Your mileage may vary on the merits of Dexter taking three episodes before actually doing some Dexting. Not the traditional definition, this term in this context refers to seeing the titular character doing what he does best, scouting and hunting out potential prey by occasionally ingenious and always casual ways. Ironically, in an episode that closely hammers home the point that Dexter is indeed “perfect”, but only in one avenue, that talent itself is left on the backburner in favor of personal drama. Misleadingly titled as far as content goes, this is another outing of the Deb & Dex show, heavily laced with former’s downfall and the latter’s soon to be legacy.
The cabin crime scene is found by Miami Metro, but post-alteration; the brain surgeon’s stooge has been framed for the crime so effectively that the cops close the case, forcing Dexter to go it alone. His collusion with Vogel sees him identify a potential suspect whom he investigates, only to discover that he is a monster of a very different color. Elsewhere, Debra continues her attempt to escape through the bottom of a bottle, dragging a promotion hunting Quinn in to her mess and resisting all attempts at counsel. When she finally does go from mess to liability as one has expected since her first scene in the opener, Dexter takes center stage in unconventional style.
Episode Three certainly ups the quantity levels of ‘Every Silver Lining’, so much so that the villain of the week is a small side piece restricted to use as a thematic token. Though punning with its title gleefully, the cannibal’s part in the story is moot and the inevitable endgame plays out mostly off-screen, presented as an aperitif to the hard liquor that is the ongoing dysfunctional siblings arc. Debra is first seen at the scene of a DUI, snoozing in her car with bottles on the floor and parking meter smashed over her hood, and progresses downhill from then on. Her inevitable hammered drunk act of insanity which finally pushes her brother into more proactive action than simple talking and begging is the only part of this display that really has any impact, however, since although the drinking makes sense from a characterization point of view it is a time old cliché when it comes to protagonists going through mental strife. Aside from the fact that Jennifer Carpenter is excellent at portraying inebriated, the effect is wasted and suffers from slow plotting. Going by the preview for next week’s show, it also looks to have been a little disposable.
What this situation does to, however, is help further cement the bond between Dexter and Vogel, since her help is enlisted both as a deception to explain away her confession, and also for the prospect of some home therapy sessions. Like last season, it appears that Debra is going to become privy to all Dexter is, effectively rejoining them as a unit. While inevitable, it also waves goodbye to the promising looking ‘angry, lonely Dexter’ angle that we caught a glimpse of in the opener. It’s a shame, since the show has only ever flirted with the idea of the Dark Passenger in the driver’s seat, despite its mouth watering potential. Since time is running out on the show, and since it also seems unlikely anybody of real significance will die before the finale, the closest fans will ever come to seeing it is in Season 6’s deeply flawed ‘Nebraska’.
Less elusive is further troubling insight into Dexter, with Vogel often seeing to indulge in a running commentary of infuriating hints that seem to be intended as nudges towards the truth. While enigmatic and frustrating, it also provides some great insights into the idea that Dexter isn’t, and never was, an actual psychopath, while also acting as subtle foreshadowing towards Vogel’s actual motivations. Although a scene seems to absolve her of involvement with the brain surgeon, her behavior at times suggests she is more interested in observing and noting Dexter’s mental processes than actually protecting herself from a crazed, serial killing ex-client. Depth in characters is hardly something to be scoffed at or scrutinized, and the very fact that such interpretations of a guest can be made is a sign of superb and intelligent writing. Having made Travis Marshall and Brother Sam as one dimensional as shooting range targets, the success of Isaak Sirko and now Evelyn Vogel show that the writing team have learned how to handle, and amplify, new players in the mix.
While Deb’s actions and Vogel’s musings account for the momentum of the plot and tone respectively, they are engines running the Dexting machine. The real story behind the episode isn’t about mental illnesses and breakdowns, it’s of a character learning to realize his own limits and his own dangers. Although this isn’t new, since Season Five was virtually this idea in episodic form, what we be begin to see here is Dexter embracing what he is good at and working from there, rather than simply trying to control everything by own tact. His efforts to talk Deb out of her hole fail, despite initially appearing both proactive and successful, while he has to contend with how his darkness will never allow him to see the innocence present around him.
The opening scene, in which he finds Harrison in the bathroom caked in claret…popsicle juice, initially seems to be filler and yet another reminder that, yes, Dexter is a parent, but it actually has more purpose, and acts as an inverted portend. As the episode moves along, Dexter sees more and more evidence of his own corrosive nature, piquing with the final scene execution in which he admits that he consumes the lives of those close to him. Harry, Rita, Debra…the backwards wink here is that Harrison is frankly doomed whatever happens. It’s the fact that he doesn’t appear at any other point in the episode, despite Jaime being used frequently, that suggests lazy writing. However, even when the previous season packed in the suspense and danger, it never possessed that quality of storytelling inception, which is a real tribute not just to the scaled down and character driven dynamic of the final season, but also to Lauren Gussis’ script. Scenes are well written and dialogue flows with naturalistic charm and humor in the light stuff, while also possessing sufficient gravitas in the more concept based scenes; i.e. Dexter and Vogel. Although there is clear impetus on driving the storyline forward, pushing towards the next stop, this isn’t a prevalent feeling within an episode than is excellent in standalone terms.
Having Quinn in closer proximity to the A-team’s plotline while also having his own subplot is an intelligent and a substantial improvement, and the character has gained a new lease of life so far after his arc stagnated terribly in the second half of the previous season. That subplot is the home of Jaime Batista, which makes a welcome change from the interest vacuum scenes she previously shared as the robotic nanny to Harrison and unlikely girlfriend to narrative wastrel Louis Greene, and gives Batista something of substance to contend with. At last! The writers are also still on good behavior by having Dex stick to his blood analyst job rather than being a crime solving machine. A small note; previously little more than an extra with insubstantial lines of dialogue, Detective Angie Miller (played by Dana L. Wilson) has some funny interchanges with Masuka and is given some good lines to play with, which in a subtle way helps to broaden the perception of the department. If the script here were a writing assignment, it would be getting a strong B+ verging on A- with a smiley face denoting much better effort.
Ironically, the one real flaw within ‘What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?’ is the overemphasis on Debra’s self destruction, which didn’t need quite so much coverage, to the detriment of the interesting and barely seen villain. Dexter’s exchange with the former psych-patient at a mall is one of the episode’s best, loaded with ambiguity that pushes the audience one way then shocks them with the truth. This segment, however, totals up to only around five minutes of the running time, which is disappointing. A portion of the show’s audience only see Dexter as a rogues gallery of plastic wrap kills, truly depressing when considering the storytelling quality of the earlier seasons. This time round, however, one can agree with them that a little more Dexting would have been appropriate.