Of all the ways Dexter's attempted to refresh its formula over the years, few things work as well as a simple change of venue. Don't get me wrong, bright and shiny Miami's an inspired setting for a show about inner darkness, but after six seasons the turquoise horizons and wafting Latin rhythms have grown slightly tired. While the appropriately titled "Nebraska" took a major turn into self-mythologizing territory by bringing back two familiar faces from past seasons, the newer, dustier visuals of Nebraska were just straight-up refreshing. Seriously, something about seeing Dexter Morgan in the heartland just worked, and it elevated a medium-quality episode into something much stronger.
If you recall, last week's mixed-bag episode nonetheless ended with a heaping dash of crazy: The surprise reappearance of Dexter's estranged, now-murdered, serial killer brother Bryan. I think we all agreed he'd end up being merely a figment of Dexter's imagination and this episode established that fact right away. (Now if only we can just come to some agreement about Professor Gellar's continued existence...) "Nebraska" opened with Dexter and Bryan enjoying some quality body-dumping time on Slice of Life, with Dexter's voiceover intoning that after having felt so lost for so long he'd "finally been found." And it was true: For at least a few scenes the presence of Bryan helped energize Dexter somewhat, pushing him far closer to loose-cannon status than he's been since the wild-eyed boat trip he took right after Rita's murder. Unfortunately Bryan's intriguing devil-on-your-shoulder influence ended up being pretty one-note for the remainder of the episode, as he mainly just chanted a variation of "Go on, do it" over and over and over. Still though, it was pretty nice seeing a familiar face, particularly one that hearkened back to such an amazing first season.
The main plot kicked off when Deb called Dexter into her office and informed him in measured, sympathetic tones that the Trinity Killer had struck again, this time finishing off his wife and daughter who'd been living in witness protection in Nebraska. Dexter knew he'd personally murdered the great John Lithgow character, but Deb and everyone else believed the killer had gotten away after murdering Rita. Deb's empathetic instructions for Dexter to take the rest of the day off resulted in Dexter taking four days off so he and his ghost brother could cruise over to Nebraska and confront the lone surviving Trinity Killer kin, his troubled jock son Jonah (Brando Eaton). While Season 4 established that Jonah was a frightened, ineffectual victim, Dexter immediately came to believe that the kid's killer instinct had kicked in, which seemed to have grim implications for Harrison, Jr.'s future as well.
As I said earlier, the new scenery was a welcome change, and more importantly it coincided with a few personality shifts in Dexter as well. For one thing, he was a bit of a player, managing to score a backroom quickie with a convenience store clerk. It turns out ladies love pickup lines that involve murdered parents. Yeah, I know, the ultimate objective was to steal the cashier's revolver, but still: Dexter was kind of a stud? Later on Dexter also ran aground of his hillbilly motel proprietor when he stumbled upon a hidden pot farm and the hick retaliated by stealing Dexter's knives. Now, generally when I break into strangers' trunks and find elaborate sets of unusual knives that only serial killers would use, I just leave them be. Unfortunately this guy tried to ransom them and ended up with a pitchfork to the chest (again, at Bryan's urging that Dexter not be so methodical with his murderin'). This spontaneous killing broke basically every rule of Harry's code, but even Dexter admitted he'd gotten a thrill from it.
The main storyline came to a head when Dexter investigated Jonah's story and concluded he'd definitely lied about his supposed run-in with the Trinity Killer, and a few homemade forensics tests bore out that Jonah had altered the crime scene. That was enough for Bryan to urge Dexter to take care of business, but it turned out Jonah's story was more complex. His sister had committed suicide and he'd only attacked his mother out of anger for having essentially put the sister up to it. The clencher was when Jonah begged for Dexter to kill him too, to put him out of his psychic misery over what had happened. The fact that Dexter declined and let the kid go was probably the strongest link to Brother Sam's final words yet. Dexter not only had to force Bryan out of his head (and indeed caused him to disintegrate), he had to find it within himself to empathize with Jonah's actions and then, sort of, forgive him. It was a nice moment, if ultimately pretty anticlimactic. As if to tie everything up with a big, blunt, metaphorical bow, on his drive back to Miami, Dexter stopped to pick up a hitchhiking Harry. Dexter was done with his darker impulses and ready to embrace the code once again.
As for the Doomsday Killer (now referred to by the detectives as "DDK"), the once awesome plotline continued its descent into don't-caresville. Travis continued to have cold feet about his involvement with Professor Gellar and even quit their little club. Unfortunately, this week's episode didn't offer anymore major clues as to whether or not Travis is imagining the continued existence of his possibly dead professor, and in fact attempted to make us believe otherwise by having Professor Gellar appear to be doing things independently of Travis. He didn't do anything more tangible than anything, say, Tyler Durden might have done in Fight Club, but still. This was a good episode for people holding out hope that Professor Gellar's real. I definitely don't think he's real and for that reason alone this whole plotline has become a total snooze for me. But I don't know. Prove me wrong, show!
Around Miami Metro, more progress was made on the DDK case when the escaped "whore" gave a harrowing account of her nightmarish blindfolded experience in their lair (including hearing two distinct voices but never actually seeing their owners). Masuka's handsome dork intern Louis then successfully cyberhacked (?) a list of possible DDK accomplices to a more manageable 200, including Travis. These developments were particularly heartening for Deb, who'd just been publicly humiliated by LaGuerta for her high rate of unsolved murders (despite the fact that most were on LaGuerta's watch).
Probably the best non-Dexter Morgan scene this week was Deb and Quinn's highly emotional yet amazingly mature breakup scene. Yes, they were already technically broken up, but this one really finalized it in a mature way. Both acknowledged their mistakes, apologized, kissed a little, and then agreed they should only be friends. It seriously made Quinn and Deb instantly more sympathetic and was one of the better written scenes on this show all season. Credit where credit's due!
Finally, how awful does this video game look??
A videogame ABOUT Miami Metro? Is it called Failure: The Game? Louis, don't quit your unpaid day job.
All in all, a strong, if not mind-blowing episode. I don't know about you, but seeing Dexter out of his element was a pretty exciting change of pace. Maybe Season 7 will be one long road trip? Fingers crossed!
RANDOM BLOOD SPLATTERS:
... What did you think of the Ice Truck Killer's return?
... How weird was it seeing Dexter speeding up the freeway shooting at street signs?
... What are your updated theories about Professor Gellar's realness? Did anything change your mind this week one way or the other?
... LaGuerta: The Worst Ever or The Worst of All Time?
... What state should Dexter visit next?