Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dexter: Spoiled rotten

Spoilers for the latest episode of "Dexter" coming up just as soon as I have a meltdown in front of the entire office...

I want to start off by talking about the traditional weak points of any "Dexter" episode: the police storylines not directly involving Dexter himself. And, sure enough, we get more dead weight with Pascal having a meltdown and losing her command back to Laguerta, followed by the not very interesting revelation that the other woman Pascal was losing her mind over was Laguerta.

But on the other hand, the Doakes subplot was a nice bit of shading for both the character and the universe. We knew Doakes had been in Special Forces and had done some unpleasant things there, but this is the bluntest the show's been about how badly that stuff scarred him. Dexter asked way back in the series premiere why Doakes was the only cop in Miami who can smell the monster on him; it's because Doakes is part monster, himself, just better at holding onto his own leash.

As for the Bay Harbor Butcher arc, we're entering potentially interesting, potentially dangerous territory for the series. I continue to like everything they've done with the story thus far, and thought the twist of Masuka finding the algae on the stones and not the corpses was brilliant. Dexter's such a blood maven that the rocks probably never occurred to him as anything but a utility for weighing down the bodies.

That said, Dexter scrambling around trying to sabotage the case against himself reminded me more than a little of middle-period "The Shield," where we'd see Vic Mackey be an episode and a half away from going to jail forever, only to wriggle out of the trap again and again. I love "The Shield" dearly, but feel like the series has definitely been diminished by its longevity and the number of Houdini escapes Vic's pulled. I don't know how many great seasons there are in the "Dexter" concept, but within that, I think I want this season to be the only one (other than a planned final one) where Dexter himself is the target of a manhunt. I'm assuming in the end he's going to escape Lundy's task force somehow, someway, and I'm fine with that -- the cost of doing business in series TV is accepting that certain parts of the status quo can never be changed -- but if I'm feeling itchy in the fourth episode of the season (and one in which Dexter really doesn't accomplish much of anything with his dumpster/refrigeration unit stunt), I worry how played out the concept might seem by the end of the year.

Or maybe I'm just crabby because I first saw this episode nearly a month ago (though that was my reaction at the time) and have been waiting ever since to see episode five.

A few other brief thoughts:
  • I'm undecided about Lyla. On the one hand, Jaime Murray's certainly not unpleasant to look at, and I'm enjoying the concept of Dexter co-opting the 12-step world so he can finally unburden whatever soul he has without getting into trouble for it, but there's something a little too calculated in the writers' conception of Lyla the bohemian artist who makes Dexter want to throw caution to the wind.
  • JoBeth Williams as Rita's mom! Does JoBeth Williams ever not give a good performance?
  • I'm really intrigued by Deb's story so far this year. She and Dexter don't share the same genes, and what Rudy put her through came at a far more advanced age than Dexter's own childhood trauma, but what are the chances that she could become a monster herself?
What did everybody else think?

20 comments:

Chris Littmann said...

Alan, really surprised you aren't more into Lyla. She presents such an interesting dynamic in that none of this really disgusts her. I was saying how seeing her "art" reminded me of seeing Rudy's prosthetics shop.

anon said...

Alan,

To be fair, the stakes are somewhat different. On The Shield Mackey could (though usually doesn't) suffer some losses (family, friends, money) without losing everything (his life, his freedom). Dexter, when he loses, will lose everything. (Could Dexter rebound from being an eventually exonerated suspect? I'm not sure.)

I also think that this season is not following The Shield template -- a pretender tough guy facing off against reigning tough guy Vic Mackey -- in terms of threat. Lundy is slow and steady, a methodical foe. He's building a case, not chasing a key witness or crucial piece of evidence. Dexter's always going to be in a good position to sabotage things, but there's only so much evidence Dexter can "accidentally" destroy before directing suspicion into the department. (I think suspicion has to lead there anyway, since an officer is best placed to locate near-convicted felons.)

In the long term, sure, I think the anti-hero thing will prove a problem (see: almost every show on FX) -- and I could still a Doakes vs. Dexter plot occurring this season that that would be much more along the The Shield line -- but the act of sabotage in this particular episode seemed more an acknowledgement of Dexter's home field advantage than anything else. And besides, it didn't work. The rocks survived just fine.

And I appreciated that, since it acknowledges Dexter's not-completely-well-founded arrogance -- he refuses to believe he's going to be brought down by a guy like Masuka (a horndog?), but it turns out Masuka's pretty effectively outsmarted him. That hubris is also underscored in the final scene with Rita's mom -- Dexter's not nearly as good with parents (parents who are paying attention) as he thinks he is.

Anon

dez said...

Dexter's interior monologue during the dinner scene with Rita's mom was hilarious. I wonder how her being a grade-school teacher for so long makes her such an expert on adult behaviour, though. I also wonder if Rita telling her mother that Dexter's an addict will satisfy her suspicions the way it did for Doakes.

Laguerta is a stone-cold bitch, but seeing Kiko Ellsworth half-nekkid was worth it, heh heh.

