Sunday, November 27, 2011

'Dexter' Gets Gellar, Underwhelms Audience Once Again...

I know no one is supposed to "want" to be alone. That would make one weird, right? I know no television show is "supposed" to perpetuate the lone wolf theory. That would make the show inaccessible, right? But the truth of the matter is, some people-- and some characters-- are just better when they're alone. No distractions to keep them from for what they truly have a gift; no one to physically slow them down. Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is one such character, and Dexter as a show itself is phenomenally better when he is working on his own (Dark Passenger not withstanding, of course). Stop worrying about trying to "surprise" or "shock" the audience; after Rita (Julie Benz)'s bathtub murder, you'll never have a bigger "Oh shit!" moment anyway. Stop pairing him up with randoms-- males and females alike; after all, serial killers don't change their M.O.s and solitary killers won't suddenly decide to work in tandem, becoming a "team killer." Stop having him try to save the victimized-- I thought he had no feelings, remember!?-- and instead focus him back on just trying to put down the abusers. Then Dexter Morgan will be able to breathe again, and Dexter the show will be back on track.

I say a lot of things are "too easy" about a lot of twists or reveals in television shows. I don't say this to imply that the writers of said television shows are lazy or that they are dumbing down for their audience. Sometimes paying careful attention to the carefully laid out clues (and being willing to read even a little bit between the lines) allows me to see things coming that literally cause others to gasp out-loud. But I do think that part of the problem is that nowadays, we are always looking for that big twist, and when it does come, it can never live up to expectations. We anticipate greater than what can be delivered; we are always chasing that high of the first, legitimate surprise. In the case of Dexter, I would argue that the very first such moment was Rita's death (some might say "But what about the reveal of Brian?" But if you read the first book, Brian was a given. And also, I try to wipe Brian from my memory); everything that the show has thrown at us to take us back to that moment of sheer "What did they just do?" has paled in comparison, and in the case of the most recent twist in "Get Gellar," made me sit up and go "Really? They were hoping THAT would get us talking?"

(Okay, to be fair, it did get me talking-- err, blogging but not in a positive way!)

In "Got Gellar," it was revealed that Travis (Colin Hanks)'s Dark Passenger really was a perfect mimic of Dexter's. Professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos) was not simply an older, assumedly wiser guide who was now actually deceased and appearing to his apprentice as a figment in his mind, but he was also a man who had taught the code to live, and ultimately kill, by and who was now watching over the ritual kills to assure everything went according to said code. The fact that Dexter couldn't see this-- couldn't even consider the possibility-- even as he was acknowledging Travis' Dark Passenger by name, is laughable. The show is turning him into a shell of his former serial killer self by not having him do his due diligence, really study Travis, and learn everything there was to know about him, his life, and his patterns. The "old" Dexter always tracked his potential victims to make sure they were truly guilty and therefore worthy of his table. This Dexter did no such thing. Obviously if he had, we wouldn't be in episode nine learning Gellar had been dead for months. But obviously if the show had revealed that earlier on, even if it was what was right for the pattern of the character, we'd be out of plot right about now. Dexter is moving at a much slower pace than ever before, and whether that's because it's trying to play to the masses for once or not, it's just not working.

And for the record, I hate the idea of Dexter playing to the masses. Part of what made it so lovable was how edgy, and yes, twisted, it was, and let's face it, that's not for everybody. Watering it down, especially now, six seasons in, is just insulting to those of us who have been its biggest proponents from the early days.

Anyway, if Dexter he had been this careless-- this stupid-- about previous kills, he surely would have been caught or killed himself by now. I get that as a father the character is changing, and he wants to play protector even more and perhaps in new ways. But he should have learned his lesson with Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) when it comes to working with someone to help kill a supposed enemy. And by the show ignoring that and instead showing Dexter taking Travis under his own wing, spending time with him, plotting a kill with him, it just seems to be trying to force Dexter to be something he is not. If anything, as a dad-- a dad who is increasingly cognizant of wanting to be a better father than Harry (James Remar) was-- Dexter should turn his back on helping someone else kill, even one more time, knowing that only feeds the Dark Passenger. He would never take young Harrison out into the night, would he? And surely he wouldn't want someone else to. Taking Travis out should have been his only option. Yet the show wanted to force more drama-- and additional episodes-- out of this arc, so they stretched. Boy, did they stretch!

The only thing interesting about "Get Gellar" to me, aside from Quinn (Desmond Harrington)'s intensifying spiral and little Harrison's adorable smile, was finally getting to see a little bit more into Louis (Josh Cooke)'s own perversion. I had a theory almost from the instant they introduced him that he was going to be the one to catch onto Dexter (he's been on the guy's computer and probably planted some sort of spyware, after all). I believed Dexter would learn of this and struggle with whether or not to kill him-- an innocent. I thought there might even be potential for Dexter to struggle with taking Louis under his wing (like a son figure) and use him as an apprentice, the way we were led to believe Gellar had been doing with who I now refer to as Schizo-Travis. I'm glad we're getting to see that Louis clearly does have some kind of sick dark side of his own, and if nothing else, he'll use his power for blackmail, which might put him more clearly on Dexter's radar. I just want Dexter to snap out of whatever funk is making him stupid and get back to the powerful borderline sociopath with whom we all fell in love.

I also have serious personal reservations about the Gellar reveal because I feel like, as carefully planned out as this may have been from day one in the writer's room, what we actually saw on-air was often a huge misdirect. I'm not talking seeing Gellar and Travis have conversations; we see that with Dexter and Harry all the time and we get it; it works. But comments the homicide detectives would make about things needing the strength of two men or the incisions on victims not matching, indicating two separate people working on various parts of the kills-- that will only still make sense if it is shown that Travis is legitimately schizophrenic and transforms into Gellar as he performs certain parts of the kills. In fact, I hope that's what Travis' deal is, and I hope we get to see a little bit of that before Dexter ultimately takes him out. Not only would that provide for great character work for Hanks, but it would be a truly unique avenue to explore-- something I fear this show is running short on. Dexter may certainly have psychological problems of his own, but he is always himself when he kills. To put him up against a guy who is mentally unstable and has been completely underestimated (especially at the fault of Dexter's complacency) would be the kind of kick-in-the-ass challenge Dexter Morgan needs to get back to his old self and Dexter needs to get back to its old self.

Showtime didn't send this episode to reviewers ahead of airing. Usually they only do this with the season finale, afraid of spoilers getting out and ruining the experience for those that watch it on the subscription service. But by holding this one back, it actually put much more of a spotlight on the so-called "twists"-- a big critical spotlight. In a way, they drew more attention to it simply by leading bloggers like me to believe that "it's so mind-blowing; it's so good; it's so big we can't risk you even teasing it too hard." From the Gellar reveal, to Louis, to just who Laguerta (Lauren Velez) was protecting by closing that dead hooker case early, the answers we received were all the obvious ones. And I guess you could say 'At least we received answers', but what always made Dexter so extraordinary was that it took risks as a show. From the very beginning, even the idea of having a serial killer as a protagonist was a huge "balls to the wall" (as MTV likes to say) risk approach. But no risk, no reward, right? And by playing it so "safe" in season six, Dexter should be reaping no rewards. Sunday nights should belong to Showtime, but sadly these days, only the 10pm hour does.

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