Peaks and valleys, my friends. After a refreshingly on-point episode last week, “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?” (’cause the kill of the week was a cannibal, GET IT? Sigh, but more on him later) didn’t feel nearly as haphazardly run of the mill as the premiere, but was unfortunately more reminiscent of the series’ usual mix of promising seasonal arc elements and supporting character filler. While “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?” wasn’t a stellar episode at least there was no Ghost Harry, it still featured Jennifer Carpenter being awesome at being Deb being awesome, and I’m enjoying the pacing of the Vogel arc as well as the use of this character to at least scratch at the surface of issues which made Dexter Morgan such an intriguing character at the series’ onset.
It feels appropriate to begin this review with a paragraph that will fit into this write-up about as awkwardly as did the episode’s opening scene of Harrison calling out to Dexter from their bathroom with a tummy ache having apparently devoured an entire box of red popsicles. I’m compelled to comment on this seemingly innocuous scene which had no bearing on the rest of the episode because it bothered me that I couldn’t tell whether this was meant to be a random “Aw, shucks!” moment of cuteness from a serial killer’s kid, momentarily proposing an empty threat that the young boy has somehow gotten into copious amounts of blood – Is he hurt? Did he hurt something else? – or if we’re meant to genuinely take notice of the potential psychological significance of Dexter’s son having snuck out of his bed in the middle of the night to binge eat alone in the dark of a bathroom, the same type of room where as an infant he sat in a puddle of blood in front of his mother’s corpse, very similar to his father. I guess sneaking midnight snacks isn’t as bizarre for young children as I’m making it out to be, but it just struck me as creepy that a little boy would sit in the dark for an extended period eating a dozen popsicles by himself. I’m pretty sure that in the book series at least one of Dexter’s kids exhibits similarly sociopathic behaviors, and this was a development I’ve wondered for years whether the TV series would ever follow. I think doing so now would be too much too late for the writers. Typically I find ambiguity to be an exciting narrative element, but this felt more sloppy than open-ended which kept me from simply enjoying it as a bit of wry dark humor.
Anyway, this episode continued to use Vogel and Deb to carry the story of Dexter’s last days. Vogel continues to serve as a vehicle to revisit and further examine issues from the first season, predominantly in this episode precisely why Dexter loves Deb and what the existence of that love which Dexter possesses implies about the true nature of his being. Is Dexter a true psychopath, an emotionless monster with a very convincing human mask, or is he actually “one of us,” but forced to carry burdens which have allowed him to behave in ways most people never dream of? The entire series has been gradually moving the character towards this latter status, though always seemingly at the periphery of more immediate concerns like The (insert dubious name) Killer or (insert love interest/law enforcement official) finding out his secret. For fans like myself who have tolerated these surface plot points in the hopes of witnessing the direct exploration of the deeper questions of morality and identity which the series’ beginning (and now apparently its ending) imply, the use of Dr. Evelyn Vogel to facilitate discussions of Deb’s relevance to Dexter is an exciting move. Contrary to weaker instances of flirting with these topics, this episode not only implied the discussion, but actually dove into it a bit and explored selfish versus selfless love, a topic seldom examined in the open in television and therefore something I welcomed.
Dexter is continuing to help Vogel track down this season’s mysterious antagonist, The as yet to be seen Brain Surgeon, a suspected former patient. While I still suspect Vogel herself to be the true Big Bad of the season and having possibly instigated The Surgeon’s recent activities as a means to experiment on her former patients including Dexter whom she continues to refer to as “perfection,” (I loved her line this episode that Dexter bothering to care for his sister is like “Michelangelo trying to play the banjo,”) I hope at least the audience gets to meet him or her in the next episode or two as any further prolonging of this reveal can only hurt its efficacy on the story. This show has been at its worst when it keeps Dexter and his seasonal nemesis at a distance for too long (see The Skinner and Doomsday).
This episode Dexter dealt most directly with a Surgeon suspect who apparently turns out to be a serial killer, but not the one currently terrorizing Dr. Vogel. Those who’ve read my feature on the best new TV shows of the year have realized I am in awe of Bryan Fuller’s fantastic Hannibal on NBC, and I’ve been trying really hard to not mention this series in my recent reviews of Dexter so as to criticize Showtime’s series own its own merits and flaws as opposed to merely comparing it to Hannibal every week because if I did then every review of an episode of Dexter would be a zero star review – that’s how much I loved Hannibal’s first season. However, having Dex kill a cannibal, I don’t see how I could not at least mention Fuller’s incarnation of the infamous Thomas Harris character. Although Dexter has taken more cues from Bret Easton Ellis’ (and Mary Harron’s) Patrick Bateman of American Psycho than Dr. Hannibal Lector in terms of blending in with the rest of society (though not nearly as many as I’d like), the likeability factor which I feel has dragged Dexter down over the years is definitely indebted to Anthony Hopkins’ mesmerizing performance from Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs, a portrayal which earned the actor nine awards for best actor, including the Oscar, in 1991 for a mere 16 minutes of screen time, just about 14% of the film’s total running time. Basically I’m pretty sorely disappointed that a show which can’t not exist in the shadow of this other prominent fictional serial killer treated its first cannibal with so little fanfare or even decent dramatic weight. Oh, and would Dex really make that grossed out face at finding a finger in a crock pot? The Butcher’s getting soft.
While the cannibal who isn’t Hannibal got the short end of the stick, the episode spent plenty of time focusing on Deb and her continued struggle with her guilt of killing LaGuerta. I’m somewhat surprised it hasn’t been pointed out yet the irony of the high probability that Deborah would most likely still be torturing herself if she shot and killed Dexter that night instead of LaGuerta; maybe during her and Dr. Vogel’s little handcuffed impromptu therapy session next episode which should be a major component to which I’m looking forward. In fact, considering how much Vogel admires what Dexter is (as opposed to who he is) I wouldn’t be surprised if failing to convince Deb to keep quiet Vogel enlists Hannah to kill her.
Though it was an inspired idea Dexter had to show Deborah a seemingly nice person she once saved to help her out of her depression, I couldn’t stop asking myself how in the hell Dexter happened to have a professional grade video on his phone of a time Deb saved a guy from being shot dead. I mean, seriously. If this was meant to be something we’ve actually seen on the show before I thought it could have been from that time Miami Metro was staking out those brothers undercover at a club in I think season three, but nonetheless even if Dexter was there for some ridiculous TV reason which I don’t recall, why would he suddenly shoot that video? Or did he download it from police records? Either way it was a significant source of confusion which kept me from fully buying the scene. I know it might not have been as painfully obvious that Deb was all the more upset by her killing of LaGuerta in light of the good she’s done were it not for the shot of her drinking and watching the video before her attempted confession, but wouldn’t it have made more sense or at least been less convoluted if Dexter had just shown her a photo or provided some simple explanation?
Also, I meant it when I said Deb doesn’t need another love interest. Her boss has been nice enough to her, but why does Deb always have to be with someone? Can’t the writers let her find some contentment in something that isn’t a romantic relationship? They’ve never worked out for her and I resent the implication that she’ll only be okay once she finds the right man.
Despite the perceived logical missteps regarding that video and Harrison’s popsicle debacle as well as a poor use of the kill of the week, I’m still excited to watch Deb, Dex, and Vogel become that much more intertwined in bringing to light the root of Dexter’s true self. What I definitely do not care about is the trouble in the Batista home regarding Quinn’s dedication to Deb and apparent lack of dedication to becoming sergeant. Do. Not. Care. I bet Deb gets the job after she kills Dexter in the finale during a slow motion montage.