Dexter has always been heavy on the overt visual metaphors, but there’s an unintentional one early in “Unfair Game,” New Blood’s eighth episode. It’s the beat where, following a struggle with Caldwell henchman Elric Kane, Dexter is hurtled through a windshield and into the snow. Just as Dexter has no choice but scramble to his feet somehow and keep moving at all costs, so must we move from abruptly and painfully from one of Dexter’s best episodes in ages to one of its weirdest. While not a complete disappointment, “Unfair Game” is oddly paced and edited throughout, even as it finally brings the season’s long-simmering plotlines to a head.
The episode picks up just moments after the cliffhanger, with Dexter bound in the back of a pickup truck bound for Kurt Caldwell’s murder cabin. The driver is one Elric Kane, the payee on that $5,000 check Dexter found while snooping around Kurt’s office, and that check was an apparent payment for this current assignment. Dexter stirs himself awake thanks to an ultraviolent dream sequence featuring the absolute worst version of Harrison’s narrowly averted showdown with the vengeful Moose Creek kids. The sequence’s goofy editing foreshadows that equally goofy windshield ejection, which evokes season one of Fargo as recreated by Benny Hill.
Thanks to Dexter’s quick reflexes, and… I guess, imperviousness to most injuries, he escapes into the woods as Elric tracks him using the blood trail from a rifle shot to the leg. The ensuing chase basically eats up the entire episode where Dexter is concerned. He knows Kurt is up to something sinister involving Harrison after hearing Elric’s phone conversation, but he can’t get to Harrison until he deals with the Elric threat first. While it’s kind of delightful to take another detour through the abandoned summer camp we saw earlier in the season, this plot is an enormous waste of time. There’s no question that this the chase ends with Elric at the pointy end of Dexter’s knife, so it’s a suspense-free suspense sequence and a waste of the proto-slasher setting.
Worse still, the script suggests Dexter had to force Elric to tell him what secret location he needed to get to in order to save Harrison, only for it to be the most obvious possible answer. Where else would Kurt take someone he plans to harm other than the place where he goes to harm people, a cabin Dexter has been to multiple times? (Dexter has made equally consequential decisions based on wispier hunches, as in the last time he had to save his kid from a serial killer.) But the beat is shoehorned in as a way to make the “escaping Elric” scenes feel less like a naked plot mechanism. Dexter has to arrive at the cabin just in time to save Harrison, and Elric’s actual job is to stall Dexter long enough to create that moment.
While Dexter’s occupied with the henchman to whom he gave an Arthur Fleck smile, Kurt spends the day playing foster dad to Harrison, who remains hopelessly drawn to his darkest-timeline father figure. The Kurt and Harrison scenes are as much of a stalling tactic as the Dexter and Elric scenes, but they don’t feel that way because of the excellent performances. Clancy Brown and Jack Alcott have killed it all season, and they make the most out of each opportunity to deepen Kurt and Harrison’s twisted bond. The scene with Harrison demanding more bruises from the pitching machine is especially sharp because it suggests there are ways Kurt can hurt Harrison that don’t involve killing him at all.
That’s why the ultimate reveal of Kurt’s plan is a bit of a letdown. The psychological tug-of-war between Dexter and Kurt is what made “Skin Of Her Teeth” so satisfying, since Dexter never gets any worthy adversaries and Kurt’s playfulness showed real promise. I’d have been far more interested to see Kurt escalate his psychological manipulation of Harrison, perhaps by contriving a way to make Harrison kill someone and helping him cover it up, or by exposing Dexter’s actual nature before Dexter has a chance to. Instead, Kurt abruptly dons his hunting garb and tells Harrison it’s time to go from tasting venison to role-playing as the unsuspecting elk.
Besides the boring bluntness of Kurt’s scheme to kill Harrison in front of Dexter (and then, presumably, kill Dexter too), Kurt’s exact motivation and modus operandi seem murkier than ever. While the previous episode suggested Kurt’s experience with Iris dictated his protocols and predilections, apparently Kurt’s not even particular about the gender of his victims, let alone their transient status. At least that’s the only reasonable way to interpret this, since he’s been desperate for a body to replace the one he spoiled, though we still don’t know what exactly he’s doing with his victims. Kurt was going to kill Molly before Dexter intervened, even though that was guaranteed to lead directly to him, so we’ll just suppose he’s desperate to stick just anybody in his human taxidermy diorama.
Dexter, yet again, arrives just in time to prevent Kurt from completing his collection. Disguised as Elric, he tries to run Kurt over and narrowly misses. Dexter then narrowly misses his opportunity to catch Kurt since he’s too busy having a father-son moment with Harrison. One catharsis leads to another as Dexter finally realizes what he has risked by keeping his true nature from the one person who can most understand what he’s going through. It’s a big moment for Dexter, but one that presupposes that all the audience wants is for Dexter to get everything he needs without facing any real consequences. If fulfilling Dexter is the end game for this season, it will be unfair indeed.
- The third plot of the episode finds Angela jumping down the rabbit hole as her suspicions of Dexter intensify. Maybe this is what she’s doing to take her mind off Iris?
- At this point, Angela has connected all the dots (thanks in part to, ugh, a visit to Batista’s Facebook page), which can only mean one of two things. Either Angela is going to die before the season is out because someone else kills her in a most convenient way, or she’s going to make peace with Dexter because he’s able to avenge Iris when the law fails. Neither feels satisfying to me, so I’m really hoping for a third option.
- The ketamine thing really bothered me. I haven’t watched the original series in years, so I don’t know this for certain, but I don’t think ketamine was the drug Dexter was using to sedate victims during his BHB days.