Tuesday, 30 November 2010

'DEXTER' 5.10 - "In The Beginning"

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

"In The Beginning" was aptly titled, as this episode delivered back-story to Jordan Chase (Jonny Lee Miller), revealed the origin of his childhood gang, and ended on the "consummation" of Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and Lumen (Julia Stiles) partnership -- Adam and Eve figures in their unique Garden Of Eden, killing the various snakes slithering through its grass. I guess Liddy's (Peter Weller) surveillance tapes might be considered the Tree of Knowledge that threatens to cast them out into the wilderness as fugitives...

"... with Lumen I'm someone different. In her eyes, I'm not a monster at all."
There were seismic developments in this tenth episode, as we sprint to the finish. I have issues with some of them, but it was a mostly satisfying leap forward for season 5's story. Following last week's episode, Jordan has revealed he knows Lumen's alive and busy killing his associates with the help of Dexter, so everything became a game of chess with the two sides considering their next move. Needless to say, Dex favoured going on the offensive. The "barrel girls" case was re-opened, with Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) searching prime suspect Cole's house and discovering thirteen DVDs chronicling the torture of various women. As Lumen is the girl videotaped on the final disc, Dex was forced to switch the DVD for a sabotaged blank before his colleagues watched it and forced him to explain the fact Cole's final victim and his mysterious blonde "tenant" are the same person.

The investigation into Emily Birch, the woman whose blood Jordan keeps in a vial around his neck, reaped plenty of reward for Lumen. Emily was the gang's first victim 20 years ago, a summer camp counselor raped at the encouragement of Jordan (or chubby Eugene Greer as he was then), before being forced to take their photo for posterity. Emily wasn't killed like the current crop of lookalikes Jordan's cronies subject to the same ordeal, but is the source of Jordan's business ethos ("if you want something, take it!") and, in a strange reveal, revealed to still be in contact with Jordan because they share a "bond". I'm guessing Emily has a case of Stockholm Syndrome, or is simply too traumatized or brainwashed to have ever gone to the police, while Jordan exhibited signs of severe intimacy issues with women (gently removing her hand when she laid it on his). This explains why he never gets his hands dirty with any crimes; instead preferring to take a backseat and enjoy the vicarious thrill of being a spectator to his brainwashed friend's depravities. To be honest, Emily's back-story came across as very awkward and implausible, but we'll have to suspend our disbelief. There's a chance the remaining two episodes will smooth the cracks over, I guess.

One thing I appreciated about this episode was the discovery of video evidence that gave us a visceral insight into Lumen's torment and mental state. You can always sympathize with someone who's traumatized and has physical wounds to make you recoil, but it's something entirely different to see snapshots of the actual abuse and hear it unfold. The sequences where various characters suffered through watching Cole's DVDs were a genuinely haunting reminder of the show's grittier early years, allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks. Recently I complained about the lack of flashbacks to sell the villainy of Jordan's gang (especially as season 5's villains have done very little on-screen to make you hate them), and this episode found a good way of doing that without the need for a narrative back flip.

It was also fun to see Dexter and Lumen go after banker Alex Tilden (Scott Grimes), the last remaining member of Jordan's group, particularly because Jordan was clever enough to have manipulated them towards Alex so he could raise the alarm when Dexter arrived at Alex's house to kill him. Inevitably, it was Debra and Quinn who answered the call, setting in motion another of the show's tense sequences where it feels like Dexter's seconds away from being caught. The show does this a lot, but I allow it to work despite my higher brain knowing they'll never allow Debra to discover her brother's secret simply by walking in on him. Writer Scott Reynolds essentially pulled the Silence Of The Lambs trick, by having us mistakenly believe Dexter's kill-room was inside his victim's house, when he'd actually taken him off the premises. Was that a little contrived? Doesn't Dexter usually kill his victims wherever he catches them, without much transportation? Maybe he's been extra careful because he knows Jordan's a threat?

