Why do we enjoy television? I briefly touched on this question during my review of last Sunday’s exceptionally awful episode of The Walking Dead, but it seems relevant enough for this season of Dexter (and these particular four episodes) for me to ponder it again. Everyone’s answer is likely different. My sister, more often than not, simply wants to be able to turn on her TV and sit back and relax and enjoy an entertaining program without having to think too much or be reminded of any real world problems. Though there are plenty of quality programs she enjoys (Lost, Buffy, Game of Thrones, and even Dexter), I am much more likely to convince her to give some 30 minute sitcom a try than an hour long serialized drama simply because they require less of a mental and emotional commitment than demanding TV. It’s not a knock against her. That’s just what she enjoys, and to quote The Wire (which my father and I still haven’t been able to convince her to watch), “This America, man.” My dad straddles the line between my sister’s more comedic tastes and my more dramatic tastes because he has several hour-long dramas he watches, plus a regular bloc of sitcoms, plus his own quirk of loving reality programs like Pawn Stars and other History Channel fodder from when the channel stopped actually focusing on history. Yet again, this isn’t a knock against his tastes. He’s a bartender where he spends most of his shifts watching TV. I can’t blame him for wanting programs that are easy to digest such as the sitcoms and reality TV, but at the same time, he enjoys many of the same serialized programs as me when he has the time for them. What is it that I want out of TV? The answer to that question is important because it shapes how I feel about so many of the shows I watch now (and why I get especially frustrated with some of them) and why I find myself unimpressed (though not necessarily disappointed) with the 6th season of Dexter.
I already apologize that this post will have a lengthy introduction (I’ll get to the actual recap and analysis shortly) but I promise this intro is relevant. I watch TV because it gives me an opportunity to return week in and week out to the same universe. I don’t care how good the best movie is. After spending only 2 to 3 hours with a character, there is only so much you can known about them. If a well-written TV program is allowed to last a respectable run (let us bow our heads in silence for the many great shows cancelled before their time), you will spend dozens of hours becoming intimately acquainted with that show’s primary players. Whether this means a small group of four or five people like on a sitcom, such as How I Met Your Mother, or a sprawling cast of nearly a hundred characters like The Wire or Oz, if a series is written well, these characters should feel like family. While their development should always have the ability to surprise you, well-crafted characters should always act in ways that are believable and consistent with what you know, and great character driven storytelling will always be what draws me to TV. Yes, I love the epic storytelling possibilities that are created when you have seasons of either 13 or 22 episodes to work with, but it’s a chance to allow a group of fictional people to become as real as the people I went to school or worked with to enter my life that makes TV the special medium that it is to me. In the sixth season of Dexter, with one notable exception, it seems that the characters are stalling and in an arrested state of development, and because the story hasn’t been picking up the slack enough to make up for this flaw, this is starting out as the least impressive season since the Miguel Prado fiasco.
A year after Rita’s murder and being left by Lumen after finally opening up his heart to another human being, Dexter has his life back in a normal routine. Harrison is now two (and with a new nanny that is Baptista’s hot younger sister), and Dex has seemingly been able to find the perfect balance between satisfying his Dark Passenger and being the father that Harrison needs, even if Harrison’s love of monster stories and his interest in daddy’s box has Dexter a little concerned. Dexter’s life becomes clouded with religious identity issues when Harrison is on the shortlist to attend a prestigious Catholic pre-school (even though the kid is like 2 right now. I still don’t understand why he had a pre-school interview), and things only become more complicated when a series of ritualistic and religiously motivated murders (stemming from the Book of Revelation) strike the Miami area. Dexter also befriends a reformed convict named Brother Sam (Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def) who runs a garage for other ex-cons to find gainful employment and Brother Sam instantly recognizes a fellow person trying to work past his darkness with Dexter and he respectfully (shockingly) tries to show Dexter an alternative way to deal with his issues (though he obviously doesn’t know Dex is a killer).
In shocking news, the antics in Miami Metro are for once more interesting than Dexter’s identity crisis (if only because I’ve known pretty much every step of the way how it was going to turn out). After blackmailing Deputy Chief Matthews, Lieutenant LaGuerta is promoted to captain, and although she thought she was going to be able to promote Batista to replace her in homicide (even though the two are divorced), Matthews oversteps her and promotes Deb instead after she heroically saves the lives of people in a restaurant by shooting a gunman. Despite being promoted straight from Detective to Lieutenant, Deb handles the situation well and shows why she’s been able to rise in the department so quickly even if it is causing her a lot of personal stress since she had to dump her boyfriend, Quinn, when she was promoted and after he had proposed to her but she didn’t want to get married. Deb is now leading the charge on the Doomsday Killer investigation which is quickly reaching serial killer status and features some truly macabre murders involving intestines being replaced with snakes and corpses re-arranged to make the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Here’s my problem with the season so far. With the exception of Deb, every character seems to be stuck in stasis. Deb is making massive advancements as a character that we haven’t really seen from her since Seasons 2 and 3. While I think it’s a little ridiculous and unrealistic that she got such a major promotion (people don’t generally skip entire ranks. I’m pretty sure the Union would have an issue with that), more Deb time is okay by me because she’s my favorite character on the show behind Dexter himself and sometimes I think she’s a more consistently and better written character than Dex (simply because the writers change their opinion so often about what Dex should be). This season almost feels like a return to the Dexter of the first season, and I thought with last season, we had moved past that stage of his development. He’s back to working through issues we’ve already seen time and time again, and when a show (especially one as generally inventive asDexter) begins to repeat itself, I at least feel that it means it’s time for the show to come to an end. Dexter has been picked up for not just one but two more seasons, and I really don’t know if they have that many stories left in their pockets although I will appreciate the chance to see Michael C. Hall perfecting his craft week in and week out since he remains one of the best leading men on television.
Besides Deb advancement, the only other character whose really sparked my interest (because this season’s main serial killers seem sort of cheesy though Edward James Olmos is fairly creepy but that’s just him I think) has been Yasiin Bey as Brother Sam, if only because 99% of religious TV characters annoy the hell out of me but much like Kareem Said on Oz, Brother Sam seems to have an interesting perspective on his religion that actually matches what his religion really teaches not what the people preaching it want the masses to believe. I’ve been trying to write this review essentially since Sunday so I’m going to draw it to a close before I end up finishing the next disc before I finish this review (I’ve already watched two more episdoes). This season hasn’t been bad, and it doesn’t have one glaring flaw like Season 3 did except for a general lack of character momentum (and at times character reversal), but it isn’t registering with me the same way that Seasons 2 or 4 did. However, the show has plenty of time to turn itself around and I already know that the stuff with Dex and Brother Sam is just going to get much better.
Final Score: B