Friday, October 26, 2012

Dexter - "Run" Review

"However, I do run if there's a bull coming at me with an axe."


I think one of the reasons I grew tired of Dexter as a series, other than it running in circles, was that it didn't seem to be tackling broad philosophical questions about life and the human condition.  Not that that is by any means a requisite for quality.  There are plenty of shows that are good simply by being throwaway fun (see: American Horror Story).  My point is that Dexter always had a central premise and storytelling style that not only could have elevated into social commentary, but practically begs for it, yet it seemed for a long time that they kept dancing away from this prospect at every turn.

Well, for whatever reason, there was no dancing to be found in "Run", and i don't feel it is any coincidence that "Run" was effing awesome.

We have a criminal justice system built around attrition.  Its number one priority is to ensure that a conviction is never wrongful, and that the innocent are protected from the system.  The consequence of this is that many of those whom are guilty end up walking away on technicalities or exploitations of that very system.  As aggravating as that can be, it is the best and most efficient way we've yet found to deal with the criminal and the corrupt.  It is, in many ways, a necessary evil.

Funny, "necessary evil" is a term that can adequately describe Dexter Morgan.  So if both sides of an issue bear their evils, is there anything that is good?  Or better yet, are said evils really evil at all?

Watching Dexter and Deborah in that car, sitting in front of a smoking memorial, these are the questions we are left with, and a series finally taking advantage of its premise and its characters after what seemed like forever.  It felt right.  It felt proper.  Jennifer Carpenter has always been adept at crippling emotion and catharsis, and she was never better than in that moment.

What Dexter does is deplorable, and fits into just about every definition of wrong that our society has ever accepted.  Yet you can't help but admit that he has a point.  Much of this episode centered around the juxtaposition between the two "methods" of crime fighting that inhabit this series, and their inherent weaknesses, all to great effect, particularly in the interrogation room with Deb and Speltzer.  Psych 101ing a killer never gets old, unless you watch CBS.

Another thing that Dexter seems to be doing after all this time is acknowledging its own past, and I cannot stress how important this is to the health of the show.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have probably read my review of The Vampire Diaries' "Memorial".  

If you haven't, a) who are you? and b) here's a quote:

"So many times when you watch TV dramas, don't you think "how have these people not just given up on life"? I mean, seriously, how much shit can possibly go wrong before you just decide to pack it in? That's why I usually hate reset television. Every week we tune in, and life is more or less the same, with nary a mention of the extremely traumatic events that have taken place last year, or even last episode. So few shows even bother to address the taxing nature of their central drama, and the toll it takes on the characters, and without that, what's the point?"

Dexter, for so many years, never bothered to mention, or even act as if they've been personally affected by things like Doakes, Lundi, etc.  Rita got some extra mourning time, but then also seemed to fall by the wayside.

This is why Deborah finding out is so important.  She's asking all the questions that we as an audience have wanted someone to ask for so long.  That's why I loved Dex and Deb's alley scene so much.  The conversation they had about Rita and Trinity was the conversation I was very much expecting them to have in "Sunshine and Frosty Swirl" but never got.  The past finally feels like it has some consequence again, and something like Trinity's death is the perfect lynchpin to try and sway Deb to Dexter's side of things.

She's finally shining a looking glass on the shows long and storied past and reacting to the revelations.  She's asking all the questions that we as an audience have been asking for years.  She's our own personal nit picker, and it is liberating.  As a result, Dexter is feeling like a story again, and not just a series, and for a serialized drama on Showtime, that is paramount.

The only thing I'm a little wary about is the apparent re-acknowledgement of Deborah's "feelings" for Dexter.  Between the aforementioned alley scene, the dream sequence, it would seem that Deborah's feelings, however subconscious seem to be lingering, and with them my unease.  That's not to say it wasn't handled well and with some class this week (I can imagine after the fan explosion, they are approaching this with the kiddiest of gloves), but I just don't see a way this ends that in any way doesn't hurt the show overall.  It was a bad plot device.  Like, a really bad plot device, and the faster it goes away, the better.

I think the reason it worked this week was because Deb, rightfully, threw into question Dexter's compassion and love both as brother and father.  For so long, Dexter has been relatively alone in this, and has managed to convince himself that he can have his cake and eat it too, and it'll be interesting to see how he reacts once he realizes that he can't.  

Just Deb saying something simple like, "bad things will find you" made so much sense and reopened my nitpicking eyes.  After so many years, you start to question just how so many bad things can go wrong around Dexter, and that totally put things back in perspective.  It really made me look back at characters like Miguel Prado more charitably.  Yeah, bad things are all around us, but a lot of us don't notice them, unless you are someone who actively looks for trouble, like Dexter is.  Normal people, and even cops, don't look for trouble, they react to it, and that is a distinction that "Run" presented perfectly.

I think it's the newfound self-awareness of the characters that is really resonating with me this season.  For example, I loved Batista's "walking cliché" line, though if you ask me it was the person he was talking to that fit that bill.  That's why I never have anything interesting to say regarding Quinn.  What's there to say?  Imperfect cop tries to make up for the bendings that his own lack of personal inhibitions caused.  101 stuff, not bad, not good.  That's why it's the D story every episode.

So I mentioned last week that Isaak was just not coming across very threatening to me, and his disposal of the annoying and ancillary Louis only exasperated that problem.  "Run" did a lot to dissuade my current lack of contempt.  Ironically, it was the humanization of him as a character that ended up pulling this off, which in turn gave him a lot more weight as a villain.  The scene at Alex's place was morbidly effective.  I have no doubt that Isaak will honor his agreement with Alex, and his speak of raising a family seemed so honest and experienced.  The scene where he gazes distraught into a picture of himself and victor, promising vengeance, was also very intriguing.  Are we to believe they were lovers?  Sounds like it.  Either way, it was these moment of humanity that ended up making his cunning and ruthlessness stick out more, which wasn't happening in previous episodes where he was presented more as a cardboard cutout bad guy.

Still waiting for more than just a token scene with Yvonne Strahovski, and her conversations with Dexter aren't feeling any less forced.  I hope it's to eventually reveal the dark secrets and hidden agenda that I assume Hannah possesses, so I reserve judgement for now.

Another thing I really enjoyed, which may seem trivial but means a lot to a nit picker like me, was Dexter getting caught snooping by Speltzer.  Yes, Dexter is good at what he does, but a lot of times he just seems to effortlessly dodge obvious surveillance opportunities while snooping and gives himself a very wide window to be caught, and he never seems to be.  Sometimes, no amount of careful planning can prevent the unpredictable, and this week was a good reminder of that, and it set up a great scene between to killers in a maze.  Dexter dialoguing to himself about the purpose of each room and the very nature of the labyrinth was very entertaining, and the way they payed it off with the "stay" note was just awesome.

And it just kept getting more awesome.  Dexter's relinquishing of his trophies was an important step for the character, and it seems like with Deborah finally in on the secret, the two are actively making each other better, however marginally that may be, and in turn, the show keeps getting better, because it no longer seems like the same old shtick anymore.

So, it is possible that Dexter and Deborah could become partners in both crime and the fighting of it?  An intriguing premise, and I'm looking forward to finding out.

"Run" proved to me that Dexter is back in a big way, and that Season 7 may end up going down as one of the show's best.


88% = ***1/2 = "Amazing"


-VMA

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