Debating Daddy 'Dexter'

Jimmysmits_dexter_240You've got to admit, Dexter fans, that the twist taken by the Showtime drama at the end of Sunday (Oct. 5) night's episode was rather unexpected.

[Since I mentioned the end of Dexter in the lede of this recap, you really ought to assume that I'm going to get into spoilers now. Right? Right.]

We knew that Dexter blew it in the premiere with an unplanned murder, killing a guy who didn't have a place in his father's code and who, to make matters worse, was the younger brother of a dogged prosecutor.

Based on the first two seasons, I thought I knew what to expect: A delicate pas de deux between Dexter and Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits), unfolding over seven or eight episodes, with the lawyer becoming increasingly suspicious, ever operating one or two steps behind Dexter and eventually discovering something like the truth with two or three episodes left, leading to a tragic conclusion for the entire Prado family.

Guess again, at least temporarily.

If this season is developing a theme, it's this: No matter how cold and calculating and analytical you are, no matter how carefully you live you life by a plan and no matter how compartmentalized you try to keep your life, there's always something that can knock you akimbo.

To quote the poet Robert Burns:

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

As the episode began, Dexter was still dealing with Rita's revelation from the end of the first episode, her alleged pregnancy (I know there are some fans who had their doubts after Week One).

As the still-uncertain Daddy Dexter put it, "We're supposed to see hope in children, but right now all I see is little bundles of uncertainty."

Michaelchall2_dexter_s2_240_2It would be hard to know which emotion would actually be more foreign to Dexter, hope or uncertainty. Although few people would call Dexter an optimist, he isn't really a pessimist either. Dexter is the ultimate empirical pragmatist, rationalizing and solving his life to eliminate any unknown variables. So probably the idea of a factor he can't begin to understand is worse for him than some Norman Rockwell notion of an idealized domesticated life with Rita and their soon-to-be-three moppets. That idea was visualized in Dexter's chilling fantasy sequence featuring the welcome return of James Remar's Harry.

As a main character, Dexter's ongoing dilemma has always involved reconciling The Dexter the World Sees with The Bay Harbor Butcher, but the characters have usually had similar attributes, usually when it comes to problem-solving. In Sunday's episode, though, we heard Public Dexter express some regret that Private Dexter is unable to turn his cold and unfeeling gaze onto the issue of Rita's pregnancy.

At least Dexter's still self-reflective enough to note his central irony, as he puts it, "I'm not in the business of giving life."

Is Dexter less prepared for fatherhood or for friendship? The episode also centered on Dexter's deepening bond with Miguel, the man whose brother he stabbed. Dexter and Rita seem not to end up going on any normal double-dates, do they? That's probably because Dexter has very few normal friends.

Even Dexter's new bromance with Miguel was flavored by the week's other themes, as the two men discussed the responsibilities of fatherhood, particularly the legacies that fathers leave on their sons. We know all about Harry and Dexter, but Miguel's father was a cold drunk, a trait that helped shape him. The idea that fathers pass along their best and worst traits to their sons is one that logically intrigues and concerns Dexter. But whatever happened to men talking about baseball or football or fine Cuban cigars?

Dexter and Miguel already had an understanding even before the final scene, which saw Dexter kill off Mike Erwin's Freebo, which tied up some loose ends from the Prado murder, but also fulfilled Harry's Code. In the eyes of Miguel, who stumbled upon Dexter in full homicide mode, Dexter's act was cathartic. The blood spatter expert was able to take the vengeance Miguel wasn't sure he'd have had the guts to take himself. Without a second's hesitate at "disgust" or "fear" or "punitive," Miguel went straight to "grateful." Dexter did what Miguel wanted to do, what he may not have been able to do. In addition to being Dexter's friend, he owes Dexter. They share knowledge and responsibility. They're accomplices, which spins things off in a new direction for future episodes.

This wasn't what I'd have expected. It also couldn't possibly be what Dexter had in mind.

Of the four episodes sent to critics before the start of the season, this was probably the least successful and it's a good thing it ended well or else certain tonal missteps really would have stuck in my craw.

The episode was hampered by some annoyingly out-of-character stabs at cheap humor. They began right at the beginning with Dexter guessing the futures of the various kids, including suggesting that a nose-picking moron would grow up to be President. As politically liberal as I am, I hate facile satire and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg was guilty of some. I'm not sure I'd have bought Public Dexter making a sarcastic political joke, but Internal Dexter definitely wouldn't.

And what was up with Dexter's trip to the sorority house with the slutty twins? This is a show that's usually smart enough to dodge caricature like this and, so far as I could tell, the only point of the scene was Dexter's joke about how his own child couldn't turn out any worse. Similarly, Dexter's attempts to talk to the kids in what he thinks youth slang sounds like wasn't as funny as somebody must have thought it would be.

Jennifercarpenter_dexter_3_240The focus on Dexter and Miguel has also left several of the other supporting characters spinning outside of the show's main orbit. David Zayas' Angel had such a fantastic reaction to Dexter telling him about Rita's pregnancy, for example, that I wished Angel and Dexter were more directly involved. I've also yet to get on board with the Desmond Harrington's blandly shady Quinn or Liza Lapira's IA officer, though I loved the scene between Deb and the junkie informant, especially her ultra-profane rant that prompted his adequate response, ""Damn. You've got a mouth on you, woman." I just love Deb.

Enough of me. Sound off, Readers... Did you like this week's Dexter? How are you feeling about the new characters? About the developing season plot?