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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dexter: "Dex Takes a Holiday"

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One of the things I’ve always liked best about Dexter is how it seems to be in conversation with other crime procedurals. The characters on those shows are often emotionless automatons who go about their work in such a way that they seem almost as sociopathic as the criminals they chase. Their single-minded dedication to the cause is a good thing, but only because of the side of the line they’re on. While I love some of these shows, it often seems like the characters in them are only playing at being human, only doing so because of the fact of what team they play for. Would it be all that surprising if it was revealed that any one of the characters on, say, Criminal Minds had a dark secret life wherein they killed those who got away?

Dexter, for its part, takes the rhythms of the crime procedural and subverts them. When Dexter has to really undertake making the case to kill someone by proving they’re guilty, it’s a sick, mirror image of what you might see any given night on CBS. A CBS crime procedural starts with the crime and then figures out who did it. Dexter starts with a suspicion of who did it and then works backward from that point to reconstruct the crime. The show’s first two seasons – still its best seasons – had lots of this kind of reverse crime solving, and that was one of the things that made the show so good. The series also questions our own relationship to the crime procedural. It creates a situation where the desire to see someone punished for doing something awful on, say, C.S.I. is then fulfilled so viscerally that we realize that our own desires had a bit of darkness to them in the first place. At its best, Dexter, like The Shield, is about how far we’ll follow our desire to feel safe. In its own way, it was very much a post-Sept. 11 show.

In the show’s third season and the first three episodes of this fourth season, Dexter has seemingly abandoned that conceit for the most part. Everyone Dexter suspects is just self-evidently a bad person, and they deserve what’s coming to them. Dexter’s killing is more a hobby than anything else in this conception of the show, and the series leans more heavily on character interaction and dynamics, not quite grasping the fact that many of its characters and their dynamics are wanting. In attempting to normalize Dexter somewhat to keep the show running for a long time, the series had cut out some of what made it so compelling in the first place.

But, that said, this fourth episode of the fourth season is by far the best of the season so far, and it’s the first that has me really engaged in the season’s storyline beyond the Trinity killer largely because it gets back to what made the show work in its early going. The Dexter storyline is ruthlessly paced and full of fun plot turns, and the other storylines manage to be compelling and nicely shuffle one of the storyline’s cards to the back of the deck before bringing it back to the front at an unexpected moment. Even the Trinity killer is brought more thoroughly into the main storyline, as Lundy bumps into the guy and seemingly gets a bead on identifying him. I still don’t think Dexter has figured out how to turn its central premise into one that can be sustained over too many more seasons (as it seems it must, since ratings are up), but I’m finally starting to think that some of the things that felt perfunctory in the first three episodes are going to add up to something greater than the sum of their parts, unlike how the series couldn’t quite get most of its storylines outside of the central one to work in season three.

The central storyline here involves Dexter using Rita and the kids being out of town for a few days to take down a murderer who went under the radar that he happened to find out about from another blood analyst in another department. A cop named Zoe killed her family and made it look like someone else did it, in this expert’s opinion, and Dexter takes it upon himself to figure out whether the blood guy was correct. The course of his investigation takes him to her home, where he discovers some suspicious evidence in the garbage disposal, and then into a dangerous situation as she figures out that he’s on to her and resolves to take matters into her own hands. The quick little cat-and-mouse game between Zoe and Dexter that ends, of course, with Zoe strapped down to her daughter’s bed is compelling and well-paced, and it even has an element of thematic relevance, as the increasingly sinister Harry in Dexter’s head tries to convince him that a good serial killer doesn’t have a family. The moment when Dexter realizes that Rita and the kids genuinely mean something to him is something the show has done before, but it’s rarely been executed with as much genuine feeling behind it as it was here. Much of that has to do with how Michael C. Hall plays the revelation as one that surprises and moves him as much as anything, but it’s still a nicely genuine moment.

Angel and LaGuerta continue to try to figure out how to define who they are to each other, even as the news of the Trinity killer leaks to the press via Quinn. The stuff with the reporter in this episode continued to be pretty boring, but the illicit relationship plotline finally finds a hook as the two realize they have to report their relationship and that gives Angel pause. The scenes where both take their concerns to Dexter are mildly amusing, and for the first time, I didn’t feel like the whole storyline was a distraction cooked up to give the two actors involved something to do. There’s nothing in the non-Dexter police stories that immediately suggests itself as awesome, but they weren’t distractingly bad this week.

Still, all anyone is going to want to talk about is Lundy finding the Trinity killer while scoping out the bar where he expects the guy to kill next. When Lundy bumps into Lithgow, it’s a nicely chilling little moment, especially as he quickly realizes what’s up and follows him to his bus. The Lithgow material, as always, is nicely creepy, with him prompting some guy to beat the hell out of him and then picking himself up from the ground (shot in a low angle with lots of backlighting to make him appear both menacing and all-powerful) to strike again, but what works best here is that this all ends with Deb and Lundy getting gut shot – seemingly by the Vacation Murders killer, whom the show had mostly attempted to make us forget existed as the episode went on – as the episode ends. I think that most of us thought Lundy would die (likely at the hands of Trinity), and I doubt the show will actually kill off Deb, but by making the Vacation Murders killer an actual player in the storyline (though I suppose it could be Trinity aping another killer or something), the series heightens all of its dramatic players. There are three genuine threats on the loose in Miami now, and the new question is which is going to take the other two out.

Stray observations:

  • That said, I’ve never quite bought the all-consuming passion Deb and Lundy feel for each other. It might be just me, since a lot of fans seem to think the pairing works, so that’s all I’ll say about it.
  • Grade MIGHT be inflated a bit, but I'm so encouraged by this episode that I'm not thinking straight.
  • So do you think it was the Vacation Murders killer at the end? I’m inclined to think so for a variety of reasons, but I can see arguments that it was actually Trinity (especially given that shot of the killer coming up to Lundy and removing something from his body). Have at it in comments!