TV Review: Dexter 7.9, “Helter Skelter”

Dexter admitting that he can’t allow himself to be close with Hannah because he can’t see a way in which to be one step ahead of her is a pretty significant breakthrough, one that would not have been reached were it not for Isaak’s heart-wrenching intervention.

Joseph Kratzer


[rating: 4.5]

Well, that was unexpected. Though I wasn’t sure how the writers would have kept Isaak and Dexter playing their cat and mouse games for another few episodes without it getting stale, I definitely did not think his plot would be more or less resolved by the end of the ninth episode of the season. It’s hard to imagine how Phil Bosso, the arson investigator who is most likely the phantom firebug killer, such a seemingly shallow and almost cartoonish killer in comparison to Isaak, will possibly serve as a necessary or suitable follow up to the fallen former Koshka leader.

Isaak will no doubt go down in the memories of Dexter fans as not only one of the best villains, but one of the best characters period. That is because, like much of the seventh season, Isaak, in addition to being ruthless and charismatic, was used efficiently and possessed real depth. He was gradually integrated into the fold and had a specific reason to go after Dexter. The writers wasted no time getting him and Dexter to square off in genuinely tense and exciting ways both physically and verbally, allowed them to gradually get to know each other, and most importantly, developed real motivations that both characters were eventually made aware of which allowed their dynamic to be relevant and compelling. Also, the parallels drawn between these two characters served as a meaningful reason for them to interact. Especially in “Helter Skelter” Isaak functioned not only as the prime mover of the very kick-ass assassination plot, but seamlessly acted as more of a mentor than Lila, Arthur, and Brother Sam combined.

Since coming to realize just how thoroughly destroyed Isaak is after having Viktor ripped from this world by Dexter, the audience (and Dexter) feel the weight of Isaak’s revulsion when all Dexter can muster up to say to Hannah when she told him while kidnapped that she “miss[es]” him is, “Likewise.” Isaak’s subsequent words of wisdom to Dexter about opening up to vulnerability and finding intimacy in that which Dexter can’t control may have been the most pertinent piece of dialogue the series has seen. Throughout this season in particular, essentially every time Deb brings to Dexter’s attention how insanely close they are to being murdered or arrested for murder, Dexter’s mantra has been something to the effect of, “I’ve got it under control.” Dexter admitting that he can’t allow himself to be close with Hannah because he can’t see a way in which to be one step ahead of her is a pretty significant breakthrough, one that would not have been reached were it not for Isaak’s heart-wrenching intervention.

There are many archetypes throughout the literary cannon of civilization. Probably my favorite, and one that’s certainly very popular in Western as well as Eastern cultures, is the Warrior archetype. By “Warrior” I’m basically referring to the Cowboy, the Samurai, the stoic individual whose adherence to codes of honor and duty are only matched by the character’s physical prowess and capability. Both Dexter and Isaak absolutely fit into this category and because their characterizations have been so well executed this season, watching these two Warriors clash and confide in each other has been a rousing success.

Also, some may think Isaak’s assassins may have been a little too convenient for Dexter and Isaak to take out, Miketch being “a slave to ritual” and Caffrey enjoying his kills “up close and personal”, but I don’t care; watching Dexter put a giant hunting knife through Miketch’s chest and leaving his corpse at the firing range was awesome and it reminded the audience that Dexter is a beast, something I think tends to be forgotten amongst all the wacky misadventures he gets himself into.

This Phil Bosso guy on the other hand, well, we’ve only seen so much of him so I don’t mean to prematurely judge, and he may well serve as an entertaining enough obstacle, but so far he feels like a minor adversary target from the first season or the first halves of seasons three or four. I would hate it if this guy is nothing more than plot fodder while Dexter, Deb, Hannah, LaGuerta, and Matthews yell at each other a lot until the finale in which Dexter is finally exposed and forced on the run (just my personal prediction).

