December 6th, 2009
“Who are any of us, really?”
There’s a requisite scene or two in “Hello, Dexter Morgan” where Dexter stands in front of a four-part mirror discussing his fragmented self or sits in his storage container chatting with his conscience in the form of his dead father. In these scenes, the show taps into something within Dexter Morgan that serves as the very basis for this character study, and I consider myself legitimately interested.
Except that, in this the show’s fourth season, those scenes have been completely ineffective, to the point where I consider them a parody of what the show once was. Lines like the above used to have some legitimate weight in this show’s universe, but the theme has been dragged through the muck so many times that it has lost all meaning. Michael C. Hall has never stopped capturing the inner torment of Dexter Morgan, but the show is so insistent on surrounding that with absolute chaos in an effort to “excite” the audience that moments of contemplation feel like exposition as opposed to inquisition.
What makes “Hello, Dexter Morgan” work as an hour of television is that in a collection of scenes it manages to capture at least one character in an new light, finding Jennifer Carpenter doing some of her stronger work on the show to date. If you were to isolate her scenes, you’d have a bang-up Emmy tape – unfortunately, you’d also have a non-representative statement of where the show is truly headed right now.
John Lithgow and Michael C. Hall are both great actors, and their cat and mouse game all season has been a definite highlight. However, while the final scene (from which the episode gets its title) is sharp and momentous in the way Dexter wants to be, the rest of the episode is a series of ill-developed shortcuts that failed to hold up for me. Where once their interactions had a wonderful subtext of Dexter (and we as an audience) trying to decipher this complex character, this episode was doing precisely the opposite (with Arthur trying to decipher who “Kyle Butler” is). And while it might be more exciting for the show to have Arthur kill a random person by that name and stalk his way around the city, what would be far more interesting is if the show used this to say something about Dexter’s character.
All it told us, though, is that Dexter isn’t paying any attention. Sepinwall went so far as to argue the show made him out to be as stupid as Peter Petrelli, and I don’t think he’s far off. How did Dexter plan to nab Arthur in a public location like the Arcade? And more importantly, why didn’t he make sure not he wasn’t followed when he left the Arcade, considering that Arthur could easily have been there? If he believed Arthur to be on the lookout for a new victim for his fourth kill, then why wouldn’t he find Arthur’s vehicle in the parking lot and wait there? There’s all sorts of logical scenarios that the show leapt past in favour of setting up that final scene, which is stylistic but requires a whole lot of television license (especially Arthur so easily able to access Homicide’s war room).
There was a point where Dexter was, in many ways, the part of the show that offers compartmentalized stories that offered a glimpse deeper into his character. The show’s excitement came from Deb and the Ice Truck Killer in the first season, the idea that Dexter’s world beyond his killing (albeit necessarily related to it) was what was falling apart around him. Now, however, Dexter’s killings have become nothing but plot advancement: here, the show stops for a heartbeat so Dexter can ponder yet another innocent body on his conscience (they’re piling up now!), and then he just moves on because the plot needs him to move on. There’s no time for Dexter to stop and think when he’s caught up in the chaos of it all, which is why for me the end of the season is actually far less compelling: the excitement is there, but it’s so inherently shallow compared to where the show has been that I’m just not interested.
And yet I’m fascinated with how Deb, who for three seasons was the show’s excuse to connect the yearly serial killer with Dexter, has become a far more interesting character in the context of this season, especially now at the end when Dexter and Arthur are caught up in plot. Jennifer Carpenter has been doing fine work all season, but her collection of scenes here are really solid, and demonstrate a keen understanding of the roots of this character that some of her past storylines (in fact, all of them) have ignored in favour of drawing her as a damsel in distress or a boring romantic interest. It may be convenient, but having Christine be a Daddy’s girl who never got the attention she wanted and made a mistake protecting him is a path that Deb might have eventually gone down, and this feels like the sort of experience that would drive Deb back into her father’s files. It’s a series of scenes that builds her character, plays into the show’s mythology, and feels like a legitimate launching pad for her. That’s what this show can do really well when it narrows in on something.
But right now, moments like that are few and far between: a story like Dexter learning how to be jealous for the sake of saving his marriage, could have been an episode in its own right if it was played earlier in the season, but instead it’s a wasted footnote. There’s a story to be told there of Dexter struggling to rationalize Elliot’s crime, wondering if it’s a sign of deeper insecurities that could justify a blood slide and trying to piece together how to respond (the punch worked) in a way that’s not going to create long-term ramifications. But instead, Dexter’s just like any other husband who’s distracted in his marriage and facing a challenge like this for the first time, and the show continues to waste the potential that exists in following this character’s journey in directions other than enacting judgment on Miami’s shockingly long list of serial killers.
Next week’s finale promising to be shocking and exciting, and I have no doubt it will be both of those things: however, whether or not it will be interesting is very much up in the air.
- Still struggling to find the point behind Angel/Maria’s relationship, other than the obvious (giving them something to do). The best I can tell, their quickie marriage ties in with early season theme of Dexter discovering the sham of marriage and its inability to “solve” anything, but that’s been so minor and undeveloped that it’s a mighty big stretch. As such, one of them is going to have to die in the finale.
- Final scene proves what we already knew: John Lithgow is very, very tall.
- Not sure why the show tried to develop Quinn as the new Doakes only to have it pop up in a couple of small moments here (like when he questions where Dexter goes all the time, and Deb chalks it up to his girlfriend being under questioning). If they’re really going to go back to the Doakes well, save it for a final season, and give us a better character than Quinn.