Monday, November 05, 2007

Dexter: The power of truthiness

Spoilers for "Dexter" coming up just as soon as I take a drive in the rain...

Before we get to discussing the meat of the episode -- Dexter pulling another Houdini act, the Dexter/Rita/Lila triangle, Dexter and Doakes' rivalry heating up, etc. -- I want to say a few words about Vince Masuka, and about actor C.S. Lee. Masuka was an amusing enough character in season one, but I didn't really start paying attention to him until Lee turned up on "Chuck" as Harry Tang, another very funny, but very different, recurring role. In both cases, he's playing something of a rival to the main character in his day job, but comic and irrelevant to the star's night job. The difference is that where Harry Tang is an angry tight-ass, Masuka is an obnoxious horndog -- and, as we discover in this episode, kind of a deviant. One man, one face, two unique performances. When Masuka put on his stupid fire marshall hat, he could have come across like Harry dressed as a cowboy (I think; it's been a few days) in the "Chuck" Halloween episode, but he didn't. I probably shouldn't make too big a deal of an actor managing to differentiate two different characters he plays, but given how many actors make a career out of being the same guy in every single project, I wanted to give Lee some dap. This is probably the closest he'll ever get to a "Dexter" showcase episode, and everytime he appeared, I laughed.

Maybe I'm also focusing on Masuka because "Dex, Lies and Videotape" as a whole seemed, as Scott Tobias pointed out already, like more of a plot-mover episode. Not a bad hour, but not a dazzler like last week's road trip.

Even more than Dexter melting all the bodies in the temporary morgue two weeks ago, the simple erasure of the blood-cleaning footage has me worried about the Vic Mackey factor, where Dexter keeps being put into narrative traps that he has to immediately escape from to keep the series from ending. Unless the series is ending with this season (which I don't think is anyone's plan), we know Dexter is somehow going to avoid capture; at worst, Deb or Rita or someone else he cares about will find out but refuse to turn him in. I know lots of cat-and-mouse stories like this rely on the same kind of artificial tension, but it distracts me more here because I'm so enthralled by the psychological portrait aspects of the show. I continue to like the presence of Lundy and his relationship with Deb, and some of the sidelines to this hunt for the Butcher -- namely, the sensational Dexter/Doakes confrontation in Dexter's office, the first time we've seen him lose his cool that badly while in his cover identity -- are great, but I'd be fine without another '40s serial-style cliffhanger between now and the last episode or two of the season.

Lila's inopportune answering machine message was a bit of a writer's cheat -- given the prevalance of voicemail these days, would someone as secretive and savvy as Dexter use a blabby, unsecure technology like an answering machine anyway? -- but this evolution of the New Dexter (not to be confused with New Larry from "Curb") is fascinating. I still think, like any good sociopath, he vastly overestimates Lila's tolerance for his dark side, but this change (or potential change) in his character is the kind of thing the show could legitimately sustain, as opposed to him getting caught by the task force. You can do a show where Dexter is more in touch with his emotions; you can't do one where he's a fugitive or behind bars. (I mean, you could, but it would be so different as to become a different series.)

Still not sure what vibe I'm picking up off Lundy vis-a-vis Deb. Is he really just as guileless and straightforward as he appears -- which would make him the perfect nemesis for a play-actor Dexter -- or is his interest in Deb more than just a bit of fatherly mentoring?

I have the next two episodes on DVD but am forcing myself to watch only one a week so my reviews aren't colored by knowledge of what's coming. with a show this good (even after a slightly off episode), my patience is really hard to maintain.

What did everybody else think?

19 comments:

Undercover Asian Man said...

I've been refreshing your site Alan, waiting for your take on this episode of Dexter.

I did not think it was a 'off' episode at all, but a very key one. It absolutely shocked me how much this episode matched my comments about the last one and what direction the show might go - from Dexter theorizing to himself finally that Harry might in fact have purposefully shaped Dexter as a vigilante, to Dexter choosing Lila over Rita as he realized more and more that his life with Rita was a lie, and as he discovers himself, how much he needs to move away from the lies.

