Tuesday, 7 December 2010

'DEXTER' 5.11 - "Hop A Freighter"

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The last quarter-hour was spry and exciting (if unsatisfying in reflection), but there was a peculiar atmosphere hanging over this episode. It felt like the writers knew they had too much to cover in two episodes, so "Hop The Freighter" was an attempt to abruptly, but plausibly, end the thorny Liddy (Peter Weller) storyline. Intriguingly, this episode's story is credited to Glaswegian crime author Karen Campbell, leading me to hypothesize that writers Scott Buck and Tim Schlattmann turned to her for help in credibly getting from A to B, ready for what threatens to be a dutiful finale. Whatever the evolution of this penultimate episode, it was an hour governed by plot-mechanics and ultimately robbed the season of its few volatile elements...

Stan Liddy's investigation into Dexter's activities has been the wildcard of season 5, as it's been so disconnected to anyone else's storyline that it was hard to fathom how it would resolve. Credit to the writers for coming up with believable ways for Dexter to realize he's being snooped on by a surveillance camera (his baby monitor picked up the transmission, he traced the bug's serial-number to Quinn at the Miami Metro).

That all worked very well, but it still felt like such a wasted opportunity to have Dex solve this additional puzzle so quickly. Equally frustrating was the fact Liddy, like Sgt Doakes before him, played his cards too close to his chest, for no real reason. If only he'd let Quinn (Desmond Harrington) know about his photographs of Dexter and Lumen (Julia Stiles) dumping suspicious bags into the ocean, or that he's video-taped Dex instructing Lumen on how to wield a bowie knife, things would have played out very differently.

But, of course, the writers know they can't let any character act rationally when it comes to exposing Dexter (remember Doakes taking Dex's blood slides to Haiti rather than hand them to Miami Metro?) So Liddy kept his evidence contained, and didn't speak to anyone about it, meaning he was a lone target for Dex to eliminate in order to keep his secret safe. It was certainly exciting to see Liddy get the jump on Dex, tasering him in the neck, bundling him into his van, then trying to force a confession out of him. Peter Weller's been having great fun in this broad role, but the manner of his character's dispatch was disappointing.

It's the second time Dex has been captured (after season 3's finale), and the second time he's wriggled free with relative ease -- here, simply kicking Liddy in the face and plunging a knife into his chest. There was added tension in the fact Quinn was circling the seemingly empty van, having been summoned by Liddy to assumedly see Dex confess, but in your heart you knew there was no chance Quinn would discover anything.

Still, this storyline was the highlight of an otherwise mechanical episode. It was basically an hour of groundwork for next week, to show us that Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) is convinced Jordan's (Jonny Lee Miller) the ringleader of the "rape club" they've discovered, knowing he's the only common link between the other suspects. She just needed to make this a sound hypothesis by finding the link between Jordan and Dan the dentist, which would be enough to get a court order to prevent Jordan leaving the country for a European tour. Debra also has faith in her "vigilante theory" (that the thirteenth victim escaped and is now killing her rapists, with help from a sympathizer), which resulted in one nice scene between Debra and her brother, where she admitted there's a kind of love in this twisted Bonnie & Clyde-like duo.

Last week's climax, with Dex and Lumen sleeping together, caused disagreement amongst fans (some believing it was an unnecessary development that tarnished the memory of Rita, others thinking it was inevitable and intriguing progression), but "Hop A Freighter" treated their relationship very straight. There was no guilt or second thoughts the morning after; they're very much partners in every sense of the word now. Two killers, both forged in personal tragedy. Dex has someone he can trust implicitly for once, but I still suspect it's going to come to a sticky end in the finale.

Jordan's story was rather thin here, and whatever happens it seems unlikely he's going to avoid Dexter's kill-table or prison. And it's unavoidably going to be the former, because he'd drag Dexter down with him if it's the latter. It's a shame the show now has so many unwritten rules to obey, which its audience is aware of. I'd love this show to surprise me by having Jordan tell Debra about her brother, even if that would be a disappointingly easy way for Debra to learn the truth. And there's the rub. The show can only surprise us in some ways, by disappointing us in others.

The climax found Emily doing Jordan's bidding (for unexplained reasons -- Stockholm Syndrome?), and luring Lumen into her home so Jordan can deal with her. Owing to his distraction with Liddy, Dex got to Emily's house too late, realizing that Lumen's been kidnapped by Jordan. This sets up a finale broadly similar to season 1's, when someone close to Dex (his sister Debra) was kidnapped by the season's villain and Dexter had to save her while avoiding the simultaneous police investigation.

I can't see how season 5's finale can avoid walking this analogous path, with the only remaining uncertainty being Lumen's ultimate fate. Will she kill Jordan? If so, will she be caught by the police and go to prison, but refuse to reveal that Dexter was her accomplice? Will Jordan kill her, resulting in a similar ending to season 4? Or will Dex and Lumen both escape, having killed Jordan, leaving the cops with an unsolved mystery about who the vigilante was? Maybe they'll surprise us and have Jordan survive, to blow the lid on Dexter? Nah...

Overall, "Hop A Freighter" certainly wasn't boring or appalling, but it was quite average and disappointing in many ways. Season 5's had some great ideas and moments, but the execution of the story has been very choppy. And just when you think the season's turned a corner into uncharted territory, or gained some unpredictability, it quickly finds a way to draw everything back into its box.

Still, season 5's been getting some of the show's best ever ratings and Showtime have renewed the show for a sixth year. After that, the regular cast can renegotiate their contract, or choose to leave the series. I'm hoping Michael C. Hall either (a) tells the writers that season 6 will be his last, allowing them to write towards a series finale, or (b) agrees to stay, but negotiates an end-date for the show to work towards.

As the titular character, he has the power to determine how long this show lasts, and I'd rather it goes out on a high while it's still possible. Or maybe I'm being naïve and Hall's happy to continue for season 7, 8, 9, 10... as he still enjoys the character. Let's just hope the audience don't fall out of love with Dexter Morgan before the curtain falls.

  • The amendment at the top of this review is due to a subsequent discovery that the Karen Campbell who co-wrote this episode isn't the aforementioned Scottish author, but actually a junior writer working on the show who was given a break. Apologies for any confusion, and credit to Gareth Watkins for investigating this.
  • A drop of Liddy's blood splashed onto Quinn's shoe, having trickled through a gap in the van's bodywork. I'm guessing that will come into play in the finale. It's certainly going to look very suspicious that Liddy's "missing", right? And if Quinn somehow notices the blood spot on his shoe and has it tested, will it identify Liddy? If so, will Quinn get back to Liddy's van quick enough to bust in and find his body? Either way, won't he be doubly suspicious of Dexter after all this?
  • Killing Liddy breaks Harry's Code, even if he was a "bent cop". Dexter didn't know anything about Liddy's background, so I think we're to assume the Code's #1 rule ("don't get caught") allows Dex to take such action? Mind you, compare this to season 2 when he couldn't kill Doakes when faced with a similar situation. Inconsistency for the sake of the easiest solution to a storytelling problem here?
  • Quinn circling Liddy's van, unaware Dexter's trapped inside, felt like a steal from a very similar situation in Breaking Bad's third season episode "Sunset".
WRITERS: Scott Buck & Tim Schlattman (story by Karen Campbell)
TRANSMISSION: 5 December 2010, Showtime, 9/8c