Monday, December 26, 2011

Dexter Season 6 Review - SPOILERS

No, seriously guys, there are spoilers in this one. So if you don't want anything spoiled for you, I suggest you go finish watching the season before reading my review.

Another year has passed, and with it another Dexter season. Six seasons in is a long time for a TV show, and luckily more people than ever are watching Dexter these days. We got the advertising for this one early on, with the indication that it would revolve around a pair of religious zealots killing people as Dexter tried to figure out his spiritual misgivings and what he wanted to pass on to his 2-year old son Harrison. A year has passed since the events of the emotional roller-coaster season 5, and with it comes a more confident and self-reliant Dexter than we’ve seen in several years.

This was purported to be the darkest Dexter season yet, and I guess you could say it is. The imagery is chock-full of candle-lit churches at night, quivering women, beaten and battered, chained to the wall and dead bodies with black symbols carved into their rotting flesh, and the religious theme is weighty as expected, and handled with Dexter’s usual dark, artistic edge. But the core is, as always, the characters, as each main character has his or her own journey. And there are lots of changes this season, from LaGuerta’s promotion to Captain, Quinn proposing to Deb and Deb becoming the new lieutenant – all in the span of the first two episodes.

Dexter is his usual self, having bounced back from the traumatic experiences from the previous two seasons. He’s witty and stoic and generally we have fun watching his continued attempts to stay out of the limelight with his, erm, hobbies. This season he gets involved early on with Brother Sam (Mos), who is an ex-con-turned-preacher who helps him see a chance for light in him, even through his dark passenger’s hold. Sam is an excellent character, and adds a real presence to the show – he’s a good actor. He and Dexter interact pretty brilliantly, and play off each other well.

Masuka is up to more trickery and he’s bringing in interns to study in the Homicide department. Two of them turn out to be duds, but Louis (Josh Cooke) is a proverbial wiz-kid who knows how to dig deep into the vaults of the internet and turn up info the department couldn’t find otherwise. Cooke is unassuming, innocent and quiet…which makes it all the more startling when his true nature is revealed. I dunno, I guess I kind of saw something coming, but I’m interested in exactly what they do with his character next season. His arc hasn’t been resolved yet, and I think he’s something we haven’t yet seen on the show.

I rather like Quinn’s arc, in which he traverses through a seemingly endless train of drunkenness, humiliating himself and generally being an ass after Deb dumps him. He says he’s “just being a single guy, having fun” but clearly that’s not true, and the dichotomy between what he says and what’s really going on make him a more interesting character than he used to be. Not to mention scenes of him and Batista sharing a dooby in their squad car while on a particularly slow day are priceless. At the end of the season, after several mishaps and clashes, Batista finally puts in a request for a transfer for him, to which he uses a loophole and some cleverly selective wording to pass off his jackassery as a legitimate alcoholism problem – thus able to stay in homicide if he gets help. Clever and underhanded – looks like Quinn’s going back to his old ways. All that stuff from last season about him becoming a better person? I guess that’s just out the window now.

The only real disappointment is the villains, who sound cool and intimidating on paper, but I just don’t think as much work was put into their characters as the drama between our main characters this season. Professor James Gellar (Edward Olmos) and his apprentice Travis (Colin Hanks) are trying to bring about the end of the world by killing people in accordance with several Biblical tableaux. They’re just not that scary, and most of the time I had a hard time taking either of them very seriously. Gellar is incredibly one-note and most of his dialogue is just redundant. Travis almost gets some depth here and there with his sister in the picture, but even that’s just window-dressing.

In the last four episodes, it’s revealed that Travis has been working alone the whole time and Gellar has been dead all along – basically Travis is akin to Dexter; acting with a dark passenger ‘talking’ to him all the time. At this point Travis basically makes the leap of no return and becomes a completely generic ‘crazy’ villain, without much depth or intricacy to his character at all. Too bad I guess.

One thing Dexter has always been good at is creating a great story arc. The flow of the episodes into one another is very natural, creating some great drama. As usual, not every episode is a stand-alone barn-burner, but as a whole, the season has a lot of verve and energy, and everything seems urgent and intense as hell.

One of the standout episodes is ironically the one that departs from the arc the rest of the season is creating. It’s episode 7, “Nebraska,” and it revolves around Dexter going to a nowhere town in Nebraska to confront Jonah Mitchell, the son of the Trinity Killer, who is the only surviving member of the family Dexter interacted with in season 4 – and who is suspected of killing his family. Dexter’s whole story in this season is about his search for faith, and what it means. Brother Sam had been helping him up until this point, but in the previous episode, he was killed, and Dexter, despite Sam’s direct advice to the contrary, murdered the young man who shot him. Armed then with a dark freedom of conscience and the spirit of his dead brother by his side, as opposed to his dead father, Dexter goes to Nebraska to kill Jonah. That along with the cool scenery is a big reason why “Nebraska” rules.

The rest of the season goes swimmingly until episode 11, “Talk to the Hand,” in which the show finally goes where everyone never wanted them to – a romance between Deb and Dexter. Deb, talking to her psychologist, realizes that every guy she’s ever gone out with, including Quinn, is a reflection of her hidden feelings for Dexter, and through a rather icky dream sequence, confirms this. I wouldn’t be so against it if the romance wasn’t horribly contrived. I’m sorry, but for this show’s usual high standards for romance (witness the final scenes between Dexter and Rita in season 4, or the ones with Deb and Lundy early on in the show), lines like “Sometimes everything seems so perfect…and then you’re walking away” are just crap, plain and simple. Even if they are just in Deb’s dreams.

The final episode rules, though, with a lot of great shots, some awesome moments and one of Dexter’s best speeches ever – listen to how badass he sounds; there is no beating that. The man is a legend. And then the show hits us with perhaps its biggest plot twist…Debra’s discovery of Dexter as he’s killing Travis. Dexter looks up, goes soft and says “Oh, god,” and that’s what we’re left with, folks! Damn you, Dexter, for your cliffhangers, as expertly placed and commercially minded as they are! As underhanded as this is, as clearly as it is just calculated to be a marketing ploy to keep people watching, it’s done remarkably well, and fits perfectly with the way the season was going.

So season 6 was another firecracker for the Dexter train as it keeps on rolling. I liked this better than season 5 by quite a bit, as everything seemed to have more energy and power behind it, and all the actors really gave 110% performances. The story, while lacking the subtlety of older seasons, is still good, and I think people complaining about that are overreacting. Dexter in its early days was indeed a more unique show, and had a lot more subtlety and layers to it, with Dexter’s interactions with his victims and various other people as he tried to figure out how to act in general being intricate and idiosyncratic. These days the show goes for bigger, more overt and in-your-face shocks and twists, and it’s safe to say the show has ‘sold out,’ in a manner of speaking – it lacks the old school precise wit and originality in place of a more streamlined action/detective template – but as long as Dexter keeps having seasons this good, I’ll keep watching. Sell-out or not, season 6 is a winner.

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