Dexter 7.09 "Helter Skelter" & 7.10 "The Dark... Whatever"

A tv review article by: Jamil Scalese

 

Wow. What a time to take a week off.

In a two episode span this season of Dexter took another sharp left turn, the first being the introduction and courtship of Hannah McKay, and this one... well, we'll discuss that later (more accurately, I'll type words at you).

When we last left our dashing anti-hero he found himself head to head with brutal Ukrainian crime boss Isaak Sirko, a fierce man still heated at Dex for the savagely murdering his lover Victor. So the next logical step is for Isaak to target Hannah, right?

Right, and that's exactly what happens, except Victor uses Dexter's newest fling as leverage for the killer's help. Due to his erratic nature while pursuing the dude who smashed in his boyfriend's skull Isaak becomes a hunted man by two expert assassins employed by his former cartel. Isaak convinces Dexter to help him exterminate the two men by holding Hannah hostage, and after some mulling over how he truly feels about his new beau, and if he should save the life of a man who wants him dead, Dexter begins the hunt

In the process the adversaries become comrades, finding similarities in their lives and methodologies.  When Dexter completes the task Isaak even let's him go with immunity, relinquishing his anger and agreeing to free Hannah from captivity.

THEN YOUR BOY GETS SHOT.

It's not a legendary TV moment or anything but as far as season structure I'm still a little shocked the season's prime antagonist bit the bullet way before the season finale. Isaak is shot by George, a meddling underling pissed Quinn punched him the face a lot of times really hard (then Quinn shoots him and covers it up in the next episode. But really, who cares?). It's an uneventful death, and Dexter grants a simple dying wish for his former opponent by dumping him in the section of ocean where he left Victor's body.

Now what? That's the question afoot. A recent trend in serialized TV is the rapid advancement of narrative, or essentially, delivering the goods before the audiences expects them (which is an artistic response to milking a season drip by drip. I feel like I could write an essay contrasting the plotting differences between Lost and Breaking Bad. Please don't hold me to that.). With the death of the major antagonist the focus distills to the other major strands built through the Fall, and the first of those is the Dexter/Debra relationship.

Evolving tremendously throughout the season the interaction between the siblings is at its most tense in this couplet of episodes. Debra admitting she loves Dexter has twisted their relationship, making all interactions that much more anxious, and frankly, a little angry. Dexter smoothes things over by telling his sister he understands the feeling, but that doesn't stop Deb from getting foul-faced whenever Hannah is mentioned in conversation. The police lieutenant continues to pester Hannah for her poisonous past, and promises her brother she will not back off. The Dex/Deb/Hannah triangle is set up to be a large factor in the near future.

Dexter doesn't seem to care...about long term consequences that is. He is blindly chases his feelings for Hannah, confused as he ever has been. Through dealings Isaak the man who once claimed to be an empty vessel now begins to unravel his affections, and eventually admits to his new lover that she makes him feel safe, and later in "The Dark... Whatever" the two unveil their love to each other.

The first hard slant of the season involved Hannah's arrival, and fittingly she is the impetus for the second. After Isaak's death the season landscape looks a little barren with three 'sodes left, but that's because, for one of them at least, Dexter's opponent is himself.

Hannah unlocks a large revelation for Dexter by asking a simple question: what the fuck is the Dark Rider anyway?

The ambiguous concept has rattled around in the voiceovers of our hero many times in seven years, and personally, I remember the relationship between Dexter and Dark to be one of my first big questions about the nature of the show. I'm not entirely sure how many Dexter fans know about the alternate path of the source material novel series. In those books author Jeff Lindsay explains the origin of Dexter's bloodthirsty hobby recipient as some kind of ancient demon. It's a highly controversial development, one the show has avoided completely.

However, this is the first time that material is even broached in the slightest. No, Dex never mentions demonic spirits, but the thought of possession, or complete evil, compelling him to habitually kill is debated internally. Hannah tells Dexter that his impulse is his, not the drive of a separate entity. The new girlfriend attempts to build a better Dexter by asking why he's so adamant about chasing down another criminal (this time an arsonist), is it because he must or because he wants to?

