There was a lot wrong with this episode, but there was also enough good to pull me through to the end. What I didn't like was just how clunky the story was, which is something Dexter as a whole suffers from. It doesn't have much finesse these days and the way each episode offloads exposition can be terrible—usually Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) internal monologues and his discussions with ghost Harry (James Remar). But then "Are We There Yet?" threw in a road trip discussion where Dexter filled Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) in on the season's events she wasn't present for, which also worked as verbal notes for lazy viewers. Is there a genuine belief at Showtime that Dexter's viewers just dip into the show occasionally, so need catch-up conversations between characters? It's a little exasperating to watch a show discuss itself so much, wasting time in the process, when it should be trusting its audience to keep up.
Some of the comedy this week was too on-the-nose for my taste, too. Dexter and Hannah behaving like surrogate parents to excitable Zach (Sam Underwood) strayed into silliness; especially because the character of Zach appears to be getting less mature as the episodes pass, and by this episode felt like he was a 12-year-old. Falling asleep in your car like a toddler after a hard day bludgeoning someone to death? Awww. Sitting in the back seat behind his surrogate mum and dad, asking "are we there yet?" Oh, bless. I can see the zany appeal of letting Dexter behave as the patriarch to a small family of sociopaths, even taking them home to meet his "mother" Dr Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), who made diner and sardonic quips about their Addams Family vibe, but it was a little overcooked for me.
Still, "Are We There Yet?" did throw up some interesting developments I wasn't expecting. It turns out overzealous Zach didn't kill Dex's neighbour Cassie, but was actually framed by the Brain Surgeon—who made a surprise return to remove Zach's own cranium and send a brain sample to Dr Vogel. I'm not shocked the Brain Surgeon story isn't over, because everyone picked up on the fact Yates didn't have the same m.o (making Dexter look very dumb), but it was nevertheless good to see that story resume. It's just weird how the writers keep trying to make us suspect Dr Vogel's the killer (she took Zach home after everyone else had left, so would have been able to kill him; the Mama Cass song "Make Your Own Kind of Music" was playing at Zach's murder scene, which Vogel has listened to previously). But I don't think she's the Surgeon (or has split-personality disorder); it's perhaps more likely that Mama Cass song was something Vogel always played during her treatments of the Brain Surgeon back when he was her patient.
At least this episode encourages some fun speculation, although I'm rarely convinced the writers of Dexter can deliver a robust explanation we'll be completely happy about. Maybe Vogel really is the killer (she was holding Zach's brain fragment at the end not as a recipient, but as the keeper of a trophy), because who else could it be that would make a better reveal for the show? Elway (Sean Patrick Flannery), the smarmiest man in Miami, who always appears to be seconds away from a full-on Popeye impression? I hope not.
Elsewhere, Deb's (Jennifer Carpenter) morals are decaying and she's now ready to accept Hannah back into her life—although it feels like the writers just need that to happen now, because it's almost impossible to continue the Dexter/Hannah romance if Deb's so against it. If they could undo the fact Hannah's a wanted criminal, they'd probably do that too, but it's a step too far. I continue to enjoy Hannah's presence on the show, however, although it doesn't feel completely necessary yet—more like a good way to involve someone who offers Dexter a happy ending (they both flee to Argentina and kill baddies together), or a sad ending (she exposes Dexter's secret and destroys Deb's life and career in the process). At least for that reason, she's a good character to have around because it's not obvious what the writers will do with her. It's 50/50, although I like to believe Dex and Hannah really are soul-mates. Hall and Strahovski sell their cutesy romantic scenes well, despite how poorly they can be written, and they please dual fan-bases with their occasional sex scenes.
Overall, I'm not ready to let myself get excited about where the final season could be headed again, because Dexter's the kind of show where next week could unravel a lot of the good work done here. Most episodes with a larger emphasis on Dexter Morgan's storyline are highlights of any season, so "Are We There Yet?" just about falls into that category—even if it contained a lot of stupid moments and bad dialogue.