Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Review: DEXTER, 6.1 - "Those Kinds Of Things"

Tuesday, 4 October 2011
written by Scott Buck / directed by John Dahl
starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Colin Hanks, Edward James Olmos,
David Zayas, C.S Lee, James Remar, Lauren Vélez & Desmond Harrington

Dexter returns for a sixth season of morally-ambiguous slaughter, and it's easy to feel the show's close to hitting a creative brick wall (if it hasn't already). It's clear that tolerances vary with this show, as I know fans who genuinely thought season 5 was tremendous (and not just a mix of reconstituted ideas), but I think everyone has to wonder how much longer Showtime will let their #1 show continue. The dilemma for them is simple: Dexter still pulls in incredible ratings, so there's really no financial reason to pull the plug, even if it's clear the show's creatively close to running on fumes. I've said it many times before, but I think Dexter only has one genuinely unmissable storyline up its sleeve: the indisputable exposure of forensic analyst Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) as a serial-killer, and the gripping way that reveal will affect his friends and family. Until then, this season's big idea is spirituality and religion...

What struck me about this premiere was how funny it was. Dexter's always enjoyed a dark humour, but "Those Kinds Of Things" came worryingly close to a serial-killer sitcom. Most notably, sequences with Dexter attending his high school reunion (intending to kill the erstwhile jock for killing his wife) were full of comedic and moments: "U Can't Touch" this interrupting Dex as he tried to get a pin-prick of blood from an intended victim with a handshake, which led to him being dragged off to dance to M.C Hammer '90s hit; a Ned Ryerson-style irritant pestering Dex about their schooldays; Dex getting a blowjob from a former Prom Queen who can't believe he's grown into such a handsome man, imaginary ghost-dad Harry (James Remar) cheering for Dex during a football game from the sidelines, etc.

It was entertaining to see Dexter in this unusual context, giving us a few insights into his adolescent life (he was a whizz at dissecting animals in biology class), but it also reminded me how far the show's slipped from its chilling first two seasons. It's part of the show's curse that its lead character can't help getting appreciably more funny and likeable, as we're so desensitized to Dexter's acts and the twisted morals behind them. In some ways Dexter Morgan's fallen prey to the same problem that Freddy Krueger encountered in the '80s, and it perhaps won't be long before he's delivering one-liners as he injects bad guys in the neck.

I'm not very excited by any of this season's (very mild) shake-ups, either. Masuka (C.S Lee) now has a group of forensic students following him around like geeky ducklings (including a Hurley-from-Lost lookalike and Heroes' Brea Grant), which doesn't seem to add much beyond some more comedy. Seemingly bored of having to write tedious romantic scenarios for Angel (David Zayas) every season, the writers have now divorced him and given him a sister he's uncomfortable around in public because people might think they're lovers; LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez) has been promoted by blackmailing Captain Matthews (Geoffrey Pierson) with evidence of him sleeping with prostitutes; and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) is thinking about popping the question to Debra (Jennifer Carpenter). All changes that do very little to excite me about the season ahead.

More promising is the season's tackling of religion, which formed the theme of this episode to a mild extent. Firstly with Dexter having to choose a pre-school for son Harrison and being in two-minds about sending him somewhere with a Catholic background and nuns for teachers (as he was raised an atheist), which in turn made him worry about what values he'll be otherwise passing onto his child. And secondly with this year's villains: Professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos) and his student Travis Marshall (Colin Hanks), who spend this episode catching seven baby snakes to sew into a disemboweled fruit-seller. The religious crackpot is a staple of serial killer fiction, so it's rather surprising it's taken six seasons for Dexter to tackle some Bible-thumping oddballs with a "Book of Revelations" fixation. We haven't seen enough yet, but I'm hopeful that Battlestar Galactica's Olmos will be a good Big Bad for this year. I liked Gellar's father-son vibe with Travis, as they're perhaps a very warped look at what Dexter and Harrison's relationship could become in the future.

Overall, it's not that I strongly disliked "Those Kinds Of Things", but it wasn't a particularly strong start to the season. It was okay. It just irritated me that so much was almost entirely focused on concerns that feel specific to this one episode (the high school reunion), and it didn't spend much time on events or characters that will assumedly be the season's real focus. Given the extensive five-season recap that opened the episode, and the lightweight tone to many scenes, it was almost like this marks a new start for the show and it's adjusting to be more of a black comedy. (Case in point: Dexter killing two paramedics using their own defibrillators, hahaha) If true, I'm not so keen on that. The show always had its gallows humour (mainly with Dexter's wry voiceovers), but it was never too prominent. I hope the remaining episodes get back to making the show scary again, as best it can given the difficulties inherent with keeping the show's premise raw and uncompromising.

What did you think? Are you happy or worried about the sixth season, based on this premiere?


  • This premiere was Dexter's most successful yet, with an impressive 2.2 million watching live. This number rises to 2.8m when you include its repeat and the online/on-demand audiences.
  • I noticed a few soundtrack changes which weren't very good. The show's original music by Daniel Licht is fantastic, and he's been recycling most of its cues for five seasons, so it's about time it got refreshed. But was Licht behind these new tracks? They didn't sound very Dexter-y to me.
  • Any early theories about things relating to this episode? Is Angel's sister going to be killed, or discover Dexter's secret? Will Matthews get revenge on LaGuerta? Will Deb and Quinn get married? Who was that gunman in the restaurant, who just appeared from nowhere and started shooting? What is Gellar hoping to achieve?
  • Has Dexter's methodology changed somewhat? The paramedics weren't killed in a conventional way, and no plastic wrap was used in the ambulance. Are the writers shaking things up because they're bored of the usual kill rooms?
2 October 2011 / Showtime