Tuesday, 23 November 2010

'DEXTER' 5.9 - "Teenage Wasteland"

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

I question the decision to give us a predominantly self-contained character-based story, focusing on Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and step-daughter Astor (Christina Robinson), so close to the end of this season. In previous years, the last four hours have been a juggernaut of tension, surprises and shocks, but "Teenage Wasteland" felt like something that could have been dealt with mid-season. So while there were great moments that I enjoyed, and it was an episode I could appreciate on many levels, it wasn't something I could totally get behind.

This week, Dexter's became the gym buddy of Jordan Chase (Jonny Lee Miller), who wants to help him deal with his bereavement through exercise and his best-selling philosophies (which he admits he plagiarized Plato.) Dexter has a different motivation: to prove Jordan's guilt as ringleader of Lumen's (Julia Stiles) rapists. After noticing Jordan wears a pendant containing a vial of blood, Dexter resolves to get a sample and match it to a missing person on the police database, thus confirming it's a "trophy" of Jordan's crime.

However, Dex becomes sidetracked from his mission by the surprise return of a drunken Astor, who's run away from her grandparents with best-friend Olivia, and is surprised to find Lumen in her late-mother's house. Believing Dexter's already got himself a new girlfriend (seemingly confirmed when baby Harrison calls Lumen "mama"), Astor became angry with her step-dad's behaviour, forcing Dexter into more uncomfortable situation he's ill-equipped to deal with. And matters are complicated when Lumen discovers that Astor's friend Olivia is the victim of an abusive father, prompting Dex to take action...

As the primary focus, your reaction to this plot will colour your opinion of "Teenage Wasteland" as a whole. Christina Robinson was better in this scenario (a tearaway teen, trying to reconnect with the stepdad she's chosen to blame for her mother's loss), than I felt she was dealing with the immediate aftermath of Rita's demise. It was especially good to see Astor react to Lumen's presence; who, despite being introduced as a new tenant (even to Debra), was commonly perceived as an inappropriate rebound for widower Dexter. And while that's not the case, it certainly feels like Dexter could have a more fruitful relationship with Lumen; a woman who knows his ugly secret and still accepts him.

The way this storyline segued into Dexter going after Olivia's violent father, beating him with clinical precision in an alleyway, was certainly an enjoyable moment, but still something that felt extraneous to the season's concerns. The return of ghost Harry (James Remar) to congratulate Dexter for using his inner monster for a chivalrous reason, not merely to feed a homicidal mania, was a nice touch -- although I'm not convinced this is the first occasion Dexter's hurt/killed someone for another person's direct benefit. Hasn't the show explored this before?

Anyway, the fact Dexter's actions resulted in him receiving the gratitude of Olivia's family, the praise of Harry (together with an apology that he never saw this altruism in Dexter before), and helped repair his relationship with Astor, felt designed to be a turning point for Dexter's rehabilitation. I doubt the show is headed in the direction of Dex becoming a normal blood-spatter analyst who's kicked his passion for killing criminals, but there are occasional episodes when he takes a step closer to normality and is duly rewarded.

At the Miami Metro, Debra's (Jennifer Carpenter) banishment to the archives reaped an unexpected reward, when she realized DNA found on the dead "barrel women" came from multiple people, meaning culprit Boyd Fowler was likely part of a gang. She brought this to the attention of Angel (David Zayas), but both had trouble convincing LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) to re-open the case, because doing so would reflect badly on her performance as lieutenant.

I'm not sure I believe nobody would have realized DNA found on the dead bodies came from different people, either before or after they were tricked into believing Boyd Fowler was the only perpetrator, but at least now the Miami Metro are close behind Dexter's investigation. Most seasons take this approach, but it's always quite fun to see what happens when the two worlds collide in the final episodes. Also intriguing to see the writers continue to turn LaGuerta into the biggest bitch on the planet, even if she did renege on her decision by the end. She's either going to be redeemed in the next few episodes, or die to give the audience some relief.

Finally, Quinn (Desmond Harrington) can’t seem to stop Stan Liddy's (Peter Weller) investigation into his girlfriend's brother. Liddy has become convinced that Dexter's involved in a serious scandal (having witnessed him dumping ominous black bags into the ocean with Lumen), and wants nothing more than to expose whatever's going on a way to get his job back.

I wish the writers were doing a better job with Liddy's investigation and role on this show, as he's such a remarkably abrasive and horrid character (in a good way). Peter Weller is riveting in the role and his character deserved a better arc, as someone who's effectively a replacement for Sgt Doakes. It's especially fun to see him antagonize Quinn, who treats Liddy as an awful mistake he can't seen to undo. But why isn't Quinn more interested in the photos of Dex and Lumen dumping bags in the sea late a night? Hopefully Liddy will come into his own now, as he's resolute in getting to the bottom of Dexter's activities.

An uneven episode, but the good moments gradually stacked up in its favour. I was particularly pleased with the final scene, where Jordan Chase (aware Dex tampered with his pendant) called his house and had Lumen take a message for Dexter ("tick, tick, that's the sound of your life running out...") before adding "take care Lumen." A really unsettling moment, nicely played by Miller, whose power was neatly visualized by him staring out across the city from a high-rise window, God-like.

It certainly feels like the gloves are off between Jordan/Lumen/Dexter, as there's no secrets between them and nobody has the upper hand. We've been here before (did anyone else think Dex sharing gym time with Jordan echoed his closeness with Arthur Mitchell last season, too?), but it'll be interesting to see how the writers draw things to a close. The pieces may be familiar, but it's how they’re played that counts now. I just hope this season's off kilter pacing doesn't kill the momentum again.

  • I recall that Jonny Lee Miller's ex-wife Angelina Jolie used to wear the blood of her lovers in a vial around her neck, so was that detail here a bizarre in-joke?
  • I'm glad Quinn's revealed to Debra that he suspected her brother was Kyle Butler, associate of the Trinity Killer. Hopefully that's another seed planted in her mind that, added to her discovery the Ice Truck Killer was Dex's brother, will make her delve deeper into her sibling's history.
  • Is the absent Irish nanny officially a trivial element of season 5 with no major significance? For awhile, I kept expecting some crazy reveal that she's related to someone Dexter knows.
  • Who taught Harrison the word "mama", huh?
  • Any theories on the woman whose blood Chase keeps in his vial? It's someone who's alive, so is it a relative? Wife? Girlfriend? Is it an innocent display of love? Surely not.
  • Has Jordan noticed Cole, his head of security, has vanished since his latest seminar?
  • "Teenage Wasteland" is the erroneous name of a song by The Who, correctly titled "Baba O'Riley". The song has the lyric "teenage wasteland" repeated so often it became widely mistaken as the title. Confusingly, "Teenage Wasteland" then became a different song by The Who's Pete Townshend.
WRITER: Lauren Gussis
DIRECTOR: Ernest Dickerson
TRANSMISSION: 21 November 2010, Showtime, 9/8c