Dexter, Season 7, Episode 1: “Are You…?”
Written by Scott Buck
Directed by John Dahl
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on Showtime
After ten months spent on the knife edge of a startling cliffhanger, Dexter finally returns to our screens with a bang, galactic shocks, and the tantalizing sense that season seven could well see the show return to dynamite form.
Everything, it seems, is over. Our titular hero has been caught in the act of killing ‘Doomsday Killer’ Travis Marshall by his sister Debra, the most grave of situations which he cannot possibly lie his way out of. That is, if he were anyone other than Dexter Morgan, average guy by day but slave to his dark passenger at night, the most successful of serial killers. Having compelled Deb to swallow a half truth, and help him dodge a bullet, he faces a new lingering dread as every iota of the execution is scrutinized. Luckily, the shooting of a colleague keeps his Miami Metro Homicide buddies off his back and even presents him with a chance at regaining his composure with a quick, albeit improvised, kill. Little can he know the implications of this mook’s demise, however, nor does he realize just how big a mistake it was to exercise his need so soon.
While the previous season trundled along slowly with little depth or substance, the premiere for season seven gallops with highly strung and restless intensity, bulging at the seams with plot and story. Within one relentless hour, the main plot and arc have been firmly and breathlessly established, new villains have been introduced with an intriguing touch of brevity, and a potentially seismic link to a crux in the show’s history has been opened. As a result, at least one character left on the bench last year is sure to play a massive part in the game plan while another has been left to simmer, a dangling plot strand just waiting for the right moment to drop.
After a devilish tease to open things up, we get down to THAT scene, the moment after the nightmare as Dexter finds himself trying to explain why he just ritualistically murdered a homicide suspect. Here we see the emotionally manipulative Dex, managing to pull off one hell of a con while in the most desperate of binds. It’s reminiscent of the days when the serial killer actually had to face such conflicts, sadly lacking since season four closed with the passing of both darling wife Rita and the show’s original writing team. The scripting in this tense, taut, and nightmarish confrontation is top notch, simplistic and sparse but giving plenty of ground for Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, who thrive.
What comes next is a feral, dark, and wonderfully uncomfortable chapter with not an inch of humor to be found, not even from Masuka. Totally out of his depth, Dexter tries to ride out a wave that is growing underneath his sails while Deb’s demons at her part in covering up a murder manifest into an obsessive search into the past, finding more and more hints that ring alarm bells. This kind of pacing and tone is rare to find in a climactic finale, so to see it reached so early on is earth shattering. Kudos to episode director John Dahl, who cuts and twists fiercely, hitting mark after mark and producing a horribly dreamlike experience, trapping us in the same nightmare as Dex and Deb.
Though viewers will have of course flocked to their sets for the opening, they will turn them off with only the closing on their minds. The ending is a truly astonishing scene, both game changer and sucker punch, which in one fell move completely alters the show’s landscape. One can only wonder if such a gambit can be pulled off when deployed so early, but regardless of this, it is brilliant in execution as well as principle, drawing a reaction akin to a sledgehammer blow to the chest. Ill-judged or not, it will prove a defining moment.
While writing was a growing cause of concern last year, here Scott Buck manages to execute the big scenes excellently, although some of the characters still seem to have lost their voice, while the famed inner monologue continues to be somewhat neglected, with a couple of notable exceptions, and is on occasion jarring when cheaply exploited as exposition. However, it is wise to go easy on him, considering just how dense the episode is, and credit should also be given to the writing of a significant flashback to Dexter’s childhood (the first since season two) presenting a literally trivial but thematically important character moment involving a pet dog.
The new stuff is, naturally, kept on the back burner, as we only briefly meet the new big bad, Ray Stevenson’s Ukrainian gangster Isaac, currently comfortably sat in his Kiev mansion and far from Miami and Dexter’s slice of life. But of more pressing concern is Jason Gedrick’s nightclub owner George, a former person of interest to Quinn, and elsewhere Maria LaGuerta’s can of worms crime scene discovery.
Two of the other unresolved issues carrying over are touched upon here, namely Quinn’s self destruction and intern Louis’s unholy fascination, but while the first is at least partially brushed off in lieu of bigger fish to fry, the latter is left agonizingly in the air. Considering the way things conclude, however, it will not remain there for long. Cue sharpening of knives. The burning question behind this point is one of very many that this year will have to address, meaning that the terminal velocity we have witnessed at the launch will likely be maintained until the finish line.
If this proves to be the case, it will be a welcome breath of fresh air. While previous seasons relied on disciplined clutch control, seven was always going to be a live wire by necessity, and break neck plot is a huge improvement on unrealized stagnation. And, if it can keep us sucking in our breath and stopping our aortas, Dexter could be back to its killer best.