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Dexter Recap: Step One Is Admitting You Have a Problem

James Remar as Harry Morgan and Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan (Season 7, episode 2)

Heading into last night’s episode, I found myself hoping that, unlike the week before, there wouldn’t be any misdirection at the start. No dream sequence, no flashback, no fake-out shot of Dexter in peril or behind bars when he’s really fine. Just pick up where we left off — at the holy shit moment when Debra found his psycho accoutrements and Dexter admitted that why, yes, he does indeed kill people on a regular basis, thanks for finally noticing.

Letdown averted! In another wise move, no time is wasted in resolving what is perhaps the most anticipated moment of the series thus far. Deb reacts as I imagine most people would upon hearing the news that her brother is a serial killer — she runs away and barfs. She also connects the dots between his slides and the Bay Harbor Butcher, bringing Dexter to the moment he says he’s been dreading all of his life. It’s also the moment we’ve been waiting for since the first season (though I didn’t picture it happening on the front lawn outside Dexter’s apartment, but really, when do life-changing events ever turn out the way we imagine them?).

There are a few mind-scrambling exchanges between them as Dexter tries to explain his sinister nature and defend the indefensible. Kudos to the writers — and to Jennifer Carpenter, who seems, based on interviews, to be pretty vocal about the direction her character is headed in — for letting Deb express all the disbelief, anger, disgust, and confusion we’d expect her to feel. She practically has an aneurysm when Dexter reveals that Harry not only knew his secret but also authored the code by which he kills. That leads to this:

Dexter: I have this … need. Deep inside me. I call it my Dark Passenger.

Deb: You gave it a name?

It’s a brief moment of levity and also a wake-up call for both Deb and the audience as she, after being so clueless for so long, points out to Dexter — and us — just how utterly insane it is that he has a nickname for his homicidal urges. The reality check continues when Deb says, “The people in that box, Dexter. They’re the victims,” and Dexter’s face tightens. We’ve seen that look before, when he’s toying with his plastic-wrapped prey. But Deb hasn’t. As Dexter name-checks a few of the sickos he’s dispatched, it’s the first time Deb sees what lurks inside him. It’s not a pretty sight. It’s also a reminder that while we’ve grown attached to Dexter, he deserves to pay for his crimes, one way or another.

That scene could have lasted half the episode with no complaints from me, and the curtain-closer was perfect — the two of them facing off, Deb holding her gun and badge, Dexter with palms open and arms outstretched. We’re not sure if he’s ready to be cuffed or suggesting there’s no way she can arrest her own brother. True to character, Deb responds with a solid right hook to the jaw. Of all the implausible moments we’ve seen over the years, a sissy slap from Lt. Morgan would have been among the worst.

Granted, we’re only through two episodes, but there’s a weird dynamic unfolding so far: The pursuit of Anderson’s killer and the potential Big Bad of this arc feels, more so than ever before, completely secondary to the tension between Dexter and Deb. The only other somewhat compelling story lines involve those who seem to be closing in on Dexter’s secret. Louis claims his grudge is only inspired by Dexter’s video-game dis, but waking up on a park bench after being home-invaded and drugged may push him to new levels of obsession (possible addendum to Harry’s code: Don’t mess with a guy who likes action figures and hookers). LaGuerta is also making progress with her investigation of the slide she found at the crime scene. All the rest — Isaac Sirko, the rakish chap from Kiev who enjoys the suit-with-no-socks look; Quinn and his latest stripper crush — is filler, at least for now. I did appreciate Isaac’s henchman who, after his boss drove an awl through that guy’s eyeball, dutifully wiped it for prints. Good help like that is hard to find.

What’s clear is that this is Dexter and Deb’s season, a point not so subtly underscored by Deb’s solution for the old “My Brother Is a Serial Killer” conundrum — roomies! Another well-spun scene unfolds at dinner, as Deb goes heavy on the (blood) red sauce and the questions about what it feels like to kill.

Dexter: It fills me up. All my empty spaces.

Deb: I can’t believe you're like this. You're a sick fuck, Dexter. Jesus Christ.

Yes, Deb! Yes, he is! But her love for him runs deep, maybe a little too deep, as we learned last season. Those feelings are still in play, on some level — note her line about being “someone who loves you more than you will ever fucking know.” So, instead of turning him in, she opts for a new code: complete honesty and a phone call when he starts seeing blood. Of course, that lasts about a minute before Dexter is sneaking off to Louis’s creepy apartment. By the end, Deb thinks they’ve made progress. Dexter isn’t so sure, thanks to his actions and the philosophical musings of Wayne Randall, the con who ends up as a grill ornament. It’s a theme we’ve seen over and over — can Dexter change who he is, by any means? There’s also the bigger question that went unaddressed last night — does Dexter really even want to?

My first thought after watching the episode was that the show had tilted back toward the implausible. How could Deb delude herself into thinking her brother can be cured? He’s spent a lifetime deceiving her. If being married with kids wasn’t enough to retire his knife collection, what could be? Yet it’s hard to blame Deb for her Hail Mary attempt to control his urges (think of all the times Dexter has done something desperate in an effort to save himself). Now we see where this season is likely headed — Dexter Rehab, until Deb eventually realizes he’s beyond help. In the closing moments, when all that’s left of Randall is a blood stain on the blacktop and his white canvas shoe, Dexter contemplates his possible life in prison (or in his case, what would certainly be Death Row). Worse yet, he knows that Deb will forever see him as a killer. Like us, Dexter senses that his story won’t end with rays of sunshine and ice-cream cones.

Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime