With each new episode of Dexter's farewell season, I get more excited about Evelyn Vogel. Not simply because Charlotte Rampling plays the character with such authority, but also because she's finally the character who is able to give Dexter the tough love he needs, the tough love only a mother can provide.
Unlike the doomed women in Dexter's past, Vogel understands Dexter and loves him unconditionally, but not because she has tied a pretty bow around the conditions. Vogel makes no apologies for what Dexter is and loves him because of his homicidal tendencies, not in spite of them. That distance allows Vogel to give Dexter feedback he would never accept from anyone else. What's more, she doesn't even see most of the points she's making as criticisms until he takes them that way, and she struggles to remind him that even the worst things she says about his character are compliments, not insults.
The best example of this in "What's Eating Dexter Morgan?" is when Vogel asks Dexter why he didn't kill Debra after Debra found out about his Dark Passenger, and Dexter looks completely bewildered. Killing Deb was never on the table, so to speak, so he had never stopped to think about why, exactly, Deb would be the exception to the rule.
It's an especially interesting question to raise after last week, when Deb gunned down El Sapo. El Sapo was a hitman, so he fits into The Code, but Deb doesn’t have a code, hasn’t developed a system, and didn't kill El Sapo to stop him from killing again. She did it because he beat her up and took her jewels and she wanted them back. Yet Dexter, who has spent his life framing his murders as a service he's doing society, feels like he can let Debra skirt the rules.
Dexter kills Lila, and he gets Hannah put away, but Debra slides by with no consequences, and Dexter can hardly make sense of why. He says he loves her, but Vogel presses him on why, and when she points out that none of the things he mentions are actually about her, he thinks she's trying to make him feel bad. No, she says, she's trying to get him to understand that he's not imperfect. He's just a very specific kind of perfect. The psychopathic kind.
Still, even as much as I'm enjoying Vogel and her ability to get Dexter to reframe and reconsider his bad behavior as only the best psychiatrists can do, "What's Eating Dexter Morgan?" wasn't a knockout by any stretch. But it does suggest that the season is still on a good track thematically, even as the individual pieces of the larger puzzle aren't always spectacular on their own.
I wanted to like this episode more, mostly because I think this was a very rare example of the Dexter writing team pulling the ancillary characters into the story in a way that made them seem less superfluous. While I'm not interested in Jamie and Quinn's relationship, I am interested in Quinn's relationship with Debra, and to a certain degree his relationship with Batista, so caring about Jamie and Quinn’s relationship isn’t a prerequisite to investing in its story potential. Here, it gives Quinn an unenviable choice between watching his near-miss fiancee circle the drain and emotionally crushing his boss's sister. So in an odd reversal of fortune, for once on Dexter, the stuff happening at the fringes of the story, while still not as interesting as what’s going on with Dexter, is at least moving at an admirable pace.
The Brain Surgeon stuff, on the other hand, isn’t moving at nearly the clip it should be, and while I’d expect a little wheel-spinning in the middle of a season, it’s a little too early in the proceedings to feel like the story is meandering.
“What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?” got some things right. For one, I was happy with the Brain Surgeon's presentation of vision-enabling brain chunks in his-and-hers ring boxes. I think for such an abstract threat, the writers have done a pretty good job making the Brain Surgeon seem menacing, in spite of the goofy serial-killer name. More than that, it pulled Dexter directly into the action. It wouldn't make a ton of sense to expose that Dexter has no ability to connect with human emotions, yet would find it important to track and kill someone who was threatening Vogel. Dexter seldom if ever does anything for anybody else, and he values his independence above all things, so he has something closer to a genuine motivation of his own for trying to find the Brain Surgeon on Vogel’s list of potential suspects.
It also finally returned Dexter to the kill room, making it the first time in the season we've seen him take a hit of his drug of choice. He doubles back to swoop up Brian Galuzzo, one of the psychopaths on Evelyn’s patient list, who works at a fitness kiosk in a shopping mall during the day, and cooks up delicious Soylent Green by night. (Unless he’s using his slow cooker. Then he cooks people during the day.) But before Dexter does what he does best, he tells poor Brian that the two of them are more alike than he might have realized before. "I consume everyone I love," he says wistfully. Sure, it's slightly ham-handed, but I've waited so long to see someone get through to Dexter. It's nice to see Debra’s demise and Vogel’s introduction and how they’ve changed his outlook on what he does, why he does it, and what toll it takes on the people around him.
In spite of those pluses, "What's Eating Dexter Morgan?" was a bit of a slog. There was far less development of the psychological relationship between Dexter and Vogel. While we did get the tidbit that it was Harry’s idea that Dexter should only kill other murderers, and her biggest concern was making sure he didn’t get caught, there wasn’t the addition of depth that gave the prior episode its heft. I hope there are better ideas for the Dexter and Vogel plot than simply to have him checking off the names on Vogel’s list one at a time. It was obvious that Galuzzo wasn’t their man, so a big chunk of the episode was spent on what looked to the audience like a dead-end all along.
The focal point of the show has become Debra's struggles with alcohol, drugs, unbridled rage, and to let Vogel tell it, survivor guilt. There's a lot of robust material to explore with Deb, I tend to enjoy every scene Jennifer Carpenter is in, especially when she's crying, because she cries pretty spectacularly. It’s that cry that seems way over the top when an actress does it, but if you stop for a second to think, you realize you’ve watched someone cry like that, if not done it yourself. The cry was even better when Deb was drunk on top of it. She wanted desperately to confess to Quinn, to everyone, that she was responsible for LaGuerta’s death, but no one on this show ever listens to information that would implicate Dexter, so y’know.
I don’t mind Debra as the emotional core of Dexter, or even as its focal point for a little while, but if the show is going to end in a truly impressive fashion, it’ll have to find a way to make Dexter the show’s most interesting character again.
- No Ghost Harry this week, but the painful voiceover continued being painful. “Galuzzo isn’t killing people to threaten Vogel. Because he’s eating them. Which means he would want to keep the brain so he could eat it. Because he eats people. Garlic sauce.”
- I like the idea of Harry and Vogel as Dexter’s parents, with a typical parental dynamic: Daddy is strict; Mommy is permissive. Daddy is all “Dexter, don’t eat a cookie before dinner, you’ll spoil your appetite.” And then Mommy is like “Take one, but don’t let Daddy catch you.” Except the cookie is a body with holes stabbed in it.
- I was also tickled by the opening scene, Dexter following what he thinks is a trail of blood to find Harrison after a massive popsicle binge. Why did he eat a whole box of popsicles and then lie about it? “I love them,” he says. Like father, like son.
- Vogel on Dexter’s need to rescue Deb: “All this talk about loving Debra and trying to help her… You’re like Michelangelo trying to play the banjo.”
- This is the best photo we've ever run with a Dexter review, hands down.