Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Review: DEXTER, 8.1 – 'A Beautiful Day'

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

written by Scott Buck | directed by Keith Gordon

Dexter's back for its final season, earlier than usual in the year. I hope this means it will maintain the momentum of season 7, which provided fans with a a satisfying comeback following two weak years—where the show fell victim to its inability to shake up the status quo. It's still hesitant to do anything outstandingly brave on a weekly basis (or just have the common sense to kill dead weight characters), but last season's decision to have Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) discover her brother Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) a prodigious serial killer was a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, this premiere episode didn't have anything as gripping to tangle with, which made the majority of events feel 'business-as-usual', although things improved and the hour ended on a high.

It's six months since Debra shot her boss dead in a shipping container, rather than LaGuerta's would-be killer Dexter, in a clear choice between family and morals. And while Dexter's low empathy has allowed him to move on, finding life without LaGuerta an improvement (um, why should it?), poor Debra has taken everything very badly. Suspiciously badly, you might say, but the detectives of the Miami Metro Police Department aren't the sharpest tools in the kill bag. Debra never got on with LaGuerta professionally and they didn't mix socially, and yet nobody's raising an eyebrow over the fact LaGuerta's own ex-husband's taken the news better than a work colleague? Angel (David Zayas) is grumbling about his ex's memorial bench, but Debra's resigned from her job to join a group of private investigators! Worse than that, as we later discover, Deb's punishing herself for getting away with murder by sleeping around with the scumbag robber she's been tasked with capturing, and has developed a drug addiction.

Dexter has always had a big problem with the many characters circling Dexter and Debra, who are ultimately the only two worth a damn. The writers have combated this by ensuring every season brings in a handful of guest-stars to enliven the episodes—in the form of key villains or love-interests, usually—and this is again true of season 8. This year we're getting serial killer expert and best-selling author Evelyne Vogel (Charlotte Ramplings); a neuroscientist awkwardly described as a "psychopath whisperer". She's in Miami to help police with the city's latest nutjob, who likes to chop his victim's skulls in half and scoop out the portion of the brain that enables feelings of empathy. More importantly, as becomes crystal clear in this premiere's last scene, Evelyn's aware Dexter's a serial killer and has knowledge of Harry's Code. My guess is she helped Dexter's father create the Code to keep his son's homicidal urges focused... even useful, one might argue.

The possibilities of Evelyn Vogel are huge, especially as the season has wasted no time in revealing her secret. She's most likely the person who "created" Dexter, which retroactively releases the show from the prison of Dex's imaginary father Harry (James Remar)—a problematic character who's essentially just one side of Dexter's psyche arguing with the other. If Evelyn is more accurately the person who gave Dexter the purpose he's been serving all his life, it will be fascinating to see him interact with a "mother" who's very much alive and real. But given her occupation as a serial killer catcher, is Evelyn a supporter of Dexter's crimes? Does she see value in vigilantism? Or is she back in town to put an end to the quiet psycho she helped create all those decades ago? And was she romantically involved with Harry, if she'd do something as extraordinary as teach him how to give his crazy son a moral code to stick to?

Aside from the introduction of Evelyn, this premiere wasn't much to get excited about. The 'brain surgeon' killer isn't interesting yet, and it remains abundantly clear that characters like Quinn (Desmond Harrington) are just a hindrance. Dexter's overworked babysitter Jamie (Aimee Garcia) is now having sex with Quinn, as foreshadowed by their cosiness in last year's finale, but it just feels like a way to give two useless characters something to do... and for us to see some boobs again. At least the writers referenced the fact Jamie's almost single-handedly raised Dexter's son Harrison all these years, leading to an interesting sequence where Dex had to take his young son into a dangerous situation. It's also nice to see they've updated the actor playing Harrison (Jadon Wells); perhaps because they'll need some kind of performance from that actor in the finale when Dexter's ultimate fate is revealed? Killed, jailed, or escaped to kill another day? Place your bets!

Carpenter and Hall were both very good in this premiere; especially the latter, who has benefited the most from the past two seasons and the changes it has brought to Debra. It's now infuriating to realise the writers wilfully kept Debra in a pathetic holding pattern for six years, when these are the performances she could have been giving us as early as season 4 or 5. She's great here, even if Deb's meltdown and withdrawal from society is something of a cliché, and I enjoyed Dex's realisation that he's the one who's "lost" and can't cope without dependable Deb as his rock.

Overall, "A Beautiful Day" wasn't close to as good as I was hoping for, perhaps because the six-month time-jump cheated us of so many dramatic moments I was keen to see. There's also a very real possibility Evelyn Vogel's character will damage the show's neat back-story, which is something that appalled me about Scream 3. There's a history of film sagas and long-running TV shows trying to re-write history in their final chapters, to make audience see past events in a different light, and it's a risky business. That said, it did strike me as weird that an esteemed law-man like Harry would do something as bizarre as create an ethical code for an adopted child suffering psychological trauma. So maybe the introduction of Evelyn Vogel will smooth some rough edges we'd forgotten existed...

30 June 2013 | Showtime