After reaching the half-way point in Dexter’s final season I expected the story to be in a very different place. Whereas the first half of the season was apparently all about seeing Deb hit bottom so she could start to accept Dexter back into her life while introducing Vogel, the second half will of course result in Dexter’s end one way or another, but getting there is still no more clear than it was at the beginning of the season. Having killed Yates, a figure which loomed high in the background of the story before revealing himself to be much less deserving of so much focus, the season has shifted to the Zach Hamilton arc which “A Little Reflection” spent the most time developing. When this plot was introduced last episode I rolled my eyes and groaned for mostly the same reason why I did so at the beginning of season three – it’s predictable. What’s worse is by now we’ve seen it done more than once: Prado, Lumen, Hannah. Dexter, you cannot have a murder “intern” – it never works out. We’ve learned this lesson, why can’t the writers? As I’ve mentioned before, the biggest strength of this season so far has been knowing it’s the last, not any significant element of the story itself, which is a real shame. I hoped the final installment of the series would really go for broke and instead things feel about as par for the course as ever.
Just as abruptly as the Yates arc was “resolved” (or impaled, whichever) the Zach arc is here established. I appreciate how much time was spent on attempting to build Zach up as a tangible character with as authentic a fascination with blood and the macabre as Dexter, but the kid’s presence taking pictures at crime scenes still felt sudden and stilted. I think besides this story’s predictability, familiarity, and synthetic quality (elaborated in my comment on my previous review regarding the very similar Jeremy from season one), the core problem is that I can’t buy into a new character’s homicidal psychology when our protagonist’s – even after all these years – has still yet to find much definition or clarity. I was more intrigued seeing Dex and Vogel discussing the role of serial killers in society; this felt like a much more promising frame within which to watch Dexter make real progress toward a satisfying conclusion. The “intern” angle is just redundant. (And I have to say also slightly ironic in that the newest character I felt was the most effectively introduced – the actual intern, Louis Greene, of season six – had the most potential, but was eventually (and literally) cast aside as nothing more than a creepy extortionist in the beginning of season seven as an obvious loose thread.)
There were contradictions both in the characterization of Zach and Dexter’s impression of him. This episode succeeded in portraying Zach as a creep (his line about “that dead chick spill[ing] all her blood just for [him],” and Dexter’s remark that the boy, “Treats the blood like a swimsuit model,” were effective in this vein), which is why it was difficult for me to buy into feeling sympathy for him as Dexter did on his killing table. And why was Zach taking so many photos of Sophia, his father’s new mistress, if his intended target was his father all along? I guess he suddenly changed his mind? He is new at this after all, but it’s bad writing when the audience is forced to fill in the blanks not out of an effective use of ambiguity, but to fill in plot holes like this. The episode worked hard to paint Zach as a deviant foil of Dexter then thought it would pull the rug out from under us by revealing Zach as a directionless kid just trying to relieve himself of the “evil” inside him by protecting his alcoholic mother from his father’s affairs, but instead it just came off as inconsistent and unbelievable.
Dexter’s initial reaction to Vogel’s suggestion of The Code’s potential to save Zach from himself (and Dexter’s knife) rang much truer than his decision to spare Zach by the episode’s end. Instead of watching Dexter fail (again) in attempting to share The Code, I’m much more interested in hearing Dexter argue against Vogel (verbally or in action) with the obvious truth of the matter that although Dexter is more than likely better off for having Harry and The Code in his life, it hasn’t exactly “spared” him from tragedy. The simple fact is that no matter how prepared an individual is, no one is ever spared. This is one of the high-minded discussions for which the series’ premise was made, yet time and again they are introduced as isolated incidents early on in a season then eventually neglected in favor of action and plot masquerading as actual story.
