Monday, September 29, 2008

Welcome Back, The Most Tightly Packed 50 Minutes On Television!…

Previously on Dexter, after the reign of the Ice Truck Killer came to an abrupt end at the hand of our unorthodox title hero, a gruesome discovery in the bay threatened to expose the truth and made the police force aware of a much more cunning criminal. Dexter (Michael C. Hall)’s personal world began to unravel as much as his professional one when he began to let his guard down around Lila, a budding artist and part time arsonist. After years of adhering to a strict code set forth by his adopted father, Harry (James Remar), Dexter slowly but surely began to act out on his own, subtly altering his murder ritual. The premiere episode of the third season, “Our Father,” only further expands on this oddly rebellious side to Dexter, a man who-- years too late-- seems to finally be acting like the “normal” teenager which he always had to fake being, simply by acting out against the very principles by which he was brought up.

Our Father” opens with a bright, blinding light, as if Dexter is sitting under an interrogation lamp, finally having to answer to his sins, but instead we see insert shots of different scalpels and various cutting utensils, hearing Dexter’s infamously eerily voice over about “ritual, routine, and control,” all things which are about to be tossed out the window. A drilling sound overlaps, and we learn Dexter is in the dentist’s office, where he tells the doctor what he did over his summer vacation, complete with a few strategic flashbacks that stop when last season’s finale did. Suddenly it’s not so weird that he is extremely tan and seemingly well rested: it’s almost as if Dexter took a little extra time in Paris just to relax once his visit with Lila was over. Just as eerily, he tells the doctor he did indulge once in awhile (though the doctor had asked if he had many sweets), and he met some great new people, and his crazy grin spread as he remembered offing his seeming-equal, sending her off to network melodrama hell instead (Jaime Murray will now co-star in Valentine on The CW).

After a quick dissolve to the open water as Dexter sails around the bay harbor that made him famous, Dexter stands in Rita (Julie Benz)’s kitchen, making her and the kids breakfast. Everyone is brown and fresh-faced; they finally look like they have been taking advantage of the Miami shores!! It is all repulsively normal when Astor (Christina Robinson) waves off the Mickey Mouse pancakes in favor of regular ones, and Rita shares a “What can you do? Kids!” shrug with her boyfriend, who laughs and once again shows surprising emotion when Cody (Preston Bailey) asks him to attend “dad day” at his school the following afternoon. For a deadpan man who repeats how immune he is to feeling in every private voice over moment he gets, Dexter has humanized increasingly over the course of the last season, when he fought tooth and nail and in brief moments almost seemed to fall apart to save his sister, and now in his dealings with his so-called “cover” relationship. It doesn’t seem like he has to fake this anymore: it feels natural that they are a family, and this scene plays more like it came out of a familial drama than a crime one.

Things are back to Dexter’s definition of normal in a matter of seconds, though, even though we’re suddenly in a Mac commercial, as he sits in the dark and researches his next victim on his shiny new silver laptop. “Freebo" (which sounds a lot like Pheebo, which is my Golden Retriever puppy statue's name-- after Phoebe Buffay's interpretation of the male version of her name, of course!-- so it is what I will call this kid from now on, too) killed two college co-eds but got off in a sort of “catch and release” program. Undoubtedly Dexter is seeing visions of injecting Pheebo and taping him to a table dancing in his mind, but he takes this moment to glance up and talk to a creepily spot lit framed photo of his father in his cop uniform. It’s the kind of headshot you’d expect to see on a coffin at a funeral, and it’s a bit uneven that Dexter still keeps it on his wall, considering he is trying to break away from Harry’s grasp; in fact, it’s almost as if he’s haunting Harry. Dexter probably doesn’t want to think about the depth of that hypocrisy, though, because the next morning he is back to his same old “Dexter the Donut Guy” routine, most likely assuming if he doesn’t change all of his behavior, he can still be considered the same old Dexter.

Who is not the same old character, though, is Dexter’s sister, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), who has cut her hair to a chin-length angled bob. Apparently, this is as big news as was Felicity’s haircut because Deb makes a whole big deal out of the fact that the new guy in the squad, Joey Quinn (Desmond Harrington)—who I will from now on be calling Hot Cop, by the way—tells her it makes her look younger and her own brother doesn’t even notice. She has also given up men, alcohol, and cigarettes, and seemingly, cursing, as she is oddly couth for the entire time she is on-screen in her first scene back—so much so in fact a double check on the digital guide is the only thing to confirm the episode was airing on Showtime and not in edited syndication. Lieutenant Laguerta (Lauren Velez) announces Batista (David Zayas) will soon be Detective Sergeant, and Deb’s hard edge (and hard on) returns as she realizes she will report directly to him… and then she calls her brother a dildo. It seems her purpose in this scene is only to reiterate Dexter’s theory that changing behavior does not change who a person is.

