Last week’s Season 7 premiere of Dexter reinstated a great deal of my confidence in the show, but not to the point that I was totally comfortable with things going into tonight's second episode. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think that the show might try some kind of B.S. swerve or dream sequence chicanery that would side-step the big revelations of “Are You…?”. While I wish that weren't the case, years of evidence told me to stay on my toes with how far the show was willing to let Dexter and Deb discuss the secrets between them.
Thankfully, the show suppressed my reservations and ultimately proved me wrong. “Sunshine and Frosty Swirl” dug into Deb’s newfound knowledge in a somewhat un-Dexter-like fashion. Instead of giving us lots of yelling, screaming, and needle injections to the neck, Deb and Dexter spent much of the episode calmly discussing his problems and how she can solve them, and placing the blame so easily on the man who wasn’t there (well, you know, for real) to defend himself: Harry. The results were much more muted and perhaps glossed over the real gravity of the situation, but in the end they sketched out how Dexter can last for another 22 episodes without too much of a strain on its credibility.
The show could have easily used Deb's discovery of Dexter’s deep secrets as a way to create a sense of overblown, hyperbolic drama, with her threatening to turn him in and him trying stupid things to get out of it. However, one thing that the show rarely gets credit for is its ability to dial everything back after major but horrible moments. I’m seemingly one of the few people who enjoyed Season 5 (despite its litany of substantial problems) and the reason I did was that I appreciated how, for the most part, the show didn’t turn Dex into an even bigger maniac, instead forcing him to more quietly explore how he was going to live in the world without Rita. Although the killing certainly serves as an outlet—and catalyst—for most of his problems, Dexter regularly lets its title character turn inward to deal with his problems. The voiceover gets monotonous, but it can be used effectively in situations where Dexter really needs to be self-reflexive (and just not annoyingly sarcastic about whatever situation he's in).
That kind of low-key approach to the aftermath of a major conflict was on display in tonight's episode better than it has ever been. The opening minutes were powered by the more expected and conventional blow-up: shouting, accusations, name-calling, cursing, and threatening, all from Deb. But instead of flying off the handle, Deb actually let Dexter convince her to come back inside to discuss his Dark Passenger (seriously, that never stops being funny) and how he and Harry crafted the whole “killing people who deserve it” code.
I said this last week, but I want to mention it again here because it seems even truer now: This is basically the best time for Deb to figure all this stuff out, and not just because we viewers are ready for her to do so. She’s finally at a place in her life where she can emotionally handle a bomb of this size being dropped on her (well, at least as well as anyone could). Despite the greatly uneven nature of the last two seasons, both of them did fine work in forcing Deb to reevaluate her perceptions of both right and wrong (recall that she let Lumen and Dexter go at the end of Season 5 because she felt like Jordan Chase and his crew got what was coming to them), as well as her perceptions of Dexter (also recall that she unfortunately convinced herself that she LOVE loved him last season). She’s no longer as naïve or guarded about certain things. Without those stories in those admittedly problematic seasons, I don’t think these episodes and this story would have been as effective.
Most interestingly, Deb’s first concrete solution to Dexter’s problem was to paint him as an addict and suggest that she would be his personal rehab counselor and her apartment would be his clinic.* It wasn't the worst idea ever, even if it allowed the episode to quickly move away from the two of them having truly honest conversations and created circumstances in which Dexter just got to lie to and sneak around Deb.
* This was one of those times where the show wanted us to mostly forget that Dex has a baby. Harrison made an appearance tonight, but it seemed pretty easy for Dexter to just start sleeping at Deb’s place, seemingly apropos of nothing. Jamie has to be raking it in as a babysitter and she also must think that Dexter and Deb’s relationship is the weirdest thing ever—which it is.
Much like last week’s episode, the structure of “Frosty Swirl” featured a lot of Deb interrupting the show's typical rhythms. She learned the truth, only for Dexter to keep trying to lie to her some more, which regularly finds a way to stop (sometimes accidentally). Whether it's intentional or not, I love how Deb has become this disruptive force, not only in the life of Dexter but in our perceptions of how the show works on a regular basis.
This was further underscored by the episode’s conclusion. After discovering that Josh Cooke’s Louis wasn’t actually dangerous but just a petulant nerd mad about Dex crapping on his video game, Dexter thought he'd taken care of the situation with some hefty threats. Unfortunately, Louis refused to stop coming around, leaving Dex with only one choice—or so he thought. Mid-way through the usual murdering process, he actually broke down and called his “sponsor,” Deb. He brought her to the location and (mostly) told her the truth. For the first time in a long time (and maybe ever), Dexter stopped a kill on his own.
I’m very curious to see how this story keeps progressing. As he told Deb in the episode, Dexter has tried to quit killing before and it’s never worked. But when he was trying back then, he was still keeping secrets from people he actually cared about (Deb and Rita). And when other people knew the truth about him, they only brought the monster out more. Deb is, unsurprisingly, a different case. She both knows the truth and is important enough to Dexter that he’s willing to at least try quitting again. That is a massive step. Of course, in some ways, it also suggests that Dexter feels something toward Deb that he hasn’t with anyone else, which we already sort of knew, but with the knowledge of how SHE might feel in our minds, it’s tough to see their relationship as progressing to an even more confusing and codependent space.
But really, it had to be this way didn’t it? Dexter has always been a show about this demented family unit of Dexter, Deb and Harry. Dexter, for the entirety of the series, has aligned with Harry out of necessity, but perhaps going through this with Deb will make him realize that he has someone who is alive that can help him navigate his screwed-up life. I guess it’s only fitting that after Harry sheltered Deb and crafted Dexter to be a killing machine, the kids should band together to make something more workable and less murderous.
The big question here, though, is whether or not the show would ever allow Dexter to quit being himself. Like I said, we’ve been down this road before and the show always pulls everything back to the status quo—seemingly so it can keep telling the same kinds of stories. But Dexter is a different kind of show now; one with an end in sight and less procedural necessity. Does Dexter giving up his killing ways make sense as a conclusion to an extended character arc? Maybe. I’m not sure yet. What do you think?
– The dead stripper storyline is progressing, but it's not entirely engaging yet. Quinn is SHOCKINGLY falling for a stripper who will likely try to get him killed, and Ray Stevenson’s bossman Isaac is predictably vicious. This thread isn’t bad at all, but it also mostly exists just so we can take a breath between the Deb-and-Dexter scenes.
– This episode laid the “Can Dexter change?” point on a little thick by having a random convict claim he was willing to help Miami P.D. find the bodies he'd buried only so he could wax poetically to Dex about never changing before killing himself. That was a little unnecessary, especially when we already had the voiceover throwing out things like, “WILL I EVER BE ABLE TO CHANGE?” We get it, Dexter. Don’t treat us like idiots.
– Dexter asked Deb whether she had any A1 to distract her, but I’m wondering if he can even eat it, to say nothing of ketchup or other red substances, without “seeing red” as he discussed? Seems like tempting fate, no?