Tuesday, 5 October 2010

'DEXTER' 5.2 - "Hello, Bandit"

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

[SPOILERS] After the emotionally raw and rewarding premiere, "Hello, Bandit" couldn't really compete, and instead threw up concerns for this fifth season as a whole. There's still original material in seeing Dexter (Michael C. Hall) grapple with the death of his wife and face life as a single father, but it already feels like we're moving away from that, and inching back to business as usual...

Dexter's on compassionate leave from work, meaning the narrative is now split between Dex coping with bringing up three kids, finding time to indulge his killing (believing that's what keeps him sharp and, thus, a good father), and the Miami Metro investigating a decapitated head with its eyes and tongue removed. This ritualistic killing is the work of local death cult Santa Muerte, according to young cop Cira (April Lee Hernandez), whose hypothesis is proven credible when Masuka (C.S Lee) deduces the murder weapon used was Santa Muerte's signature machete. Meanwhile, Dexter notices a blood stain on the floor of a removal van he's borrowed, and can't help investigating the previous renter: Boyd Fowler (Shawn Hatosy), a road kill retriever and recluse, who listens to motivational tapes, has locks of female hair tagged with number in his house, and has been dumping mysterious barrels in the local swamp...

"Hello, Bandit" was a mixture of good and bad, all things considered. It was a surprise to see the FBI's investigation move away from Dexter so quickly, because he has an alibi that he was helping the cops raid Arthur Mitchell's house when his wife was being killed, and I enjoyed watching a loose-end eventually come back to bite him: the fact the Mitchell family have each described the curious family friend Kyle Butler, and their sketches are a composite of Dexter, which Quinn (Desmond Harrington) realizes towards the end of this episode. How will Dexter possibly explain the fact he assumed a different identity and befriended the family of a suspect in the Trinity Killer case?

With that bubbling away in the background, much of this episode wasn't anything very new. There's always a buzz of enjoyment when Dex is stalking a prey and, forgiving the ridiculousness that he's stumbled upon another serial killer, the show generally does a good job with these kinds of stories. It's just a shame it's become something of a formula. It's unclear if the Santa Muerte storyline will tie into Dexter's arc this year, or be something entirely separate for the cops to do, but right now it's at least different for the detectives to be chasing a group instead of an individual. We've never seen that play out before, so it may go somewhere interesting.

I'm also a little frustrated by this episode's decision to essentially abandon Astor (Christina Robinson) and Cody (Preston Bailey), with the former beginning to blame Dexter for the death of their mother and eventually deciding to move away with their grandparents to Orlando. It's obvious why this has happened: a combination of the fact it's untenable for a character like Dexter to be active on the show if he's expected to be a fulltime father, and the unfortunate fact the child actors aren't really strong enough to engage with the weightiness of recent events. As I said last week, I hate to pick on kids who are doing their best, as Robinson in particular could very well improve and become a great actress one day, but right now both aren't up to the challenge. So, maybe it's for the best, but in removing Astor and Cody I can't help thinking a chunk of the show's five-year development has been cast aside. Dexter could easily slip into a pre-season 1 sensibility without family around him, even allowing for the fact baby Harrison's still around and requires a nanny. Maybe the idea is that Astor and Cody will be recast and return to the show next season?

Finally, it's still a big issue with this show that everything unrelated to Dexter's character struggles to feel relevant or interesting. Quinn and Debra as a couple is inevitable (after Angel and LaGuerta, all the writers can do is pair up their cast?), but I've never been a fan of Quinn, who's just a poor man's version of Sgt Doakes, and there's an insufferable quality to Harrington's performance. He's just not that likeable, no matter how friendly they try to make him. And a subplot started here, with Angel (David Zayas) noticing new wife LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) has a substantial retirement account she didn't tell him about, is another tiresome use of those boring characters. What does Angel expect, anyway? They got married to cheat office rules and weren't dating for long, so there will clearly be secrets between them. I'd argue this point more, if I didn't know in by gut it will be utterly redundant in terms of this season's plot.

Overall, "Hello, Bandit" had some good moments (like Dex going to see Cody and Astor in the bathroom where their mother died), Michael C. Hall's as compelling as always, and the Santa Muerte storyline sounds promising, but there's also a lot of dead wood floating around. I'm not worried by the producers saying season 5 won't involve one "big bad" to defeat, but instead several enemies, and I'm still enjoying the sense of this being a sequel to season 4 with the Kyle Butler loose-end coming back to bite Dexter soon, but... I can't deny I have some reservations about this year now. As much as I enjoy Dexter, I don't think it'll be totally compelling to me now unless there's a clear end-date in sight. There's some mileage left in Dexter's character and his reactions to certain events, but the demands of the show's format means it can't really explore all that properly.

WRITER: Scott Buck
GUEST CAST: Preston Bailey, Steve Eastin, Adam Harrington, Shawn Hatosy, Mercy Malick, Gino Montesinos & Christina Robinson
TRANSMISSION: 3 October 2010 – Showtime, 9/8c