A few more integrated commercials, as Dexter pulls up in a shiny new silver SUV and then eats Oreos as he pretends to be tweaking in order to gain entrance to his victim’s bright pink??? house. They make such a big deal out of the color of the house that there must be some sort of metaphor or hidden meaning here, but it goes right over my head! To me, it just looks like the location manager and production designer were having a bit of fun at everyone else’s expense. Pheebo sits out the couch playing a videogame on a huge flat screen, and Dexter pretends to be looking to buy drugs just to feel this kid out. Conveniently (as it always is for Mr. Dexter Morgan), yet another blonde twenty-something girl stumbles out into the living room, also looking to score, and Pheebo kicks her out—but the simple fact that some college girl would want to hang out with an age-appropriate slacker answers any suspicions Dexter may have had that this is his guy, and he preps a new murder room, ironically in a recently raided drug den, by placing two glossy headshots from NowCasting on a simple shelf. Things always seem to fall into place for Dexter Morgan, but that is undoubtedly because he is the title character. If the narrator was Batista, for example, chasing down a notorious killer, we’d probably see that Dexter is not always right, but he is just so cocky that he allows himself to see only the signs he wants to see—the ones that benefit him and give him the “go ahead” to carry out his crimes. It would be extremely interesting to see the consequences if for once he makes a mistake.

In a story line that will probably go somewhere at some point but at this time isn’t super interesting, Deb meets some chick from Internal Affairs who looks a lot like Ruthie from The Real World: Hawaii and begins to ask questions about Hot Cop. The writers are not being subtle at all about the fact that they want to throw the two together and due to Deb’s less than stellar track record with past relationships, they have to make this guy mysterious and perhaps a bit suspicious, too. The audience senses it; those around the guy will sense it; but Deb will remain clueless—as per usual. It’s a wonder she managed to get a job on the force at all, let alone keep it up for as many years as she has. Deb asks if Ruthie’s high (which I find in poor taste considering Ruthie entered rehab on her season) and snaps about bribery but then wants to know what he may or may not have done. She doesn’t think before she speaks so her actions are thwarted by not planning ahead; as Ruthie says: “You don’t get to blow me off and still ask that.” Already I like Ruthie better than Deb; she just makes more sense.

Harshly lit with sharp features that almost foreshadow the sharp objects with which he uses to kill, Dexter sits in his oversized car back in front of that garish pink house, whose color is visible even in the night. Maybe it is lit up with a 10K the way the photo of Harry seemed to be directly lit, as if to prove the point of its importance. Hearing the loud music pumping through the windows, Dexter assumes he might catch Pheebo in an illegal act, and he does, but it is not one that he expects. Barging in on a fight, Pheebo flees, leaving Dexter to fight the mystery man, who comes at him with force that surprises even him. Just before Dexter gets in his one solid stab wound to the chest, the guy asks him who he is, and he can only reply with: “Who are you?”

I guess it’s a fair question, but it’s one that would have been much more poignant in season one, when Dexter was playing guessing games with the Ice Truck Killer. It’s not metaphoric now at all, and sometimes such literal dialogue elicits more humor than really works with realism. This is only furthered by Dexter’s expositional (and unnecessary if you’ve been following the show from the beginning) voice over about all of a sudden being spontaneous and sloppy and therefore breaking the code. If he was willing to be a bit more introspective, he would realize he has broken the code and acted out of an emotion he doesn’t believe he even has before—when he smacked Rita’s ex-husband over the head with a frying pan. This time, though, he has killed (in self-defense, sure) someone who by all accounts is a completely innocent man, so I guess it is a bit worse. A regular guy would feel remorse; Dexter, the self-proclaimed unemotional robot, should shrug it off; but instead we cut to him in bed with Rita—is it possible he has escalated so quickly that he is now turned on by his violence? In season one, Dexter said he didn’t care about sex—in fact, he said he wanted to avoid it at all costs—until Rita dropped to her knees, and then like any typical guy, he decided he had found something better (than the only other thing that gave him a sense of relief: killing). That and this show is on pay cable, leading into Californication, so the producers have to offer a little skin as a teaser!

