The premiere of the seventh season of Dexter is why we watch serialized TV.
I'm talking about the payoff. If you're a fan of ongoing, long-form comics you probably know what I'm talking about. A story starts, lays the seeds of something bigger, and if given the chance, reaches its destination. Lost got to tell you what the Island was (kinda) and The Sopranos showed you how Tony ended up (kinda), but fans will never know the bigger mysteries or the final endgames of Terra Nova or Alcatraz. Point is, some shows reach their intended conclusion; most do not.
The tension of Dexter has always teetered on the magnitude of concealing his dark secret, not his season-to-season adversary. This has been the constant source of drama for Dexter (Michael C. Hall) , from his brother Brian, to the Bay Harbor Butcher investigation, to the Trinity Killer and so on. Dexter, a time-proven master escapist, has narrowly dodged the trained eye of dozens of agents, detectives and clever criminals, and most importantly, has kept his secret from the most important person in his life, his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter).
So when Deb walks in on Dex stabbing last season's big bad, the Doomsday Killer, in the chest it sends some minor ripples through the show's loyal fanbase. One of the core ideals of the show — Deb ignorance to her brother's habitual hobby — is now punctured like the heart of DDK. Frankly, it's game-changing, and smart for a show that dwindled slightly after a super strong fourth season.
The premiere deals with the aftermath of last year's cataclysmic drop-in. Immediately, Dexter plays damage control; he works with what he's got and what he's got is a clear witness to his twisted routine and individual method of taking a life. He blames DDK, says it was self-defense, and all the saran wrap and supplies were part a black-out where he was so blind with rage he didn't know what he was doing. Dexter convinces his sister, a Lieutenant of Miami Metro Homicide, to not call in the murder, and she even helps him dispose of the body.
Repeatedly, Deb has been presented as an extremely earnest and socially responsible woman, so it is a little weird she doesn't arrest Dexter right there and then. He does pull the family card so I guess it's a pass, however, Debra isn't at all content with Dexter's story, and the majority of the episode revolves around her questioning, research, and memories. She finally puts the pieces together – the ones fans have been looking at for years – and it's extremely satisfying. The pace of her discovery feels like finale material, with the capable young cop asking "Are you a serial killer?" by the end of the episode.
A lot of subplots are started and continued and they're merely seedlings right now. Dexter has maintained a healthy supporting cast, but with the bombshell of Deb's discovery not many of the minor players get much screen time. Batista (David Zayas) and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) are regulated to a short bar scene where they lecture each other on their respective flaws, then laugh it off over a drink. Louis (Josh Cooke), the lanky computer tech genius, is shown to have a growing vendetta against Dexter for shunning him as a protégé or whatever, messing with Dex's bank account and I'm assuming other digital crimes are on the horizon. In a surprising shift, the show moves to kill off cop Mike (Billy Brown), last season's new addition to Miami Metro via Chicago, which kind of make him feel like fodder since the character was not explored at all. The impetus for his death is to elevate and propel the seventh season's big bad, which seems to be the Ukrainian mob, but that's conjecture because a lot of the larger plot maneuvering for this season took a back seat to sorting out last year's big reveal.
The most significant subplot brewing is surely LaGuerta's (Lauren Vélez) discovery of a blood slide at the DDK crime scene, a piece of evidence that harkens back to season2 and the Bay Harbor Butcher storyline. At the end of that saga, Sergeant Doaks (Erik King) , chief rival of Dexter, was posthumously pinned with the vicious murders of dozens of corpses found at the bottom of Miami's harbor. Since the evidence was overwhelming, most of the show's cast, and the general public, accepted Doaks as a serial killer, however, his onetime fling and former partner LaGuerta never bought it.
I've been waiting awhile for this particular string to weave itself back into the Dexter mythos, and it appears the former Lieutenant is embarking on a trip that will eventually lead her to our hero's table. I'm excited for LaGuerta's new purpose; I've often thought her to be one of the useless, wildly impractical characters on TV. Does anyone remember that subplot back in the first couple seasons where she was sleeping with her replacement's husbands in order to distract the new head of the Homicide Dept from her job? Seriously?
I really enjoyed this episode, and the direction of the new season so far. Dexter took a page from other contemporary shows, and it's own early playbook, and took chances with its premise. For the longest time the main drive of the show has been Dexter's secrets, and now that his biggest one has been discovered by the person he's known the longest it throws a wrench in the unfortunate conventionality the Dexter adopted over the last couple years. The trend has reversed: the premiere broke Showtime and personal viewership records, and even though the series seems to be winding down, it might not be.
Simply put, the payoff here is magnificent, and if you were an early fan of Dexter, or one that has always been curious of the show's ability to deliver on its intended promises, I am proud to report that all is well in the land of serial killers, and we're in for a delightfully dark and violent ride for the rest of the season.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.