These aspects - Dexter turning on Harry and Rita - are major points to the series, and thus why I'm surprised you found this to be a bit of a filler episode. Even the investigation side of the BHB hunt had real progress as we now have Dexter as part of the team. I do agree that having Dexter do a 'task of the week' in destroying evidence will get ridiculously old very soon, but I actually think it is what will lead to Dexter being 'caught', either by Lundy or Deb or Doakes, and who notices the 'strange coincidences' within the investigation first will be the one to have the highlight confrontation with Dexter as the climax of the season.

I am now very interested in Lila's motivations - did she always have an eye on seducing Dexter, as was hinted at strongly during her first introduction scene? Is she seeking a dangerous, damaged man to replace her meth (or 'math' as Rita's mom calls it) addiction? If so, she has no idea how much more she got than she bargained for, as Dexter is not 'merely' a heroin addict. But it does lead to a possibility that she might actually accept Dexter as he really is if she finds out - and uses his thrilling alter ego to be her new addiction. I still hope not, as I would find that straining credibility, but they are making it more believable that she might the more we see her in action.

Hate the Deb and Lundy budding romance. It's just squicky. I know the writers might be setting Lundy up as the emotional replacement for Harry in Deb's life, and that she thus might actually choose her new 'father' over Dexter if the two face off, but it squicks me out that they might go Oedipal as the way for Deb to show allegiance. Just have her really, really admire Lundy professionally and stay with her new boyfriend, instead of this awkwardness I see on screen - please! But it looks like it going down squicky lane instead.

Julie Benz was outstanding tonight. Her reaction to being called "Martha Stewart", her blow up after the message, and her total hurt at the end were so well done, I really felt for Rita. While I'm still firmly in the Lila is better for Dexter camp, Benz's acting was just so convincing as a woman experiencing extreme hurt and insecurity. Dexter says to Lila that Harry's code is what led him to having a girlfriend like Rita, so it seems like Rita is going to get lumped into the theme of whether he should accept or reject Harry and his code now. In their world, I think he should reject - but Julie Benz is such a good actress that she would be missed, and Rita has been abused far more than any one human should have to suffer.

As far as CS Lee / Masuka, he's always been my favorite supporting character after Deb. I'm surprised that Alan is just sort of calling him out as a deviant now, it has been apparent since episode 1.

Doakes vs Dexter was intense, could Dexter ever bring himself to off Doakes? It's getting close...

"The voices are back, excellent..."

God I wish all television could be this good.

Tommy B said...

As a Shield fan, I couldn't agree more that I don't like the recurring Vic Mackey escape routine. Hopefully that is the last of it. My favorite scene from this week was when Lundy was grilling Dexter at the crime scene (when you were under the impression that Lundy had scene the tapes of Dex cleaning his boat). Makes me wonder if Lundy feels something is off about Dexter or perhaps he sees some similarities in the quirks that Dexter has compared to the man he is tracking.

BigTed said...

Man, this show is great.

One of the virtues of the writing on "Dexter" is that we really have no idea what kind of secrets the new characters -- Lila, Lundy, Deb's new boyfriend -- are hiding, if any. They may all be exactly what they seem, or one or all of them could turn out to be an agent of Dexter's potential doom. Does Lundy already know more about Dex than he's letting on (and is he after Deb's bod, or something else)? Is Lila really trying to help Dex, or is she purposely bringing his dark emotions to the surface for some nefarious purpose? And is Deb's boyfriend, a buff single dude, really just a children's-book writer? (For that matter, does Rita's mom really deserve the "evil" spotlight she's been getting, or is she just a regular ol' unpleasant person?) I enjoy the fact that the audience can never predict what's going to happen from episode to episode, especially since we've already seen that the writers are good at springing major surprises.