Speaking of plot fodder, “Reflection” updated us on Masuka’s daughter, Angel’s decision to promote Miller over Quinn (two threads which honestly aren’t even worth discussing here), and Deb’s relationship with her boss, Elway. This subplot was the only one which really worked for me because even though Angel’s decision to promote Miller over Quinn sent him to Zach and in Dexter’s way, it yielded nothing more than a minor plot contrivance whereas Deb’s dealings with Elway at least reflected what she’s gone through with Dexter in a general sense (protective brothers making the sisters cry) as well as more specifically what Dexter experienced with Cassie. Both interactions Dexter had with Cassie were terribly awkward for the same reason Deb was so put off when she finally realized Elway is romantically interested in her – the siblings don’t know how to let others in while avoiding the murders which have come to define their lives. Whereas this makes sense with Deb – it’s all still relatively new to her – I figured that even though it’s been a while since he’s dated, Dex should’ve figured this out by now, especially since Dexter’s sexuality, formerly quite contained and wrapped up in his damaged psychology — a character trait that not only made sense but was legitimately intriguing — since season six’s random high school reunion and convenience store clerk hook-ups, has gone pretty bro, as evidenced by this season’s premiere.
This commonality between the two Morgans is what made it so sad (or just maddeningly frustrating) when Dexter wasn’t truthful to Deb about taking on an “intern”. After apparently repenting since the attempted murder-suicide, Deb is allowing Dexter to be an active part of her life and could be his only true collaborator. Granted he didn’t have much of a chance to come clean before Deb mysteriously passed out just before Hannah waltzes in out of nowhere (yet another red herring, I’m sure), but he didn’t seem to be very eager to let Deb back into his unseemly private life. This makes sense as Deb is still in a delicate state regarding the situation, but returning Dexter — the character and the show — to places of relative normalcy are boring and supposedly not an option in this final season. Regarding Hannah’s reappearance, considering she was in the episode for all of ten seconds there’s nothing really to comment on, other than the fact that it, like the Zach arc, feels like a waste of time, just another distraction before the big finale which increasingly looks like it will absolutely fall flat.
A moment in this episode which already fell flat was the scene between Dexter and Harrison. I’ve noted how Harrison has been slightly acting out, which, while normal for children, takes on a new significance on a show about a serial killer who is also a father (for the most part – Astor and Cody who?). Apparently the build-up was merely leading to a confrontation in which Harrison accuses Dexter of lying for disposing of a bloody stuffed animal and telling Harrison it was lost. That’s it. All the (arguably) suspicious behavior we’ve seen Harrison exhibit has resulted in some potentially damning evidence. Maybe. Well, you know what they say about Chekhov’s stuffed puppy…
“Yeah, I’ll still love you guys in Orlando…totally.”
It’s kind of funny to think that despite having made some strides compared to the weaker elements of the series, this season is still failing to rise to its former glory. One could argue it’s a marked improvement that the episode structure has not necessarily relied on Dexter vetting, stalking, and killing someone new each episode; that the narrative structure has shifted from this model to one which is built around larger arcs. Unfortunately even this late in the series I don’t feel these arcs flow with much momentum or cogency (based solely on this season). I’m glad the subplots aren’t as disconnected from the primary plot as much as they have been in the past, but I still really don’t care about Quinn’s professional trajectory, and especially not Masuka’s estranged daughter. Although I’m sure we’ll hear more about Dr. Richard Vogel in episodes to come.
Even within the main plots there were just too many suspensions of disbelief in “Reflection” which took away from the fun of the show as opposed to contributing to it. For example, when Dex called the yacht club to see if Zach’s supposed target, Sofia, was working, her supervisor immediately let Dex know she just left. When I worked as a restaurant manager I never gave out information on employees’ schedules, especially not to people calling without identifying themselves. Also, it was far too easy to manipulate Jamie into calling Quinn off of Zach’s trail, but this is just another example in a long line of conveniences which allow Dexter to do what the episode requires. Also, finding the photos of Norma Rivera bleeding out were one thing, but to include in them a mirror reflection of Zach holding both the camera and the murder weapon? We get it, okay? Dex is always the good guy and there is no gray area! The trouble is the show is interesting because of its gray areas, at least it was back when they existed. The bottom line is that after the barren and fruitless valley that was season six, and the steady (though not flawless) climb upward that was season seven, I hoped season eight would be a peak on which we could all be satisfied with departing from the show. Instead I feel about as low to the ground as one of Dex’s trash bags at the bottom of the sea.
By the way, anyone else get a Breaking Bad vibe from this shot? The episode was directed by John Dahl who’s directed episodes of Dexter in the past (also Hannibal, Justified, True Blood, and Battlestar Galactica, among many others) as well as the second season episode of Breaking Bad, “Down.” I can’t remember if that episode had one of the show’s patented worm’s eye view shots, but I wouldn’t be surprised.