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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dexter: "The Getaway"

Illustration for article titled Dexter: "The Getaway"

It's, honestly, a little difficult to talk about "The Getaway" without seeing the entirety of Dexter's fifth season. The show's writers made a gutsy choice in the closing passages of the episode, but it's exactly the sort of thing that could backfire on them, skewing everything a little too close to misery porn. On the other hand, it's fairly easy to come up with at least a dozen scenarios where the fifth season of Dexter sees our man getting sloppier and sloppier, simply unable to cope with all of the roles he's been asked to play. I've been down on the show this season for the sense it gives me that Dexter is being defanged, that he's becoming our friendly neighborhood serial killer. I still have fears in this regard, but there's increasing evidence that the show's making a tougher choice, one that will be really hard to follow through on but one that will place this among the better TV dramas of its time if it can follow through: Dexter's showing its hand as an addiction narrative.

In many ways, Dexter is kind of a stealth serial. The show obviously has serialized elements in its season-by-season plotlines, but the overarching plot has never seemed as important to the show's overall arc. Dexter meets a nemesis. He needs to dispatch that nemesis while also ridding Miami of its more garden variety scum. He and the nemesis play cat and mouse while he has to make sure no one guesses who he really is, despite several close calls. He's victorious in the end, and lives to kill another day. Rinse. Repeat. There's an element of repetition to this that can make the show seem like 24 or, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, both shows where every season is a new story. Buffy managed the trick of finding a way to connect its seasons together despite their different narratives; 24 mostly has not. For a while, I've been arguing that Dexter hasn't managed that trick either, but I increasingly think the series has been hiding what it's doing very well. The key is in the fact that Dexter always, always lives to kill another day.

Dexter, unlike Arthur Mitchell, is able to normalize himself to a degree where most people wouldn't really suspect him of the bad things he's capable of. His attachment to Rita and the kids is convenient to his cover identity, yes, but it's also evolved into a real attachment. Though I think the metaphor of the dark passenger is a little overwrought much of the time in the show's usage, it's useful as a study of addiction, compulsion. Anyone who's struggled with some sort of uncontrollable desire to do anything that's not horribly helpful overall, whether it's a compulsion to shoot heroin or sleep with women who aren't your wife or surf the Internet when you should be working, can understand the notion of being taken over by something that grows more and more insistent the longer you keep it at bay. One of the things that I think has gone unnoticed this season has been just how little Dexter has been killing people. He's been dedicated to his family, to his job and to tracking Arthur but not really to the killing that keeps his darkness at bay. And that's been manifesting itself in unusual ways. He's gotten sloppy, especially when tracking Arthur, and he's gotten downright mad at people and things that don't really deserve it. The longer he keeps the darkness at bay, the more it threatens to overwhelm him, though he's convinced the opposite is true.

The first 40 minutes of the finale or so are terrifically executed but a little predictable. The sheer momentum of Dexter's final chase after Arthur, the gang at Miami Metro just a few steps behind, is just terrific fun. I loved, for example, the scene where Dexter gets thrown in jail or the scene where he rushes into the Mitchell house to figure out where Arthur's gone and then the cops swing in through the windows and he has to figure out a way to make it seem like he's been there from the first. This is all fun stuff, but the cat-and-mouse of it is something Dexter can do in its sleep. The show barely even has to try to generate suspense in a scenario like this, and once it all ended up with Dexter somehow knowing exactly how to put Arthur Mitchell's days of killing finally to an end, I was prepared to say it was a fun finale but nothing more, a little disappointed by how the show simply got rid of Dexter's most enjoyable antagonist yet. (Even with the turn the episode took, then, I still might have liked to see Arthur escape as a loose end ready to drop in at any moment in the seasons to come, though that might not have worked. I just loved John Lithgow's work that much.)

Because, see, in that surprisingly well-written kill table scene where Dexter and Arthur talk about fate and why they do what they do and other big concepts, Arthur already knows that he's killed Rita, that Dexter's going to find her body in the bathtub and realize that he can't have his revenge. I'm alone in Dexter fandom in not really minding Rita, it sometimes seems, but I can see several ways in which her death enlivens the series, creating in Dexter a thirst for revenge that he can't ever sate because he already killed her killer, creating a situation where he has to somehow be a single father and a serial killer and creating a world that has only given more fuel to his darkness' fire. At the same time, the whole development makes me nervous. Heaping miserable events on top of a protagonist who spends most of his time doing very bad things is one of the easiest ways for a show like this to make it seem like it understands the "cost" of being bad (again, 24 comes to mind), and it's a real worry that the show will use this as an excuse to plunge further into despair.

But both Rita and Arthur bring up demons in the episode, in the suggestion that Dexter can or can't control them, respectively. The fact that the man who tells Dexter he can't hope to control those demons is also the man who kills Dexter's wife, well, that suggests that the show has a very firm idea of just how much Dexter can push down his darkness. "The Getaway" isn't perfect - again, the entirety of the episode had moments when it felt a little by the numbers - but it's a solidly gutsy piece of television, the kind of episode that makes me think maybe I underrated the season as a whole.

Stray observations:

  • Or maybe I just liked this because it seemed like the whole thing was shot in my neighborhood. There's a shot where you can just about see my house, as Arthur is driving out of town.
  • Deb found out that Dexter's brother was the Ice Truck Killer. I'm not sure, however, why he's so freaked out that this will necessarily lead her to realize his deepest, darkest secret. Do all serial killers come in pairs of two, related siblings? Still, it's a promising development for when the show inevitably wants to put its end game (which MUST involve Deb catching Dexter, no?) in motion.
  • Two random things I really liked: Arthur singing "Venus" just before his death and the redness of the water as Dexter dumped Arthur's body.
  • I almost would have liked it if the episode had shown that address as Dexter's address in specific. Most address search sites still list me as living at addresses I haven't lived at in years and years.
  • Well, all you Rita haters got what you wanted? You happy now?
  • And with that, I leave you until season five. See you next fall!