“Dex Takes a Holiday”
October 18th, 2009
After missing one episode while I was in New York, and having another one delayed by a DVR failure, I’ve finally caught up with Dexter’s fourth season. Ultimately, both episodes were an improvement over the premiere, although they suffered from similar problems. The show’s decision to place Dexter into the suburbs and into a family life has made for an odd shift in tone. In some ways, it’s a return to first season storylines, with Harry Morgan recurring to remind Dexter that he’s deranged and that he can’t truly have a family. However, the show spent two seasons largely ignoring that story, and something about the way the show played them in a comic light early on has robbed the show of some of its teeth. Just as we see a legitimately intriguing new serial killer who creeps us out, Dexter’s storylines have felt like bad thrillers (the vandal scenario) by comparison.
What “Dex Takes a Holiday” does better is to marry Dexter’s predicament with less of an awkward identity crisis and more of a profound identity crisis – whereas consequences before have been a teenage girl thinking Dexter is being lame, and for Dexter’s suburban dream to suddenly turn into something less than Cleaver-esque, this week posed a far more extreme question in a direct fashion which lacked in subtlety but connected thematically. The episode had its problems, but by literally shipping off Rita and letting Dexter act burdened by inner emotions and not halogen flood lights it really brings into stark contrast the potential of this character.
The problem is that it required sending the family away, a luxury that not every episode will have, and a factor which even an intriguing twist at episode’s end can’t exactly overcome.
That conclusion, no doubt the buzzworthy aspect of the episode, shouldn’t overwhelm what was a really intriguing episode. If we take the show as a sort of procedural, the show is far more interesting when it’s showing how a serial killer deals with a particularly intriguing kill than how that killer contains his urges in a suburban environment. It isn’t that the latter isn’t valid, but it just doesn’t contain enough dramatic potential when Dexter doesn’t get to stand over his victim as they lie in the bedroom that they killed their daughter in. The confrontation with Zoey (Christina Cox) was something that played the traditional procedural role of a case reflecting on the show’s protagonist, but after a few weeks of an indirect and low impact approach to the theme of Dexter being unable to balance his secret life and his family it was nice to see it all come to the surface.
The best scene in the entire episode was Dexter and Zoey’s confrontation in the men’s room, as she pulls a gun on him (which he had calculated, in an effort to force her into being the aggressor) and they start a tete-a-tete on how different scenarios would be read by the law or by a crime scene analyst. It was a stylized scene, one which on a different show (Six Feet Under, perhaps) would have resulted in them having sex considering the tension involved, but it really drove home the point that the storyline paired off two very different types of monsters. Yes, it’s a bit on the nose for Dexter to hunt down someone who killed her own family because she felt like she was unable to breathe, screaming too loudly “Hey, look, that’s what Dexter has been experiencing all season!” However, the show had to deal with it eventually, and I thought that doing it head-on helped increase the impact of the events in question. Michael C. Hall is rarely better in this role than when he’s standing over a victim, and I thought the scenes with him discovering how much losing his family meant to him was his best work in Season 4 to date.
Even the rest of the episode, with Dexter free to spend time outside of the home environment, was elevated to some degree. I’ve found the LaGuerta/Batista love affair stuff kind of uninteresting so far, and while it didn’t suddenly become compelling here it at least became relevant as both of them go to Dexter for advice and decide that he’s playing the role of husband and father well enough to be capable of offering relationship wisdom. The show is infinitely better when it feels as if Dexter is connected to its various parts, and here only Deb and Lundy’s storyline (which I’ll get to in a moment) was left to stand on its own, and it probably deserved to. This was the first episode this season where I legitimately felt as if we were watching a show about a serial killer, and not just an emotionally distant father.