I do have one quibble: From what I know about 12-step programs, it would have been beyond inappropriate for Rita and her mother to press Dexter to talk about his experience, much less to invite his sponsor to dinner. (Dexter's relationship with Lila, on the other hand, is so out there that you just have to kind of suspend your disbelief. I don't think it's entirely uncommon for members of an addiction program to have sex, but I'm guessing there are major rules against it.)

One final thing: I just finished reading the latest Dexter novel ("Dexter in the Dark"), and it's amazing how different the book Dexter is from the TV Dexter. In the books, Dexter really is basically an emotionless shell. He uses his relationships with Deb and Rita almost entirely as way of covering up what a freak he is. (He also has an interesting relationship with Rita's kids, which I won't give away here.) The "Dark Passenger" in his head -- the voice that drives his murders -- is almost a completely separate entity from him, rather than just an expression of his mental disorder. There's no way this Dexter could get in touch with his emotions, because he doesn't have any. He would never have been capable of the angry outburst, not to mention the angry sex, that the TV Dex had in this latest episode.

Susan said...

I'm wondering if Dexter's sloppiness in killing the copycat killer is going to come back to haunt him. (I hope not - I'm with you, Alan. I don't want to see each episode see Dexter have to keep destroying evidence/stay one step ahead of the police. It relies too much on luck and coincidence to work.) I think this is the first time we've seen him capture someone in his own home without his usual plastic covering as protection. Dex could easily have left hair behind. And with this being a fresh BHB killing, the task force should be all over that house.

I absolutely loved the Dexter/Rita scenes, especially at the end. The whole show, up until recently, has been about Dexter putting on one show - an act, really - for the world and being himself when he's alone. But lately he's realizing that he doesn't know who he is or what he wants, and the two worlds are starting to blend. So he went against everything he'd learned when he told Rita the truth. So far, everything he's told her to get out of a sticky situation was a lie. This time, he went with as much of the truth as he could bear. Watching him do that, and still lose her, was fascinating. Because it makes us wonder whether Dexter was staying with her as a cover, or out of habit, or... something actual feeling for her. Enough that he'd risk sharing the truth.

I'm wondering how Doakes' "he's in NA" is going to play out with Deb and Dexter. Too many lies to too many different people are gong to get him in trouble.

I also really liked that Dexter realized he didn't feel the urge to kill. He felt justified, yes. And he had to kill the copycat to save his skin. But it was quite a difference from the start of this season when he was jonesing for a kill and couldn't do it with Doakes on his tail. I wonder if the more violent, real confrontation with his mother's killer has taken care of a need that a colder, more pristine kill can't match?

DonBoy said...

In figuring out what's up with Lila, I thought one bit last week was interesting: in the middle of all the bizarre inappropriate behavior towards Dex, when she thought he was about to use drugs, she snapped completely to attention and started to talk him out of it.

Undercover Asian Man said...

Susan: "I think this is the first time we've seen him capture someone in his own home without his usual plastic covering as protection. Dex could easily have left hair behind. And with this being a fresh BHB killing, the task force should be all over that house."

I'm not sure this is true. The used car salesman, he kidnapped at his place of work, near the victims car. No prep work was done before capture, like plastic sheets. Police will obviously search that area.

The blind voodoo guy who he did not kill - he captured him at the voodoo house, the victim's place of employment, and since he was left alive, obviously a place that will be searched if reported.

I think in season one there were a few more 'unprepared' captures, like the woman who dealt in illegal immigrants - I think she was taken from her own home.

Point is that either we assume that, as in insider forensic investigator, Dexter has the ability to explain any of his DNA at scenes OR not even bring them to light (the force is relying on his reports, and he can just say whatever he wants in them), or it's something we have to just give him credit for so we don't need too many scenes of him laying down a rock-solid, evidence-free trap every episode.

What I find more interesting is why the police squad swarmed the train where the copycat killer had been butchered by Dex. It is like they got tipped off that the BHB was there, judging by the amount of man-power they brought and how the approached the scene. Who tipped them off, Dexter? And why do so, they would have eventually gone back and found it naturally.

Anonymous said...

