Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dexter - "Are You...?" Review

Retroactive vomiting time!!!

Throughout its run, Dexter has been one of my favorite shows.  It is a ravenously entertaining character study full of some of the most intense and suspenseful moments you're likely to find on the tube.  Seasons 1, 2, and 4 are works of art, among the best television has to offer.  Season Three, while never hitting the heights of the seasons that surround it, was still very strong in its own right.  Many feel Dexter began to fall off in Season Five, but I would disagree, as I enjoyed the character of Lumen and the overarching storyline was well executed.  If any complaints could arise, it felt at points that Dexter was running out of steam creatively, recycling plot points and character elements.  While still a good season, it was clear when watching it that Dexter was a series that wanted to begin the end, but became a victim of its own popularity.  This was no more evident than the final episode, where many believe it was time for Deb to discover Dexter's secret, yet the writers instead provided us with a shave so close I'm surprised they weren't sawing off their own jawbones.

Enter Season Six, an unmitigated disaster.

Season Six saw the writers turning its primary proagonist into an absolute idiot.  We are supposed to believe that Dexter Morgan is an extremely intelligent and uber-resourceful man, which is necessary in order to believe that he's gotten away with over 100 murders.  Not only that, but this is a man who's psyche is so frequently divided that he regularly has conversations with corporeal visions of his dead father.  You mean to tell me that this man couldn't possibly figure out that Travis just might be doing the exact same thing?

We've all seen Fight Club.  We've all seen The Sixth Sense.  When a character sits at a dinner table set for everyone but him, the mind wanders.  Dots connect.  Turns out, we as an audience, are capable of that.

If you are going to do the schizo twist, you'd better approach it from a fresh angle, have a mastery of the red herring, and make it make sense.

The writers hid this in plain sight while forgetting the, you know, hiding part.

Nine episodes.  Nine long, arduous, grueling episodes waiting for the inevitable we'd figured out ages ago.  I had suspicions by the end of episode one, all of which were affirmed by episode two. It was so poorly done and incredibly obvious by episode seven that I was convinced it couldn't possibly be the route they were heading.  This is Dexter.  The writers aren't that ham-fisted.

Yo, Dexter.  We know...
When you build your season around a plain-as-day plot twist that your audience figures out well before your capable Dark Avenger, something has gone seriously wrong.

Additionally, the character work was nothing short of abysmal.  The supporting characters just up and stopped supporting the plot.  They just wandered into their own rote, insipid plot lines which often were annoying and many times flew right in the face of their own characterizations.  Quinn's alcoholism was dumb and a betrayal of character, and Laguerta's and Batista's marital issues were just as lame and took away from where they were supposed to be:  the Precinct, and it showed, because in Season Six, Miami Metro Homicide officially became the most incompetent mess of brass I've seen in a while.

And then there's the Deborah wanting to fuck her brother.  Do I even have to get into that?

Dexter's Sixth Season was all bad all the time, to the degree that it got rather frightening.  I felt like I wasn't watching the same show.  I felt like the writer's were treating me like an idiot, either because the writers themselves had been replaced by chimpanzees, or they were just sick and tired of maintaining the status quo in a series that desperately needed to get moving, and threw up their hands in carelessness.

I was completely turned off of the show.  I called TOD.  I was done.

Until everyone told me I had to check out the new premiere.

Good thing I did.  What a breath of fresh air.

It is clear almost immediately that the writers have recognized their mistakes (or heard the complaints) and are ready to return their show to form, and for the most part, they do.  Dexter consistently kicks himself for taking Travis under his wing.  The supporting characters, particularly Laguerta, matter again and are starting to affect the overarching plot.  It felt so assuring to at least hear some mention of Doakes and the Bay Harbor case, considering it was such a traumatizing event for everyone.  Dexter tends to not reference or contextualize past events, often to its detriment, so this is a good development.  Other transgressions, like Quinn and Batista's idiocy and Deb's brotherly love seem to have been resolved and shipped on a bus to Pluto.  Even more good.

It wasn't perfect.  Dexter still seems to be making some "...really?" decisions, particularly his choice to kill a man on the fly inside an airport baggage claim.  Really, dude?  Probably not the most secure place for a murder.  You'd think you'd know better given that your sister just discovered you.

But the best part of "Are You...?", by far, was Deborah.  After Dexter's ridiculous cavalcade of lies, I began to worry that Deb would accept everything she was told and the show would return to a slow burn.  Thankfully, she wouldn't quit.  She asked all the right questions, bringing in more of this show's dark past to learn the real truth.  The face-clenching final minutes were so good in this episode not only because of what it is, but because the writers could have easily made it the cliffhanger for the season.  The fact that they were willing to go all in with Deborah is a very promising sign for a show that looks ready to finally begin its last act.  Apparently, Showtime wants Dexter renewed for season 9, and the producers are resisting.  I like this trend a lot.  It speaks to a renewed dedication to quality from the writers.

The grand, "She Knows!" moment that closed Season Six was really the grand "She Knows!" moment that should've closed Season Five.  It wouldn't take a lot of work to just imagine that Season Six never happened.  I'm all aboard for that, as I feel now like I'm watching a show with a restored sense of purpose.

It's good to have you back, Mr. Morgan.

80% = ***1/2 = "Amazing"


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