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Dexter, Ep 7.03, “Buck the System”: Mature, finessed, and continuing the renaissance

Dexter, Ep 7.03, “Buck the System”: Mature, finessed, and continuing the renaissance

Dexter, Season 7, Episode 3: “Buck the System”
Written by Jace Richdale
Directed by Stefan Schwartz
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on Showtime

At the tail end of this week’s episode of Dexter, something wonderfully familiar occurred: a change in direction of plot dictated by well penned conversational exchange, followed by a distinctive musical accompaniment, and one ambiguous, brief reflective piece of narration by the titular character. This is a classic chord from the show’s golden era, and its arrival is not egregious or out of place. It’s like we’ve simply been transported back to a better time.

This quiet, well judged conclusion to the hour wraps up a story strand and murkily sets in motion another, one that can quite comfortably be described as unpredictable, yet another sign that the show has its shooting boots back on. After opening with another callback to old times, namely humorously psychotic daydreams, “Buck the System” sees Dexter crawling up the walls of his cage, hemmed in and frustrated beyond measure by Debra’s constant scrutiny. Facing the prospect of his dark passenger exploding into life, he tries a new approach- bargaining. By showing Deb his process and presenting his next prospective victim, Dex plans to make his sister see the value in his blood soaked obsession and ultimately gain her approval. The results are mixed.

Elsewhere, the continuing investigation into his nightclub, exacerbated by a second murder, pushes Isaak into proactive action. Discovering the growing bond between Quinn and Nadia, one of his strippers, he pressgangs her into acting as a mole for him, getting close to the detective to spy on him. His efforts to locate his employee Victor also gain ground, using GPS technology to locate a bracelet the henchman was carrying, revealing that his man is now at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. Further inquiries into the late Wayne Randall’s unsolved murders sees Dexter meet the dead man’s former sidekick Hannah McKay, where a notable spark suggests a likely second helping. And finally, Dexter finds a less violent method of extracting Louis from his life, pushing his nemesis over the edge and leading him on an ill-fated revenge mission to the marina.

As well as taking numerous beats from previous Dexter lore (unfortunately including one unforgivable soundtrack cannibalization of a former villain’s suite), “Buck the System” continues to evolve the various arcs established by the opener at a well judged pace that plots in a number of collision courses. Just as we already knew LaGuerta would unavoidably enter the shrapnel-filled air of the fray at some stage, we now see Quinn symbolically donning the war paint amidst promises of protection and oaths of honor. The thin detective’s testosterone-fueled tunnel vision is practically an established character trait, and now means he’s leading just as deadly a dance with the Russian mafia as Dexter is.

Sharing just as much time in the limelight as her brother, Debra unwittingly competes with Dex to prove that the arm of the law can reach just as far as the blade of his knife, but her hands are tied by red tape, leading her to some dubious conclusions and, dare it be said, compromises. Fans shipping for a deadly Dexter-Debra double act are not fully appeased by the episode’s wrap up, but this episode hints that, at the very least, an ‘eye for an eye’ has been replaced by one eye willingly blind. How long this lasts could be anyone’s guess, but the episode enticingly leaves the door open to various possibilities.

This all means that the next episode is a must-see event, ranking between intriguing and irresistible. There was an underlying concern that Deb discovering Dex’s dark side in “Are You…?” would prove an overly costly gambit, but two episodes later the season hasn’t lost a stride and has many cards still held close to the chest. The long term plan isn’t disclosed and it certainly isn’t formulaic by the standard of what we’ve seen so for, leading us down the darkest road the series has offered since its inception. Most impressively, however, the A-story packs a punch but is strongly supported by an equally effective and quickly growing B-plot, along with fresh and original villains very much capable of not just rocking the boat, but sinking it.

As such, the standard of writing by Jace Richdale is superb, with scenes rich in meaning and subtext, dialogue crackling and pleasing, also boasting some nice subtle touches and callbacks. Isaak, before this episode something of an unknown force, is brilliantly handled in all his scenes, intelligent, darkly humorous, and intimidating. Likewise is Yvonne Strahovski’s Hannah McKay, introduced in a short and smart scene that clearly has meaningful purpose without being explicit. Even small subjects, such as Batista’s weariness with the job, are put forward naturally and immaculately, all part of a flow.

Stefan Schwartz’s direction is similarly effective, as well as eye catching. His setting for a claustrophobic conversation between Dexter and Debra is brilliantly judged, while one action orientated scene involving a creepy slasher chase is both suspenseful and disorientating, clearly fully intended. One slight issue may be that, as hinted at before, Daniel Licht’s music is clearly recycling older pieces in favor of providing some new material, while other scenes occasionally feel decidedly ‘un-Dexter’. The lack of Harry Morgan, a character seemingly in creative limbo, is also disappointing, and while Louis’ exit from the show could be seen as anti-climactic, his legacy will surely be as satisfying as his death.

But these are small potatoes failing to be sour grapes, easily overshadowed by the narrative smarts. Interesting and engaging as a standalone, this episode’s main purpose is to continue the story, and it does so at relaxed speed, only cranking open the valve of activity a tad. So much is still to be let out, and the outflow is allowed to present itself slowly and teasingly. “Buck the System” is a mature, finessed, and endlessly watchable installment of Dexter’s continuing renaissance.

Scott Patterson