written by Scott Buck / directed by John Dahl
It makes a change to feel passionate about Dexter again, following a two-year dip in quality that made the show languid, repetitive, and stupid. The fifth season has its acolytes, but most agree the sixth was a creative backwater (let's not even discuss the mid-year twist everyone saw coming, or Deb realising she fancies her adopted brother). It felt like even the writers realised something had to be done to reinvigorate the series, so last year's finale had serial killer Dexter (Michael C. Hall) being caught red-handed by his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), and since then Showtime have semi-officially confirmed the series will end in two years. I was reluctant to get excited by the possibilities opened up by the previous finale, but "Are You..?" earned my respect by refusing to back-pedal.
It remains unfortunate that the writers never found a way for Debra to deduce that her brother's a serial killer, given that she's supposed to be a brilliant detective, but at least this premiere tried to compensate by having Deb analyse the oddities of Dexter's lifestyle and past: the fact the Ice Truck Killer (his biological brother) used the same plastic wrap ritual on her, the weirdness of Dex being so prepared to kill at the church (not to mention equable enough to dispose of the evidence in a fire with her help), and realising from her nephew's babysitter that her brother's regularly working past midnight without her knowledge. It was hardly sleuthing worthy of Colombo, but knowing the writers have previously done everything they can to maintain status quo, it was good to watch Deb on the case. The final scene, of Dexter arriving home to find his sister sitting with a table of incriminating evidence (his knives, his trophies), was a game-changing moment for the show that deserves that descriptor... and one that will hopefully trigger a final two seasons with Dexter as a dangerous and unpredictable TV series again.
Beyond the situation with Deb and Dex, most of the episode was devoid of weak subplots that regular infect this show. Dexter has always struggled to make its non-protagonist storylines involving, but there were a few interesting set-ups here. Miami Metro intern Louis (Josh Cooke), whom we know has a macabre obsession with serial killers, is rapidly making an enemy of Dexter and could be a dangerous person to annoy; Mike Anderson (Billy Brown) was shot dead by a Ukrainian hitman after discovering a body in the man's trunk one night (a shame to lose that character, as one of the few intelligent detectives); and LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez) discovered one of Dexter's blood slides at the church crime scene, which she'll no doubt use to realise the Bay Harbor Butcher is back—and Sgt Doakes, whom Dexter pinned his crimes on back in season 2, can finally be posthumously pardoned (which I'm oddly pleased about).
Overall, "Are You..?" delivered what I was hoping for with this premiere, by refusing to put the genie back in the bottle. Debra knows her brother's a serial killer because he's admitted it, and I assume she'll spend most of this season struggling to reconcile her feelings. As a cop, duty says her brother must go to jail for his many crimes, but it's also been foreshadowed that Deb might sympathise with vigilantism (like father like daughter?) If Dexter tells his sister the whole truth, including the fact their father Harry (James Remar) basically condoned what he's been doing, maybe that'll be enough for Deb to reconsider her position. Of course, knowing we have a guaranteed two seasons left to run, it does seem likely Deb will ultimately join forces with Dexter and maybe assist him further down the line. Unless they have another shock planned for us and Deb will find herself on Dexter's table come the finale? Or is that a step too far?
Doesn't it feel good to be so unsure of what Dexter's going to pull next? Unpredictability is such an undervalued ingredient of US drama. I just hope the writers don't lose the courage of their convictions this time, because season 5's premiere was of a similar high-standard, but didn't exemplify what followed.
- The flashback to a young Deb being denied a puppy by her father, who claimed her brother's allergic to pets but actually fears he'll kill it, was amusing to watch. It wasn't a particularly necessary part of the story (the show increasingly struggles to justify Morgan family flashbacks and Harry's Ghost), but it had its moments.
- At the end of last season, we saw Louis anonymously send Dexter the Ice Truck Killer's trophy arm through the post. I take it that was the arm we saw Debra with at the end, meaning Dexter received it? If so, wasn't he disconcerted by that delivery? I'm a little confused.