Another great episode, and I'll be happy if they resist the Deb-Lundy "crush" thing they seem to be leaning toward.
Alan,
Has this season been completely written, so we won't be left hanging by the strike?

Jill said...

I really look forward to your entry on Dexter every week, and to the postings. No one I know other than my husband watches Dexter and he usually doesn't get to it till the following weekend.

I found this episode excruciating to watch, and yet I can't stop thinking about it. The last two weeks have been astounding, both for Dexter and for Lila, who is rapidly becoming one of the more interesting characters.

As a woman, I can tell you that Lila is every wife's nightmare. She isn't conventionally beautiful, but she has an allure and she knows how to use it. I'd pegged her as a seducer until Dexter came back to the hotel room in Naples. That's when it hit home that Rita may have been right when Dexter was able to be the bottled-up, stolid, knight in shining armor. But as Dexter begins to disintegrate right before our very eyes, we see how WRONG Rita is at this point. And it's not her fault.

At first I thought Lila might be another one, with the mannequin parts and all, but of course that would be too easy. I'm glad my husband doesn't have to do any work with Lila, but she sure as hell is interesting to watch.

Regarding Lundy and Deb: I love how they're making Lundy sort of a comic relief, but I'm not getting anything "squicky" between he and Deb at all. Deb is looking for the approving father figure and I think she sees that in Lundy.

I don't think I've ever seen Michael C. Hall as good as he was in this episode, and I worship the ground the man walks on. Just...plain....wow.

What the others said about C.S. Lee. I love Masuka. You have to believe every police station has a guy like that. You do what these guys do and you either handle it with sick humor like Masuka or your turn into Doakes.

anon said...

Alan,

It is always strange when the show resorts to devices as ungainly as an inconveniently timed answering machine message. Just like Lila being allowed into the morgue or the entire Laguerta/Pascal storyline, it seems not just like lazy writing but such an egregious example of lazy writing that it draws attention to itself. Even the "angry sex after a rainstorm" scene didn't feel as egregious as the answering machine message scene. It makes me uneasy about the Lila arc as a whole.

I still think Lundy's further ahead of the curve than we're being led to believe, and that his relationship with Deb may be more calculated than it initially appears. There are obvious reasons why, if Lundy suspects a cop, he wouldn't tell the local PD. And if he does suspect a cop Dexter has to be on the top of his list -- familiar with bad guys, possessing medical training, owning a boat in the proper marina, and displaying a meticulousness that Lundy experienced firsthand this episode.

I admit I'd prefer this outcome to others involving Lundy because it would make all of Dexter's antics pointless, whereas many other resolutions (Lundy gives up, Lundy finally grabs a singularly crucial piece of evidence so Dexter kills him, Lundy falls for a convenient last minute patsy) would make the Lundy storyline pointless (and much more in line with your Shield comparison).

But at the moment I still have hopes for the Lundy storyline -- and for the Doakes storyline, for that matter, which as you note as nicely restarted this episode.

Anon

ooda said...

I'd hate it if they did keep using the Mackey' formula when dealing with conundrums, but I have enough trust in the writers that the deleting Dexter did will not be something that happened without consequences.

Funnily, I did find myself covering my eyes when Dexter said "not that night", just like at the most awkward times in Curb or Office.

For me it was a good episode, and more than just a progressor.

Jesse said...

Has this season been completely written, so we won't be left hanging by the strike?

According to the LA Times, all current Showtime series have already wrapped, so fans can breathe a sigh of relief. In case you're rooting for the WGA (knowing the crappy pay most writers get, I am), Daniel Cerone is walking the picket line at Paramount (who runs Showtime). He's one of the executive producers "Dexter" in addition to a writer for several episodes.

rukrusher said...

1) Regarding the takedown on the train car, Clearly Dexter tipped them off, the threat of the case being removed from the Miami PD required the task force to find the vigilante as soon as possible. Dexter needs to keep monitoring the investigation.