Still, Dexter leaves Rita prematurely, ignoring her tongue-in-cheek jab about working “killer hours,” to watch the pink house, which is now officially taped off as a crime scene. Batista calls him to report needing his assistance, and though he could look out the window of the house and see Dexter’s hulking car down the street, Dexter still says it will take him twenty to thirty minutes to arrive. Again, is he finding some sort of sick pleasure in watching his work from afar? This is new… and not entirely strange… When he finally rolls in, though, Deb announces proudly that this is officially her case, begging the question of when will she finally learn the truth about her brother? By all accounts, this should set her up to finally get clued in, but seeing as how incompetent she is because of how emotional she gets (she is practically in tears when she seeks her brother’s approval over her new haircut), once again the writers are just setting us up to reinforce that this is really Dexter’s world, and no one else even comes close to living as intelligently, or as freely, as him.

Deb does manage to get one thing right, though: she knows the one question on Dexter’s mind when looking at the D.B. is “Who are you?” so she fills him in: Oscar Prado was the younger brother of Miami's ADA— a "law and order hard ass" cop (Jimmy Smits, which would be funnier except he was actually on NYPD Blue instead) who just happens to be present to oversee the investigation-- and a look of “oops” crosses Dexter’s face. He was on the cover of some magazine for his work (uh, okay?); he was personal friends with Delgado (double oops); and he was a coach at a youth club (of course he was). Yeah, that calls for a big “Oh, shit” moment, but Dexter calmly, smoothly, takes it all in stride like he always does, and he even manages to zoom in on the one piece of evidence he left behind and scoop it up and out of side before Masuka (C.S. Lee) can photograph it.

Dexter watches his sister interact with Hot Cop, perhaps because he senses (or at least fears) a repeat of the Ice Truck Killer here, but he seems too distracted to really be paying much attention. A police dog barks at him through an open window of a cruiser, proving that animals really can sense the evil that people often overlook. Batista leads a team meeting to find Prado’s killer, and Laguerta comes right out in front of everyone and admits she and Jimmy Smits hooked up under the guise of full disclosure. Not surprisingly, when the press conference to basically say “We like Pheebo for this” occurs, she is not front and center, but her boyfriend is, wearing a thin mustache held over from his Cane days and speaking so narcissistically (“Now that crime has touched my family, I grieve equally…”) he leads Dexter to believe his family is shadier than they appear, so instead of watching the conference live on a slick, too-expensive flat-screen for a realistic precinct, he sits at his computer and looks up the dead guy, assuming that he’s guilty of something (“because aren’t we all?”). What’s fascinating about this moment is that Dexter only finds two speeding tickets and a citation for an illegal u-turn on the guy’s record, but he is conditioned to be so suspicious simply because of who he is: his instincts about those he targets are based on the fact that he is that same kind of evil, so therefore he just “gets” it in a way that “normal” people could never fathom.

Meanwhile, back at the bumbling farm, Deb needs Hot Cop to bail her out and give her the lead she can never get on her own, so he tells her about a C.I. who owes him favors, and she thanks him by telling him to stop looking at her ass as she walks away. Man, the guy can’t get a face-to-face flirt out of her, and now he can’t even admire at a distance; she’s a prize! She meets the lead at a beachside café where he strums a guitar and offers to sell her “real, mellow weed,” which actually sounds like it would help her out a lot. She shows him the mugshot of Pheebo and he doesn’t recognize him, but Hot Cop must know something she doesn’t or he wouldn’t have sent her to this guy, and surprisingly, just as she’s about to walk away, she gets a taste of what it must be like to be a good detective and drops a photo of the victim on the table in front of the guy, too.

