The most obvious element to take from last night’s Dexter, in terms of reference and connection, is the use of the titular song, a piece of music immortalized by Lost’s second season opener. But oddly, the twisty turny nature of the plot has a far greater debt to the show’s own history that, while hardly reeling back the years, acts as a very enlightening and thoughtful rethink of some of the series’ greatest themes. Revelations and shock reveals, another connection to ABC’s mega hit, show that as bizarre as it seems, the writing team has actually gone back and watched the seasons they didn’t write and have developed a nice echo to greater days. Following last week’s excellent “Are We There Yet?”, “Make Your Own Kind of Music” has found some consecutive consistency.
Things have gotten crazy in Dexter’s personal life again; no sooner has he decided that he wants to keep Hannah in his life than it has been revealed that the real Brain Surgeon is very much alive and active, and has even stronger links to Dr. Vogel than anyone could possibly have imagined. Deciding to seal things up and move on to another life, Dex makes plans for his future with Hannah and Harrison and sets about tracking down the skull-cracking killer. This means a few more favors from Debra, who has unintentionally thrown another stick in the spokes by enabling the presence of a Federal Marshal on Hannah’s trail and is torn between her wishes to return to Miami Metro and the duplicity she is enwrapped in.
It’s refreshing to see the show now following a set path after weeks of indecisiveness and uncertainty which took the unpredictability of the previous run and took it too far, resulting in a final season with no direction or focus. Hannah’s return, foreshadowed in the opener but still sprung as a stark surprise several episodes in, has now been fully justified in a manner pleasing to casual viewers but perhaps a bane for fervent fans. A serial killing antagonist introduced in the same episode has finally been redeemed after the dreadfully depicted A.J Yates somehow rendered Travis Marshall as only the second worst main villain the show has put out. Evelyn Vogel, kept trailing along behind the action for no real reason, has her presence vindicated and then some. Elway, a guest spot of previous anonymity by Sean Patrick Flanery, finally has a part to play in the overall scheme of things. The elements are being pulled together and used effectively now.
The sight of this clarity does have the damning downside of revealing that so much of what we saw previously was merely filler or misjudged build up. With Zack Hamilton out of the picture, we are left to ponder that he was misused and introduced too late to have any real impact on the viewer. He was never even remotely interesting until his last episode, and a line last night from Hannah revealed that he was intended to have more significance. “I know Zack meant a lot to you” she says. Funny, nobody else was thinking the same thing. It’s unfortunate because it could so easily have been an agreeable line of dialogue, and resonant theme, had the character been better planned out better beforehand.
It also turns out that with the Brain Surgeon still on the lose, Dexter’s hunting through Vogel’s back catalogue of psychopaths and eventual ‘showdown’ with Yates wasn’t an underwhelming plot that ran its drearily unfulfilling course; the conclusion was a false dawn. This would, again, perhaps have been a little more effective had it been handled in a more measured, subtle, and mature way, particularly when there is a clear nod here to the Ice Truck Killer arc from the first season. All of the elements are there: a new multiple murderer with a specific M.O is killing several innocent people and leaving their bodies out in the open, the killer uses a fall guy at duress to assist in his crimes and to take the fall (at least temporarily) for his deeds, the man himself is apparently found but proves to be an ineffectual, unimpressive, and ultimately incompetent figure whose identity as a successful murderer is doubtable, the real killer is still out there, as revealed by a shock ending to an episode, a constructed false romance is used as a ruse in order to get closer to a person of interest, a significant song is used as a clue/hint to the subject of their mission.
In a genuinely ingenious and intelligent twist on Dexter’s history, the writers appear to have constructed an arc that directly mirrors the trappings of Brian Moser but with a different target. The real Brain Surgeon’s identity and connection to Vogel, naturally, is a take on Brian and Dexter, with the Surgeon conducting all his deeds as a message to his lost loved one. The only difference is that this time Dexter stumbles on this ritualistic calling as it occurs between two other people. There is a problem, though. There are moments in the episode that are actually quite sad: Vogel’s excitement at meeting him being ruined by Dexter sedating her, the rather tragic back story hinted at since day one, the Surgeon sitting despondently in a diner waiting for the perfect reunion, song on the juke box and all. But ‘sad’ isn’t a strong enough emotion, and even Charlotte Rampling’s fantastic performance can’t quite rescue a set up which has been sold short by poor execution.
Had that back story been revealed earlier, it would perhaps have been more satisfying to see it manifest into the here and now. You cannot expect a powerful response when you choose to introduce a twist and the reason why it’s a twist within two minutes of each other. The reason that Season One worked as sensationally as it did was down to intricate and nearly obsessive levels of planning and pacing. The writers (with the advantage of working with from a book) knew exactly what the truth was from the very start and went about revealing it one little hint and clue at a time, to the point that a viewer could use the evidence to guess the twist but never be completely sure. The reveal, then, ended up being both a shock and hugely satisfying to anyone who had called it in advance. Here, nobody could call it in advance because there was no suggestion that there was anything to call. You might suggest that it hardly matters, but now that the Surgeon is set up to be a big bad in the final three episodes, yes it most certainly does matter. Depth, narrative and emotional, is absolutely key and has been missed out on.
It’s still a sterling effort from writer Karen Campbell, who follows the good work of Wendy West last week and scripts an episode that feels natural and furthers the plot in a manner that is the best to be expected. Another breath of fresh air is the characters actually thinking clearly, saying and doing things that an audience can agree with and relate to. The new tact from Dexter, at Hannah’s prompting, that they should think about moving away is probably the first good idea he has had in years. There is nothing left for him in Miami except more pain and damage. He is clearly a man capable of surviving anywhere, hardly manacled to his desk at Miami Metro, while at the same time his departure from the scene never to be seen again is likely the best possible thing that could happen to Debra. Keeping her out of his affairs for good, ceasing the unintentional emotional blackmail and dominance over her personal life, could allow her to have some semblance of a new life. With Batista throwing it all in and offering her the detective’s shield, an invitation she clearly wants to take, it is clear that the only way it will work is if her brother is gone.
The dud notes are few and far between this week, as they were last, which also suggests the scripters are on their best form. Even when the episode makes a mistake, it rectifies it almost immediately or finds an unexpected positive to distract you. Harrison missing Hannah is understandable, him wanting her to be his mother is not; Jaime is clearly Harrison’s surrogate mother. An encounter with the Deputy Marshal chasing Hannah allows the script to redeem itself by having Harrison, still only a tot, lie to him in order to arouse suspicion. The kid’s recognition of the fact his father frequently and blatantly lies, and as a result learns to do it himself, is a superb piece of honest and unglamorous development. There are also some very nicely written scenes between Quinn and Debra, not exactly pushing a shipper angle but certainly hinting at its presence in the emotional foreground. Again, there is depth. Right now it looks like the show will end with Dexter fleeing Miami and disappearing and Debra getting her old job back and probably rekindling her romance with Quinn. As long as the show doesn’t pull a Dark Knight Rises and have Dex fake his own death, this could be a reasonable ending. The real, true ending, however, is unlikely.
With only three episodes left, the show cannot conceivably recover from its mistakes in time to do the series true justice, but the promise of improvement that was last week’s episode has been fulfilled here and given this nicely scripted episode with some decent twists that return to quality, this upswing looks to hold out until the ending. As long as it keeps this up and stays true to the show as a whole, it should at least be agreeable. And who knows? It may end up being less reviled than Lost’s ending…a fancy thought.