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Dexter Recap: Hammer Time

Last season’s Dexter finale left behind a number of unanswered questions, like so many cranial blood spurts waiting to be interpreted. How will Quinn handle his suspicions about Deb’s bro in the wake of the snooping (Robo)cop’s murder? Will Dexter survive an entire summer with his stepkids? And will anyone wonder why the overturned red coupe at Jordan Chase’s campgrounds just happens to be the car Dexter stole from Liddy’s crime scene?

“Moving forward” — that’s what was on our antihero’s mind at the start of last night’s premiere, and it seems to be a philosophy the writers have also embraced. Quinn and Dex? All good, at least for now. The stepkids? Not even a mention of Cody and Astor, the South Florida Eye-Rolling Champion. As for those hot wheels Dexter left behind, maybe, like, no one noticed them? “All’s well in my little corner of the world,” Dexter says, not long after a swift double-kill of two organ-harvesting EMTs. Looks like he’s not sweating the small stuff this season. Or the super-incriminating stuff, like that car and the fact that his private-eye stalker was stabbed to death. Of course, there’s a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief on a show about a likable serial killer who chats with his dead dad, but one of Dexter’s strengths is that most plot holes are knotted up tightly by each season’s end. Maybe some of these issues will resurface, but for now, it seems like Dex caught a few inexplicably lucky breaks. The upside is that the pall that hung over much of last season in the wake of Rita’s death has been lifted. When Dexter is in a bloody good mood, so are we.

He’s also not the only one at Miami Metro with news to share. Batista’s divorced again, newly bearded, and is hanging with his little sister, Jamie; she’s Harrison’s new nanny and has a fondness for bikinis and sheer tank tops. LaGuerta earned a promotion in the way you’d expect — by blackmailing Deputy Chief Matthews. Deb thinks Quinn’s acting weird, and for good reason, since he’s preparing the most awkward TV proposal since David the Lawyer whipped out a ring on the Survivor: Redemption Island reunion. And Dexter bought the adjoining apartment to give Harrison some more space. One convenient feature that probably wasn’t in the condo brochure — it’s way easier to slip out in the middle of the night and kill people when your kid and your nanny aren’t all up in your business. Win-win!

The episode’s two highlights underscore what Dexter does best: striking a pitch-perfect balance between the light and the darkness. It seems odd at first that Dexter is excited about his twentieth high school reunion (which is apparently the longest, most organized reunion ever. Cocktail parties! Flag football! Chem classroom bj’s!). Of course, we learn his next mark is the football team captain, and before he’s dispatched, we’re treated to a few LOL moments, including some “Can’t Touch This” booty-shaking and Dexter dealing with his uncomfortable popularity. Even the kill room is comical, as Dex straps his victim to a scoreboard, wears a mascot head, and knocks the jock out with a ball-peen. “Sorry,” Dexter says. “Hammer time.” (Insert “2 Legit 2 Quit” joke here.)

As for the grim stuff, much of it comes courtesy of this season’s guest stars — Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos. (Welcome back to South Beach, Lieutenant Castillo! As a kid, most of what I knew about this city was gleaned from Miami Vice: Everyone owns a cigarette boat, cocaine use is required for residency, and Glenn Frey might be the mayor.) We never learn their names, but thanks to some crack investigatory journalism skills (read: IMDb), I can reveal that Hanks is Travis Marshall and Olmos is Professor Gellar. The Prof takes Travis on one hell of a class trip — moonlight baby-snake collecting, roadside-fruit-stand-guy disembowelment, and what might be the all-time grossest use of Corpse As Message to Cops That I’m Bat-Shit Crazy and Will Kill Again.

This deliciously creepy odd couple also has a thing for scripture, as Travis drops a little Revelation 22:2 before introducing that poor produce dude to his well-worn machete: “In the midst of the street was the Tree of Life, which bears twelve manner of fruit and yielded her fruit every month.” After their dirty deeds are done, the Prof spits some Rev 13:1, and like any good psycho-religious hype-man, Travis finishes the verse from memory. “It’s begun,” says the Prof with a smile that’s both joyous and supremely freaky. (Admiral Adama would certainly not approve.) We’re left to guess what sort of nastiness has been set into motion. Their second Bible passage — "I stood upon the sand and the sea. And I saw a serpent rise up out of the sea having seven heads … And upon his heads, the name of blasphemy” — hints at a reckoning when those who’ve strayed from God’s word will be set right. Travis’s reference to the Tree of Life suggests he’s killing for Jesus, as does the symbol carved into the fruit-stand guy’s chest, Alpha Omega (“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end,” another nod to Revelations). Could these two give John Lithgow a run for the title of Best Dexter Psycho Ever? It’s too early to tell, but they’re off to a fast start.

Between the Christ Killers and Dexter’s efforts to enroll Harrison at a Catholic preschool, matters of faith are the threads that will tie this season together. (Which brings up another question: Whither Sonya, the angelic nanny with the St. Brigid statue? My money is on either deportation or a job with normal hours.) It’s an interesting angle the show hasn’t explored much yet — how does this “noble” killer reconcile his actions with a sense of spirituality? Can the Dark Passenger ride shotgun with some sort of religious belief? Is the concept of God as foreign to Dexter as human emotions and a more fashionable kill wardrobe? This is where Harrison becomes more than a plot complication. As Dexter tries to shield his son from his own demons, he’s forced to contemplate the struggles of normal people, folks like the man he hopes his kid will one day become, and in a sense, folks like us. And now that his (and our) post-Rita depression has lifted, he’s got a new attitude and fresh set of lunatics to pursue. There’s a look of wonder on Dexter’s face as he helps Masuka bag the seven snakes, as though he’s thrilled to have a new psychopathic playmate to hunt down without worrying about his stepkids or waking the baby. Amen to that.

The Postmortem
Best Quote: (tie) “I have no idea what ‘Hammer Time’ is. Or how it differs from regular time.” “Most of the people here don’t have two rolls of duct tape, 80 yards of plastic sheeting, and a surgical saw in their trunk.”

Debra Morgan Vulgar Outburst of the Night: “Holy Frankenfuck! Snakes!”

Kill Tools: defibrillator paddles; ball-peen hammer/knife combo.

Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime