Oh, so that’s why they hired Michael C. Hall.
** SPOILERS FOLLOW AFTER THE JUMP **
After the reckoning of last season’s finale, in which Dexter’s put down his brother, and the first episode of this one, in which Rita’s ex Paul gets killed in prison, “Waiting To Exhale” turns into a strong meditation on grief, and the various ways people say goodbye to the flawed souls that have shaped their lives. In other words, it was basically an episode of Six Feet Under, except the deaths here are of unnatural causes.
The opening finds Dexter “drifting,” still trying to get his bearings after having killed his brother and having failed to kill a couple of bad guys that he’d normally dispatch without giving it a second thought. When he stands over the slain body of the mother who had the courage to come forward and implicate Little Chino, he sees the consequences of his inaction, but his reaction isn’t grief or even guilt. When Deb questions his stone-faced response, he says, “I’m more a crying on the inside kind of guy.” A funny line, and actually not that far from the truth: He’s not crying on the inside, exactly, but he’s definitely feeling responsible for the woman’s death, in addition to guilt and frustration over how his brother’s passing has affected his ability to function. When Rita finally gets around to confronting him about the telltale shoe, he’s so distracted that he can’t find an excuse for having hit and drugged her ex, and then he’s cornered into a ridiculous lie about his own alleged drug addiction.
To me, the key line of the episode is when Dexter suggests that Rita have the county pay for Paul’s burial, so the insurance money can be used for the kids’ college fund. It sounds like practical advice—and no doubt struck Dexter as the wise thing to say in a situation like that—but of course, it’s callous beyond belief to Rita, who wants Paul to have a proper funeral. (Full disclosure: My wife works in Elder Law for the county, and often talks about those sad situations when people don’t have enough money left in savings for a proper burial. Basically, they’re granted a pine box and a number, and their deaths are a matter of the coldest government bureaucracy.) Dexter doesn’t understand why people can’t just “deal” with death, or why a shit like Paul, who abused his wife, would be worth a second thought. But sometimes, coping with the death of a scoundrel can be just as difficult a process, and when that scoundrel happens to be the father of your children, you have them to think about, too.
After last week’s analysis, some commenters astutely pointed out that Dexter doesn’t entirely know himself, so we can’t take everything he says (in voiceover and to others) entirely at face value. That thought came to mind a lot during this episode, because the grieving process definitely falls under the realm of things he doesn’t understand. Clearly, killing his brother has consumed him with regret: He flashes back to his adopted father pulling him out of the dock crate, severing him from his brother forever; he keeps that plastic doll’s head on the his keychain as a twisted memento; and his guilt leads to a jump-off-the-couch shock straight out of Carrie. God, sin, Hell—none of that afterlife stuff means anything to him, but his life on Earth is taking on greater dimension and feeling week-by-week. The circumstances that lead to him finally being able to kill again are pretty ingenious: He sees himself in that poor little girl who lost her mother and brother, and that gives him sufficient motivation to get back on the serial killer horse. But then, killing is what distances him from the rest of the human race, too. So with one step forward, there’s another step back.
So along with that great stuff, there’s plenty of the usual not-so-great stuff. I’m excited to see Keith Carradine join the cast as an FBI agent who always gets his man, though he’s only just starting to poke around now and will no doubt become a more exciting factor in the weeks ahead. (The swiftness with which Carradine immediately counts out the Ice Truck Killer as the likely “Bay Harbor Butcher” had me laughing out loud. There went the primary suspect and Dexter’s hoped-for scapegoat, just like that.) From there, the blandness continues: Deb’s already questionable policing skills have deteriorated further now that she’s become a cop-on-the-edge and pulled a gun on a pint-sized graffiti artist. Poor Doakes is “too much of a leader” to be chosen for Carradine’s task force, which is good news for Dexter, because once the criminal connections between the victims comes to light, Doakes has got a clear suspect at the front of his mind. And oh man could I care less about the station chief and her improper use of resources to dig up dirt on her no-good fiancé. The show really needs to shit or get off the pot with that situation: Either there’s something pertinent going on that will have an impact on Dexter and company, or we’re stuck in a B-plot hell worse than Angel’s marital problems from Season One.
Sorry to be so Dexter-centric again, but as ever, he’s the star. On a slower week, perhaps I’ll get into more detail about those elements of the show that are still frustratingly generic. But for now, I’m inclined to savor Hall’s triumphant return to Six Feet Under territory.
• I’m generally not good at locating plot holes, but I’m a little perplexed by the videotape Little Chino makes to prove he wasn’t the man who killed his accuser. Wouldn’t the very act of producing a tape in anticipation of a murder implicate you as an accessory to the crime? Am I missing something here?
• “I will not kill my sister. I will not kill my sister. I will not kill my sister.”
• I loved Dexter asking Masuka (C.S. Lee) for corpse disposal advice. Not that he applies any of it himself—which is surprising, since police have to be looking for loners heading out on the bay for night boating trips—but funny nonetheless.
• Anyone else having trouble swallowing Rita’s rationale for reaching out to Dexter after she deduces (illogically) that he has a drug problem? Drug problem or no, her boyfriend has just confessed to knocking his ex cold, framing him as a drug addict, and sending him away to Federal prison. I don’t buy her obliviousness here, and I’m willing to cut Rita a lot of slack in the obliviousness department.
• Will Doakes ever try another way of nabbing Dexter than following him everywhere he goes? Being a police detective, surely there are other angles to pursue. Maybe he’s not FBI task force material, after all.