Buck the System
Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime
The opening scene from last night’s episode reminded me — in a bloodier way — of my recent visit to the post office for what I thought would be a “quick trip” for some stamps. A half-hour later, I began daydreaming of strolling to the front of the line and telling the lone employee that I don’t mean to kill the messenger but this is why the U.S. mail system is crumbling and I’m paying all my bills online from now on thankyouverymuch. For Dexter, of course, killing is as important as mailing an essential package, and his throat-slashing fantasy sets the tone for what Debra’s house-arrest rules are doing to him. He feels trapped and, like a caged animal, Dexter is ready to lash out. Though I think the writers missed an opportunity to take the show in a new direction— Dexter expands the Code to include crimes of customer service, like a drive-through guy who screws up his order, or a cable guy who cancels three times and then can’t fix his DVR. Dexter sates his need to kill and consumer satisfaction skyrockets. That’s a win-win even Deb couldn’t argue with.
The episode begins with Dexter’s struggle, but it’s Deb’s internal conflict that propels it forward (and lands her in the clutches of a heavy-metal minotaur). The best moments this season continue to be between Dex and Deb, as they wrestle with their allegiances to the systems that guide them (Harry’s rules, the law) and to each other. For a show that doesn’t rely much on cinematic visuals, there was a perfectly framed shot of Dexter and Deb after they hash out their frustrations outside the police station. Deb agrees to give him space, then leaves Dexter alone in the cramped alley, looking small in comparison to the walls surrounding him. As Dexter looks up, the claustrophobic moment suggests there’s no way he can climb out of the hole he’s dug for himself.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation of the season so far happens in that same scene, as Deb mentions Dexter’s part-time roommate and series afterthought, otherwise known as his son.
Deb: Think about Harrison. Think about what you could be exposing him to.
Dexter: I think about him all the time.
The appropriate response would seem to be “Really, Dex? ‘Cause he’s pretty much being raised by your babysitter and her creepy boyfriend these days,” but Deb, slipping into her old naïve ways, accepts that at face value. Much as Deb threw a Hail Mary by trying to reform him, Dexter decides the only way to move forward is to convince his high-ranking cop-sister that his mass murder is actually a good thing. The scene at the bar when Dexter presents his theory on skinhead roid-rage killer Ray Speltzer is another high point, as Dexter describes his stalking in almost artistic terms.
Dexter: I thought maybe if I let you in on my process, you’d appreciate that there is some value to what I do … I have to be free to be who I am.
Deb: It is a capital offense to be who you are, Dexter!
Dexter: I’m taking out the trash. Trash that would otherwise be left to putrefy …
He’s in psycho mode while delivering that line — the tone and cadence of his speech changes and his eyes drift somewhere far away. It’s the first trickle of the “seeing blood” moment he described to Deb earlier. We’ve seen this plenty of times before he kills, but it’s completely new territory for Deb, who seems fascinated, infuriated, and scared out of her mind all at once. She appropriately freaks out when Dexter says he’s still “vetting” and won’t killer Speltzer until he’s “absolutely sure.” But we can see that Dexter’s line about his “lizard brain” being her “secret weapon all along” hits home with her.
The supporting cast also steps up its game, starting with Louis, who deserved that slug to the skull after two major offenses in the scene with Jaime: declaring “It’s not cheating if you pay for it” and his barbaric method of displaying comic books (No polypropylene bags? Acid-free backing boards? More evidence that something was seriously wrong with that guy). His frenzied dismantling of the “Slice of Life” and calling Dex a “ginger freak” made me a little sad to see his crazy ass go. We also learn that Isaac is a man of high culture (name dropping the Bolshoi Theatre), a witty conversationalist (to Dex: “Have a drink or a lap dance or festoon a thong with some neatly folded dollar bills”), and a heroin kingpin. Now that he has Dexter in his sights, that story line is starting to warm up. Even Speltzer turned out to be memorable — for his gimp-meets–Tim Curry–in-Legend headgear, his elaborate torture maze, and for that bartender who somehow missed the telltale signs he was a homicidal nutjob (eighties boombox, plastic-wrapped furniture, nonalcoholic mojitos).
Last night’s biggest disappointment was the introduction of Hannah, Randall’s teen sidekick who’s all grown up now and really into plants. I was hoping that she’d be a little dirt-baggier, or at least show more character than just that weird, flirty moment when Dexter swabbed her cheek (never has a DNA sample tried to be so sexy and failed so miserably). Granted, she was onscreen for approximately two minutes, so I’m giving Hannah some time to evolve (and as Chuck taught us, Yvonne Strahovski can handle a gun and is not afraid to rock a Princess Leia slave costume, so patience, please).
Thankfully, the episode doesn’t end with any suggestion that there’s a Wonder Twins team-up ahead for Dexter and Deb. She releases her brother back into the wild, and for now, they’ve sort of agreed to disagree — which is okay if we’re debating Obama versus Romney or Bieber versus One Direction, but not so much when it’s Killing People versus Not Killing People. Deb still has many questions to ask (What up with Doakes? How many of those green henley shirts do you own?), but getting too caught up in reality checks on a show about a serial killer forensics analyst is a trap that will only lead to misery and letdown. Though Dexter feels free at last, when Deb says “Everything’s changed,” it’s crushing for him — and hopefully a sign of more surprises in store for us.