Tuesday, 14 December 2010

'DEXTER' 5.12 - "The Big One"

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Or The Big Easy. The finale of season 5 wrapped things up in a mostly predictable way, and the few moments when something unexpected happened was resolved swiftly. It was disappointing more often than stimulating, and left me ambivalent about the show's future. I still like the general premise, love Michael C. Hall, and there's occasionally a seasonal guest star who elevates the iffiest of material, but strict adherence to formula means Dexter's lost that what's-going-to-happen-next? spark that was once so central. There were moments in "The Big One" where I'd have been on the edge of my seat three years ago, but now it's too clear the writers won't rock the boat to make the ride more thrilling, just in case it capsizes...

"You can't save one thing to make up for another, Dexter. It's just not the way the world works." -- Jordan Chase
Continuing from "Hop A Freighter", Lumen (Julia Stiles) has been kidnapped by Jordan (Jonny Lee Miller) and taken to the scene of her gang-rape at a ramshackle summer camp Jordan used to frequent as a boy. This leaves Dexter (Hall) scrambling to find his soul mate, before Jordan assumedly kills Lumen to avenge the demise of his clique, but anticipated obstacles fell into Dex's path: nanny Sonya (Maria Doyle Kennedy) returned from Orlando with his kids and their grandparents for baby Harrison's first birthday, while Liddy's (Peter Weller) dead body was discovered and Dex had no option but to help investigate his own crime scene.

Additionally, Quinn's (Desmond Harrington) involvement with Liddy came to light, after LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) noticed blood on his shoe, and he was taken in for questioning as the prime suspect in Liddy's murder. Meanwhile, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) caught a lucky break with the search for Jordan and closed in on the fugitive's location, unaware that her brother is now a few steps ahead of her, desperate to find and kill Jordan before he can hurt Lumen...

"The Big One" resolved the various storyline of this year and put a cap on its theme of morality and the grieving process, which was good. The only problem is everything was wrapped up in a mostly uninspiring and occasionally stupid way. Dexter arriving at the summer camp, only to crash his stolen car and get captured by Jordan, felt like a great way to twist the screws, but Jordan's upper hand was short-lived because Dex had somehow managed to keep hold of one of his knives, using it to stab Jordan through the foot and cut through his restraints. Dexter kept a knife about his person as a plan B? Jordan didn't think to search Dexter for weapons before he tied him up? It was all too convenient and made Jordan appear very stupid, which he arguably is.

He was hardly a criminal mastermind, as I don't even understand what Jordan's plan was in this episode. He kidnapped Lumen to draw Dexter into his web, to kill them both as revenge for their dismantling of his "rape club", but that's very short-sighted. Success doesn't get the cops off his back, so it might have been cleverer to use Lumen as leverage over Dexter, agreeing to spare her life if Dexter can sabotage the investigation into the "barrel girls". Even if that's impossible, he could at least have proposed it to Dexter over the phone. Instead, Jordan went into a meltdown, with Jonny Lee Miller apparently channeling Heath Ledger's Joker in the scene where he tried to frighten Lumen.

I don't blame Miller entirely; there was pulp potential in the idea of a wealthy self-help guru masterminding a den of rapist killers without getting his own hands dirty, but the writers never got a firm handle on the idea. I appreciated the moment Jordan tried to talk his way out of being stabbed by Lumen, as the writers suddenly remembered he's supposed to be a skilled orator and pop-psychologist, but more could have been achieved with that moment. It was an abrupt and limp ending for Jordan (who proved to be a white-collar idiot with a silly catchphrase), and the catharsis of Lumen killing someone was handled better in a similar scene with henchman Cole weeks ago.

I had hope that Jordan's quick demise meant that wasn't the episode's zenith, particularly when it almost immediately led to Debra discovering the abandoned summer camp and approaching Jordan's lair, alone, unaware that her brother and his "tenant" are packing away their tools after killing Jordan. The show regularly plays with the idea of Debra discovering Dexter's true nature, as it's something the audience has been teased with from season 1, but it's fast becoming a joke now.

The twist here was that Debra arrived in the basement, walking in on her once hypothetical vigilantes, who were fortuitously obscured behind a plastic sheet. The idea that Debra, affected by the plight of Jordan's thirteenth victim, would decide to bend her own code of conduct and give them an hour to escape, was certainly plausible and in-keeping with Debra's moral changes this year, together with her history as the unwitting girlfriend of a murderer. It just seemed to be a little ridiculous she didn't want to see the vigilantes faces, and too much of a convenient way to avoid Debra discovering the truth. It was one step away from Debra actually witnessing Jordan's death via shadow play.

