Dexter "Helter Skelter" Review: An Uneasy Alliance Begins... and Ends

By Cory Barker

Nov 26, 2012

Dexter S7E09: “Helter Skelter”

Dexter is a ridiculous show. It is not realistic at all. Sometimes that can bother me, but what I love about the show (when it's good) is how well it can take me along for a ride that can I simultaneously recognize as pretty silly and enthralling nonetheless. And amid a season of relatively down-to-earth and character-focused stories, “Helter Skelter” saw the show reach its highest level of absurdity so far this season, and it thrived in doing so.

Only on a television show like Dexter can an entire episode revolve around the uneasy alliance between two cold-blooded killers who've spent most of the previous half-dozen installments plotting to kill one another. And only on a show like this one can those characters trade barbs, pull multiple weapons on one another, and then discuss heady concepts like love, loss, fear, and responsibility as part of their alliance. Simply put, the relationship between Dexter and Isaak has been an odd but compelling one to watch develop throughout the season.

If you are one of those people who thought their chat in the gay bar last week was a treat, "Helter Skelter" may have been one of your favorite episodes of the season so far. Though I've really enjoyed the Dexter-Deb stories this season, I consider myself one of those people. And really, this episode—and this story—shouldn’t have been this good. We have seen the show try to pull Dexter and various villains and Big Bads together for very manufactured, troubling reasons and it has rarely worked; as viewers, we know that the show is not reflective of real life, but some stories just stretch the credulity of the world a smidgen too far.

However, Isaak’s presence in Miami has worked from the get-go and progressed very well. A lot of the credit goes to Ray Stevenson for bringing real ethos and pathos to the role, but the quality and care that's gone into the Dex-Deb story has been shared with Isaak as well. The show has done a fine job of making Isaak’s decision not to kill Dexter (and vice versa) as believable as possible, considering that they understand and respect one another on a more civil level. Not all of Dexter’s relationships with other killers have to careen into twisted, over-the-top territory. And so, when "Helter Skelter" spent most of its running time with Dexter and Isaak working together (quite successfully, I might add) while also featuring Dexter’s backdoor plan to take out Isaak anyway, the story hummed along, logic and believability be damned.

Similar things can be said for the supporting details in the Dexter-Isaak partnership story. Isaak and his loyal buddy Jurg kidnapped Hannah, which is why Dexter agreed to help in the first place, but in the meantime, there was a whole lot of discussion about Dexter’s ability to embrace emotion and love. It was odd to watch Dexter mumble his way through a breathless, half-assed romantic FaceTime conversation with Hannah, but it was even odder to then watch Isaak provide the instant replay of everything Dexter did wrong. The purpose was ultimately to build to some moments at the end of the hour—Dexter taking Isaak out to where he dumped Viktor’s body and Dexter rushing to the hospital and acting generally (and creepily) lovesick toward Hannah—that were simply not as powerful as the show would've liked them to be, but I appreciate Dexter's willingness to try to make an already outrageous situation even more outrageous by including the loaded language.

Of course, the bad news is that Isaak is now gone, leaving Dexter to presumably fend off George and the rest of the Brotherhood. I am assuming they might want some revenge for something, even in Isaak's absence, because that is how these things go. I will definitely miss Isaak and Ray Stevenson. His performance was certainly more subdued than what most of Dexter's special guest-stars bring to the show, and I'm sad that breath of fresh air is now dead (or I guess stale).

Perhaps even worse is what Isaak’s influence has done to Dexter. I'm all-in on his relationship with Hannah, and I know that the writers want to show their work so that we'll understand how this pretty blonde is different from the previous two pretty blondes, but the way Dexter was acting at the end of this episode was an uncomfortable sight to see. Maybe it's just the way Michael C. Hall played that hospital room scene, or maybe he just can't do romantic because he's kind of inherently creepy, but... *shudder*. The show has definitely beat the idea that Dex’s relationship with Hannah is different, yet terrifying, into the ground. My hope is that we can now move on from the “different” part and move onto the “terrifying” part. Did you notice the look on Hannah’s face after Dexter did his eerie love confession thing? Somethin’s a-brewin’.