Dexter speaks to Cody’s class about boring, technical things and probably scars them for life, but one little kid asks if he saves lives, and he can’t hide the slow smile that spreads when he thinks about his “true” job. He gets called away again and returns to the crime scene to find Jimmy Smits waiting for him, wanting to hear the “story” of events. Dexter is forced to explain clinically, without getting excited about reliving his work, which appears harder for him than it should—than it usually is. He tells Jimmy Smits his brother “fought like a hero but was overmatched,” which in the typically egocentric way of a sociopath, pays him the ultimate of complements: he was too powerful for even a strapping, physically fit man who fought back. Jimmy Smits asks him why, and for once Dexter seems to search his mental Rolodex of socially acceptable responses, taught to him by Harry, of course, before Jimmy Smits continues and asks him why... he was looking for information on his dead brother. For this, Dexter prepared the correct “it helps me make sense” answer, and once again, he is off the hook—momentarily ensnared, but able to squeeze out of the detrimental grip before he sinks himself. He is just so lucky, that Dexter: lucky that everyone around him seems to offer him the perfect “outs” and especially lucky that he was taken in by a man like Harry, who understood what he was. Jimmy Smits talks about souls with him in a way that almost resembles a father passing a philosophy down to a son; it’s quite interesting how so many shows this season (although still in the very early episodes) appear to be going down that slower-paced, more thoughtful and methodical road rather than the flashy, slashy action-filled moments of seasons past.

Dexter attends the dead brother’s funeral, which would be a normal (there's that word again!) serial killer’s wet dream, but it’s already been redundantly established that Dexter has always been everything but normal. He doesn’t have to skulk in the background and hide behind some columns or plants in order to see his work one last time: he walks right up to the open coffin and stares at the man’s face, still convinced he does not “suffer from the tragedy of perfection” simply because he attacked a stranger with a knife in a dope dealer’s house. Why should Dexter, of all people, be surprised, though, by the ability (or even sheer willingness) to take action against an assumed bad guy? Dexter was the one barging into the house; he was the intruder in that situation, so it makes perfect, “normal” sense that the dead brother would defend himself. He pours over these thoughts while his sister mourns their father in a bar with Batista. She stares at an identical framed photo to the one Dexter had in his house—only this one hangs over the bar, with an art light shining directly over it, and as she still wants so badly to please her father, Batista shoots down one of her chances by telling her she’s off the dead brother case because it’s “just too big for her.” Just like her brother, “only one person can get in [her] way,” which is herself, but she doesn’t seem ready to move on. In truth, Dexter probably isn’t ready either, but he’s determined to try—convinced he doesn’t need him anymore. Again, typical teenage rebellion, at the end of which, he’ll probably realize just how wrong he was.

In the meantime, though, his way of “moving on” is sleeping with Rita again. It really is starting to look like watching his handiwork is what puts him in the mood! In the morning, his sister is jealous and upset that he didn’t come celebrate their father’s birthday with her, and she snaps at him about having “to kill your father so you can become your own man,” but once again she has no friggin’ idea. “What was inside me would be there forever, and I can’t change,” Dexter astutely points out in a voice over. He is able to verbalize it quite logically, yet he can’t wrap his head around the deeper meaning enough not to try to prove it wrong. He may be a genius in some things, but in others he just that much more clueless and socially awkward. He is like a boy on the verge of adolescence, afraid of what he could become, except he is a grown man who relied so long on the word of a man who seemed perfect in his eyes, he never thought twice when he was told to do something or how to do it or that it would be okay. Finally in his thirties, Dexter Morgan is forced to think about the “why” instead of just taking Harry’s code at face value, and because of it, he is maturing—as a man, but also undoubtedly as a killer.

At the new crime scene, Dexter has to hide his surprise that the victim is the same co-ed he saw in Pheebo’s house that first day he pretended to be an addict. She has a perfect square cut out of her right shoulder which is currently unexplained, but he is happy enough to know that his new playmate hasn’t left the region; he may have gotten away temporarily, but he can’t stay gone for long.

That’s where “Our Father” should have ended: leaving Dexter’s case as unresolved as his daddy issues that he only recently discovered he has (even though the kid is clearly no match for the cunning of the Ice Truck Killer; safe money is on Dexter meeting up with him in the next episode and taking care of business once and for all). However, instead, Batista got his gold badge in this episode, too, speeding along a process that realistically should have taken at least two or three episodes to take place. On a night out, Deb runs into Ruthie again, leaving her with more cryptic warnings about wanting to get on IA’s good side if she wants to increase her chances of getting a shield (after all, her father already had his by her age-- those Morgan kids, always comparing!). And just to beat the father theme over the heads of their audience, Rita realizes that all of the pudding eating (oh, sorry, did I not mention that earlier?) she has been doing and listening to the one same record over and over is something familiar—something she did twice before, although years apart. She tells Dexter she thinks she is pregnant. Who's up for more daddy issues!?

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