It's surprising to realize we're practically halfway through season 5. While there have been big developments earlier than usual, this season hasn't captured my imagination yet. I'm waiting for it to seal the deal. With the exception of season 3, there's usually a hook to hang your hat on in each premiere, but this year was quite rightly distracted with Rita's death early on. It's taken a few episodes to begin the season's story, and there were signs in "First Blood" of intriguing possibilities to come, although the episode itself was largely run of the mill...
Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and Lumen (Julia Stiles) are meeting daily in a seafront cafe, where Dex becomes alarmed by Lumen's desire to get revenge on the unknown accomplices of Boyd who gang-raped her. Dex understands her state of mind, but he also knows how vengeance doesn’t always bring the desired results (an allusion to how killing Trinity didn't save Rita's life?), and there's a risk a traumatized victim like Lumen would be mentally scarred even deeper if she gave in to her darker impulses. Dex tried to convince Lumen to return home to her family after refusing to help kill her tormenters, but then decided to use his time to research Boyd's acquaintances and kill her rapists to prevent Lumen getting her own hands dirty. His investigation leads him to a man called Brunner who is currently residing under the city's Tuttle Bridge, a notorious hangout for sex offenders and paedophiles.
Meanwhile, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) investigated the tattoo a victim of Fuentes (supposedly the Santa Muerte killer) remembers seeing on his attacker's arm, eventually coming to realize the symbol is a mystical "Third Eye" after discussing its design with Masuka's (C.S Lee) friend at a local tattoo parlour. Later, Debra joins Circa (April Hernandez) to investigate possible victims of Fuentes seen looking worried and withdrawing all their cash on ATM cameras, which leads them to a home containing two rotting corpses that are apparently Fuentes earliest victims.
It was fun to get another taste of Masuka's life beyond work via this subplot, even if a fondness for tattoos felt rather sedate for him. I also had to wonder if the "third eye" idea came from showrunner Chip Johannessen, as that symbol was often referenced in episodes of Millennium he used to write for. The overall Santa Muerte storyline didn't progress that far, and it still feels unconnected to the rest of the show in many ways. Maybe we're wrong to suspect it'll somehow feed into Dexter's storyline, as this season has already distanced itself from how previous years approached the storytelling. But if so, the idea of a season-long investigation for Debra, unrelated to anything else, sounds like a colossal waste of time.
The interminable Angel (David Zayas) and LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) storyline continued, with Angel now convinced his wife's started seeing the Internal Affairs officer behind his back because she keeps coming home late. Yes, really. However, after following her to a downtown motel, Angel embarrassed himself by interrupting a sting operation LaGuerta's helping with -- involving a disgraced cop (Peter Weller). Angel quite rightly asked why LaGuerta didn't tell him what she's been getting up to, and she had no persuasive answer. The script demanded this dumb deception, damn it.
Finally, Quinn (Desmond Harrington) decided to take leave from work to investigate his theory that Dexter is actually Kyle Butler, because LaGuerta doesn't believe his crazy theory. Only now, he's found an accomplice better equipped to sniff out the truth: the badass cop LaGuerta busted on her sting. To me, this development suggests even the writers realize Quinn's a boring character, so they need an actor with more gravitas to go after Dexter. The casting of Peter Weller (forever RoboCop to my generation) is a real bonus for the show, which regularly casts guest actors who are better than most of its regulars (see: Keith Carradine, Jimmy Smits, John Lithgow). It's just frustrating they don't let some of the dead wood float away (Zayas, Velez) and replace them with actors of that caliber. For actors, is the prospect of spending half the year in Florida really so bad? Anyway, Weller's a compelling actor, so the idea of him tracking Dexter, who has no reason to be as vigilant as he was back in the days of Sgt Doakes tailing him after-hours, will hopefully lead to some interesting places.
As usual, it was Dexter's storyline that held my attention the most, pulling the episode out of occasional lulls with some great scenes. I especially loved the moment Dex caught Brunner under the bridge and was all set to kill him, until the ghost of Harry (James Remar) prevented him making a rash decision by getting him to notice Brunner's electronic ankle-tag (meaning there was no way he could have escaped police attention to rape Lumen). There was also a wonderful scene with Lumen being frisked at airport security, having finally agreed to leave town, which elicited raw feelings of being manhandled and dominated -- feelings strong enough for her to reconsider her departure and instead stay in Miami. Great work from Stiles, who's bringing a strong sense of victimization and quiet fury to her role, all set to explode further down the line. But will it be a release of pent up anger that's beneficial to her recover, or just open a bigger wound deep inside her soul?
I'm not convinced by the suggestion baby Harrison scratching other children is a sign he's been adversely affected by seeing his mother killed, despite what Dexter thinks. That's certainly a rich vein to tap, but it's a shame Harrison wasn't a few years older, where it would be more of a genuine concern. I think the writers know it's silly (they've had a psychologist say as much already), but can't resist playing with the idea that a 10-month-old baby's experiences can shape his personality to a huge extent. And it's a way to echo the concern Dexter also has for baby-faced Lumen, who very much feels like a daughter he's adopted (giving her fatherly advice, stepping in to prevent her making mistakes).
Overall, "First Blood" was a solid episode that wisely focused more on Dexter than the other characters, although Quinn's subplot might start getting very interesting now he has a partner helping him get to the truth of the Kyle Butler mystery. The Santa Muerte killings? They're an okay breather from the Dexter/Lumen story, although they've lost some appeal now it's turned into a manhunt for a lone killer with a machete. Angel and LaGuerta? I'm hoping for divorce and a transfer before they drag this show down any further.
- I'd love to read what Masuka puts on his CV under "hobbies and interests". Wouldn't you?
- That pair of maggoty cadavers must rank as one of the show's grossest visuals. Excellent work from the effects team.
- Can we get more of Francis at Miami Metro, please? She actually felt like a normal, likeable human being. Do I detect foreshadowing of a love interest for Dexter by season's end?
WRITER: Tim Schlattmann
DIRECTOR: Romeo Tirone
GUEST CAST: Julia Stiles, Peter Weller, Raul Bustamante, Chris Payne Gilbert & Tasia Sherel
TRANSMISSION: 24 October 2010, Showtime, 9/8c