Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dexter's Dreadful

SPOILER ALERT...though, if you get spoiled, it'll spare you from actually watching this Dexter season, so you'll come out ahead

I had this big post planned out last month about "shows going downhill" that included the Office, Family Guy, How I Met Your Mother and Dexter. Unfortunately, since I never got around to writing it, Family Guy had a string of good episodes in a row, I made my peace with HIMYM settling into a Friends-esque B/B- groove rather than shooting for A-pluses, and this Grantland article basically summed up my frustrations with the Carell-free Office.

So, just Dexter. Holy lord, was this latest Dexter season terrible. This might be the most precipitous drop off in quality since 24's infamous sixth season, when a nuke went off in Los Angeles and was seemingly forgotten a couple of hours later, the big bad was Jack Bauer's elderly father who disappeared for half the year and the thing ended with Jack staring pensively out onto the ocean.

Ugh, yet another bad TV memory. Let's stick to….a more recent bad TV memory. Now, Dexter hasn't been a really great show since its first season. The second season was quite good and the fourth year was shaky but carried by a legendary John Lithgow performance, but really, Dexter is another of those programs that's content to be what it is --- a reverse-procedural featuring Dexter killing bad guys and the wacky Miami cops who are following in his wake.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with a show that lacks initiative, but there's a lot wrong when a show is not just lazy, it's lazy about being lazy. My biggest issue with S6 of Dexter was that everyone on the show was suddenly an idiot. Dexter Morgan's clearest personality trait is his caution; following "Harry's Code" to the letter and approaching from the tracking of his victims to the folding of cellophane wrap methodically. This season, however, literally all of this legendary serial killer's kills were sloppy as hell, culminating in his final killing of the year (more on this in a season). In its early days, the show took great pains to show how a Dexter could exist in the real world by showing how careful he was to avoid capture and the great pains he took to keep himself and his crimes hidden. Hell, the whole point of Dexter being a blood splatter analyst is to show how he hides himself by using the police's own methods against them and how he knows exactly how to cover his tracks.

This season, however, Dexter is just randomly drowning people in shallow water, stabbing crooked ambulance drivers, pitchforking Nebraska pot dealers, etc. He's leaving a trail of evidence a mile wide and yet (unlike in S4 or even S5) it isn't part of any ongoing plot about how Dexter is 'off his game' due to his duties at home. A dumber Dexter is just the new reality of the show so we'll have to deal with hit. To add to the problem, the Miami Metro police (never the sharpest knives in the drawer to begin with) have reached cartoonish levels of incompetence. In past years, Dexter's intelligence was a rising tide that lifted all ships --- by making him so smart, the fact that he was hiding under the cops' noses didn't diminish them. This season, however, you literally had Angel and Quinn in a drunken brawl while on duty, with no repercussions. Plus, Debra's promotion to lieutenant just provided more of the never-interesting Miami Metro inter-office drama.

These two issues collided when we had the big climactic moment of the season finale, as Dexter murdered the Doomsday Killer just as Debra entered the room. Inevitably, you knew that Deb would eventually discover Dexter's secret. It was the moment the show had been building to since the very beginning. I still look forward to seeing what Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter will do with this next season, since they're good enough actors to rise to the occasion. And yet, the big moment was undercut by the season's dumbest subplot, Deb's therapy sessions and her subsequent realization that she's in love with Dexter. Yep, this really happened. Yep, the writers decided to introduce this plot *after* Hall and Carpenter divorced in real life. Yep, they're siblings, though since Dexter is adopted, I'm sure the writers will try to make things as non-icky as possible….nope, wait, too late. You don't come back from an incest storyline.* It was weird enough having Dexter and Deb share a lot of "you're not there for me" dialogue this year with the Hall-Carpenter divorce hanging over things.

* = With one exception. Before "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" goes off the air, we need to see Dennis and Dee hook up. That would be the cherry on top of that show's depravity sundae. The writers should save the D+D pairing for the series finale, just to go out with a literal bang.

And to top it all off, the villains stunk. The Doomsday Killers (Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos) were far and away the least-interesting major villains this show has ever had. The alleged 'big twist' that Olmos' character was all in Hanks' head --- the ghost-Harry to his Dexter, essentially --- was predictable was the very first episode. Hanks, god love him, is also definitely not his dad when it comes to acting. Last season the central villain was minimized a bit, so as to not invite comparisons to Lithgow's impossible-to-top Trinity Killer from the previous year. Doomsday, however, was built into an even bigger threat than Trinity ever was and the character just completely failed to deliver.

I'll still give Dexter a shot in the seventh year since I'm pretty invested by this point and, admittedly, I'm interested in seeing how the show will be forced to evolve now that Debra knows the secret. If it's anything short of Deb starting a nationwide manhunt for Dexter it'll be a total sellout of her character, but hey, they're in wuuuuuvvvvv. *facepalm*

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