2) This erasing of the tapes is either very sloppy writing or they are going to acknowledge that the files were missing but the backup system has the video, Dexter should not have been able to erase the files on the network and the backup from that work station.

3) If I was dexter I would go fishing and start cleaning my boat every time I come back with the blue light.

4) Anyone else think of the Friends episode "We were broken up" when Dexter said not that night?

5) Try as I might, I do not care enough about Rita for them to continue her storyline outside of Dexter, so the evil mom thing was a big who cares.

6) When does Dexter tell the rest of the force he watched his mother die? Won't Doakes now be able to track down Dexter had a brother and he was the ice truck killer?

Seth said...

First, it's refreshing to see that so many other people share my love and intrigue with this show. It's a shame that it's one premium cable and unavailable to a wider audience.
Second, I'd like to share my thoughts on this episode with those who really appreciate this show.

It's been touched on already that there is this symbolic struggle, at least in Dexter's head, between Lila, who represents a new life path, and Rita who represents the old Harry-code way, if you will. I think if Dexter's pendulum swings too far to the Lila side (no pun intended), we may be faced with a situation where Dexter has to come to terms with what he's done and ultimately how it makes him feel. You can almost see it already, especially in the moments right before the angry sex with Lila. That fact that he recognizes his new found feelings but doen't yet have them under control (and arugably doesn't know that he doesn't have them under control) could indicate his path to a polar in-the-moment type of gut decisionmaking that departs wildly from his meticulous past style.

In that scene, Lila was amazing. The way she said "why don't you make me" can be interpreted one of two ways: the obvious sexual inuendo, or an actual invitation for Dexter to strike her. Why the latter? Well, she may have felt that by displaying to Dexter the severity of his feeling and subsequent action she could be teaching him something along the path of his "recovery." In a way, either courses of action by Dexter (the sex or a strike) would have been an appropriate furthering of the storyline. I'm really glad it ended the way it did because I've been waiting for the show to reveal to us how it was going to happen (because, really, we all knew it would from the first moment we saw that woman).

A friend of mine to whom I feed episodes doesn't like the direction the show is going because he believes the departure of Dexter from his old, empty ways, takes away from the essence of what the show is supposed to be about. Thoughts anyone?

I think that Rita's character, who has obviously grown a pair thanks to Dexter, has run her course in the series. Other than representing the Harry path, I don't believe she serves any other storytelling purpose past this episode. Maybe if she gets together with Deb and somehow mentions Dexter's addiction she could be helpful from a plot standpoint with regard to Deb's dealing with Dexter but otherwise I don't think she's useful anymore. Although, maybe as one of the aforementioned polar representatives we'll see Dexter vacilate and go from Lila to trying to win Rita back somehow using his old lying techiniques. Don't get me wrong, I love the character and she's done a lot for the series, but plot-wise I don't see how she adds anymore. Besides, the one character I thnk is (relative to the other characters) poorly acted is the part of Rita's mom. While I think she was a good addition in theory, in practice she's a little over the top. And c'mon, the whole "it's OK, mommy's here" with that crazy glint in her eyes; that type of allusion to future plotlines has no place in this series I think. Anyone else have an opinion on this?

I don't for a second think that Dexter is going to be OK just because he deleted a camera file. No way. Just like the Doakes situation, this one is going to come back to bite him and will require a much more sophisticated resolution than just the one episode "Vic Mackey" solution as mentioned by many of you already.

On one last note, I like Masuka. Although a minor character (and one of the only ones to whom they haven't given) he's a great dose of diversity in show's dower presentation of people and funny too.

I'd love to hear what any of you other Dexter fans have to say about any of these points. Can't wait for the next episode!

Jeff said...

Seth: Initially I would have agreed with your friend about Dexter needing to be hollow. I am rewatching season 1 to show a friend and as much as I love the style of it, I am not sure it could be done across multiple seasons and stay interesting. Imagine if he just acted like a shell in every episode and went about killing this person or that person. Adding a little bit of confusion and humanity gives the character something else to work with over the season. Think of all the time that has been dedicated to his transformation this season. If that wasn't there I'm not sure what they would fill that void with and still have the show this good.

dez said...

