Sunday, November 13, 2011

'Dexter' Jumps the Shark...And Ends Up In "Nebraska"...

Religion muddies everything. Well, organized religion does. Well, at least I think so. But regardless of my personal feelings about the "hit you over the head" with the theme of the season antics, season six of Dexter only really got off course when it started to stray from the "end of days" type murders and decided to bring back familiar faces in an attempt to tie up loose ends that never appeared loose to start with.

Two years ago-- hell, even last year-- I would have given Dexter the benefit of the doubt and said that bringing back those like his brother, the Ice Truck Killer, or even young Jonah Miller were just ways for the serial killer drama to keep its audience on its toes and never be a step ahead of its titular protagonist. I would even find the parallels between Dexter's own "questioning" mental state and his deep-rooted need to go back to his past in order to make sense of his new beliefs and possible future. With Dexter opening his eyes to a new code, it makes sense that he would reevaluate his old one.

But that was then. Now, yet another new showrunner down, it's hard to argue that case without being accused of reading too much between the lines these days. Because regardless of intention the actual script execution doesn't deliver the impression of having a clear goal. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to the series anymore. What was once a cleverly crafted psychological study of a man who may have been born to be a killer but who was certainly bred to embrace those violent tendencies is a mess of shocking deaths that lack true motive, let alone cohesion. Dexter (Michael C. Hall) himself once justified-- or at least understood-- his kills by basing them around a code, but lately he has been growing cocky, careless, and a bit unhinged with no clear trigger. The death of his wife was years ago now, and that didn't spur this seeming "mid-life crisis" streak. Neither did the birth of his son or the loss of his soulmate Lumen (Julia Stiles). I would argue the strange disappearance of Harry (James Remar) is the reason he's spiraling, but we don't really know why Harry has stopped appearing to him at all. Does he feel he outgrew him-- or was Showtime just unable to get Remar* for the full season? Is it the show's attempt to twist the character of Dexter to a darker, more demented, truly sociopathic type, ala the books? Or is the new showrunner just doing what he wants now, regardless of the mythos previously set up? I don't have the answers, and unfortunately the show has become so convoluted, I'm bummed to say I don't even have an interest in finding out if the answers will come at the end of the season.

"Nebraska" was the greatest offender thus far. As much as I enjoy Brando Eaton, bringing Jonah back just appeared to be a weak way to remind Dexter that murder can be in the genes-- something we've seen him deal with since day one of learning he was about to be a father. By now his fears should have dissipated quite a bit; hell, the show wanted us to believe he would go so far as to put his kid in Catholic school just to give him a shot at not turning into his father! Seeing Jonah slam him into the "what if this happens to me" woes of yesteryear was a repetitive plot not only for Dexter's own psyche but for the show as a whole. Remember in season one when Dexter tracked that teenage parolee Jeremy Downs, convinced he was a psychopath capable of murder, only to then let him go with a warning that he needed to fight his dark urges or else? His message to Jonah carried the same weight: Forgive yourself (or else you'll kill again, and I'll come back for you).

But more than that, adding the Ice Truck Killer back on top of everything else was overkill. Personally I have a deep, dark bias against him. Always have, always will. Dexter taking him out was the single greatest moment in the show for me (even above taking out that crazy artist, Lila!). I cheered. Aloud. It cemented my love of the man, and the show.

I hoped we never had to see Brian's ugly mug after Dexter took care of him in season one, and I never expected we would have to. If he didn't pop up at the darkest times in Dexter's life-- learning the truth about his father and the informants, losing his wife, etc-- there was truly no cause for him to return now. Dexter has always questioned certain things about his life, and slowly but surely we've seen him gather information and answers in order to come to terms with who he is and the things he does. At the beginning of this season he was questioning religion, and in studying the Doomsday case, Dexter appeared to be reconsidering the whys of killing. It appeared he was opening his mind to allow the possibility that someone else's code might also be valid. But he was still kind of, sort of, hunting them. He was just allowing for a lot of distractions, perhaps to put off the fact that he'd inevitably have to face these confusing, and perhaps conflicting, demons. And that
irks me separately. Dexter really hasn't been working on that case at all, too sidetracked with Brother Sam and Jonah and little insignificant pieces that turn out not to even be a part of his puzzle-- and it seems it's just the show stalling because if Dexter was focused, he would have solved it by now and taken down Professor Gellar, and then where would they be? Half a season short of plot, twiddling their thumbs down in Long Beach!

All of these diversions from the main story arc aren't necessarily character building for Dexter. At this point in the game the audience knows him better than he knows himself. Watching him struggle with minutia serves no purpose when in the end we always know what his answer will be. So in showing all of these diversions play out, the show is choosing to dance around what should be a core emotional issue of this season.
It appears as though the writers don't quite know how to handle the sheer gravity of the situation they have backed themselves into. In hunting Gellar (and Travis), Dexter will ultimately have to put someone down for killing based on a code-- which could someday very well be the way Dexter himself is taken down. The sooner the writers have Dexter acknowledge this on-screen, the sooner he can process it and work through it and move on. The pay off when Dexter takes down the "big bad" of every previous season has always been so sweet simply because we've seen him make his peace long before his victim has. This season we're barely getting the cat and mouse, let alone the mental chase.

Before this season I never would have believed Dexter was susceptible to being taken down either. But he is being written as such a shell of his former self this season that it seems like he could fall over if you exhale too hard around him. He used to be larger than life; a vigilante superhero of sorts. Now he is barely a man, and
that is something for which I will never forgive these writers. Currently Hall is in negotiations to continue this role. When I first heard he was holding out signing the renewal contract I was somewhat appalled. But after seeing the direction in which they are butchering the role he not only made famous but made a classic, I completely get it. I wouldn't want to go through any more seasons like season six, either.

* I have no insider knowledge of Mr. Remar's contracts or standing with Showtime. I am simply observing that the Ice Truck Killer being sloughed into a story line where Dexter's adopted dad Harry would usually be appears to be a sloppy cover for writers who have come to rely on the device of the angel (or devil, depending on your stance) on Dexter's shoulder, not necessarily a smooth transition, marking Dexter's changing mental state.

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