Even Deb got roped into the silliness this week and unfortunately, she couldn’t handle it like Dexter and Isaak. After being talked off a cliff from a seemingly unbothered-by-her-proclamation-of-love Dexter, she spent most of “Helter Skelter” running errands for her brother that he specifically asked her not to do. She got directly involved in Dexter’s partnership with Isaak, putting her career and life on the line—a typical move for the show, but also one that didn't make much sense in the aftermath of her lecture to Dexter about how wrong his decisions are. The episode tried to pass off Deb’s choices off as “for Dexter,” and I buy that to some degree, but after everything that she's said to him, and even what she has said to Hannah’s face, it's tough to understand why Deb would help a bleeding-out Hannah. We've seen her embrace the idea that bad people need to be punished or get theirs or whatever, so why stop now? Again, Deb’s choice reinforced her complicated feelings about Hannah and only further muddied the waters between the trio of Dexter, Deb, and Hannah, but I'm still concerned that Deb is going to be the character who gets screwed up while the writers try to juggle what is admittedly an odd, compelling story.

But as this episode proved, Dexter knows how to do odd and compelling.


– I love how this show always tries to slide in some random case so that all the police characters have to meet for at least one scene. Suddenly there is a serial arsonist going around and lighting people on fire in Miami. The good news is that it's clearly the randomly new and eerie inspector guy, because duh.

– LaGuerta harassed Matthews into giving her some information about the BHB in exchange for reinstatement. Why can’t those two characters just get a room? A room on a show that I never have to watch.

– Batista doesn’t want to talk about the restaurant. He's got health inspection violations that need to fixing very quickly. Hard-knock life.

– George taught Quinn a lesson by... having sex with Nadia. This is probably the apex of Quinn’s time on the show for sure.

  • Comments (147)
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  • fireant202 Jan 24, 2013

    What really bothered me is that Isaak instantly game up on going to a hospital. I thought bullets to the stomach were survivable...he was still going hours later after sunset!

  • jdh Dec 06, 2012

    When Dexter closed Issac's eyes after he died was one of the worst bits of television I have seen in ages. So cliched.

  • vivyrox Dec 01, 2012

    "Did you notice the look on Hannah's face after Dexter did his eerie love confession thing? Somethin's a-brewin'."
    I thought I interpreted her expression incorrectly, but if you saw it as well I wonder what it means.....will she eventually try to kill Dexter???
    Can't stand Laguerta!!!!! Wish she'd just jump off a cliff already!
    I wonder if george will kill nadia to get back at quinn?

  • zampognaro Nov 29, 2012

    "Why can't those two characters just get a room? A room on a show that I never have to watch."
    This! So many times, this!!

  • violetpretty Nov 29, 2012

    Awesome, awesome episode. I AM SO SAD that Isaak is gone though. Hell, he is half the reason I was so excited for this season!

  • Ubercolt Nov 29, 2012

    Psst, I have some magic beans I think you'll like to see...

  • zampognaro Nov 29, 2012

    what the ... ?

  • Ubercolt Nov 30, 2012

    I have magic beans to show anyone who thought this episode was awesome².

  • zampognaro Nov 30, 2012


  • MeghanSchrader Nov 28, 2012

    I like the storyline with Deb, though I do feel her complicity is hard to buy and I would actually like to see a bit more struggle on Dexter's part over how to handle the situation-I wouldn't want him to actually kill Deb, but I think it would be more believable if she were still wrestling with whether to turn him in and he actually wrestled with whether to kill her or not. This is where an evil posthumous character, like Brian, would be helpful in exploring the darker aspects of Dexter's thought process. I also don't like the Hannah storyline. Like Lumen, we don't know her, yet Dexter says that the two times he felt fear in his life was watching his mother die...and thinking about her dying? Really? He was more afraid of her dying than Deb dying when she was kidnaped by Brian? Or Rita, when it became clear that Trinity was a threat, or even when he found her dead in a bathtub? Or what about when Astor and Cody were locked in a burning building with him, or when he thought Astor had been kidnapped in season 5? The thought of losing Hannah was scarier than the possibility of those losses? Why? And, again, I've always felt that the writers should show Dexter grieving Rita's death in a more tangible way, such as by visiting her grave, talking to her "ghost," and/or by attempting to be more present in her kids lives. He was the only father they knew for four years and then they were conveniently adopted by their grandparents, who we also never met before the season 4 finale. I still like the show, but I think that Rita's death and the elimination of her children was a significant wrong turn from which the show's narrative has never fully recovered.

