Dexter – “Dirty Harry”


“Dirty Harry”

October 25th, 2009

When “Dirty Harry” begins, the problems start before the episode even does. After the exciting finale to “Dex Takes a Holiday,” which was a strong episode which really connected with the qualities that make the show work and which ended on that cliffhanger of Deb and Lundy bleeding on the pavement, things seemed exciting in a way that the show was struggling with early on.

However, the lengthy “Previously on Dexter” sequence reminded us that the things that made that episode great were an exclusion (of Rita and the kids) and a shock (that won’t be recreated in the next episode), which means that “Dirty Harry” is immediately handicapped. And while there are some stories that seem legitimately compelling, those seem to be at a standstill while the “drama” comes from conflicts that are either entirely uninteresting or which feel like the sort of simple “Dexter meets Suburbia” type stories the show has been dealing with this season.

It proves once and for all that Dexter is a series best watched in extended bursts on DVD, because the hype is going to create expectations that this season isn’t able to live up to.

I want to make clear that Jennifer Carpenter does some amazing work in this episode as she rushes her way through an emotional breakdown following Frank Lundy’s death at the hands of an unknown individual. If this were a show that wanted to move at a slower pace, then Deb’s breakup with Anton would have been a single episode, and her breakdown at the site of the shooting would have been saved for a later episode. But there was something to be said in the sheer speed at which Deb broke down, refusing her pain meds and recovering physically while her emotional state fails in turn. Carpenter has been through similar arcs before, but her breakdown at the parking lot was powerful enough for me to look past the similarity to past storylines and acknowledge her pain.

However, that’s the only real note that really did much for me in this one. I actually felt that this week’s twist, that Trinity has a family of his own and lives in the suburbs, was the kind of plotting that I despise on this show. The idea that he and Dexter are “OMG TOTALLY THE SAME” is convenient to the point of contrivance, driving home just how much this season (not unlike last season) feels choreographed rather than unfolding in any sort of natural fashion. Michael C. Hall remains compelling, but I was kind of just looking forward to seeing Dexter try to get inside the head of a different serial killer, as opposed to realizing that the head he was getting inside was really his own. It’s one of those storylines that probably sounds really great on paper, but in practice it seems blindly philosophical in a way that does nothing for me no matter how well Michael C. Hall can sell it.

The episode also suffers through the overuse of Harry’s ghost, a tool that was intriguing when it made sense but that now seems kind of creepy. It’s one thing to have Dexter’s Dark Defender take physical form, and it’s one thing for Harry’s code to become part of his self-conscience to the point of visual representation. However, the ghost is neither a direct extension of the Dark Defender or a pure defender of the code, being used however an individual scene requires. It’s basically a constant foil so that the show isn’t just Michael C. Hall talking to himself, but the solution to that potential problem is relying less on expository dialogue, not just dividing it between two characters. Harry’s ghost might have proven a convenient excuse for Dexter keeping his apartment, but his value to the current storyline is not nearly as clear. I like James Remar, but the device already seems tired.

We’ve known ever since we found out Dexter kept the apartment that Rita would eventually find out, but I thought the episode did nothing with it. It was the kind of thing where it’s just played as a distraction from Dexter’s real work, and the episode’s efforts to connect it with Deb’s emotional moment was forced at best. I think Rita’s naivete about Dexter is starting to wear thin, which makes sense when we think about it logically, but dramatically I don’t think it improves the show in any way. In fact, Rita’s paranoia is actually by design a hindrance to the parts of the show that “Dex Takes a Holiday” represents, which actually makes it even more frustrating for us as viewers. The game of cat and mouse between two serial killers is hindered when there’s other games of cat and mouse which we know are far less important and yet which by design need to FEEL more important to create barriers for the interesting stuff.

The beginning of this episode implies that there will be chaos, but then the episode throws that all away: by having Lundy’s death quickly become a vacation murder in the eyes of the police, and then by having the Vacation murderer conveniently die, all of that chaos is gone by the time the hour ends. The chaos seems like it could have brought out some interesting shades in even the dullest of supporting storylines, but only Deb really felt the tension involved, and everyone else’s problems (like Batista’s imminent transfer, or Quinn’s sex with the reporter) were just as boring as they were before. They both felt like storylines out of an episode of 24, storylines that seem like pointless diversions that are only there to remind us that these people are human beings. However, what would have made them seem human is if they had been part of the chaos as opposed to cleaning it up so the season can keep cycling between cliffhangers.

“Dex Takes a Holiday” was about more than a cliffhanger, and the ending didn’t hurt; “Dirty Harry,” meanwhile, is a weak episode of the show to begin with, not only due to these problems but also because it was only repeating what we’ve seen before. Dexter didn’t discover anything new in Lundy’s notes that we didn’t already know, so we were sitting around waiting for him to discover what we already knew. The buzz about the final moment might be relevant, but all it does is reinforce story elements that to be honest I’ve felt have been overly present already this season, which makes me less than excited about what’s to come.

Cultural Observations

  • I’m curious to know if the scene of Trinity buying a hammer for the bludgeoning was, in fact, an intended homage to the opening scene of The Wire’s fourth season, an absolutely amazing sequence wherein Snoop purchases a powder-actuated nail gun. Just the other day my parents were researching tools and came on the term powder-actuated, and I was transported back to that hardware store. The comparison really took me out of the scene, which was probably creepier for those who didn’t see how much more subtle (and thus, more creepy) the Wire scene was in the end.
  • The Batista/LaGuerta stuff is reaching a breaking point for me. It has officially become a 24 storyline, especially with the edict that he needs the transfer order by Monday – in the world of 24, that would mean that it wouldn’t actually be dealt with during this season, but at least in this case something will have to happen with it (albeit with a 99% chance of being uninteresting).
  • Quinn’s reporter girlfriend is literally only there for her boobs, so forgive me if I don’t offer indepth analysis of her orgasm.

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