At this point it's pretty pointless to complain about Dexter's shortcomings. Now that it's Season 6, we should all know exactly what we're getting ourselves into each new season: disappointing plotlines, wildly uneven storytelling, and straight-up intolerable supporting characters. Yet we still keep coming back for more. Why is this? Two reasons: Michael C. Hall and also the fact that this is a show told from the point of view of a serial killer. So, two EXCELLENT reasons, basically.
The first season of Dexter was not only the show's finest season, but also one of the best seasons of any TV show ever. Everyone knows this. Over the course of twelve episodes we got to know a supremely messed up killer of killers, witnessed his childhood flashbacks, and watched him grapple with his chilling lack of humanity. Dexter's personal growth continued in Season 2, but by Season 3 and especially Season 4, it became clear that Dexter had more or less sorted out his personal problems: He was feeling emotional toward his friends and had made his marriage work, fathered a child, and even cut back on all the murderin'. So that's why Rita's surprise murder at the conclusion of Season 4—while admittedly a watercooler-worthy moment—felt mostly like the producers were simply applying defibrillators to the exhausted husk of one of Showtime's biggest hits. It worked (temporarily at least) to put Dexter back into a dark mind space, but should we continue tuning in to a show that has probably run its natural course already? I hate to say it, but Sunday's Season 6 premiere didn't really make the case yet for Dexter's continued existence.
To its credit, the episode seemed eager to get back to basics. Like many recent shows that have painted themselves into narrative corners, Dexter has done the ol' between-seasons time jump. So really, this episode served to re-introduce us to the characters' respective lives one year later. Deb and Quinn are now shacking up; Quinn no longer suspects Dexter of being a serial killer; LaGuerta and Batista have divorced; LaGuerta has blackmailed her way into a promotion; Dexter's Irish nanny has mysteriously been replaced by Batista's sexy baby sister; little Harry's ready for pre-school; and most importantly, Dexter's back in full-fledged killing mode. Add to that a brand-new Big Bad (a duo actually) and a much-advertised religious theme and Dexter Season 6 does feel like a refreshed show. It's just that, well, it's also kind of exactly the same.
The episode began with some playful misdirection: Dexter, bleeding in an open field, placed a 911 call to summon paramedics. When they arrived to tend to his "stab wounds" he syringed them both and then defibrillated them to death for intentionally killing patients and selling organs on the black market. So we were off to a ludicrous start, but a pretty entertaining nonetheless!
Dexter's primary victim for the rest of the episode would be a murderous jock from Dexter's old high school, and as luck would have it, their twenty-year reunion was just around the corner! The class reunion scenes were pretty fun—Stop. HAMMERTIME.
It turned out Dexter didn't have the greatest time in high school. Imagine that! How much did you love his conversations with former classmates (filmed in a weird, first-person P.O.V.) in which they struggled to remember who he was? But, you know, Dexter's a bit a a head-turner now (am I right, ladies?), so obviously he quickly became the life of the party. As for that murderous jock: Unfortunately Dexter's serial killer spy shenanigans (usually the best part of any episode) ended up being pretty laughable; his plan involved a razor-sharp class ring, the stolen cell phone of a topless hoochie, and a panther costume. Meticulous, uber-cautious Season 1 Dexter Morgan this is not. But again, at least it was entertaining!
Aside from any scene involving Dexter, the other main highlights from this episode were the brief, somewhat cryptic scenes featuring Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos as a pair of academic, possibly religion-obsessed murderers. In a truly unsettling series of events, they first captured a pregnant water snake and then later murdered a fruit stand operator, which resulted in this:
That's right, a corpse erupting with water snakes. Despite the collective horror of the other responding detectives, Dexter seemed positively giddy to be dealing with a new ritualistic murderer, and frankly, I was too: That image is HORRIFYING. As much as Dexter the show seems to think it's a procedural or a relationship drama or some kind of satire, I think it really shines brightest with its more disturbing, deadly serious horror elements. The brief, stilted conversations between Olmos and Hanks left me incredibly unsettled about their intentions, and even better, completely curious. I thought this plotline was so interesting, in fact, that I resented it whenever I had to sit through yet another scene involving Batista. (Like that super long dinner ordeal with his sister? What was THAT all about?)
As for the smaller plotlines, Dexter attempted to get his son enrolled at an exclusive Catholic pre-school, mostly out of hope that Harry would grow up with a stronger moral code than his own. Also, Dexter's nanny dropped some clues to Batista about Dexter's personal life, which may or may not lead Batista to become the obligatory suspicious co-worker figure this season. And Masuka has hired a pretty blonde intern (Heroes' Brea Grant). Finally, Quinn attempted to propose to Deb, but their restaurant got shot up by some lunatic in a bulletproof vest? I don't know, does that about cover it? Seriously, these characters were as much blatant filler as they've ever been.
So we return then to the question of whether Dexter still has life in it after all these seasons? While I think we've definitely settled into procedural territory in that this show seems reluctant to rock the boat in any meaningful way, the Season 6 premiere did set up some intriguing elements that may become full-fledged awesome. These Big Bads, their motives, and ultimate relationship to Dexter's burgeoning religious exploration all teem with possibility. I just hope that in future episodes these bright spots won't be too diluted by the remaining forty minutes.
... Does Dexter still seem fresh to you?
... Isn't Deb the only secondary character we really need?
... How disgusting were those snakes?
... Why is Dexter still disposing of bodies in the exact same way that almost got him caught?