"The Dark... Whatever" ranks as one of the most introspective episodes yet, diving very deep in the psyche of Mr. Morgan and how he's viewed himself over the years. Ghost dad Harry, generally a very pessimistic spirit, actually convinces Dex that the impulse to kill and the so-called Dark Passenger are unrelated. Also, Harry points out, the DA is about as real as talking to your dead dad... and then he disappears. The way it's typically shot, we rarely see Dex actually spacing out while in conversation with Harry, and I think it's important we are shown that.

I used to feel that Harry was part of the Dark Passenger (in early season Harry would persuade Dexter to kill, but in a protective, fatherly "you need to do this" sort of way), but I've backed off that in the last few years. Still, the connection between the two is strong in the episode, with Harry blinking out while Dexter debates the concept of an evil force compelling him to end lives. Are the writers telling us ghost Harry and the Dark Passenger two sides of the same scale? What happens when you remove the scale completely and replace it with a hot blonde?

That's the question we're left with in this episode. To show us just how far our hero has journeyed, he opts out of killing the arsonist (don't worry, y'all, we still get a fantastic "table moment") and instead murders Hannah's father, a deadbeat conman played by the great Jim Beaver. Clint in no way meets Code Criteria, he's just a dick, but Dexter chooses to kill him to protect his loved one, and leaves the amoral criminal to the police. Dexter's grave epiphany: without a Dark Passenger he has nothing to blame for killing hundreds of people, he likes to kill and he does it because it makes him happy.

What strikes me is that the show seems to celebrate the character going off the rails. Seriously, that was my first thought, Dexter is off the fucking rails. He fails to adhere to his father-given Code, which decrees you only take the life of those who take lives. And he does it for a woman! I mean, chicks are great and love is grand, but that's some certified, Investigators-brand psycho shit. Or really romantic. My emotions are so twisted on this one

Seven years in and I'm wondering if the show has completely lost its figurative mind. The main lynchpin was that Dexter only preyed on those who were more morally depraved. Sure, Hannah's pops was a son of a bitch and threatened to expose his daughter's second murder (at a summer camp) if he didn't get what he wanted, but it's tough to swallow that sickening death. I don't feel sorry for Clint; I'm worried about the precedent.

With major villains dying and new relationship surviving the dust settles to reveal the uber-plotline of the season:  LaGuerta's Bay Harbor Butcher case. Built up piece-by-piece, we finally get some major progress when we find a desperate Captain Maria LaGuerta asking her greatest enemy, former Captain Tom Matthews, for help. At each other's throats since episode one, the two poetically come together to descend on the killer under their noses their entire careers.

The two go to the site of Doakes' death in season two and discover the place has a serious connection to Dexter's childhood. Putting more pieces together, Matthews exposes LaGuerta to the truth about Dexter's childhood, from his mother, to his brother and so on. LaGuerta narrows in on Dexter at that point, refusing to ignore the mounting evidence that Dexter Morgan is an active and dangerous serial killer. The current Captain is convinced, but the former one, in the arrangement with LaGuerta to regain his lost pension, is a tad skeptical. Still, Tom never has been a fool, and doesn't deny the evidence looks sky-high against the family friend he's witnessed grow up.

Crazy-crazy developments for the show. The topics and attitude surrounding these last ten episodes feel like a final season, and from what I understand the showrunners have promised at least one more crop of episodes next year. Still, this does feel like the last few twists on the Dexter carousel.

After these two hours my mind remains spun around a Slice of Life-load of ominous question: Is the murder of Clint a sign for what's to come? Are the creators of Dexter transforming the beloved serial killer of Miami into someone deserving of death? How does Dexter eliminate LaGuerta and Matthews without looking like a complete bastard? Is our long loved dark hero becoming the villain?

With the Code apparently on hiatus, and his biggest threat ever right over his shoulder, I'll be intently hoping that the character I've watched for this long either does the right thing, or goes out in a violent blaze of glory. Either one is fine.


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.

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