TV’s favourite serial killer has been stalling a bit of late. Dexter uniquely is a series with a conclusion all its viewers already know – that Dexter will be found out. How it happens is the source of much suspense and intrigue, but its postponement through six seasons has dragged the series into a pretty uninspiring direction.
After all, it’s a show with a fairly high concept, and one that lends itself easily to formula. Right from the off, It could so easily have been a police procedural with a dark edge, with Dexter pursuing a new killer(s) each season, trying desperately to stay ahead of his police cohorts.
Early seasons seemed to rally against allowing the show to fall into this pattern: after Dexter’s parlay with the Ice Truck Killer in season 1, the following two seasons stayed mostly away from serial killing nemeses, pitting Dexter against more ordinary monsters, people so easily and willingly corrupted by the prospect of killing.
It wasn’t until the fourth season that Dexter found himself up against another serial murderer, that of the Trinity Killer, played by John Lithgow. It was a hard act to follow; it was the best season yet, and Lithgow was much and justly awarded for his performance.Things have been much slower since then, the following seasons serving up new killer enemies who were less engaging and leading to less revelations and explorations of our hero’s character. Even with a complicated character like Dexter, there’s only so much you can say or do with them.
But now, finally, the cat is out of the bag. Deborah (Jennifer Carpenter), Dexter’s foul-mouthed sister, knows. It’s as if the writers have let out a sigh of relief, suddenly the show can move forward again, and it does so with gusto.
Deborah’s not the first to discover Dexter’s secret (another factor against the show’s credible longevity) but unlike others, she has no sympathy or empathy with Dexter dark doings.
We’ve always liked Dexter, no matter how much he’s stretched his moral code, we’ve always identified with him as an outcast who presents a false face to the world, despite his darkness. But for the first time, we get to really see him from someone else’s perspective, and it’s not a nice picture.
That’s how season 7 plays out; it’s asking one fundamental question: just what makes Dexter different from the people he kills? For him, it’s the code that targets his urges only towards the guilty. But for Deborah, seeing him with his mementos and dangerous compulsive urges, he could just be another psychopath making excuses for their actions.
So this time around, there’s no single over-arching plot. Instead, the show plays out a variety of scenarios which test their relationship, effectively playing out the argument for and against from episode to episode.
Two larger storylines run through: the first pits Dexter against a mafia enforcer who doesn’t take kindly to Dexter disappearing one of his associates. Deborah’s horrified at how Dexter’s actions snowball into multiple killings, drawing others into the crossfire and compromising both their safety. But she also gets a chance to see Dexter as an avenger, someone who’ll do anything to protect her.
The other storyline, the more interesting of the two, sees Dexter become interested in another killer, apparently reformed. Hannah McKay (Yvonne Strahovski) was the kidnapped girlfriend of a serial killer, but escaped prosecution for being underage and claiming not to have been complicit in his crimes. But when Dexter finds out otherwise, and suspects further killings, he goes after her, only to become romantically entangled.
Unlike Deborah, Hannah accepts Dexter completely. She has killed to further her goals and accepts that Dexter also kills to meet his own needs. We’re left to feel ambivalent towards McKay, who, like Dexter, is attractive and pleasant on the outside but harbours secrets within. We get to see something of her painful past, see her with her guard down, but crucially, unlike Dexter, we’re never given access to her inner monologue.
She remains aloof, and is no doubt intended to give us the same impression that Dexter gives Deborah. Someone who is all surface, some one who habitually lies, and no matter how much we might like them, we know ultimately cannot be trusted. As the season progresses Dexter is forced to make a choice between the two women he loves, one who accepts him as he is and another who might not be able to live with who he is.
Dexter does, of course, have a supporting cast, though their less showy, but reliable performances gets them little notice. The writers are clearly fond of Desmond Harrington’s Joey Quinn, a character who puts on a good show of street-savvy smarts but is desperately short-sighted . He hits a new low this series; like watching a car crash slowly, we both can and can’t believe he’s so stupid. Sadly, though, there’s still no good material for Masuka (C.S. Lee) or Batista (David Zayas).
One of the best things about Season 7 is that for the first in a long time, Dexter is starting to feel unexpected again. There’s a crucial moment at the series’ climax that honestly made me sit up straight and shout “f**k” – you really won’t see it coming.
That’s the power of taking the brakes off. In the last days anything and everything might or could happen. There are rumours that the show might go to a ninth series – let’s hope the writers don’t give in to studio pressure. The show has benefited so much from pressing ahead it would be a shame to spoil it by stalling again.