The one perverse positive of producing a turgid piece of dross is that it immediately sets the bar so low that virtually anything can top it and look reasonable by comparison. After last week’s nightmare of a bore-fest ‘A Little Reflection’, Dexter could quite comfortably fills its episodes with serial-killer-killer-killers or murderous clowns and not worry about the disconcert growing greater. Fortunately, a writing team that has become the bane of a show’s loyal fan base don’t quite push the envelope that far down stream, instead opting for a continuation of their scatter shot story with ‘Dress Code’ and deciding to replace time killing with people killing. Plot, in other words.
Back in town with a hefty axe to grind, Hannah immediately gets the attention of the Morgans by poisoning them but chooses mystique over vengeance by leaving them alive and unharmed with no rationale. Having elected to hunt down this threat himself, Dexter quickly discovers that not only has his former love returned in the midst of a new life, she also still holds the key to his dark heart. Unable to decide on a stance to take with the deadly botanist, he falls into a quandary which is exacerbated by the aggressive actions of her new hubby and the newfound responsibility he has for protégé Zack. Concerned that Dex isn’t using his lizard brain but rather another body part, Debra takes her own steps to insure that regardless of what happens, Hannah will no longer be able to threaten her fragile grasp on sanity.
There are a few items of note within ‘Dress Code’ that show that the episode is not merely improvement by default. Namely the return of not Hannah McKay but Harry Morgan, who shows up after a long and pointless absence to remind viewers that, yes, James Remar’s credit is not an in-joke. It is just a pity that the imaginary mentor has nothing particularly cutting or incisive to add other than act as a subconscious counterpoint to some of Dexter’s flawed reasoning, and it’s notable that now she no longer serves much to the narrative Vogel seems to have taken up most of Harry’s workload. Elsewhere, the continued presence of next door neighbor Cassie is finally justified in admittedly creative manner, and a chance conversation with Debra also reveals a little bit more about her motivation and helps redeem the image of a plot player barely visible in the scheme of things. Zach, who improves as a character here in terms of character and action, also plays his part in rekindling the dying fire of Quinn’s relevance by taking the detective’s stalking tactics to the department heads. If he remains in character, this development will merely incite Quinn into more devious means and possibly reveal the trust fund baby’s link to our protagonist.
The last one there is probably the most positive in the long term, since if the show finally gets off its ass and realizes that it has license to mix things up with the end just five episodes away it will probably need to use its own history to make the story work. Since Quinn is the only soul who has come even close to outing Dexter as a killer without meeting his demise, he is surely the most likely to make that connection. Then again, this may be giving too much credit to a complacent and shortsighted writing room. While the levels of contrivance in this episode may not have been as high as one has come to expect, the events that close it out suggest a clusterfrig of ‘talk your way out’ next week. In an attempt to get themselves out of a hole, the staffers have opted to start digging another one, albeit one which at least theoretically could include daylight at some point.
This is largely down to the decision to bring Hannah back into the fray in the midst of a lavender marriage, a move apparently aiming to add more complexity and interest but ultimately creating more storytelling problems. While Julian Sands’ character Miles Foster has reason for marrying a fugitive, though openly vaguely understandable and quite dopey, the same sense of logic isn’t shared by the choice to make Hannah’s disposable spouse in tow so high profile. For starters, one wonders how the wife of a prominent and wealthy entrepreneur could possibly go unnoticed despite being on the run from the law for murder, a musing which makes a mockery of the episode’s claim that there have been no sightings of her since she escaped custody. If Foster knows who she is and what she’s done, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that all of his various employees, yacht crews, family members, business partners and quite pertinently his security could also make the connection. In an age of celebrity worship and internet easy access, Hannah’s chosen home isn’t so much hiding in plain sight as hiding in well lit close up. These concerns are highlighted even further by the episode’s final act.
Never anything more than a formality, this set of circumstances and solution puts the show on yet another new heading, a swirling ball of unpredictability that is compelling when harnessed correctly but is currently out of control and proving frustrating. Having dominated the first half of the season, Vogel has now been dumped on the bench to sit out the action while a rookie newcomer and a relic from the previous season have taken her place in the limelight. Switching narrative and tone is not necessarily a bad thing, but the inconsistency is jarring and the reason for the Brain Surgeon existing has all but disappeared in a puff of smoke. When a show spends half a season establishing and playing out a primary arc, it has to justify it, even if only by its legacy and its resonant impact elsewhere. This simply hasn’t happened, and the writers are currently repurposing a story strand from Season Seven as their main feature. Taking a step back and looking at this objectively shows definite signs that there is no real plan.
The other half of the story, that inhabited by Zach Hamilton, is being mishandled and there is a horrible sense that the plug will be pulled in the very near future. There are some nice ideas in this plotline, and the idea of Dexter acting as a teacher is good in concept and in some place execution, but Zach was introduced too late, the bond too forced by time constraints, and the first big conflict has already been reached. We know absolutely nothing about this kid other than that he’s rich, hates his father and is drawn to killing. This isn’t necessarily even a criticism of the manner in which he is written, it is merely because we haven’t had the time to learn anything about him. Had he popped in the first episode of the season, and then had a smaller though significant role throughout proceedings so far, his potentially fatal actions last night may well have meant something. As it is, though, they feel like a waste of a good scenario.
Its good to be able to talk about these things though; the fact that there is enough story and action in ‘Dress Code’ to warrant discussion means a step in the right direction. Having worked as a cinematographer on Hollywood films and helmed episodes of Game of Thrones, one would expect a bit more panache from director Alik Sakharov, but again there is solace in the fact that its better than last week. Arika Lissane Mittman’s script may not sparkle, but it at least shows signs of life. There is movement, however mediocre at times, which means that you won’t find yourself falling asleep while watching. That doesn’t mean there aren’t the pandemic symptoms of rushed job, however.
Hannah drugging Dexter then dumping him across town isn’t properly justified, and seems to occur simply to inject some false drama and also to contrive a reason for Dexter to find her (via security camera footage and a license plate check). The set up at a prestige club seems interesting, and makes decent use of Zack, but doesn’t really add up to anything that couldn’t be done somewhere else. Interestingly, the episode’s title is taken from Dexter initially being unable to enter the club due to his braids, but has no other relevance. It seems as if there was originally supposed to be a thematic significance to this, something to do with Dexter’s nature barring him from certain parts of life, but nothing comes of it, suggesting a harsh rewrite which ironically failed to iron out first draft creases.
This ultimately is what stops ‘Dress Code’ from being anything more than an average story pusher, albeit one with some encouraging developments. All of the old worries are still there, not resolved by a more concentrated plan of attack, and even when it is in motion this era of Dexter still finds ways to annoy rather than entrance its viewers. Yes, it is a backhanded compliment, but one simply has to take the stall that it is better than the last one, and it could be a whole lot worse. Is the show back on the right track? Probably not. But at least it’s not dull anymore.