  • ElisaDiaz Nov 28, 2012

    Personally I found ridiculous that the shrink pushed Deb to pursue love feelings for his own brother, being same blood or not. Come on, shrinks would not do that. At the most, they would allow her to see that she has a great opinion of his brother (like it could have been his father, normally) and that is making it difficult for her to find love as she finds everybody else flawed in comparison. Classic shrinks stuff. But this pushing her into exploring sexual love with her brother was totally out of the pot, and Deb even considering, even crazier. But this is where we are going, guys. Then Hannah comes in accepting his dark passanger without blinking, and after all the struggle with Deb, he just has to go for it. But attention, Hannah will not accept Dexter fully as he is. There is a part that will not be accepted and this is where everything will break. And Dexter's life will be in danger. And Hannah will be the mean villain that she's meant to be (and not a love affair, as most of you seem to see her).

  • Ubercolt Nov 28, 2012

    I agree with much of what you wrote; certainly the end of season four signalled a twist in the narrative that the writers have been unable to properly negotiate. I think this is because until that point the storyline was continuous, building gradually on plots that had developed for many episodes over several seasons. Now the writers are lazy, tossing twists and turns into the mix over the course of a few minutes in some cases. Exactly how long did it take Isaak to enlist Dexter's help before the first assassin was killed? How long did the counsellor from season six take to diagnose Deb's love for her brother, and specifically how long did Deb need to accept this as the truth? How abrupt was Isaak's death (actually his death was ridiculously protracted, but the scene in which George decided to do his own dirty work was laughably sudden).

  • geoffmaze Nov 27, 2012

    This season has been OK. Isaak was a big plus and the love affair with Hannah has been done a lot better than Lumen for sure. Still this is season 7 and I rank this one 5th, 4th maybe. The season with Julia Stiles was the only one I'd categorize as BAD but the material here is getting tired and Deb's complicity is one of many things that are becoming more and more implausible. Getting really really near the end of the road for Dexter. Been a great ride but please don't ruin the good with increasingly ridiculous seasons.

  • klotensen Nov 27, 2012

    It seems that I am one of the few who really like this season a lot.
    On par with seas 2 so far and just an inch behind seas 1. Yes I said it season 4 comes behind because I didn't forget about the Kyle-mess and the ridiculous explanation of Trinity's motives. And Rita was so f++++ stupid that everyone was happy to see her in that bathtub. Dexter needs to be the monster and this season really shows him the way he is: a sociopathic killer. But he is our monster and we love him for that. Just like Deb. His sister.

  • Ubercolt Nov 27, 2012

    Are you sure this season hasn't made Dexter more moron than monster? I enjoyed the first few episodes of the current season, but the writers have appeared to run out of ideas. The storytelling is incredibly sloppy and I think the show is now insulting its viewers.

  • CreedP Nov 27, 2012

    One of the things I love about Dexter is their willingness to change up what seems to be an obvious game plan. I thought sure the resolution was Isaak killing Hannah and Dexter killing Isaak at the end of the season, making the kill all the greater because he had a thing for her. Didn't expect it to go this way at all. And meanwhile, we've had some fantastic conversations exploring the depth of Dexter's character, more than an earlier season's worth of voiceovers accomplished. Kudos.

  • ElisaDiaz Nov 27, 2012

    Well, Hannah is this seasons villain, like it or not. It is not Isaak. It's Hannah. And she is not in the list of compelling antagonist above. I suppose we don't see her like that yet. Well, we will get over Isaak soon enough. He was just there to put Dexter in the mood for Hannah.

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