Finally, something's gotta be wrong with Lyla. Maybe she's one of Rudy's old lovers? Or a serial killer herself? That could be an interesting parallel to Dexter's relationship with his brother.

curious george said...

I hope that Dexter has not found in Lilah a fellow killer. That would be a bit too much of a coincidence, one which would be almost inexcusable in light of the revelation last season that the Ice Truck Killer was his long lost brother (another plot twist I thought was a bit too much). I trust the writers enough at this point to believe that she is just messed up to be intrigued by the bodies and that is all (besides, statistically, are there that many female serial killers, anyway)?

As for Dexter's sabotage, I think we may only see that once. He tried it here, out of desperation, and failed. The investigation was moved along to the desk of the marine biologist. We won't get any satisfying conclusions from the investigators until late in this season, anyway, so I don't think the writers will rely on the crutch of having Dexter war with the investigation.

I suspect that what will happen is that the end result of this season will be not that Dexter is revealed publicly to be the Bay Harbor Butcher. However, I don't think he can escape the season without either (or both) his sister and his girlfriend learning the truth. It will probably be Deb, who may be convinced of Harry's wisdom. We'll see. Whatever the case, I think that the investigation into Dexter and the inevitable consequences are earn of a change to the status quo to make this quite an interesting season.

Jon Delfin said...

On the other hand, if Lyla/Lila/Lilah (I give up, and the "new and improved" IMDb neglects to include it -- hell, the "Dexter" page at sho.com doesn't even say) shows homicidal tendencies, that would certainly set her up as a red herring in Lundy's investigation.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Well, if we're talking red herring, as well as anon's theory that Lundy's going to start looking internally sooner or later, here's my guess on who gets wrongly accused: Doakes. Trained killer, violence problem, got left off the task force, and he's going to sound like a nut when he in turn tries to blame nice guy Dexter.

curious george said...

I hope they handle such an open story well if Doakes or Lilah or someone besides Dexter gets accused and we, the viewers, have to wait for the characters to catch up with what we already know (and have known since the series premiere). I have enough faith in the writers at this point to hope that any such misdirection will not bore the viewers as the other characters labor under a misimpression we know is incorrect.

dez said...

I wouldn't put it past Dexter to misdirect the investigation onto Lyla [sic?], given how her art lines up with both his and the Ice Truck Killer's "leavings."

I can see Doakes being the prime suspect once Lundy turns inward, alos, but I can also see Laguerta's cold-blooded pursuit of her old job putting the limelight on her, which would be fun, I think.

jcpbmg said...

That would definitely be interesting if they go after Doakes, although I suspect it would lead to an increasing amount of screen time for the supporting characters Laguera/Angel ect. and their reaction to it.

Alan (or anyone else here), by any chance are you watching Brotherhood at all?

Season 1 was moved a little too slowly for my taste but things have picked this season and Jason Isaacs and Annabeth Gish are just acting the hell out of their parts.

Also, last night's episode was 'the deflowering of donna' (literally) as Janel Moloney made her second guest appearance (in what I think is a 4-episode arc). 'Deflowering' aside, she did a great job with the little screen time she had.

anon said...

jon delfin,

The Showtime recaplets say "Lila," I think. So does the captioning, if I recall correctly.

And congrats on your own TV appearance this weekend (assuming you're that Jon Delfin).

Anon

smm said...

It does make a lot of sense that Doakes would be suspected once they realize that the killer had to be PD.

Speaking of the department, I can't help but be irritated at the idea that Pascal turned back women in the department 20 years-- the writers made it easy on themselves by creating a straw man 20-year-old cliche.

Finally, I can't remember what it was last season that suggested Rita's kids were going to grow up to be monsters themselves, but that was suggested again this episode with the boy's costume (a butcher knife?! Who does that?.

Susan said...

Last night's best moment really surprised me (in that I thought it was the best moment, I mean): Doakes holding the gun on the accused killer on the boat. It was set up so well, with Dexter reminding Doakes - and the audience - what a good, fast shot the guy was. So when Doakes held the gun on the guy, all I could think was that he was a goner. But then... turns out Doakes is better. Faster. And as you say, Alan, that was a great insight (along with Doakes' comment about why he left his wife) into Doakes' own monster within. And the way some people can contain it, or at least run from it.

I definitely think someone is going to be falsely accused of Dexter's crimes, and perhaps put away for them, since I don't see Dexter having the conscience to stop it from happening. I also would love to see Deb figure out what Dexter has done and struggle with her family loyalty versus her likely horror as well as her job as a cop and new loyalty to the task force and Lundy.

Lyla bothers me. I've never been in a recovery program, but it disturbs me that she's willing to accept Dexter's talk of his monster inside with no details as to even what he was addicted to. She's awfully comfortable being vague. But I suppose that being patient is part of the sponsor's job.

And the timeline of Laguerta sleeping with Pascal's fiance doesn't work for me. Was she sleeping with him when Pascal came to the station? If so, isn't it an awful coincidence that Pascal was assigned there?

Undercover Asian Man said...

