How soon is too soon to declare this the worst season of Dexter yet? To call it now seems really premature, seeing as how “Just Let Go” is only the halfway mark. Not to mention, my optimism is one of the qualities I’ve always liked most about myself, so it’s tough for me to conclude that there’s nothing that could come in the next six episodes to redeem the season for me. And yet, the temptation to call season six an outright disaster is really tempting.
I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest Dexter is a show that couldn’t get good again or is irreparably damaged in some way. But to approach the show as all of its writers have done, to willfully avoid communicating a sense of a larger picture coming into focus and concentrate on more immediate story needs, is to put a huge burden on the season's villain. All the season’s energy comes from the villain, how well conceived he is, and how much life the actor can breathe into him. Season four is often mentioned among Dexter’s best, but I’d encourage anyone who feels that way to rewatch that season sometime. As a season of Dexter, it’s pretty shambling at times, but John Lithgow’s performance was so incredible it buoyed the entire affair. Season five mostly didn’t work because Jordan Chase didn’t work, and now we’re in the same situation with Travis and Professor Gellar. But it’s even worse this time because the villain’s story is hinged on this “twist” that has been transparent since episode one. If the material was going to be elevated by the performers, Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos apparently weren’t the guys for the job. Any sense of menace the Doomsday Duo earned in the season premiere with the snakes killing, they’ve long since squandered.
What’s most amazing about the execution of that story is the expectation that the audience is supposed to care about the Doomsday Duo when Dexter doesn’t much seem to care either. Yes, the episode began with Dexter literally following Travis on foot hoping to catch a glimpse of Gellar, but then of course, he’s snatched away by news that Brother Sam has been shot. So for the rest of the episode, all the movement on the Doomsday case comes on the Miami Metro side, which is hard to invest in when we know their work will always be for naught—Dexter has to catch him first, and he always will.
It might have been worth it if Dexter’s episodic adventure had been fun, interesting or illuminating, but I didn’t find it to be any of those things. Dexter focuses his full attention on avenging Brother Sam, but only after a conversation with Harry, a mannered attempt to convince the audience with one expository swipe that the emotionless Dexter is overcome with grief over a guy he just met. So, fine, let’s say we buy that for the purposes of the episode. Dexter first sets his eye on Leo Hernandez, an up-and-comer with the Locos whose dried blood happens to be on Brother Sam’s bat. When Leo is shot during a police raid, Dexter discovers that Nick was the one who shot Brother Sam, the man who had tried so hard to save them both. It was a reveal that didn’t feel like a reveal because it went off with such a whimper. To have Dexter surmise that Nick was the shooter based on the behavior of Brother Sam’s dog is a logical idea, I suppose, but it certainly didn’t work as television. It was just a really boring way to see the theory come together.
Of course, Dexter does his due diligence in making sure Nick is the right target. He retrieves the bullet from the night Nick took a shot at Brother Sam and compares to see if it came from the same gun. Once he’s got his man, he’s ready to avenge his apparently really dear friend and spirit guide, Brother Sam. And here’s where things really went off course for me. A couple of weeks ago, a commenter mentioned that Brother Sam was veering too close to becoming a Magical Negro, and I argued in the show’s defense. While I could understand the criticism, I thought the rendering of Brother Sam and the estimable performance by Mos Def worked, and made Brother Sam a fully realized character who seemed a little socially presumptuous, as religious zealots can be, but like his own person. But based on this episode, I must admit I was wrong. Once Brother Sam elects to use what are literally his dying breaths to impart wisdom to a creepy white dude he’s known for a matter of weeks… gosh. That’s just classic Magical Negro stuff right there.
Just think about it for a second. Brother Sam operates a business in which all of the employees are ex-convicts. Surely there must have been a lot of them who could have benefitted from hearing Brother Sam’s spiel about darkness and light and shadow and chiaroscuro and all that. But Brother Sam has to deliver that message to Dexter, whom he barely knows, because he needs Dexter to tell Nick that he forgives Nick for shooting him. Dexter is the only one he can trust with this message, because the other guys in the shop “aren’t ready for it.” What Sam is saying explicitly, we’ll never know, because it’s nonsense so hard to explain that the script just leaves it vague. But I concluded that Sam meant the guys at the shop would be so seething with rage they would just kill Nick. But Dexter, whom he barely knows, and in whom he recognizes that same darkness, is the only person he can trust, even over dozens of other ex-cons he’s known for a longer period of time. It makes no sense, and it turned the character who was the one saving grace of this season into a clumsy device. The scene itself was just painful, and Michael C. Hall and Mos Def couldn’t save it. In particular, the deathbed version of Brother Sam’s quasi-Southern drawl tip-toed close to minstrelsy in a way that made me really uneasy.
Apparently it affected Dexter deeply though, because he did do his level best to forgive Nick, not just on Brother Sam’s behalf, but for himself. But once Nick starts twirling his mustache about having gotten away with the perfect crime, Dexter becomes enraged and drowns him in the ocean. When he drags himself to shore, Big Brother Brian is waiting. I’d heard rumblings about a game changer in this episode, but this certainly didn’t feel like a game changer to me, more like a moment of WTF exasperation. I still can’t figure out what kind of show Dexter wants to be. There’s so many examples of the show’s willingness to ignore continuity—even in this episode, there’s the conversation between Deb and Quinn about his having bedded Clarissa Porter, and no mention of Christine Hill, as if this is the first time Quinn’s done this. Yet, the reintroduction of a character who has been dead since season one is presented as though it’s a jaw-dropping cliffhanger.
On paper, I see how this all could have seemed like a good idea. The choice to kill or spare Nick is one that gave Dexter the opportunity to choose his light or his darkness, and once he made his choice, Brian appeared to him, thrilled that the brother he’d always wanted is finally ready to stop playing by polite society’s rules. But it’s hard to get excited about any of this when it’s all so clearly meant to distract from the Doomsday Duo (who barely did anything of note in this episode) long enough to finish pulling off the “big twist.” And when that moment comes, it is basically going to be the most embarrassing thing of all time. That’s coming from an optimist.
- This week in the Miami Metro Follies: Masuka’s new intern has a man crush on Dexter and a lady crush on Jamie; Deb breaks down with the therapist and has a beach party at the murder house; Mike is still trying to be a diligent cop even though that’s now how things are done ‘round these parts; LaGuerta strolled in for 45 seconds to be a bitch to Deb.
- “I could give a fuck who you fuck. Just don’t fuck with my investigation, you fuck.” Hilarious, whether intended or not.
- Last week I got called out on my assertion that the newspaper image had changed from shot to shot in “The Angel Of Death.” That’s my bad, folks, definitely two different newspaper stands. Still, I sure hope Gellar is imaginary, and Travis is delusional, because I’d really love to believe that they aren’t suggesting a major newspaper would implicate someone as a serial killer with no basis for doing so.