Anyway, perhaps the biggest moment of "In The Beginning" was the catharsis that was delivered to Lumen. She's now every inch Dexter's protégé, the Robin to his Batman, even getting to wear a female version of Dex's "costume" (complete with signature black gloves Dex bought for her especially), and going through her life-changing first kill by stabbing Alex. "Aim for the heart" advised Dexter. Lumen certainly did, in both senses of the word, as they returned home and, in the afterglow of having killed one of her torturers together, undressed and made love. You could see the warm contentment in Dexter's face in their post-coital cuddle; here's a woman who knows everything about him, all his darkest secrets, but actually understands his motivations, accepts him for who he is, and even participates in his vigilantism. For him, she's the dream woman and perfect life partner.

Liddy's investigation is still rather amateurish in some ways (because simply following Dexter around would deliver the goods), but he realized how big a fish Dexter is by the episode's end. Having acquired some high-tech surveillance, Liddy was able to snoop on Dexter and Lumen with a camera planted in their house, meaning he has physical evidence of them conspiring to kill. It'll be interesting to see what his next move is, as any sane person would go straight to the cops, but I'm guessing Liddy wants to get unambiguous evidence that Dexter's a killer – perhaps by finding a way to get one of his kills on tape. It still feels inevitable that Liddy will be discovered and killed, most likely by the Code-less Lumen, but the uncertainties here are very enjoyable. Dexter has absolutely no idea about Liddy, which means he's totally defenseless and distracted.

Overall, "In The Beginning" hit my pleasure spots more regularly than usual, and is perhaps my favourite episode since the premiere, simply in terms of the big developments and shakeups. The writers were adamant that Lumen wasn't going to replace Rita, so they either changed their mind or were trying to put audiences off the obvious scent, but I'm okay with that. It's just a shame every season of Dexter has told a self-contained story, so I have very strong doubts Lumen's going to become a permanent character on the show. Dexter doesn't hit a reset-button every year, but it certainly tends to clear the deck of everyone who was introduced in the latest season. Season 5's been different enough to have me doubt myself, but I still can't help thinking ahead and predicting who's destined to die or disappear, simply because Dexter usually begins every season with a clean slate.

  • How long will Dexter's happiness last? Is Lumen going to be killed by Jordan? Is she going to have second thoughts and leave town? Will the writers bring her back next year, as the undoubted replacement for Rita? If so, Dexter's going to look very bad in front of Astor and Debra for lying about his feelings for Lumen and assuring them she's no rebound! Is she a rebound?
  • It's a common issue not exclusive to this episode, but does anyone else find Dexter's voice-overs patronizing sometimes? The writers use them to have Dex remind the audience of previous plot-points, which I can understand, but these odd ways of recapping events often feels contrived and unnecessary. Is there anybody watching Dexter who just dips in for the odd episode and genuinely needs these mental asides?
  • Is it going to be explained why there's a 20-year gap between Emily's victimization and the barrel victims? Are there other murders in-between these two eras that Dexter and Lumen aren't aware of? Did Jordan and his gang only recently start committing crimes, maybe as a twisted midlife crisis, re-enacting their youth? Or is this just a failure of storytelling logic we have to swallow?
  • Irish nanny Sonya's proving to be relatively pointless this season (beyond filling time and giving us a plausible way to allow Dexter freedom away from his infant son), unless they pull something out of the hat very soon.
  • Are you happy that the entire Santa Muerte storyline is now utterly redundant, and only really existed to cause later friction between Angel, LaGuerta and Debra?
  • I enjoyed the scene where Jordan volunteered to get a mouth swab to clear himself of any wrongdoing, getting to spend a few moments in Dexter's company. Seasons tend to arrive at points where the anti-hero and villain share some screen time like this, both unable to alert the authorities for fear of blowing their own cover. It's reliably juicy.
WRITER: Scott Reynolds
DIRECTOR: Keith Gordon
TRANSMISSION: 28 November 2010, Showtime, 9/8c