In their world, I think he should reject - but Julie Benz is such a good actress that she would be missed, and Rita has been abused far more than any one human should have to suffer.


I think Rita is better off not dating a serial killer. She can still figure into the plot as someone else mentioned (by telling Deb about Dex's addiction), but being away from Dexter is the best thing that's happened to her (without her knowing it yet, of course).

Undercover Asain Man said...

dez: “but being away from Dexter is the best thing that's happened to [Rita] (without her knowing it yet, of course).”

But is this necessarily true? We know that Dexter would never hurt her or the children, and in fact is smart and ruthless enough to protect them in ways no other man could – like how he handled Rita’s ex-husband. From her and the children’s perspective, he is almost the perfect man – even his “drug addiction” has no real chance of being an issue. Right now, to Rita, Dexter is a stable man with a stable job, is exceptional to her children, and tries real hard to please her (even if the effort is artificial and not from emotion). I would say Dexter’s lack of emotion is a plus even, as he must concentrate and try hard to be a good boyfriend, perhaps harder than those who have more natural reactions. Dexter leaving Rita would be devastating to her and just as importantly, to her children who already rely on him as the father figure.

Seth - In regards to Dexter needing to be hollower for the show to keep its core, I agree and I disagree. I do think he has progressed very far very fast on the emotional front, and I found it very interesting during season one where he was very clueless on how to behave. I do think they could have extended his training phase, and found plenty of room for comedy and pathos as he messes up the most simple of emotional cues and situations. I do think he has changed so much under Lila, and that is what makes her such an interesting and strong character – she is the first (including Deb and Rita) to be able to draw Dexter out and make him examine himself. Perhaps too quickly, though, as I found the UN-relatableness to Dexter the main draw of Season One.

But I am also enjoying the struggle between what Dexter always believed he was – an emotionally hollow being – and what he now suspects might have been forced upon him by Harry and his code, and that deep down he is just as human and emotional as anyone in his real core. Since that is a central theme to this season, it’s understandable that Dexter needs to progress emotionally from season one. Perhaps a good compromise would have been if we got another season of Dexter as an emotional faker, and have the current season be Season 3.

While I have already proclaimed myself in the Lila camp, I do not think the character of Rita is now disposable and should be quickly dropped. Rita still represents more than just Harry’s code – she represents complete normalcy, the life the Dexter may or may not wish for, but something that is a stark contrast to his current core being. Is Dexter striving to make it so that having a relationship with Rita, a true relationship, is his ultimate goal? Or does he wish to remain who he is currently, and see Rita and the children as a cover for himself, no more valuable than the air condition unit he hides his blood-slides behind? Accepting Lila means accepting that he is a killer and can never be anything else, and dealing with that truth. But striving for Rita, or at least trying to wholeheartedly to be true to her, means denying that he was always meant to be a killer, that he has not completely lost his humanity, and that he actually can function as a loving husband and father. It could very well be that Lila helps Dexter discover himself enough to lead him to Rita again (but with a true emotional core this time), or that he learns he is damaged beyond repair and thus should leave Rita alone. Either way, the character or Rita and what she represents is by no means dead quite yet, as Dexter has a long way to go before he knows himself which way is the right way.

Is it Sunday yet?

dez said...

Dexter leaving Rita would be devastating to her and just as importantly, to her children who already rely on him as the father figure.

More devastating than finding out she's been dating a serial killer? I can't imagine Dexter not getting caught eventually.

Anonymous said...

jennifer carpenter is insufferable. as a character and as an actress. she must stop.

drake leLane said...

Alan - kudos for the C.S. Lee love. Of course you give it up the week I'm on vacation (after I begged for it last month ;).

I'm even more a Lee fan now that I see he went to my alma mater.

You've nailed it on the Vince Mackey action (again). Hopefully they can resolve it this season and move on somehow, unlike The Shield.