TV Review: Dexter 7.10, “The Dark…Whatever”

Dexter’s Dark Passenger has always made things too neat on Dexter. “It’s okay that he’s killed scores of people, they were bad – he has a code!” Alright, kids. But what about the adults who want to watch a character whom isn’t so morally clean cut?

Joseph Kratzer

Contributor

Rating: ★★★★☆

I’ve been a Dexter fan since its pilot. I’ve previously written about how powerful that episode’s first scene was in terms of establishing a strong protagonist capable of carrying some serious narrative weight. The series has had its ups and downs since then, but this seventh season in particular has brought the show from its lowest point to one of its highest ever. The question of how to compensate for the loss of Isaak Sirco in terms of pacing had been around after his incarceration midseason and has been brought up again much more pressingly since his death. While some viewers may be tired of seeing Dexter try to find love, after “Whatever” I’m fully convinced Hannah has earned her keep on the series as a character worth carrying an arc. Whereas Isaak drove much of the action of this season, much of his thematic heavy-lifting transferred a lot of weight from Deb to Hannah in terms of how love, from familial to romantic, influences one’s identity and the actions one may take in its service.

In his review of the last episode, “Helter Skelter”, at The A.V. Club, Joshua Alston posits that this season may, in light of Isaak’s departure, focus on Dexter finally “Feeling His Feelings” – finally letting the character fully recognize those emotions which he experiences as legitimate human feelings as opposed to the dull, watered down semblances of emotion he’s perceived himself as having his whole life. I believe this to have been an accurate prediction in that “Whatever” was entirely concerned with responsibility; the acceptance and ownership of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“Whatever” opened with Hannah genuinely trying to get to the bottom of Dexter’s Dark Passenger until she’s interrupted by a visit from her dirt bag father, played with just the right amount of hokey affection belying a selfish, toxic core by Jim Beaver of Deadwood, among other works. What follows is the same type of discussion that preceded the interruption – one of personal ethics, what has been a motif of the series since its beginning, but one which has only been touched on in spurts, never for an explicit, extended amount of time. But by contrasting the obviousness of the desire to remove Hannah’s father from this world with her inability to cross the boundary of patricide, the episode brings to the forefront the value of a personal code when it directly obscures a powerful self-interest.

Dexter experiences this conflict when he takes his aggression for Hannah’s father out on the Phantom Arsonist. I don’t think anyone watching the last couple episodes of Dexter felt any kind of optimism regarding this new element as it felt like an awkward “kill of the week” inserted to somehow replace Isaak Sirco as a persistent threat or activity to fill the void. As it turns out, this plot element (thankfully) wasn’t designed to distract Dexter into the finale, but rather function as the catalyst for Dexter recognizing his own desire to kill Hannah’s father, not the arsonist.

In realizing this, Dexter has essentially forgone his Dark Passenger entirely. While it seems this may have also gotten Ghost Harry axed (score!), abandoning such a key component of Dexter as a character is risky. Ever since Rita confronted Dexter about framing Paul for a parole violation via heroin use and sent him to Narcotics Anonymous, Dexter’s Dark Passenger has been likened to an addiction or at least something outside his control. This was touched on again in the first half of the sixth season through Dexter’s half-assed flirtation with religion. By reconciling this uncontrollable urge to kill with his own personal values and priorities, Dexter has hopefully at long last quelled the source of so much internal conflict by abandoning The Code.

Dexter is no longer a fractured self. He’s struggled with upholding The Code throughout the series, often making exceptions or bending the rules as he saw fit. This tension should no longer exist as Dexter has admitted to having fabricated the Dark Passenger and can now carry on as a more cohesive, confident mass murderer. The Code has long since been a bit of a joke. In casting off his adherence to his father’s rules for survival, Dexter has matured, albeit into a much more self-possessed and potentially less upstanding citizen.

But is that really a bad thing? Did we boo Dexter when he took out Nathan the pedophile from season three because he wasn’t technically a killer? The same applies to the Barrel Girl rapists. And what about the detective Quinn hired to shadow Dexter? Or the unlucky loudmouth who spoke ill of Rita while Dexter was in mourning in that dusty gas station? How about the motel clerk who tried extorting Dexter during his season six road trip to Nebraska? And just as he’s let slide Hannah’s adolescent discretions, so too did Dexter release the teenaged boy from the season one episode, “Popping Cherry”. Dexter’s played fast and loose with The Code for years and that’s because he’s outgrown it. The Code was designed to help him survive, but Dexter has pretty much graduated from survival as a serial killer and I’m glad the series has acknowledged this and is ready to move forward without the gimmick.

Dexter’s Dark Passenger has always made things too neat on Dexter. “It’s okay that he’s killed scores of people, they were bad – he has a code!” Alright, kids. But what about the adults who want to watch a character whom isn’t so morally clean cut? I’ve always wished the series would more directly confront the less gallant or traditionally heroic aspects of Dexter and deal with the fact that our protagonist enjoys chopping up people of whom he disapproves. By the way, apparently in the book series from which this show was originally adapted, Dexter straight tortures his victims – this is the type of Brett Easton Ellis weirdness I want in a series about a serial killer protagonist, something truly challenging and something that maybe the show will actually explore in its final season next year.

Which brings me to the rest of the episode. Deb’s more or less made peace with Dexter’s extracurricular activities and having finally expressed and had addressed her romantic feelings for Dexter, she’s determined to follow through with the new boundaries she’s created for her life in terms of duty to herself and to her job – which means doing whatever she can to make sure her brother’s new killer girlfriend gets locked up. Maybe “made peace” isn’t exactly the right phrase I should’ve used, but the final shot of “Whatever” cements Dexter’s last obstacle of the season – don’t get caught (again). And the thing is – I don’t think he’s going to get away with it.

If Deb nails Hannah like she hopes and LaGuerta and Matthews find cause to put real effort into confirming Dexter as the Bay Harbor Butcher instead of just talking about it all season, then season eight Dexter could very well find the killer on the run with no Code, no Passenger, no family, no love – just his survival instinct and a whole lot of frustration – what sounds to me like a very compelling final season. However, if Matthews and LaGuerta do become absolutely convinced of Dexter’s guilt, they’ll have to convince a bunch of judges and lawyers to reopen a notorious case based on circumstantial evidence (though it is a lot of circumstantial evidence). My point being, unless Dexter panics and flees – which is not out of the realm of possibility – LaGuerta will have to catch him in the act, right?

Meanwhile, it what has been a seemingly pointless filler plot, Quinn finally shot George dead and tried (probably successfully because we all know how awesome Showtime’s Miami Metro is at their jobs) to make it look like self-defense while also letting Nadia – the key witness and illegal alien – make off with a ton of the club’s cash. Angel lets this happen because he’s not one to hold Quinn accountable for anything and I’m saying it right now – if Angel doesn’t retire after clearly becoming dissatisfied with police work and opening his restaurant, you know, a real consequence to all the Angel and Quinn bullshit which has accumulated over the years, then I’m convinced the CBS spin-off sitcom Q&A will become reality.