Last night, Dexter crossed the line. There, ladies and gentlemen, is a sentence that has been gathering dust in a drawer in wait for the appropriate moment, when the expletive finally hit the fan. It is the final season after all, so this would be the perfect time. Unfortunately, its use here is not what was wanted, needed…Dexter Morgan did not cross the line, the show that shares his name did. Half way to the end, six episodes into the last saga, the series has dropped its worst episode to date on its ever decreasing fan base. It didn’t cross the line by going to the extreme, taking a wild route. Chance would be a fine thing. No, ‘A Little Reflection’ flipped the bird at its audience by way of being surely the most boring thing ever to have a serial killer as a protagonist. Then it tried to make amends in utterly incredulous fashion. Last week’s episode was worrying; this one confirmed that concern was justified, and that its probably too late.
In a plot light on everything from subtext to musical accompaniment, we follow up ‘This Little Piggy’s’ ambiguous ending with what basically equates to a ‘day in the life of Dexter’. We see him wander around listlessly between conversations with Deb (who is much better now by the way), a comically undermanned crime scene and lazily conceived interactions with his son Harrison (remember him?). The real story here seems to be Zach Hamilton, spoilt rich kid son of a serial adulterer who Dex’s prime suspect for a murder that Captain Matthews doesn’t want solved. Hamilton makes a target win neon lights on his back by photographing crime scenes in plain sight and generally providing suspicious activity, allowing Dex to confirm his hint and eventually find solid proof. Elsewhere Debra agrees to help Sean Patrick Flanery’s character Elway with a personal case, exposing his sister’s boyfriend as…a serial adulterer…and learns more than she wanted to in the process. Batista chooses Angie Miller as Sergeant instead of Quinn, so Quinn and Jaime are upset. This plotline doesn’t really deserve to be dressed up as something more grandiose than it is.
Therin lies the biggest problem with ‘A Little Reflection’; this is an episode that is largely unfocussed, mostly vapid and almost unbearably uneventful. It’s not something anyone should have to do, but going back to a random episode of Season Six shows that even when the show had hit what seemed at the time to be a disastrous low, it wasn’t anywhere near as boring as this. It’s not just the lazy and uninspired writing that causes this tedium though, it also something that is clearly present in the phoned in ‘cut to scene, reverse angle, primary angle, cut to next scene’ direction of John Dahl and the automated editing that while technically reasonable does absolutely nothing to help. The fact that Daniel Licht hasn’t done a decent day’s work in the music studio for over a year would be at least forgivable were there any signs that he even still works on the show. Even when the once supreme chords pick up, they are by the numbers. Instead scatter brained written conversations are captured by George Lucas-esque passionless camera work in utter silence.
You could make the point that perhaps everybody just had an off day, and that writer Jace Richdale had been told not to shake anything up, but the fact is that there are actually some important events in the episode. They are just lost in a sea of beige. For starters, it seems he didn’t watch the final scene of the previous episode, as there is absolutely no follow up or exploration of what seemed to be an enigmatic and important moment. The image of Dex-Deb-Vogel on the Slice of Life dumping a body apparently wasn’t significant or even worth mentioning again, despite its symbolism. Worse than that, the emergence of Zach Hamilton actually seems to have emerged from a promising idea but is so tepid and watered down that it is as dull as anything else the episode has to offer.
The idea of Dexter having a protégé, being a ‘Harry’ to a young killer in waiting, is a decent one (albeit worryingly similar to the arcs of Miguel Prado and Lumen Pierce) but Zach is not interesting enough to fit the bill. A pampered spoiled rich kid with a photo studio, porsche and no apparent boundaries, he doesn’t draw any sympathy and is mostly bland when not vaguely creepy. On top of this, he has been introduced too late in the season to have any lasting impact, his introduction has been rushed and contrived, hardly a great start off for a key figure. The scene in which his true nature is laid bare should be one of rapturous attention and thrills. Instead, the most noticeable part is an electronic hum of what sounds like a fridge in the background. The series seemed to be building up to a Dexter-Debra kill team scenario, which would have been natural progression. Instead, that relationship seems to be going back to normal in favor of some extraneous new angle. It’s too late for such trite filler.
It’s a bad sign when you laugh at something in drama that is not intended to be funny, or even dramatic for that matter, but unfortunately there are several moments in the episode that bring about this reaction, usually through incredulity. Cassie (neighbor, love interest) is still interested in Dexter, so they have a sort of date. Dexter is boring. They run into each other again at Jaime’s birthday party (the reason for having this is inexplicable), where the host encourages Dex to have another go before some other guy takes a shot at her. He tries again. He’s boring. Then she meets another guy and we never hear from her again. You simply have to laugh here because rarely has such pointlessness existed in fiction since Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Her character served absolutely no purpose and is now apparently gone for good, begging the question of why she was included in the first place. Apparently the only reason was to show that Dexter is awkward in dating situations, something we have known since the first episode and something that the character himself doesn’t care about. Nor does anyone for that matter.
This might sound like nitpicking, but it is a symptom of a much bigger problem and one that presents elsewhere. The conclusion to a potential conflict surrounding an annoyed Quinn tailing Zach Hamilton is so absurd that it is hilarious. Not just contrived, absolutely hysterically absurd and ridiculous to the point of comedy. Batista choosing Miller for Sergeant and Masuka’s handling of his daughter situation are so predictable that they barely warrant their presence. Vogel’s role is so contrived, and the conversation that follows so hollow, that one wonders whether Charlotte Rampling took the part after losing a bet with a Showtime executive. The tie up of the Zach Hamilton story was obvious from the moment Dex chatted to him about blood at a crime scene, making their penultimate scene on the killing table a formality. It’s here in the details more than an in the pacing and the dialogue that one realizes just how awful the writing truly is. Any time the episode seems to be setting itself to say something important, it farts loudly and laughs to itself indulgently. Tolerating its company is becoming harder and harder. There is no longer any faith to be had in the initially promising shaggy dog stories it tells.
Speaking of which, the episode effectively kills time with semantics until its last scene, which despite finally doing something important manages to botch it so badly that it becomes the final laugh out loud moment. When going for a shock return of a major character, one who’s very presence has a profound effect on the landscape, it is probably best not to simply throw it in at the last moment without any kind of suggestion that something’s up. There is absolutely no foreshadowing or hint that there is a figure lurking in the shadows waiting to step on stage. The urge to rewrite the episode personally is overwhelming when one considers how easily it could have been set up, so the final reveal would be a pay off rather than a dull surprise. Dexter sensing that he being followed, perhaps receiving anonymous messages or being stalked while stalking…it is a lot more satisfying than the visual equivalent of “Boo!”. Instead the feeling is “Oh, they’re back. Ok, now what?”
Just what to make of ‘A Little Reflection’ (the name, incidentally, is taken from a very minor plot point and doesn’t serve a particularly profound double meaning unless ‘reflection’ is substituting for ‘quiet time’) is almost as maddening as watching it play out, since most shows jump the shark by going the wrong way rather than running out of gas and telling bad jokes in the back seat. There is no heartbreak this time round, no despair at the show screwing itself up and ruining a great legacy. The sheer entertainment vacuum that was the plot successfully took from the viewer the means to give a shit. It crossed a line, but it’s not really that big a surprise, just disappointment at the series’ lowest point.
At least now if it picks up, and has a fitting ending, it will do so without the burden of hype. This viewer at least isn’t expecting anything from it. After all, as a TV great Dexter died more than three years ago in a bathtub with Rita Morgan. Anything else now is just consolation.