Just when I was starting to warm up to Zach Hamilton he ends up missing the back of his head. Though this was inevitable, how we got here wasn’t the way which I predicted last week so there’s that. But regardless of how Zach was dispatched, we all saw this coming, which makes the title of this episode, “Are We There Yet?” that much more apt. A persistent problem throughout Dexter has been its transparency – mostly in its dialogue, but also in its plotting. From the painfully obvious voice overs and on the nose Ghost Harry exchanges to knowing that like all of Dexter’s little helpers Zach wouldn’t last long, even if the route is muddied the destination is usually quite clear. “Are We There Yet?” brought us slightly closer to the season’s final destination (presumably, hopefully) by exchanging Zach’s arc for The Brain Surgeon’s (again, though less ham-fisted than the first time around), and getting Deb out of the private investigation business, but mostly it just spent time with Hannah McKay to varying degrees of success.
Before putting Zach Hamilton behind us for good, let us remember our dearly departed and devoted disciple of Dexter. Granted I haven’t been a fan of this character’s arc because Sam Underwood’s performance never really sold me on Zach’s psychopathy (we never even learned why he was so fascinated with blood in the first place), and it’s a plot we’ve been through on this series on more than one occasion, but this episode in particular started to at least use Zach as an effective means of providing some much needed levity into a series which has long taken itself too seriously (when’s the last time watching Dexter has actually been fun?). Zach’s earnestness to conduct his work well and his genuine admiration for Dexter yielded some chuckle worthy lines this episode such as, “Fuck me – gloves!” which allowed me to see this master/pupil dynamic actually working in another world. Alas, Zach was not meant long for the world he did inhabit, and his death has firmly reintroduced the temporarily dormant Brain Surgeon whom, unless you’ve perhaps been watching this show black-out wasted for the last few weeks (a not altogether unreasonable decision), is very obviously the crazy-eyed guy Cassie had been seeing.
Oliver Sacks is a famous neurologist. The name of the character on the left seen here staring into Dexter’s soul is Oliver Saxon — Oliver Sack’s son — get it? …He’s The Brain Surgeon.
Hell, even Masuka called it at the beginning of the episode, plus he’s the only character who has been given so much screen time without an obvious function therefore TV law dictates he’s the culprit. We knew A.J. Yates was much too far on the overtly creepy, clearly unhinged side of serial killer archetypes than the macabre meets sophisticated side which The Brain Surgeon’s presents to Dr. Vogel have indicated he’s on. This return might carry more weight if its presence wasn’t seen coming miles (or episodes) away. Another problem is that we don’t really know anything more about this threat than we did in the first episode of the season so his presence doesn’t pack the punch intended.
The only thing about the Brain Surgeon that is known is his connection to Vogel, and all we’ve learned of this woman is simply that she is consumed by her fascination with violent psychopaths, and “Are We There Yet?” let us know she actually exhibits at least one of their traits herself. The dinner scene with Vogel, Zach, Dex, and Hannah was disappointingly scarce in terms of the kind of thinly veiled, double entendre filled discussions one would hope to hear at a table full of killers (it was mostly Hannah trying to withstand Vogel’s rude analysis of her and Dexter’s relationship, something even Zach noticed), but we did get a couple morsels of insight into the good doctor’s true motives: she’s easily bored and considers the desire for extreme excitement (like, say the kind one derives from hanging out with and treating serial killers) to be the motivation for all major events in the world as well as what makes life worth living; also, Vogel avoided discussing the “incident” which got her interested in her field. This latter tidbit probably has something to do with her late husband, Dr. Richard Vogel, a name Deb discovered looking into the doctor which hasn’t been brought up since. Eventually we’ll learn Vogel somehow was involved with her husband’s death so spoiler warning there. My only question is how connected she’s been to the Brain Surgeon’s recent activities. Probably at least more connected than Dexter has been led to believe.
While eventually circling back to confirming The Brain Surgeon is still at large, the episode spent most of its time on another return – that of reestablishing Hannah McKay as the love of Dexter’s life. While I should appreciate the episode not simply phoning in the couple’s connection, I wasn’t much compelled to watch it. Deb’s interrogation of Hannah was more exciting than any of her scenes with Dexter (even the naked one), though not a very convincing one. As I’ve said before, I’m not entirely against the Hannah character, but I definitely didn’t buy Deb accepting Hannah’s speech about people’s flaws and burying the hatchet in the name of love. What’s changed since the last time these two fought over Dexter? (Nothing, right?)
Although I guess this episode was better than the last, it still was largely occupying space which has been explored in the past whether it was repeating the idea of passing The Code along, such as with Miguel Prado in season three, or rehashing the Hannah conflict. By the end of the episode Zach is dead, The Surgeon is officially back, and Dex has convinced Hannah to stick around, but all these supposed plot accomplishments have really just brought us back to places we’ve already been.
On top of these redundancies, “Are We There Yet?” exhibited one of the series’ worst elements. Aside from that dreaded voice over and Ghost Harry, it bothered me that when Dex saw Hannah he thought, “I’d give everything to feel nothing again,” because while it was a sweetly heartbreaking line indicating how much it pains him to see Hannah again, it also indicates that Dexter is no longer the empty shell he once was, however, moments later when Dexter sees Jamie grieving he remarks that he “forget[s] the impact murder has on real people,” implying how unreal he is. This bothers me because I feel like the show is constantly flip-flopping on the portrayal of how Dexter sees himself. Either he’s come a long way from the imitation human he once was, or he’s still that wooden doll waiting for some magical blue fairy. If this isn’t Dexter’s primary motivation then what is? And why doesn’t it get better, if not at least more consistent, treatment?
This episode left me feeling more optimistic than the last with Deb on her way back to Miami Metro and a heartbroken Elway determined to nab Hannah and her pricey reward, seemingly bringing the season into its final arc, yet it didn’t make this final season feel any more distinct than any of the others. With only four episodes left I’m still not feeling a sense of urgency that will move these arcs toward a satisfying conclusion even though we know that final destination is so close. Dexter has to kill The Brain Surgeon, confront Vogel, reach some kind of resolution with Deb, and now Hannah as well, all before he’s killed (I don’t see capture being the end of the series – it’s not final enough). While four episode gives the series ample time to achieve these specific goals, I don’t see how they will somehow supersede the logical fallacies that have carried the series for as long as they have while somehow achieving the larger goal of placing Dexter in a position that illustrates his growth as a character, the one thing this series should have been focusing on all along.