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Dexter Recap: Father Figure

Even in Dexter’s world, where rituals rule — Harry’s code, four-button Henleys, body-part boat dumping — change is bound to happen, and last night felt like an Obama rally circa 2008 (with a dash of faith-based lunacy and a barber-shop throat-slicing thrown in). We’re only two episodes deep and already a third stellar guest star is introduced, a paradigm-shifting promotion shakes up Miami Metro’s homicide unit, and we’re still trying to figure out what the Prof and his acolyte Travis are plotting. By the closing credits, we’re right there with Dexter and company, wondering how all of this shaking up will shake out. It’s enough to make you get downright vulgar, which may explain why Deb set a cable-TV record for “Most F-Bombs Uttered by a Single Character (Non-Sopranos/Deadwood Category).”

At the center of the episode’s transformative theme is Brother Sam, the ex-con turned auto-repair mechanic with a heart of gold, a Bible in hand, and at least one body on his rap sheet. The cops are convinced Sam’s “good shepherd” routine is a cover for something more nefarious, and Dexter agrees, knowing that Sam nearly ended up on his butcher block a while back for the murder he got away with. But from the moment when Batista grills him in the interrogation room, his role as the big bad wolf seems too obvious (especially since we know there are already two homicidal holy men on the loose). Dex thinks he has the evidence he needs to give B.S. the ol’ plastic-wrap Snuggie, until much to his disappointment and confusion, he realizes the dude really is a do-gooder. Aside from his look — the spoken-word-poet goatee-and-glasses combo feels a touch too Arrested Development circa 1992 — Mos Def nails the role of a man who’s done bad trying to set things right, and in doing so, cements his status as the best rapper turned actor in Hollywood (We’re talking bona fide hip-hop, so Mark Walhlberg doesn’t count, and Will Smith hasn’t made a decent movie since Ali; somewhere, the Fat Boys are filing a protest on behalf of Disorderlies).

When some pipe-hittin’ mofos raid Brother Sam’s shop, he responds to a gun in his face with some scripture: “Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, for at the end of that man is peace.” For those of you keeping score at home, that’s Psalm 37, and its message is that the good shall be rewarded and the wicked will get theirs in the end — which might make for a fitting personalized license plate for Dexter’s ride. Also, note that the nasty repair-shop mutt is named Eli, a nod to the Biblical figure who watched over the prophet Samuel. The Bro says “God is in control” as the thugs leave without capping anyone; Dexter isn’t convinced, of course, since his police I.D. badge is what scared them away. Still, we’re left with the sense that Brother Sam will serve as a powerful ally once Dexter sets his sights on the Alpha Omega killers. Could he join Lumen as only the second person to survive a Dexter team-up?

As clear as it was that Brother Sam wasn’t really next on the hit list, Deb’s promotion to lieutenant was that much of a surprise. The setup came last week, when everyone at the Cuban restaurant whipped out their cell phones to capture her badass heroics (Reality Check No. 1: Even in our YouTube obsessed culture, no one is shooting video when some nutjob is actually shooting). LaGuerta’s power play with Deputy Chief Matthews comes back to bite poor Batista in the Cubano keister, which is especially tough to watch considering how supportive he is when Deb informs him she’s taking his gig (Batista is undoubtedly the most likable cop who nearly got busted in a prostitution sting). No one feels more conflicted over Deb’s promotion than Quinn, who realizes he’s now working for the woman who stone-cold rejected his marriage proposal. (Though really, could you blame her? Ring in the fridge? Tealight candles in the shape of a heart? As Deb might say, who in the name of Martha fuckin’ Stewart did he think he was dating?) Masuka also looks concerned at Deb’s press conference, as if the thought bubble over his head says, “How do I make ass jokes about my boss?” (Reality Check No. 2: Love that the sexpot intern is the one who smartly unlocks the first clue about where those snakes came from, but the “You like to watch?” line after Masuka gets caught ogling ranks among the most implausible ever on this show. And that’s saying a lot. Also: If she looks familiar, it’s likely thanks to her role as Daphne, the super-speedster on Heroes who unfortunately appeared just as that show began to suck.)

Speaking of those serpents, we don’t learn much more about their wranglers by the hour’s end. The Prof is holed up in an abandoned church where he appears to be assembling either a super-creepy art installation or the worst Gap window display ever, thanks to a few trash bags filled with mannequins. He also has a thing for punctuality, something Travis learns when he blows off their “work” date to spend time with his very normal schoolteacher sister. Something appears to have set Travis on this homicidal road, and that vulnerability frames him as a tragic case, not simply a maniac. Just when it seems like it might not be too late for Travis to change, the Prof takes the old adage “spare the rod, spoil the child” and makes it his own by branding himself on the forearm as a twisted power play. “See how I suffer for your sins?” he says, and quicker than Travis can say hallelujah, the kid’s fetched him another fresh body (a dude jogging alone at night in the woods, one of the least-sympathetic victims to date).

The show ends where it began, with Dexter’s second favorite ritual: Harrison’s bubble bath and a bedtime routine that mimics the title sequence — tooth-brushing, shirt pulled over head. Little Harry is walking and talking now, the latter being particularly disturbing to Dexter, since his kid’s favorite phrase is “Daddy’s box.” (One day you’re changing diapers, the next you’re explaining why there’s a box with blood samples in your air conditioner and a chest filled with murder weapons in your closet. Where does the time go?) We see the parallels between Dexter and his son, the Prof and Travis, and even Brother Sam and the ex-cons he’s trying to save — father figures leading their lambs down what they consider to be a righteous path. We’re left wondering what’s ahead for the Lieutenant Debra Morgan era of the Miami PD, and even more so, what will happen over time when those mentors succeed or fail. Dexter’s bedtime story offers an ominous look toward the future. “Always the same ending,” he says. “Because monsters don’t get to live happily ever after.” Beyond the questions of faith and forgiveness, this season poses an even bigger one — can a monster ever truly change? Dexter isn’t convinced. If Brother Sam can’t prove him wrong, they both seem destined for grim final chapters of their own.

The Postmortem
Best Quote: “I know not of what you speak. And it was a limerick, thank you.” —Masuka denying that he posted a poem about Deb’s booty online.

Debra Morgan Vulgar Outburst of the Night: “Ha! Me? Right. Lieutenant. Fuckballs, you’re serious! Um, sir.”

Kill Tools: straight razor.

Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime