TV Review: DEXTER, 5.1 - "My Bad"

Warning: this review contains major spoilers for the season 4 finale of Dexter, which is currently halfway through its UK run on FX. I strongly advise you avoid reading this, unless you're up-to-date with the US airings on Showtime. If you are, or you just don't care about spoilers, read on: Outgoing showrunner Clyde Phillips fired a cruel parting shot at both Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and the audience in Emmy-winning season 4 finale "The Getaway". Namely, the shocking death of Dex's wife Rita (Julie Benz) at the hand of the Trinity Killer (John Lithgow) -- as his own sick act of malice, before meeting his end wrapped in plastic on Dexter's kill-table. Incoming showrunner Chip Johannessen (Millennium, 24) has a tough job trying to recalibrate the show without Rita as a "rock" for Dexter (despite the fact she was becoming progressive less interesting post-nuptials), and in trying to launch a fifth season of a show some believe has lost its edge. "My Bad" was an excellent start to the season, mainly because it felt so different to every premiere the show has done till now, and appears to have tapped into some deeper levels of Dexter's psyche. Every season's arc develops Dexter Morgan's character (via a long-lost brother, a twisted mistress, a macabre best friend, a psycho mentor), but this year could all be more internal. It's the year of personal guilt. The year when Dexter has to face up to the fact his actions (or inactions) ultimately led to the death of his innocent wife, half-orphaned his kids, and has made himself the prime suspect in her murder. We pickup immediately where we left off, with Dexter whisking baby Harrison out of the blood-soaked bathroom where Rita lies dead in the tub, onto the front lawn that's now crawling with cops after his 911 call. "It was me," he tells an officer at the scene; a phrase he'll regret murmuring, particular after Quinn (Desmond Harrington) discovers that next-door neighbour Elliot (Rick Peters) kissed Rita shortly before her death, and begins to suspect that Dexter took the trivial "fling" to heart and killed Rita in a jealous rage. As he reminds a skeptical LaGuerta (Lauren Velez), in cases involving dead wives, 90% of the time the husband is the culprit. With the script taking some creative risks (this is the first premiere to actually feel like a sequel to a finale), "My Bad" was undoubtedly raised several notches by Michael C. Hall's brilliant performance. Dexter's personality around friends/family has always been agreeable but somewhat distant, so Dexter's reaction to Rita's death is initially understandable: numbed shock. But slowly his behaviour starts to arouse suspicions, primarily from Quinn (freaked to hear Dexter's 911 call sounds like he's phoning in a crime scene report), and sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), who finds she can't seem to break through to her brother and notices his strange behaviour (wandering off at the funeral parlour, leaving Harrison with a neighbour he barely knows). Essentially, Dexter's not up to the task of convincing people he's upset over Rita's death, because he's more disconnected than a normal person should be. After Cody (Preston Bailey) and Astor (Christina Robinson) return from their trip to Disneyland, there followed a terribly uncomfortable scene with Dexter breaking the news that their mother's been killed, where he's oblivious to the fact he's wearing their gift of a Mickey Mouse ear hat. But as the episode continues, and Dexter's futile attempts to act like the grieving husband everyone expects to see, it slowly becomes clear that Rita's death has actually stirred a part of his humanity he didn€™t know he had. He loved Rita, and losing her hurts more than he perhaps would have expected it to. After deciding to run away from the whole sorry mess on the day of Rita's funeral (burning his belongings, packing necessities, and driving his boat to god-knows-where), Dexter finally had his delayed breakdown at a boat gas station -- picking on an unruly customer and bludgeoning him with a grappling hook in the rest room, before collapsing to his knees before the ghost of his father Harry (James Remar) and bellowing like a wounded animal. He's broken The Code that dictates his behaviour in killing that innocent man just to vent his grief and anger, but (perhaps worryingly) Harry's ghost doesn't censure him for it. And in returning to the funeral, with a fitting eulogy, Dexter repairs some of the damage to his reputation, but I'm sure the FBI's investigation won't be so easily dissuaded from going after him as the most likely perpetrator. How can Dex shift the blame onto Trinity, seeing as killing Rita broke 30 years of his meticulous cycle? Won't Trinity's family point the finger at Dex, or "Kyle Butler" as they know him? I also enjoyed the surprising use of Julie Benz, in a flashback to Rita and Dexter's first date, during which he's actually stalking a man seated behind her. It's a little strange that Rita would find Dexter so alluring, considering their date lasted all of five minutes and he came across as a creepy automaton (this being pre-season 1, when Dex was considerably less competent at appearing normal), but otherwise it was a fun way to get Benz involved beyond obligatory bath tub and casket scenes. It's fun to know the show has this option to bring Rita back occasionally, but I'm guessing "My Bad" has literally closed the lid on her character now. Overall, "My Bad" was a great episode because it felt so different to what's expected, and we were shown a new facet of Dexter's personality that gave Michael C. Hall another Emmy-baiting hour. Apparently season 5 will break with tradition and not feature a "big bad" (although you could argue season 2 didn€™t either), and Dexter will instead face various enemies and obstacles. But it remains to be seen if ditching the show's template will invigorate things by making story arcs less predictable, or if the show will struggle to go the distance without a strong and obvious core. Asides Quinn and Debra as a possible love match? Are we into that? It€™s always a concern when child actors are on shows and expected to give credible performances, particularly when something like the death of their screen-mother happens. While Christina Robinson's certainly not a terrible teenage actress, I do wish the show had really gifted actors playing Rita's kids. A few scenes here could have been extraordinarily good if the kid actors were up to the task, and the writers knew they could give them juicier material. Anyone else get a Six Feet Under flashback when Michael C. Hall was at the funeral parlour? Chip Johannessen's the new showrunner, and certainly did a great job with this premiere. But is he always brought in to fix shows that are about to collapse and die? He was promoted to showrunner for Millennium's third season (turning it into a tepid X Files clone that was swiftly cancelled), and recently joined 24 after its abominable sixth season, where it was axed a few years later. Just bad luck, or are Dexter's days numbered?
WRITER: Chip Johannessen DIRECTOR: Steve Shill CAST: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Desmond Harrington, C.S Lee, Lauren Velez, David Zayas, James Remar, Preston Bailey, Julie Benz, Christina Robinson, Bill Brochtrup, Brad Carter, Steve Eastin, Michael Gambino, Thomas Guillou, Adam Harrington, Robert Mammana, Rick Peters & Donna Pieroni TRANSMISSION: 26 September 2010 - SHOWTIME
To continue reading my reviews of this series, visit Dan's Media Digest.

Dan Owen hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.