However, we have to remember that the show only felt this way because it so conveniently sent Rita and three children alone to a wedding. While I buy Rita taking all of the kids in order to give Dexter a break (as he seems to have explained the whole light smashing incident through sleep depravation and the like), I think it’s a cheat and the show can’t keep doing it. While you could argue they still played a major presence in the episode, that presence returned Dexter to his internalized roots. The idea of Dexter’s real battle being inside rather than out is important to the character, but I find it doesn’t come out as often when Rita and the kids seem to dominate the proceedings. I hate to be so cruel as to compare this show to The Wire, but it would be as if we saw McNulty’s home life in every single episode: we know it’s there because of small moments, not constant presence, and the character was better off for it. The show wasn’t overly subtle here, but it let Dexter sort it out on his own through an intriguing storyline, something that it has yet to do with him living in the suburbs, and that it might not be able to do again in the future with the procedural-like “kill/solve” storylines.
Ultimately, “Dex Takes a Holiday” will get more attention for how it handles serialized elements rather than procedural ones, as we get another view into the psyche of the Trinity Killer, a tense confrontation between the hunter and the hunted, and a final moment that finally brings everything together. The amount of time the season has been spending on the vacation murders has seemed strange to this point, serving as a decent logical distraction from Trinity to keep Lundy’s investigation from taking over the department but never really amounting to much. Here, however, we get our connection as gunshots fly in a parking lot as Deb goes down with a shot to the abdomen, and a clad-in-black figure grabs money (or keys) out of Frank Lundy’s pocket as he lies prone on the pavement.
On the one hand, it seems logical that this was Trinity cleaning up his tracks, knowing that Lundy would consider him a person of interest considering their altercation in the parking structure. It isn’t entirely clear just that Trinity was trying to accomplish there, but I love that uncertainty: he could had easily walked past Lundy with no problem, but he chose to confront him and create that sense of uncertainty. I wonder if it’s not similar to what Dexter did with Zoey, luring him into a false sense of control before then staging the shooting and playing into the vacation murder stereotype in an effort to throw everyone off the track. That’s an intriguing but uncertain notion, as Trinity’s mind is still a blank slate, especially as we see him reenact what looks like the first part of a larger story (which connects to Dexter and Zoey’s affinity for telling their own stories with crime scenes, like Dexter making it look as if she fled) at the bar. We expect him to kill in that moment, but he is simply setting the stage, and perhaps taking care of Lundy was another step in that process.
On the other hand, it could actually be just another Vacation murder, a rich white guy and his young girlfriend out at night and likely worth some sort of cash. Now, if the Vacation murderers were smart, killing Lundy is stupid: he’s distracting the police from hunting him down, so killing someone so high-profile makes no sense. However, since we aren’t in their heads even as much as we are in Lundy’s, it’s created a first for Dexter this season: a question I really want to see answered. I want to know how it is Lundy came to be shot, and whether it’s a random happenstance (which throws everything into disarray for both the audience and the characters) or a calculated measure (which makes things clearer for us but more confusing for the characters) I think it’s a good launching point for the season.
And yet, just as every episode can’t have Rita and the kids off at some wedding, not every episode will raise such questions, and we see next week if the show can live up to this one.
- Seeing Dexter actually actively plot out a kill was good to see, especially after the premiere made him out to be too much of a straight vigilante: I like when Dexter has a bit more of an edge to things, so a fellow cop in a similar position to his own made things more interesting from a character perspective and not just in terms of situation (being overtired, for example).
- While I liked the episode overall, I wish that the dialogue from Zoey in the kill scene hadn’t been so on the nose. Actually asking “What kind of father would do this?” was just too leading, and I would have liked to see Dexter more in control of that conversation and perhaps stumbling upon his revelations himself.
- I knew there was a twist going into this episode, and part of me was expecting it to be the leaky faucet at the apartment turning into a flood. I guess it’s going to turn into a ticking time bomb (or, you know, a leaking faucet) that turns into a water usage issue and leads to Rita finding out about the apartment…which is already boring me.
- From the previous two episodes: Masuka’s car was amazing, the Trinity scenes remain really compelling, and I’m very glad that the Deb/Anton/Lundy triangle has taken an interesting turn because it was going nowhere fast before.
- As for Quinn being a “Dirty” cop, and his reporter girlfriend, there’s a connection between its low screen time in this episode and its quality.