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Dexter Recap: The Family That Kills Together ...

After the season’s best episode last week, this chapter was the weakest. That’s relative, of course — though we’re not quite halfway to the end, it’s been highly satisfying so far. But even with the heavy-handed family theme, there were still enough clever lines and suspenseful turns to keep the story chugging along. And how fun is it to watch Charlotte Rampling each week? She continues to reveal new dimensions of Dr. Vogel’s persona, from nurturer to mind-f’er to hostage with a pimp hand so strong that even Snoop Dogg would bow down.

I figured we’d begin at the hospital, with Dexter recovering from his near-death car ride into the lake. The trippy fade-in turned out to be a fake-out, as instead we’re eavesdropping on a most awkward therapy session with the Morgans. Vogel breaks the silence in her own subtle way: “Debra, it seems that you tried to kill Dexter as well as yourself?” Yes, doc, pretty much. In a rare emotional moment, Dexter trades his stalking outfit for pouty pants, sniping at them both. Vogel thinks all he’s good for is killing; his sister wanted him dead. Vogel sees a silver lining in Deb’s failed murder-suicide, in that she’s finally hit rock bottom. “Great,” Dexter replies. “I’m so fucking happy for you.” It’s an entertaining tantrum, and one that Vogel must be fascinated by, since Dexter is wearing his very un-psycho emotions on his sleeve.

Family matters dominate nearly every story line, as Dexter begins to see his for what it truly is — a major burden that really slows his roll as a killing machine (especially now that Harrison has developed a serious cartoon habit). The sudden appearance of Masuka’s daughter raises red flags so large that even Quinn can see she probably wants something from her old man (“Money, a place to stay, a fuckin’ kidney.”). Seems like he’s on to something — when Masuka treats her to lunch, she’s dropping references to sports cars (what forensics analyst drives a Ferrari?) and ordering food to go. She also says her mother passed away recently; this being Dexter, we also have to wonder if she died of natural causes. Perhaps for the first time, we see a different side of Miami Metro’s resident perv when he asks Deb to run a check on his darling Nikki. Masuka’s folks are retired, and he’s alone, comforted only by co-workers he grosses out and a few terabytes worth of porn on his computer.

Then there’s the dead-maid case that, until now, no one (including us) really cared about. Not sure that we do yet, either, but it’s on the radar for Matthews, who informs Quinn that the chief suspect, Ed Hamilton, is a friend of the department. He was also schtupping the victim on the down low. As Hamilton professes his true love for his deceased mistress, his super-creepy son appears and gets chewed out by his father. It’s another knotty family tie in an episode full of them, and in this case, it appears the kid is the real killer. But an eyewitness recants his statement, and Matthews tells Quinn to back off, lest his promotion disappear like Dexter’s stepkids. If there’s one thing Quinn does well, it’s screw things up. It’s a compulsive behavior; if he’s not drinking, he’s making bad choices in his personal life or taking money from thugs. If this case could lead to career suicide, it’s a sure bet he’ll pursue it.

As Quinn heads toward trouble, Deb emerges from the lake with a new perspective on life. It’s a bit unsettling, considering how far gone she was just days ago in Dexter time and only a month ago in our weekly TV-watching reality. I suspect that when folks are binge-watching this season on DVD, Deb’s light-switch transformation from pill-popping drunk with a death wish will feel too rapid, too implausible. She even looks like the old Deb again — hair-shampoo-commercial sleek, back to wearing her old striped shirts. When Masuka shows up at the PI office, she’s downright cheerful.

Much of the tension comes from Yates, who really steps up his serial-killer game (kidnapping Vogel while she’s listening to “Make Your Own Kind of Music” was perversely entertaining. Also, what’s with that song? Is Desmond from Lost the real Brain Surgeon?). Maybe this sounds conspiratorial, but I’m still not convinced that Yates is the cerebrum scooper. Regarding Dexter, he asks Vogel, “Who is this guy?” If he didn’t know Vogel had a hero, as he seemed to learn last week, why would he send the his-and-hers brains?

The final minutes give us a lot to chew on. Before the Morgans catch up to Yates, Dexter deftly slips away from Jamie’s double date by smooth-talking his neighbor into helping him bail. That’s a fun side of him we don’t see often enough — the guy so charming that he can sneak out to stalk his prey and set up a second date, all in a few words. (Expect Hannah to crash that party.) Deb works some magic of her own, as Elway agrees to run an illegal trace on Yates’s cell phone. (Note the sly reference to his best-known film role as Deb thanks him: “You’re a fuckin’ saint.”)

From there, it’s the Vogel Show, as Yates prepares to snap one of her toes with a pair of pliers. As he paces in front of her, the camera stays low, locked on Vogel’s face as she sits on the couch, looking up at him while he rants. It’s a subtle directorial choice, but the message is clear — even though there’s a killer in the room, Vogel is the one we want to watch. Vogel is determined to avoid donating to Yates’s shoe collection. She switches from therapy to role-play, adopting the nasty tone of his abusive mother. First-naming him is a good move, but it’s the open-hand slaps to the face that sends Yates back to his childhood. Vogel is nobody’s victim. (I’m also still sticking to my theory that Vogel had a hand in Harry’s death, though nothing advanced that idea this week. And what’s on that DVD she gives Dexter to throw away?).

Of course, Dexter and Deb save the day (though that must be the world’s strongest curtain rod to skewer Yates through a full mattress). What appeared to be a fractured triangle between the Morgans and Vogel has turned into something different. Deb seems at peace with herself and her brother — she barely blinks when Dexter shish-kabobs Yates. She also sees them as a team again: “If anyone ever really knew us, they’d run screaming.” She’s just as screwed up as Dexter in some ways, and she’s coming to grips with that fact.

Dexter: Why didn’t you let me drown?
Deb:
… I couldn’t imagine my life without you in it.
Dexter:
So now everything goes back to normal?
Deb:
It was never normal.

Now there’s a new normal, as the Morgans and their surrogate mom float in the moonlight on the Slice of Life, with only the sound of limbs in trash bags dropping into the surf to remind them that this is perhaps the most dysfunctional family on television.

Photo: Showtime