Dexter, Season 7, Episode 10: “The Dark…Whatever”
Written by Lauren Gussis, Jace Richdale & Scott Reynolds
Directed by Michael Lehmann
Airs Sundays at 8pm (ET) on Showtime
Having made a significant and risky decision within the show’s narrative last week, ‘The Dark…Whatever’ proved to be a battle of how many steps backwards by the Dexter writing team could be rescued by positive movements forward, in effect whether good choices could offset the poor ones. By the end of the episode, the show came up out ahead, but only just, setting up to a very interesting final hurdle.
The unexpected visit of Hannah’s abusive, ex-con father unexpectedly proves to be hopeful as, despite Dexter’s reservations, the man seems to be reformed with a new appreciation for his daughter and ambitions to set up a new life in peace. It’s not long, however, before the real motives start to emerge and once again push her into a corner with only one way out. The phantom arsonist strikes again, and Dex’s instincts are once more thrown into question when his initial suspect proves to be unrelated to the crime. Luckily his ethically questionable methods of investigation prove useful to his less murderous charges.
Not among them, however, are LaGuerta and Tom Matthews, who start work on their joint venture to discover the real Bay Harbor Butcher by revisiting the past. A trip out to an infamous location in the everglades throws up a shocking discovery that puts the spotlight firmly on our eponymous hero in an orgy of circumstantial evidence even an impeccable liar like Dexter can’t account for. After a bloody showdown with George Novikov, Quinn ropes Batista into helping him escape his self-made mess intact in the interest of granting Nadia’s freedom.
It is on the final point listed here that the episode draws its largest teeth sucking inhalation of disapproval, as weeks of building up the Koshka brotherhood and the nightclub set up are tossed away in a brief, illogical shooting which is pure anti-climax. Having shown up at the end of the previous episode to kill Isaak Sirko, Novikov’s demise at the hands of damsel saving Quinn is almost insultingly dismissive, while the club owner’s motives during the scene in question are non-existent in pursuit of a contrived scenario clearly lacking in imagination or inspiration.
It’s a contrived way to preserve a main character facing great danger while ridding the plot of a now superfluous supporting player who had only just appeared to be getting some degree of significance. For what it’s worth, Jason Gedrick’s portrayal of Novikov, an underwritten and dispensed with character of enormous potential, was exemplary, but unlike Ray Stevenson he was sorely wasted in an ultimately flimsy role. With him goes an unresolved arc that started with the shooting of Mike Anderson, introduced a great big bad, and came to an abrupt halt at a dead end.
Luckily for us, the ball was dropped in favor of picking up a diamond. For all the shocked disappointment of the aforementioned club shooting, one would have to be a drip not to feel a jolt of elated excitement upon LaGuerta and Matthews’ discovery when interviewing the former owner of the cabin in the woods from Season Two, rented out to one Santos Jimenez. Since the Cuban Captain’s personal investigation began, the writers have done superbly to weave backwards through the rich tapestry of the show’s canon, and here they trump themselves. It’s perfectly logical, totally appropriate and brilliantly judged. And now done with teasing interest, the Season’s B-plot jumps into pole position within the show’s narrative.
The phantom arsonist, introduced in ‘Helter Skelter’ as a significant new development, turns out to be a killer of the week with a little more back story, although the pre-planning does lead to an amusing if possibly underplayed ‘confrontation’ at a civil war reenactment. Instead, the identity of the killer is disappointingly random but does lead to a satisfying if slightly contrived payoff. Indeed, like in ‘Argentina’, the show’s writers again show a strong loyalty to themes within each installment, and this episode’s name is far from random, particularly in regard to this showdown.
For the first time since Season Two, appropriately, time is taken to really examine the dark passenger and its control over Dexter. Here, Hannah challenges Dex’s insistence that it is an essential but different part of his being, and a long awaited meaningful exchange between Harry and Dexter puts more weight into the argument that this facet is simply a mechanism to ensure unaccountability. The results are huge in terms of Dexter’s psyche, the backdrop of the show’s focus and what happens next.
Also significant, particularly with Harry’s appearance, is the nature of relationships with fathers, although this thought exists in subtext and strikes a chord prevalent throughout Season Three: Hannah’s faith in her dad, despite all he’s done, leads her to further heartbreak because she cannot shake off the belief that there is some good in him. Dexter points out that sometimes the thought that there is nothing redeemable within such an important figure is enough to live in denial, something he is very much in tune with thanks to the latterly tempestuous dynamic with the late foster father who trained him. Much of the episode deals with taking control of one’s own life and destiny and shaking off unnecessary, damaging neurosis, all without speaking a word of said subject. It’s impressive writing.
Under the circumstances, it just had to be. The underwhelming conclusion to a once seemingly pivotal plotline is something which simply shouldn’t happen in fiction, and certainly not in top class television. Were the rest of ‘The Dark…Whatever’ not able to turn up a few notches in quality and deliver an intelligent, intricately written and focused story the show simply wouldn’t have been able to get away with such a blunder. As it happens, it does, and so with a fresh mind and much trepidation, we take one giant step closer to a finish line still shrouded in uncertainty.