8.08 "Are We There Yet?"
For a couple weeks now I've wondered why I'm even bothering with reviews of Dexter. The final season continues to dip below my modest expectations. The lack of drama is alarming, and the focus on new and side characters leaves me wanting so much more. To sum up: I ain't happy.
Luckily, this episode really injected new life into the meandering events of Season 8. After last week's introduction of a new threat the writers flip the script and make that perceived adversary one of the biggest and best joys of "Are We There Yet?"
That's right, Zach Hamilton, the rich kid introduced as a mini-Dexter gone wayward, turns out to be an absolute delight for this hour. The writers must've realized that actor Sam Underwood has more in his repertoire than creepy stares and angry sneers because this unveiling of his character is one of the true surprises of the season. Yeah, even bigger than the fact that the Brain Surgeon chops the back of the kid's skull-piece off and puts him in Dexter's apartment!
Alright, let me slow down and backpedal a bit. When we left Dexter at the end of the previous episode he had two ongoing problems to go along with his normal everyday problems: One) Hannah McKay is back and they're still gooey for each other. Add to that Hannah accidently killed her husband in self-defense and Dexter feels compelled to help her. Two) Dexter's neighbor Cassie was brutally murdered, beaten to death in a similar fashion to Zach's first victim. When doing the CSI thing at the victim's apartment Dexter even finds Zach's blood underneath Cassie's fingernails. Since Dex let Zach go free, agreeing to mentor him in the way of the murder-fiend, it's now his responsibility to clean up his own filth.
At the outset of the episode Dexter meets with Hannah and they prepare for her to flee the country. Their interactions are charged and awkward. In order to squeeze out even more hang time Dexter suggests that Hannah accompany him on his trip to find and kill Zach and she happily agrees. Most adorable psychos ever!
Being the novice that he is Zach makes some mistakes that allow Dex to locate him. Upon entering his hotel room he's greeted with a familiar sight: plastic wrap and sharp cutting instruments. Although Dexter never taught his brief protégé these tactics it appears that Zach picked them up from his time on Dexter's table. When Zach stumbles into the room a few moments later Dexter places blade to neck and questions the young man on his criminal activity. Zach is absolutely clueless to the accusations, he didn't kill Cassie because he was busy killing someone else. He's even got the body to prove it. Moreover, Zach mentions that he sliced his hand open on his car door handle and when Dex inspects it he find a razor blade wedged up in there.
The identity of that corpse is a former acquaintance who once proudly told Zach he killed a girl. Zach's idea is that if he must kill it might as well be someone expendable. Dexter is a bit taken aback by this, he never formally taught Zach the Code, only alluded to it, so it's pretty commendable that the young man decided to follow the modus operandi without being told to do so. Dexter realizes he might have been totally wrong about Zach's character.
Soon we're treated to a nice family style dinner at Dr. Vogel's. After some playful nudging Evelyn convinces the trio of killers to enjoy a meal, and though it's a bit forced, the atmosphere around that table is peculiar, freakish and uneasy. They're all culpable criminals; the masks they've developed to hide their true selves are moot. The aura feels powerful when put up against the early seasons of this show. Dexter maneuvered in the shadow and no one knew who he was. In fact he was so inward and clandestine that he basically created an imaginary character (Ghost Dad Harry) as an outlet.
Now he has more than a couple people to lean on in a time of need. Dexter's journey has been scrupulous, thrilling and confounding. Basically, a mixed bag. But you'd be hard pressed to convince me that the character hasn't changed a lot since his inception. I compare him a lot to Walter White, but in reality he's the reverse.
For the first time in the final season the subplots actually have ascended to meaningfulness. In fact, some of the more digressive elements are beginning to look like the strongest one. I would apologize to the producers, writers, etc., but I'll wait until they tie the bow on the present before I set out the milk and cookies.
It might seem like Deb had nothing to do in "Are We There Yet?" but that's not the case, it's just that her story ran parallel to the serial killer trio's road trip. It's been long established that Debra hates Hannah, not only is she an escaped convict and habitual murderer but she's also the object of affection for Deb's object of affection.
For the previous seven episodes I've been wondering why the heck Deb's been marooned at a private investigation firm, paired with underwhelming side character Elway. Not much action is centered at the firm and Elway offers nothing but an odd romance for the character. The build has been weak and lame but finally the utility becomes apparent. Deb, desperate to get Hannah away from her brother and out of their lives, uses Elway's resources to track her down. She convinces Elway her vendetta is about the quarter million dollar payday for Hannah's capture and nothing else. Elway, apparently a savvy businessman (that office they work in is kinda sick), greenlights her attempt. Deb uses the resources to directly confront Hannah about her transgressions.
Ms. McKay is shockingly frank. She admits to using lethal means to solving her problems and confesses that it's simply the way she handles adversity and not something she enjoys. Above all she makes clear: she loves Dexter and would do nothing to hurt him. Dex and Zach burst into the scene to break up the emotion and this leads to one of the best exchanges in the show's history —
Debra: "Who the fuck are you?"
Zach: "Who the fuck are you?"
Deb returns to Miami empty-handed but with much more clarity than before. Private police work is not for her, and she suddenly misses her life as a civil servant. She tells Elway this, who is not happy, but respects her decision. The dilemma? Elway is not going to pass on the $250K paycheck that comes along with apprehending Hannah McKay, and he doesn't believe Deb for a second when she says the blonde has skipped town.
Debra inadvertently makes a huge problem for her brother. When Dex and Hannah go to say final goodbyes they end up intertwined in carnal embrace, and when Hannah makes her final attempt to leave Dexter returns to ask her to stay. Again, you guys are cute, but you're fucking doomed.
At this point in the episode I remember thinking the quality achiev
ed greater highs than the rest of the season. There are still some flaws and inconsistencies, but those can be overlooked by a fast-paced, surprising and often funny script. While I've graded other episodes higher I felt like this might have been Season 8's strongest.
Then. That. Ending. Dexter walks into his apartment and finds a dead Zach slumped over in a computer chair. As Dexter spins him around he see the wound, a huge piece of Zach's brain is missing.
It appears the Brain Surgeon is back and more dangerous than ever. The viewers were led to believe that A.J. Yates, the serial killer with a gnarly surgery scar on his head and a penchant for sawing off feet, was the perp, but since Dexter clearly killed Yates with a curtain rod (style points!) it's clear the real killer is still lurking in the periphery, not only still active but breaking into the protagonist's apartment and brazenly displaying a corpse like a trophy. I like this move only because it's better than what've been getting, but it's odd.
Dexter has never been about mysteries. It's not driven by set ups and reveals. Typically episode-to-episode, season-to-season, the shows centers on Dexter's internal struggle and his ability to deal with external problems through clever and sometimes lethal means. So, this sudden status quo switch-up makes for good TV, but it's manufactured and slightly artificial. It's also a small shame to elevate the Zach character by huge margins and then kill him off immediately.
In addition, it hasn't been built very much in the Hobgoblin mold, where we have a mystery antagonist and a bunch of viable suspects. The Brain Surgeon seems to be Vogel (she was with Zach last), or one of the myriad of mundane side characters. I'll only be surprised if the killer is revealed to be Musuka's daughter Nikki.
There's promise but little purpose. Four more episodes left! I can't properly wrap my mind around that. This decent season of Dexter makes for a subpar final season of Dexter. The hope is that last block redeems that. I'm secretly, perhaps foolishly, suspecting it will.
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.