Tuesday, 11 October 2011

DEXTER, 6.2 - "Once Upon A Time..."

Tuesday, 11 October 2011
It doesn't help that Dexter's sixth season has overlapped with the tail end of Breaking Bad's exceptional fourth, or is partnered with the significantly fresher Homeland on Sunday nights. After the self-parodying premiere, "Once Upon A Time..." was just rather boring, with too much emphasis on the consistently underwhelming workplace politics of Miami Metro and Debra's (Jennifer Carpenter) irritating relationship with Quinn (Desmond Harrington). I feel for Dexter's writers, I really do. So little about the show works outside of its lead character's bloodthirsty behavior, and even Dexter Morgan's murderous activities have devolved into amusing shtick for the most part.

The writers are forced to try and find new things for the supporting cast to do every year, and it's rarely a success. Now we have dirty-minded Masuka (C.S Lee) teaching a buxom forensics intern (Brea Grant), while trying to avoid getting himself fired for sexual harassment; LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) is once again in conflict with Captain Matthews (Greg Pierson) because she blackmailed him for a promotion (uh, what did she expect would happen?); Quinn awkwardly proposed to Deb and was knocked back because she's scared of commitment; and Deb's restaurant heroism earned her an unlikely promotion to lieutenant over the more experienced Angel (David Zayas), who nevertheless gives her his blessing because... well, he's half teddy bear. I wish I could feel invested in any of the above, but for the most part the show's non-Dexter storyline are filler, or sometimes ways to tortuously bring a character into Dexter's story much further down the line.

The highlight of "Once Upon A Time..." was undoubtedly the introduction of Brother Sam (the artist formerly known as Mos Def), an ex-convict who narrowly escaped Dexter's kill table and now claims he's reformed after finding God in prison. Sam's even become the manager of an auto centre that employs ex-cons to help them reintegrate into society, and despite Dexter's skepticism it seems likely Sam's genuinely repented for his sins. Should Dexter kill someone for a crime they've been punished for, who now appears to be a force for good in the world? It's a new question for Dexter to chew on in voice-over, and that's becoming rarer than chicken teeth on this show, so I'm intrigued to see where they're going to take the Brother Sam character. Mos is a quietly captivating presence and could become a good friend for Dexter, especially if he learns Dex's secret and maybe tries to rehabilitate him, too...

In stark contrast, I'm struggling to form an attachment to the season's two villains; religious fruitcake Gellar (Edward James Olmos) and his young student Travis (Colin Hanks), who appear to have made a pact to spread their poisoned faith by killing people in ritualized ways. Gellar's enough of an influence that he persuades protégé Travis to turn his back on his own sister and fully commit to their cause, and I like the idea of this year's main antagonist being a brainwashed man who perhaps turned to Gellar's unconventional teachings after a tragic event in his family's past we've yet to hear about. It also crossed my mind that Gellar may not actually be a real person, based on how he hasn't interacted with anyone else but Travis, and is instead a combination of Dexter's symbolic "Dark Passenger" and his imaginary late-father Harry. Could Gellar be a figment of Travis's imagination, too? A psychological ghost form his past that's compelling him to commit these murders for bizarre religious reasons? That would make him an intriguing echo of Dexter's own psychoses, filtered through a religious mind.

Everything else was the usual Dexter drizzle of dark comedy (Dexter reads his son bedtime stories about monsters based on his pursuit of real-life killers), and Dexter realized he has to start keeping himself more private around Harrison because his son's already started reference "daddy's box" (referring to the blood slides Dexter must assumedly handle in his son's presence until now). Overall, it's still early days and the season is taking shape, but there's nothing here that really leaps off the screen and demands my attention. After six seasons, it's harder than ever for Dexter to surprise its audience—and, while this year's religious theme sounds promising in principle, I'm waiting for it to become anything more than a topic for Dexter to keep referring to and the thing a few new characters have in common. Hopefully the next few episodes will do a better job getting us interested in the storyline this year, as it all feels rather plodding and unwisely weighted on the characters at Miami Metro.

But yes, while Dexter is usually the only US cable series worth watching between September and December, it's now facing increased competition in these months (Homeland, American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, the upcoming Boss and Hell On Wheels). The show is obviously not as fresh as it once was, and the tang of excitement whenever there was a controversial kill room sequence has also faded. It's hard to see this show lasting another two seasons, as Showtime are angling for with Michael C. Hall's contract, unless they focus on resolving the show... or take it into uncharted waters by imposing big changes to the core premise, which is now beginning to fester.

How about you? Are you happy with season 6 at this very early stage, or do you suspect this is the year of a big backlash against a show way past its prime?

written by Tim Schlattman · directed by SJ Clarkson · 9 October 2011 · Showtime