Dexter Week 2: Back on Track?

Last week I and many other longtime Dexter viewers lamented the noticeable drop-off in quality of recent seasons, up to and including the slightly dire Season 6 premiere. The opener spent too much time on (awful) supporting characters as well as Dexter Morgan's increasingly muddled motivations, and made it hard to imagine sticking with this thing for a whole new season, let alone several (congrats on those premiere numbers, Showtime!). But after watching Episode 2 twice now—and believe me, I'm as surprised as anybody else that I'm saying this—Dexter may have just rebounded in a BIG way. This is largely because of three outstanding new supporting characters, who made the franchise suddenly feel alive again.

First things first: Brother Sam (Mos Def, billed here simply as Mos) is awesome. Much of "Once Upon a Time..." was devoted to this mysterious figure whom Dexter had originally pegged as a man who'd escaped punishment for a murder he'd committed. But after we followed Dexter's usual routine of stakeouts and verification of guilt, something unusual happened: Brother Sam preemptively confided to Dexter that he'd gotten away with murder and was in the process of atoning for it by keeping other criminals in check. Apparently he found God while serving time for a lesser offense, and now views himself as a "shepherd" to a flock of recently released ex-cons. As far as I know, I don't think we've ever come across a Dexter murderer who's genuinely tried to make good for his crimes; Dexter himself was certainly thrown for a loop. How can you punish a man who's already in the process of doing penance? But with that said, is it possible that Brother Sam's moral piety is merely a front for a hidden dark passenger of his own? By the end of the episode, at least, he seemed more or less to be what he claimed. Also, he's awesome. Did I mention that yet?

Additionally we learned more about the pair of tantalizingly cryptic sociopaths introduced last week. For one thing, The Professor (Edward James Olmos) and his pupil Travis (Colin Hanks) have a SECRET LAIR (in a rundown church). Also, Travis has a lonely sister who The Professor demanded he break off contact with in order to save her life. Most importantly, the pair seems to be motivated by a strange mixture of doomsday prophecy and Catholicism, the implication being that they are possibly looking to speed up the Apocalypse? It's not clear yet, but we know these men are SERIOUS about their intentions. How'd you like that scene where Olmos pressed glowing, red-hot steel to his own flesh just to make a point? And let's not forget that Travis behaved pretty scarily in his own right; please, everyone, when you come to my house for dinner, don't silently enter my apartment, sneak up behind me, and tap my arm. Basically, these guys are nightmares. Like Brother Sam, they're like something from a whole other show... and I mean that as a compliment!

Also earning marks in this episode's "plus" column were the SLIGHTLY more interesting subplots dealing for the supporting cast. The big one was obviously Deb's surprise promotion to Lieutenant, a completely implausible scenario that the Dexter nonetheless made convincing. After her shootout heroics were caught on video and garnered a half million hits, Deputy Chief Matthews decided to capitalize on the good PR and offer Deb the Lieutenant position over Batista; this also resulted in the happy side effect of LaGuerta being humiliated. Made sense to me! I love it when LaGuerta looks like a fool. It should also be pretty entertaining watching Deb, someone so completely unsuited for responsibility, have to adjust to ordering her co-workers, brother, and now ex-boyfriend around. Because that's right: Quinn and Deb may have finally broken up! Just kidding, who cares about their relationship? In case you do their split had to do with Deb's refusal to marry him. But Quinn seems to have dodged a bullet here, as Dexter's voiceover made it clear that he'd planned to murder Quinn before he'd ever let Quinn marry Deb. So everything worked out for everyone!

Another intriguing new addition began as a visual joke, but I have a feeling her appearance will lead to something more significant: Ryan, the new blonde intern character played by Heroes and Friday Night Lights alum Brea Grant. At first she was only around to shake her booty at Masuka, but she later proved that she has a keen mind for investigative work when she discovered a lead in the water snake murder from last week. I don't know about you, but I was getting the sense we were meeting a future series regular here. If so, that's great news: Grant's an interesting actress (with a super geeky resume), plus the character's unlike any of the others in the increasingly static (and underpopulated) Miami Metro headquarters. Ditzy bombshell jokes aside, her presence was downright refreshing.

Of course, in spite of all these improvements, the episode began and ended per the classic Dexter formula: thematic voiceover and later the cathartic murder of a killer. Dexter's definitely still the show we've always known—and that formula still works—but Sunday's episode made me optimistic that the writers can refresh and renew it without spinning in circles too much. As it is right now, though, these three (and possibly four) new characters were just what Dexter needed to get me excited about the next ten episodes. Fingers-crossed!

Random Blood Splatters:

... How much did you love it when Dexter set his coffee on the pavement before intentionally crashing his car? I would've never thought of that!

... Should Dexter really be looking at crime scene photos in front of his two-year-old child?

... Do you think Brother Sam's intentions are pure?

... What were the killers going to do with that mannequin, anyway?

... How often do YOU punch out your friends and throw them in the trunk?

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