Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dexter - "Chemistry" Review

We have reached the tipping point.


I've said that Dexter's latter seasons have suffered from a lack of thematic depth -- that the stories go through their usual motions without any reflection on what it all means for the universe and the characters, how Dexter's struggles can apply to the human condition, and how Dexter himself had been becoming very superficial, down to his vapid narrations which were no longer enhancing the character, but exasperating just how banal the proceedings have become.  Such issues peeked through occasionally in Season Five, and metastasized aggressively in Season Six, which I heretofore refer as "The Lost Season".

All seemed lost after that, and yet Season Seven, like a valiant knight, armed with righteous indignation and internet complaint threads, has been working just as aggressively to wipe away every one of those wrongs, and to rediscover the vitality of our favorite serial killer,

And it has been doing a great job.  The season has been roaring along quite impressively with nary a misstep in sight.  It has been the return to form we all blindly hoped for but doubted could materialize.  Those who swore off the series after last season (myself included) are now eating their hats with glee as the show has slowly been reminding us of why we fell in love with it in the first place.

All of this and more is embodied in just about every minute of "Chemistry", the season's finest hour thus far which carries an air-tight sentiment with it that the series is back and firing on all cylinders.

Right off the bat, the episode makes a point to start hammering home the central theme:

"Chemistry.  I've heard some people have it.  An attraction that can't be quantified or explained... maybe my desire to get Hannah on my table was just a way of denying the affect she has on me."

That theme of chemistry, and how it applies to humanity permeates every aspect of the episode with a clarity and conveyance that the series hasn't seen in a while.  It's also worth mentioning that the two leads have insane amounts of on screen chemistry.

If there was ever any doubt, I believe that "Chemistry" has squashed it.  Hannah McKay is the best love interest that the series has ever seen, and every moment between these two in this episode was solid gold.  I find myself actively rooting for these two to get to Happily Ever After.

Since the moment she was introduced, Hannah McKay has been something of an enigma.  There's just something about her, we couldn't put our finger on it, but we know that she's more than meets the eye.  Most previous love interest's inner darkness has been pretty straightforward, but the writers seemed to have made a point to make Hannah as a character much more ambiguous and our resulting feelings for her, more ambivalent.  It's the closest I believe we've been able to actually relate to Dexter on a human level for quite some time, and Yvonne Strahovski has been doing a fantastic job at portraying both an insidious despair, but also a sincere innocence and humanity that has made the character very fun to watch.

You really get the feeling that Dexter has finally met his emotional and psycholigical match, and this episode does such a great job of playing on the tension betwee the two.  They both try futilly to excercise rational thought toward their situation, and yet they just can't help themselves from giving in to their unspeakable attraction toward each other.  When Dexter tells Hannah in the car that they shouldn't be doing this anymore and Hannah immediately agrees, Dexter displays a look that can only be described as thinly veiled panic, and replies,"Why?".  You can practically see the iron filaments stretching across the center console and tugging with all their might.  These little moments are littered throughout "Chemistry", from Hannah saying, "You think I'm bad?", to the best line of the episode, and the best voiceover narration from Dexter Morgan in years, which caps of the pitch-perfect garden scene:

"She isn't drawn to my darkness like Lilah, or blind to it like Rita, and she doesn't need it like Lumen.  She accepts both sides of me.  The whole Dexter.  So why am I walking away from this?  Because when some chemicals mix, they combust and explode."

Brilliant.  An ingenious way of illustrating how Hannah is different than those who came before, a question we we're all destined to have as an audience and needed addressing.  Well you couldn't have addressed it better than that.

This is all interlaced with a camaraderie and commonality ("Boy did he pick the wrong car") that actually makes one want to go "awww" for a relationship that consists of two deeply disturbed serial killers.  When that happens, you know you're doing something right.  It's the character subtleties and honest quirks that these two display when their together which really helps sell the whole thing.  I was drowned in the polarity of their primal lust.

I think a lot of what makes it work are the writers treating these two courting as a traditional romance.  From the googley eyes to the swelling strings, everything plays out like any other tale of star-crossed lovers, made unique by the sick and perverted things they have in common and their distorted view of the world.  It allows us to both connect with it more that any of Dexter's previous conquests, and to highlight just how wrong in the head these two are.

"Chemistry" can easily be regarding as the tipping point of the season.  Most viewers tend to give less reverence to "set up" episodes, maybe because not many do it as well as this.

So Sal Price, unsurprisingly, is becoming somewhat of a nuisance to Dexter and Hannah, both of which have very different ways of "dealing" with the problem.  Ultimately, Hannah gets her way, and Sal ends up a cadaver on Dexter's living room floor.  This comes after another delightfully ambiguous scene where Hannah tearfully retells her past stories with Wayne Randall to Mr. Price.  His death comes at a particular blow to Deborah, who had been developing quite a crush on the true crime writer, as had he.  Poor girl just can't catch a break, as her latest case seems to be getting away from her.  That case, just so happens to be Hannah McKay.

...awkward.

This is all while Isaak is not officially out and about again, thanks to Quinn giving in to his misplaced sense of chivalry and self-destructive nature and removing key evidence from the case.  Man, Nadia seems nice and all, but is she really worth it?  

This allows for a particularly great conversation between Dexter and Issak.  Isaak has really grown on me as a villain.  He seems to have an underlying code of honor, and his legitimate desire to know his enemy is endlessly interesting.  Tack on an awesome Looney Tunes reference, and you've got a recipe for an intense and memorable scene.  The more that these two are allowed time together, the better both characters are for it.  

It's also particularly funny that Laguerta wonders how evidence is missing from Miami Metro, as the writers are clearly attempting to reassure us that the department is in fact not run by Chimpanzees, which may have well been the case last season.  Not so this season, where she seems to officially be hot on Dexter's trail.

But the ultimate question becomes: Will Dexter vs. Deb be the crux of the season's endgame?  I have to admit it's an intriguing premise.  He's now clearly wedged between his sister and his love, and after that curveball of an ending, anything's possible.

All of the subplots progressed seem to be coming to a boil, which provided the perfect foundation for Dexter to tell a masterful story with he and Hannah.  "Chemistry" officially solidifies the greatness that is Dexter's seventh season.  Not because it is big, but because it is small.  Because it's personal.  Because it has something to say.  Dexter's character narration actually holds some weight again, and I'm now for the first time in a while legitimately impatient for the next episode.


91% = **** = "Masterpiece"


-VMA

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