I understand and accept that letting Debra know her brother's a serial-killer is a bold move you can't reverse, and potentially disastrous given the format of the show, but that was actually avoidable here. Debra could have discovered Lumen's "number thirteen" and has been getting help from her own brother, as that only implicates him with the Jordan Chase situation. If that happened, she'd have even more of a reason to let the vigilantes go, as her brother's one of them, and it would have been fascinating to watch Debra and Dexter debate everything afterwards. Dexter could have essentially told the truth, confined to this season's events, that he agreed to help Lumen kill her rapists because he wanted to atone for his inability to save Rita from another predator. I think it's totally credible Debra would accept what her brother's done (kill a gang of bad guys at the behest of a victim she sympathizes with, too), which would have been a part-reveal to lay a foundation to Dexter's bigger reveal that he's a full-blown serial-killer one day. Or maybe you disagree? The writers certainly do.

The situation with Quinn coming under suspicion of killing Liddy felt rather flat, strangely. However, the denouement reveal that Dexter tested the blood on Quinn's shoe but lied about its origin was an interesting development. It seems that Dexter did it so Debra can perhaps be happy with Quinn, but also to protect Quinn from being jailed for a crime Dex knows he didn’t commit. What's good is that Quinn knows the blood was Liddy's, so he therefore knows Dex covered his back, but does he suspect why? I mean, assuming Quinn doesn't think Dex killed Liddy, then he knows Dex is someone who let a murderer avoid jail, just so he could continue to date his own sister and make her happy. Isn't that MORE suspicious?

Since she learned Dexter's secret, the fate of Lumen was one of season 5's key questions. Usually, people who know Dexter's secret end up dead, but Lumen wasn't a danger to Dex with that information, so it felt likely she'd be killed by Jordan or perhaps Debra. Either that, or escape unharmed, which is exactly what happened. As annoying as it still was, I can accept the fact Lumen's "dark passenger" was exorcised the moment her knife went into Jordan's heart, and that she'd want to put all that behind her now. So she didn't love Dexter, she was just enthralled and comforted by him, otherwise she'd have stayed and become the perfect cover for his vigilantism. No wonder Dex felt a little used, throwing that plate against a kitchen cupboard in a rare outburst of anger.

Overall, season 5 resolved itself in 12 episodes and didn't offer a cliffhanger or notable change to character dynamics. The storylines were self-contained, meaning season 6 can start with a relatively clean sheet, having dealt with Dexter's grief (however inconsistently). There's a chance Quinn will start to question Liddy's inexplicable murder, Deb's morals will probably turn greyer, and the writers will have to find another way to keep Dexter's kids out of the picture. The trouble is, given how season 5 was of blotchy quality and, beyond a few strong ideas (a gang of villains, Lumen), mostly hamstrung by the show's self-made formula, I'm just not that excited by the prospect of a sixth season. Maybe we'll get another John Lithgow-quality villain for Dex to contend with, which could be fun, but there's nothing left to Dexter's premise that really gets my blood pumping beyond (a) Debra realizing her brother's a killer and (b) Dex being exposed, caught, killed, or jailed.

And none of that's likely to happen until Showtime decide to pull the plug on Dexter, giving the writers enough time to build a suitable final season, which isn't going to happen until the ratings dip disastrously or Michael C. Hall makes a judgement call and only agrees to return past his contracted sixth season if the show's given an end-date to work towards. It's a luxury given to very few shows, but one I hope Showtime extends Dexter's way, before a truly abysmal season kills the show dead.

  • Lumen is the only person who knows Dexter's secret and is alive, so the door's open for her to return. Do you think that's likely, if Julia Stiles is open to it?
  • Why didn't Debra mention the fact Rudy was Dexter's brother? Is this nugget of information she discovered in season 4 being ignored? It felt like the writers avoided it, when it could have been a nice reminder that Debra made that discovery last year.
  • Is Quinn suspicious that Liddy was killed? Can't the cops get access to Liddy or Quinn's calls? Doesn't anyone notice Liddy's surveillance equipment was checked out by "Quinn"? Has anyone searched the vicinity of Liddy's van, because there's a laptop condemning Dexter in the water close by.
WRITERS: Chip Johannessen & Manny Coto
DIRECTOR: Steve Shill
TRANSMISSION: 12 December 2010, Showtime, 9/8c