The trouble with ending a story is that too many people want too many different things, the author included, and quite often the natural endgame to set up is the one that people are afraid to see. It’s a scary thought, after all, if you’ve been invested in something for it to come to an end. We all want different things, have different expectations and not everyone will be satisfied with the result. With Scar Tissue, the fourth installment of Dexter’s final season, it has become clear that the last great chase will focus almost entirely on its two central characters, not villains of the week or rival serial killers. Unfortunately, with the episode’s indecisive conclusion, the chosen direction is not in the slightest bit clear. Fear, it seems, has crept into the men and women behind the TV monster.
Continuing to slow down the train as per last week, ‘Scar Tissue’ is one of the most gently paced and plot-light episodes that the series has ever put out, though not to its detriment. Having narrowly dodged a bullet by way of shotgun confession last week, Dexter has Vogel use her psychological know how to bring Debra back to life and sober sanity by whatever means necessary. This consists of a return to the scene of the crime, long discussions about the regret and despair she feels, and a confrontation of her true loyalties and moral convictions. With her shacked up with the good doctor, Dexter focuses on the next name on his list of potential brain surgeons; A.J Yates, yet another homicidal former psych patient, and a quick vetting exercises seemingly confirms that he has the right man.
If this plot summation seems a little light, that’s indicative of the episode’s structure; not quick cuts and segues into multiple plots, rather soft deviations and minor time lapses. We are still firmly focused on the Debra and Dexter relationship, and in particular a full deconstruction of its nature, purpose and value. Much of this is done with Dex off-screen, and this is probably a positive step. The episode comes alive during heated or intensive conversations between Deb and Vogel, in which the bond between the two is explored in uncomfortably intimate levels of meta musing. Conversely, and ironically, it sags when the titular protagonist and his detective work become the focus, partly down to an almost hypnotic effect put about by Tim Schlattmann’s script, but mainly because of the bafflingly tepid Yates storyline.
Whether deliberately or not, all the talk of Dexter being an unfeeling psychopath with delusions of an emotional core seem to have effectively dehumanized him from the viewer’s perspective; if this is an intentional ploy, it is an absolute masterstroke. If it is not, it is a truly worrisome development. Throughout the episode, Dexter almost lethargically goes through the motions and monologues internally with a deadening degree of repetition and predictability. Every time he seems to be striking a thematic or intriguing train of thought, it invariably ends with “…like I did with Deb” or something similar. It’s possible that by now the word ‘Deb’ has appeared more in narration than ‘killer’, ‘truth’ or even ‘as’. The only reason to hold back on condemning poor writing for this anomaly, since it does seem to suggest a scribe who amazingly has lost the ability to write the main character, is the complete contrast with the scripting of Debra’s scenes, which are actually some of the most insightful and original seen so far this season.
While Deb is flowering as a character, reaching yet another level of depth and facet, events elsewhere are dull, bizarrely contrived and in places downright idiotic. Yates now seems to be the big bad, the former subject of Vogel who now takes brains from his victims and leaves them as gifts at her door. This is not a good thing. As far as first introductions go, this is a pretty poor one and doesn’t exactly leave anyone waiting with bated breath for his next appearance. His secret layer and array of shoe trophies are hardly inspired or innovative writing, while his oversight in leaving a prospective victim alive to be found weakens the image of him as being anything sinister, intimidating or…more than dumb. Likewise his collection of reading materials that is akin to ‘A Dummy’s Guide to Serial Killing’. The idea that the latest bad guy is in fact, comically, an incompetent wannabe would have been at least interesting had it actually been a thing; the fact he is still alive and on the run by episode’s end shows that he is not the only psychopath with performance issues. The set up for Dexter getting to Yates at a retirement home is clever and innovative, but the way Dex lets him escape is third wall shatteringly ridiculous. There is zero suspense as far as this character is concerned, something that can’t be said of any character since Travis Marshall.
There are similar clues of poor plotting and planning elsewhere in the episode, mainly in the minor stories. The Quinn getting a Sergeant promotion arc is not interesting enough or important enough to be dragged out, and instead only suggests that as suspected the writers don’t have any good plans for Quinn and Batista, and the Masuka has a biological daughter angle is not just bizarre, its also handled in painfully amateur fashion. The sex pest lab tech hitting on the girl first up is reasonable…but the suggestion that they are indeed biologically related because they have the same laugh is not even acceptable. If this particular story lasts for longer than a single three minute scene in this episode, and adds to a resonant feeling of moving on and growth with the season, then such rough edges can be forgiven. If it is not used again, however, it will take a high placing in the show’s list of low points.
Perhaps this frustration stems from the fact that, with the episode’s pace, certain aberrations are only now becoming fully visible. This does not mean that ‘Scar Tissue’ suffers from being slow, however, in actual fact much of the story (the real story, that is) benefits immensely from a little down time. One of the show’s trademarks is its penchant for using pace, tone and mood to reflect the situations faced by its protagonist, so it’s admirable than an episode that has at its heart exploration of feelings from one main character to the other adapts its mature and thoughtful structure. It would have been forgivable, and as it turns out beneficial, to have in fact shelved the Brain Surgeon story until the next episode and instead delve even further. Watching Debra gradually change throughout the episode from moody and restless spirit to composed and almost content accepter of truth both speaks volumes, again, of Jennifer Carpenter and also makes a mockery of the previously mentioned bad writing. It shows that Tim Schlattmann, despite the crud, is better than his inferior dues.
All this makes the episode’s conclusion something of a headscratcher, and in a subtle way questions the loyalty of the show’s fanbase. Second guessing fiction writers is a slippery slope for any armchair critic or passionate fan, as anyone who witnessed the acrimony following Lost’s ending can attest to. Once you decide that what you think should happen is better than what the makers of the show choose, you are longer a viewer and are no longer enjoying somebody else’s story, you are simply trying to live out your own, an utterly pointless exercise. But it does not breach this line too much to suggest that a clear, cutting and brilliant twist in the arc was briefly glimpsed at the moment the car hit the water, and that there should be genuine worry that it will not show up again. Just as the divide between Dex and Deb cannot be bridged by simply talking about it nor can the show end on such a note. If Debra’s decision here proves to be a precursor, or merely a red herring masking a far better idea, than all can be forgiven and forgotten about, with said critics heating their hats. If not, however, you have to wonder what might have been.
Being proven wrong would so rarely be such a wholesome and satisfying feeling.