November 15th, 2009
I spent part of last week finishing up the fifth season of Six Feet Under, which has long been half finished after a lengthy marathon session of the entire series just proved dire last summer, resulting in “Depressive Melodrama Burnout” (DMB, for short). Returning to that show was a reminder of just how amazing Michael C. Hall can be, and how in some ways I wish that Dexter could feel as…progressive as Six Feet Under often did. Say what you will about Alan Ball’s incessant refusal to allow his characters to be happy, but the sense of growth in David as a character (and, not to spoil anything, a late series regression) helped to provide a sense that the collective weight of the show was actually having an impact on his psyche.
Dexter, as a series, is like a masochistic, homicidal version of “Will it float?” where the writers throw various circumstances at Dexter to see whether it will mix with his existing psychotic personality. The argument the fourth season has been making thus far is that Dexter is not aware of how much his personality has actually changed, and the Trinity Killer is a sign that perhaps there is some secret switch that will help reconcile his new life in the suburbs with his murderous impulses (and actions). And, now into the show’s fourth season, the psychological experiment at the centre of the show is downright uninteresting to the point where last week’s violation of Harry’s code is about a season and a half behind the times: we’ve been waiting for Dexter to realize that the code is flawed, and develop his own, since the start of the third season, but the show is formulaic to the point where that would disrupt the flow of the story.
“Road Kill” works as an episode because it completely sidelines Dexter’s predictable responses in favour of the unpredictability of the Trinity Killer. To do so, of course, the show has to admit that the actual impact of killing a mostly innocent man is entirely counterproductive to the show’s intentions, instead heading to Tampa in order to delve into the psyche of a character that, in being new and interesting, the writers actually seem interested by. The rest of the episode isn’t nearly as interesting, but letting Hall and Lithgow go on a road trip together is a recipe for success, if limited by the show’s current focus.
I want to be clear that this episode didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know about Trinity, factually speaking. What it did was explain why his sister’s death, his mother’s suicide and his father’s eventual end are tied up in his own past. As Dexter points out, they are both born in blood, Dexter as an innocent toddler (scarring him to the point of corrupting his world view) and Trinity as an innocent pre-teen (who inadvertently causes his sister’s death, and who kills his father after he holds him accountable for his mother’s suicide). It’s the sort of connection that’s hokey if the storyline is actually about Dexter, but since I’m largely uninterested in what the show does with his character I thought it was a nice touch in terms of contextualizing Trinity.
The entire Tampa trip had this really interesting sense that Dexter, despite attempting to complete an ill-advised road kill (the only one we’ve seen, I think, outside of Lyla), wasn’t in control. It made for some really intriguing scenes where John Lithgow got to play Arthur as legitimately crazy, someone who we as the audience feel could go off the rails at any moment. We know that Dexter intends to kill Trinity, but we also know that Trinity could just as easily make a move to kill Dexter, as both are vulnerable in this situation. When we eventually learn that Arthur is far too messed up to be orchestrating a murder, having been driven to madness by both his return to his childhood environment and his sense that Dexter and his hunting accident offers a crutch of sorts, it creates that sort of uncertainty that used to be present on the show with Dexter, but has now become drowned out by his internal monologue and reserved for those orbiting our anti-hero.
The show looks like it could be heading in an exciting direction when we discover that Trinity is about to jump off a building to his death in his state of remorse, but of course that’s expecting too much. The episode played out almost like a short story of sorts, like an undercover cop spending time with a known serial killer and unknowingly appealing to the side of him that creates this sort of crazy adventure. Because of how good Lithgow is, and because Hall plays this role so well in this sort of supporting capacity, this storyline works as a standalone unit. However, because it does nothing to course correct a season that has me far more invested in a character who is doomed not to last the season, it’s not getting me any more excited about it being dragged out a bit longer.
As for the rest of the episode, I fast forwarded through all of the Batista/LaGuerta and Rita/Neighbour stuff – I presume that the two of them broke the table rekindling their forbidden romance, and that the latter flirted enough over wine to indicate that Rita has an escape strategy for her marriage with Dexter, but forgive me if I don’t care about any of it. I have similar feelings about Quinn’s reporter girlfriend, although I thought the Deb stuff was interesting in that it actually advanced the plot by informing us that Trinity did not, in fact, kill Lundy and Deb. This leaves a couple of theories circling around, which include Trinity’s son and Anton, theories which are about the only thing unpredictable about the season to this point. I think the show would be far more interesting, though, if it limited its number of terrible storylines and stuck to a combination of larger Dexter stories and linear secondary stories that could provide a sense of consistent achievement to make it feel as if they’re not just wasting time until something interesting happens.
- Dexter is currently at the point where I’m only watching episodes in their entirety when my Twitter followers indicate that it’s worth watching: I can’t take the boring placeholder episodes of the show right now, and if not for Lithgow/Hall I’m not sure I’d be watching at all. So, if I don’t review an episode here and there, don’t be shocked.
- Enjoyed the over-scientific explanation of the Meteorological Conference that got Dexter the excuse to go – Hall played the two scenes well, and I thought they had a nice levity to them.
- And I really don’t have anything left to say about this one.