I'm going to start this review by being a little self-reflexive, if you don’t mind. If you do mind, I’m sorry, pretend like this is Dexter and I’m doing the bad voiceover parts.
Anyway, at this stage in its life, Dexter is a going to be an interesting show to review. Some would say that the show hasn’t been very good for good while now, though I think I enjoyed Season 5 and Julia Stiles’ Lumen about as much as anyone. Last season was, without question, a disaster. It certainly had its moments, and the two leads did everything they could to keep things afloat, but when the show’s “big twist” was easily visible from the jump and apparently only the show’s writers didn’t know, it was difficult to stomach for a dozen episodes. When a show starts building its entire season around generic “big” topics like religion, it’s easy to suggest that said show might be on its last creative legs—and Dexter backed that up most weeks last season.
However, Season 6 ended on a pretty great note with Deb walking in on Dexter taking care of the delusional Travis (Colin Hanks) and the offseason brought even better news: The show is doing 24 more episodes and then calling it a day. No show on television needed an end-date more than Dexter. So with all of that said, I'm approaching Season 7 with a lot of optimism for a series I thought I'd never be optimistic about again. There are still big parts of Dexter I don’t care for and that keeps it from being part of the pantheon of capital-G Great television—you know, like all the mediocre supporting characters and their respective aimless storylines—but the screwed up brother-sister relationship at the core of the show is tremendous.
And unsurprisingly, that relationship was at the core of the Season 7 premiere, “Are You…?” Although the episode tried to trick the audience with a silly in media res moment that suggested Dexter—both the character and the show—aren’t willing to engage with the new realities of the Dexter-Deb relationship, it quickly pulled back to reveal that actually, yes, finally, the show wants to see what happens when Deb finally knows what kind of person her brother is.
What was smart about the way this episode handled Deb discovering Dexter with Travis is that it sort of lulled us into a place where we thought Deb was going to be stupid—or perhaps just blind—enough to believe the bull that Dexter fed her about how he just “snapped” on Travis (mostly because he’s still dealing with Rita’s death). After six years, I think we’ve all grown a little weary of Deb’s inability to recognize certain truths about her brother, so the first 10 minutes of the episode, where he methodically sold her on what happened, it all made sense. It was frustrating, and for a few moments I thought Dexter was backing away from the cliffhanger, but it made sense for Deb as a character. She doesn’t want to believe that Dexter could even kill one person, let alone think that it was meticulously planned. He’s her blind spot.
But once they took care of the scene by lighting the church on fire and making it look like Travis killed himself in light of there being no apocalypse and Dexter seemed perfectly fine with lying to everyone else on the team, Deb started to realize that hey, maybe this guy is more demented and dangerous than she thought. The episode was structured really well in that it kept trying to slide back into typical Dexter rhythms—some case of the week, lots of Dexter internal monologuing, etc.—but every time it did, Deb’s concern and curiosity disrupted the proceedings. She recognized that Dexter’s preparation of Travis’s body was just like how Brian/The Ice Truck Killer worked and while that knowledge started causing her to have traumatic episodes, she also pushed forward and started re-investigating that case. She confronted Dexter about the plastic tarp, the batch of knives, and the leather apron. He, of course, tried to write it all off as part of Travis’s gear but he didn't really convince Deb of anything.
Dexter spent much of this episode trying to figure out how to move on from the event without revealing any more information. He considered running (like always) and eventually decided on killing this week’s Even More Terrible Person, Viktor (Dollhouse’s Enver Gjokaj), who dispatched of Mike (the new guy from last year who you probably forgot about). Dexter chased Viktor to the airport, bringing us back to the tricky in media res opening, grabbed him, and then spent a few minutes conveniently talking about how he isn’t sure who he is and how he wishes things would go back to the way they were. Although Dexter often has compelling things to say about the title character’s psychology, the way that the writers actually express them is sometimes sloppy and generic (for example: Viktor asked Dexter who he is and Dex replied with “Good question, depends on who you ask.” Yow.).
The second half of the episode, particularly Dexter's chasing down and discarding of Viktor, was quite familiar and unimpressive. However, in the final few minutes Deb’s curiosity disrupted the formula one more time, and in a way that hasn’t really been done since Rita’s death. Dex returned home from dumping Viktor’s body to find that Deb had ransacked his apartment and discovered the blood slide collection, among other things. The two shared the most honest and important conversation in the show’s history:
Deb: “Did you kill all these people?”
Dexter: “I did.”
Deb: “Are you a serial killer?”
It’s taken over 70 episodes, many of them mediocre, to get to that moment, but man, it almost feels worth it. Dexter has spent all this time trying to hide his true self from Deb and she has spent all this time (arguably) trying to get closer to him. Although I think the show dragged out the reveal long enough, I will say that it is nice that we now have a more assertive and somewhat stable Deb who will deal with this information. She’s going to be a mess, no doubt, but she’s also better-suited to process the news and decide what to do moving forward. I’ll be curious to see whether this season returns to Deb’s somewhat screwed-up and possibly deeper feelings for Dexter, because that obviously makes matters even more complicated.
Nevertheless, the writers were smart to have Deb actively go find more information instead of just stumbling into everything. It makes her look better and also further reinforces the fact that her knowledge is now a destabilizing force in the show’s and the title character’s world. For a moment there it seemed like “Are You…?” was going to wiggle out of truly dealing with the truth, but that was all part of a good misdirect to put us into the headspace of Dexter himself. He wanted to think everything was fine, that he could B.S. his way back into a certain level of comfort. But he can’t, and he probably won’t be comfortable for a very long time—or ever again.
This is the episode that the show needed. There was still a lot of fluff, but the only people who really matter right now are Dexter and Deb, and “Are You…?” suggested that finally, the show is willing to play the one card it has left. We might be in for great final run.
– Unless really big things happen with them, I'll probably only discuss the supporting characters in this space. To be honest, other than Masuka, I find everyone else on this show to be pretty miserable. LaGuerta is one of my least favorite characters on all of television and Batista and Quinn are just there. So no, I don’t really care that LaGuerta is suddenly interested in the blood slide that Dexter accidentally left at the crime scene. And I certainly am unmoved by Batista and Quinn barking at each other to change when we know that they won’t.
– I kind of liked Mike, though. I’ll miss him.
– From the looks of things (I have only seen this episode so far), Viktor’s death is part of a much larger story involving a Russian crime syndicate. Jason Gedrick is a solid performer and I’m curious to see what Ray Stevenson will do as well. However, the show’s big “arcs” have been weak in the last two seasons, so I’m not holding out hope.
– I was amused by Parenthood’s Savannah Paige Rae playing young Deb and thinking about Sydney Graham growing into a foul-mouthed detective.
What'd you think of the episode?