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Dexter: “Helter Skelter”

Illustration for article titled Dexter: “Helter Skelter”

What scares Dexter Morgan?

This is the latest of many questions posed about the humanity of a character who, heretofore, has been defined by his lack of humanity. There’s probably no point quibbling about this now. It’s jarring, to be sure, but if the flaw of Dexter has always lain in its inability to break out of staid patterns, it’s hard to fault the writers for choosing to break those patterns by drilling past the cold, logical surface of the character and letting his messy guts spill out. Given the show has—if there is a just and loving God—one more season left in it, there has to be some kind of dynamic element introduced to the Dexter Morgan character in order to leave him in a state different from the one in which he was found. The only real way to go, save for him deciding to stop killing people all of a sudden, is “Dexter Morgan: Feeling His Feelings.”

That’s all to say, I’ve slowly but surely warmed to the tale of Dexter Morgan and Hannah McKay, that classic story of murderer-meets-murderess. Michael C. Hall and Yvonne Strahovski do have an incredible chemistry, and to a greater degree than ever before, I find myself rooting for their relationship to succeed, at least in the short run. Dexter has explained to us in voiceover how the women we’ve seen him with were different experiences for him, but I never really reflected on how they were different experiences for me as a viewer. So here goes: Rita served her purpose but grew to be horribly irritating and superfluous; Lila was a deus ex machina with great legs; Lumen had a score to settle, which by default made theirs a relationship of mutual convenience. I’ve been effectively sold on Hannah McKay as the first viable romantic pairing Dexter has ever been given.

But while we’re on the subject of firsts, Isaak Sirko, the other figure looming large in Dexter’s life this season, is the most assuredly menacing foe Dexter has ever been pitted against. That includes Arthur Mitchell, whose arc was certainly unsettling as his family man façade crumbled to reveal the sadist underneath, but that was a much slower burn compared to Isaak’s immediate fireworks. That’s why “Helter Skelter” ultimately left me so cold. While I’ve come around on Hannah, the main aspects of this season keeping me invested were the changing dynamics of Dexter’s relationship with Deb and Sirko’s bloodlust. By the end of “Helter Skelter,” only the burgeoning love affair remains intact and in play, and that makes me nervous.

To put a finer point on it, Isaak deserved much, much better. When he learns that the Koshkas  have dispatched a pair of assassins hoping they’ll succeed where the last one failed, Isaak goes to Dexter and begs for his help in fending them off. Kill his pursuers, he says, and he’ll slink out of Miami without taking his revenge. Dexter declines (Dumbly Declining Dexter?), even though helping Sirko would give him a valid reason to engage his Dark Passenger without pissing off Deb and while neutralizing the biggest threat to himself and his loved ones. His hope, he says, is still to get Isaak on his table, though I can’t exactly figure out why that would be so important at this juncture so long as the threat has been removed. Be that as it may, Isaak kidnaps Hannah in order to blackmail Dexter into helping him, and Dexter reluctantly agrees.

What follows was interesting so long as you’re willing to accept the premise that the primary purpose of a major, recurring character in Dexter is to impart an important lesson to Dexter before dying. Let the darkness go, sayeth Brother Sam last season (that character being the best component of that season as Isaak is the best component of this one) and now, open your heart to wild, irrational love, proclaims Isaak Sirko. All that’s fine, but there’s only so much of a metamorphosis that’s even possible with Dexter. So do I want character development if it comes at the expense of story? I don’t, so I couldn’t help but be really bummed out by the way Isaak’s threat is neutralized by putting him in need of Dexter’s help, then having him shot to death. And shot to death by George, the most pointless character of the season. Isaak deserved better.


So now, what remains is Dexter’s love triangle with Hannah and Deb, which has no choice to move even further into the foreground now that Isaak has been killed off with three episodes remaining in the season. There’s still potential in that dynamic, I suppose, but with Deb having confessed her feelings for Dexter and essentially condoned  his pairing with Hannah, even if she’s loath to accept it, it feels like the wind has gone out of those sails too. The only thing that still feels live and auspicious about it is, assuming I read the scene correctly, the look of fright and panic on Hannah’s face when Dexter decided to fully give into her. If we’re going down the road of “Dexter Morgan: Feeling His Feelings,” I’d love to see what a brokenhearted Dexter looks like. I suspect garbage bags and heavy-duty plastic wrap would be sold out citywide.

Still, with Isaak out of the picture, I can’t help but wonder what is supposed to take shape here in three more episodes. I started to become concerned about the pacing when Isaak was put in jail for an entire episode, and now, that concern is truly cresting. Obviously, there will be more complications for Dexter now that LaGuerta is getting closer to cracking the mystery of the Bay Harbor Butcher, and now that Matthews has agreed to give her damaging information about the Morgan clan. But a tightening noose around Dexter can only be mildly potent as a plot element because we know he won’t be caught. It’s more of a question of what happens to LaGuerta, whom I only now care about in so much as she’s closing in on Dexter. It’s quite the paradox.


Stray observations:

  • There’s a phantom arsonist on the loose, who is almost certainly the squirrely fire investigator, but please let it not be the squirrely fire investigator.
  • Batista’s restaurant has code violations! Mo’ flautas, mo’ problems, my dude.
  • Now that Isaak’s gone, my favorite new character is Mystery Black Lady Detective. Give her a sassy catchphrase. Won’t someone please give her a sassy catchphrase?
  • Dexter on Deb’s romantic love for him: “It’s like the way I love M&M’s, even though I know I shouldn’t.” “Dexter Morgan: Feeling His Feelings, Being Terrible At Analogies.”
  • A couple choices I loved in Steve Shill’s directing: the off-kilter rifle shot at the target as Dexter sunk his knife into Isaak’s would-be assassin, and the overhead shot of Dexter and Isaak in the boat as Isaak bled out.
  • If there’s a lesson for Dexter in this season, it should be in Deb’s tolerance of his relationship with Hannah. Deb loves him unselfishly, which is something Dexter could learn a bit about.
  • For a while it seemed like Quinn wouldn’t be totally pointless this season, didn’t it?
  • The fried green tomatoes affair is the silliest Dexter has been all season.