being nailed down in a real way this season, and because Dexter’s monologue describing it early in the season was so chilling and cool.
- This could very possibly be the last we’ve seen of Ghost Harry, so that’s a win. Also, please don’t ask me to explain who/what Ghost Harry actually is, because I don’t understand it at all. He has to literally be a ghost at this point.