Dexter, Ep. 7.09 “Helter Skelter”: Unpredictability that knows no bounds

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Dexter, Season 7, Episode 8: “Argentina”
Written by Tim Schlattmann
Directed by Steve Shill
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on Showtime

It’s already been noted by numerous reviewers and fans since the start of the season, but the levels of unpredictability within the latest Dexter saga simply know no bounds, and this was driven home by last night’s ‘Helter Skelter’, an episode veering wildly off any anticipated trajectory and turning the final three episodes into a storytelling no-man’s-land. The course this ship is taking into murky waters is now, frankly, anyone’s guess.

Having failed in their initial efforts to off Isaak, the Koshka brotherhood dispatches two of their most lethal hitmen to Miami to finish the job. Flanked on all sides by enemies, Isaak quickly concocts a scheme to get the upper hand on his former partners; he strong arms Dexter into helping him by using Hannah as leverage. While the titular character’s dearly beloved is kept chained up under the care of Jurg, Isaak’s right hand man, the mobster and the serial killer work together to track down and kill the two pesky assassins. Keen to avoid a double cross, Dex brings his problems to the still conflicted Deb in the hope of getting a little reluctant back up.

Elsewhere, LaGuerta takes a similarly ‘enemy mine’ approach by visiting former nemesis Tom Matthews and, after much animosity eventually leads to a fraught deal, enlists his help on identifying who in Miami Metro is the real Bay Harbor Butcher. What initially appears to be a suicide by immolation develops into a pattern when a second burn victim emerges, suggesting a fire raising serial killer is on the loose. And the tension between Quinn and George Novikov finally boils over when the nightclub owner takes another unsavory action to rein his unwilling accomplice in, with explosively damaging results.

It would be impossible to examine ‘Helter Skelter’ without going into substantial detail about it’s most significant, and shocking, plot development, which is the ‘exit stage right’ of the season’s ostensible big bad, Isaak Sirko. In a complete rehash of any of the blueprints left by the trajectories of previous villains, this episode drills deep into the already exposed humanity that the Ukrainian mob boss has shown and creates the most unlikely of bonds between Isaak and Dex, not so much outlining their similarities as acknowledging the link between the two. The very fact that Isaak was willing to swallow his pride, and lust for vengeance, and attempt a bargain with our unlikely hero shows the cracks in his armor necessary to sell his almost contented demise.

Though he only lasted three quarters of the season, Ray Stevenson’s intelligent and fresh portrayal of Isaak means a character that will doubtless life long in the memory of fans, one whose obvious smarts and badassery were married to compelling emotional heart and the weight of mortal loss. Previous revelations about his homosexual relationship with Viktor, which sparked his hunt for Dex in the first place, posed an interesting dynamic and here, at the point of his mercifully peaceful death, became poignant and bitterly sad. He may have been a professional monster, but losing the man he loved saw him lose what made him feel alive, making him a tragically purposeless figure. The manner in which this is handled is compassionate and thoughtful, while Stevenson’s performance is exemplary. As a character, he will be sadly missed.

This game of roulette between the show’s two main guest stars is won by Yvonne Strahovski’s Hannah, who narrowly survives a duel with Jurg and is the unlikely recipient of a rescue by the woman who hates her, Debra. This act, letting her live, is a positive sign that for all the darkness and madness swirling around her near empty life, Deb has not lost track of who she truly is, or let her warped feelings hurt Dexter. As she herself says, she may not approve of Dexter being involved with a fellow killer (openly hypocritical a fact as it may be), but she’s unwilling to live with knowing she let somebody die. Some may lazily accuse the show’s writers of contrived and easy writing here, but these are actions completely consistent with the series’ superlative character development and mean a character whose arc is unresolved will continue to function in the plot’s busy schedule.

This is a narrative which is slowly drawing more attention towards LaGuerta’s investigation which is leading uncomfortably close to Dexter. While it was a little naughty to backtrack from the ending of last week’s ‘Argentina by having the snake-like Captain now merely following up leads on her list rather than zeroing in on the protagonist, bringing back the man she usurped, Matthews, is a good touch which once again does the double act of being honest to logic and also remaining faithful to the show’s back history. Their exchanges are nicely written, totally in keeping with the bitterness between the two, and also sets up nicely towards LaGuerta’s surely inevitable head to head with Matthews’ godson.

Excellent standard of writing isn’t entirely universal, however, with the manner in which the two hitmen are dispatched proving to be disappointing. While it’s true that Dexter being the ‘element of surprise’ ensures the success of the resistance, the two assassins are introduced as scarily effective killers who then meet abrupt and simple demises. The first of which, the killing of a sniper at a firing range, works in entertainment terms but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny of reality, and ultimately comes off as implausible. Similarly, the man who pulls the trigger on Isaak may make sense in narrative, but the rushed execution is clumsy.

But for the most part the scribing is top end, with the relationship between Dexter and Hannah picking up steam and the Quinn-George duet taking an even darker turn. Previously buried in an impossible situation, the former now looks like he has a real chance of emerging from the gloom with his malnourished head intact despite delivering an ill-advised but long overdue beat down. Turn of events mean that George is now the top ranking Koshka-representing honcho, though with Dexter out of their crosshairs this story may be resolved without touching the main plot. The introduction of a new element so late, namely the ‘phantom arsonist’, is highly intriguing as long as it has some depth. One would expect so, given that there is already plenty of material to cover in a short space of time; why bring in a new killer for no good reason?

All of this makes for further entertainment that manages to carry the emotional release and closure of a finale while still in full stride, a remarkable achievement which comes out of left field and delivers an earth shattering but nicely delivered episode, and leaves the viewers with one burning question.

What happens now?

Scott Patterson

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