Before diving into the other major plots/issues surrounding the rest of “Helter Skelter” I’d just like to touch on one more example of another archetype – the Fool. Obviously Masuka takes this title in Dexter, but there’s a variation of the Fool known as the Holy Fool – a character who through his or her own well-intentioned idiocy or other tragic flaw unknowingly sets into motion cataclysmic events in a story. Can you guess to whom I’m referring yet? It’s Quinn, the dirty detective who thinks with his dick more than his brain and who likes to drink and pout a lot when his own tenacity and thick-headedness lands him in a less than ideal position (see season four (Arthur Mitchell’s daughter) and seasons five and six (closing in on Dexter’s secret and ruining things with Deb)).

In “Helter Skelter” we saw quite a decent amount of the ongoing Quinn subplot regarding his dating a stripper from the club owned by the Ukrainian mob. This plot hasn’t amounted to much this season other than watching Quinn sabotage Isaak’s arrest and doing some minor chores for the Koshkas. Basically it’s been frustrating because according to the unwritten rules of television and story-telling in general Quinn should’ve died or been transferred or fired years ago. However, in “Helter Skelter” we saw that side of Quinn that keeps me from hating him as much as Miguel Prado or Travis Marshall, the “I don’t take shit from anyone” side. After getting figuratively slapped around by George, the club manager and Isaak’s top lieutenant, Quinn finally had enough when he learned George essentially raped Nadia because Quinn wouldn’t return George’s calls and promptly threw him through a plane of glass and beat the ever-loving shit out of his face. Watching awful people get what they deserve is precisely the premise on which Dexter was initially founded and seeing Quinn wind up his fists practically to China before swinging down on George was pretty god damn sweet. More importantly though, it had a direct consequence on the main plot of the episode when George takes out his misplaced aggression for Quinn on Isaak and arrives to fatally shoot the man in the gut just when we thought he and Dexter were finally out of the woods. And Dexter’s line on his boat after Isaak passes away about how he’ll make sure Isaak isn’t alone in his grave – I don’t know if this is meant to mean Dexter’s going to avenge Isaak’s murder by taking out George or if Dexter was merely referring to dropping Isaak’s body off in the same spot he did Viktor.

Speaking of threads flying in the wind, where to start? Hannah isn’t dead after being stabbed by Yerg in her attempt to escape her captor and as a result Dexter had the opportunity to confess to the woman he loves that he feels safe with her, an indirect response to Deb’s claim that Dexter can never be safe with Hannah. It may be because my own romantic life has recently fallen apart as of late, but did anyone else read Yvonne Strahovski’s expression after Dexter laid in the hospital bed with her to mean that she was somewhat put off by Dexter’s gesture? Normally this would just piss me off because it would mean that Hannah really won’t serve as anything other than another reason to think Dexter is destined to walk his path without a true love, a theme that’s been kind of beat to death by this point in the series post-Rita, but from the looks of the coming attractions for the next episode it appears we’ll get to see some hopefully worthwhile discussions of Dexter’s Dark Passenger and Hannah’s lack of any such potentially schizophrenic symptoms.

It also appears that thanks to former Chief Matthews, he and LaGuerta will apparently focus on the possibility that Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher. I’m not sure what Matthews knows that will focus the former detectives’ attention on Dexter, but I’m eager to find out.

Finally, the other big development from “Helter Skelter” was Dexter’s reassurance to Deb that although he doesn’t exactly share Deb’s feelings of romantic love, he genuinely understands them. This is pretty huge because although this all-important feature of the character is too often neglected, Dexter is supposed to be a kind of sociopath. We fans know he’s not the heartless monster he once thought of himself as, but the man is nonetheless emotionally and psychologically damaged to say the least. Therefore his interpretation of what Deb’s been going through is significant in that it reveals how Dexter perceives how love operates. I’m just glad the writers had Dexter actually respond to Deb’s confession of her romantic feelings for him and in a manner that didn’t necessarily bring closure to the situation, but at least gave it a solid checkpoint of sorts to allow Dex and Deb to continue working together without the awkwardness that would otherwise be the proverbial 800 pound gorilla in the room dragging down their interactions.

I’m not sure how good things look for the final three episodes of the season in that without Isaak the pacing may feel disjointed, but “Helter Skelter” was a truly masterful episode of Dexter, the type whose excellent writing is the exact sort I hope to encounter throughout the rest of the series.

“Yeah…I think we should see other killers.”