I hope to god that Lila is just an extremely open minded artist type, and nothing more. It is not bad to have a character that can actually be a "true" friend to Dexter (the real or at least 'more real' Dexter), and not a serial killer in waiting. That would be too much. In her current role, she gives Dexter a person to really explore himself with and thus explore with the audience as well, a substitute for the Voice-over only route. Even Rita is on the outside when it comes to the real Dexter. Besides, it sets up the weirdest love-triangle on television, with Dexter hardly aware of anyone else's feelings at all. Lila's kiss on his lips barely registered as anything but a bit strange to him, and he is obviously blind to Rita's jealousy concerns. So it is a great way to show that Dexter really is missing basic emotions and empathy at times. But I did really like the fact that Rita's kid is freaked out by the BHB, and how close to home that hits Dexter.

I share the same problems as Alan when it comes to the supporting characters. Dexter is SO unique and interesting that he can make a Special Forces policeman on the brink (Doakes), a Lady Macbeth-level schemer (Laguerta), and an otherwise charismatic officer going through emotional turmoil and hiding behind new-age philosophy (Batista) completely boring by contrast, making me wish their screen-time would be reduced. Only Deb and Masuka are interesting to me, and mainly because how closely they tie into Dexter's storyline.

The others, who could be leads on other shows, in this context seem like pure filler - especially the Laguerta-Pascal stuff that hasn't worked since episode one. The Doakes line might be worth it if he is going to be a suspect in the future, but I don't really see it. Doakes' method of killing is 'common', even if expertly handled (bullets to the heart in the line of duty). It is a huge jump to go from that to stalking and butchering victims into pieces, with, I think they will discover, other ritual aspects to the killings. But it does seem logical that the investigation will turn to someone internal, since the victims are all people who 'got away with it' and thus points to someone who knows they 'got away with it' and is correcting mistakes. That means the police or the DA office. And it would be compelling to see how far Dexter would go to either save or destroy Doakes.

One minor complaint about this episode - I really hated that they cut away from the Doakes-Barnes confrontation scene at the height of its tension, told some other stories, and then cut back. Very poor choice that killed the scene for me.

Finally, while the algae is a concern, it is hardly beyond-reasonable-doubt evidence. For one thing, there are hundreds of boats in any harbor in Miami, and for another, it cannot be proved that the killer DID collect rocks in the same location as his boat. It might help the investigation a lot for them to assume so, but it would be hard to introduce as 'key' evidence.

Love this friggin show.

Jill said...

It seems that the show's creators are littering the place with potential serial killers. Doakes "smells" something "off" about Dexter. Lila may very well be a kindred soul, given that she creates art out of parts of department store mannequins. And why does Rita's mother "know" that something isn't quite right with Dexter? She clearly has a streak of vigilantism too. How many freaking people live by the Code of Harry?

The conceit that Miami is a hotbed (sorry) of psychopathic killers and the only difference is how well they keep a lid on it is pretty interesting. Even Lundy is suspect at this point.

The most obvious plot development would be for Dexter to serve up Lila to take the fall as the Bay Harbor Butcher. I'd kind of be disappointed if that's the route they go, but I don't see where else it could possibly go. She clearly isn't squeamish about corpses; in fact, she reminded me of that Molly Parker movie in which Parker played the necrophiliac funeral makeup artist.

What I want to know more about is Harry. It's clear that Harry knows far too much about how to teach Dexter to "pass". I suspect Harry had a dark passenger himself. And what kind of monster do you have to be to find two kids in a blood-soaked trailer, remove one, and leave the other one behind? I suspect we'll see more about this as the season progresses.

The Doakes development is also interesting, because I suspect Internal Affairs will decide he did nothing wrong and close the case. This brings up when it's OK to kill; i.e. when the person "deserves it." The little dance of death that Dexter and Doakes do (alliteration anyone?) represent flip sides of the same coin.

Anonymous said...

To each their own I guess, but I actually find Jaime Murray unpleasing to the eye. Plus, I can't quite place her accent.

I think people may be onto something with the idea that Doakes gets fingered as the BHB, either just through an investigation that points to the department, or because Dexter frames him. Why else would they have the pointless, scene this week?

scott said...

when you say a "planned final" season, do you mean that's something the writers already have mapped out for the final season, or that the only way you'd want to see the manhunt again is if it was in what was planned as the final season?

Alan Sepinwall said...

The latter.

DonBoy said...

I can't help but be irritated at the idea that Pascal turned back women in the department 20 years

But that came from the mouth of Chief A-hole, and I think we're supposed to take it as such.

Anonymous said...

Anon - Jaime Murray is English, born in Essex. Speaking (writing) as a Londoner myself I've got to say I find her accent a bit too contrived - very nearly as annoying as Daphne Moon's

Anonymous said...

Lila is a textbook sociopath - or at the very least, a manipulative narcissist. She seeks out weak people (addicts) to have relationships with so she can feed off them. I don't think she's recovering from addiction at all, I think she stalks NA meetings looking for emotional supply. She just happened to choose the wrong potential 'victim' with Dex.
I think Dexter is going to have to kill her eventually... or frame her for the BHB murders... if he doesn't find a more convenient scapegoat in Doakes, who's looking pretty paranoid and suspicious right now.