thu 25/04/2019

Dexter, Series 6, FX | reviews, news & interviews

Dexter, Series 6, FX

Dexter, Series 6, FX

The vigilante drama returns with religious zeal but fatally clunky writing

The dark passenger: Michael C Hall returns as Dexter

Now on its third showrunner and entering its sixth season, it’s perhaps not a surprise that this once pitch-black drama, centring on a disturbed forensic analyst who moonlights as a vigilante serial killer, has lost its edge. The latest episode begins on a promisingly perilous note as Dexter (Michael C Hall) staggers through an abandoned lot having been stabbed, but there’s a characteristically punch-pulling reveal in the offing. Dexter was never in any danger, but his long-overdrawn series is at risk of becoming, despite its provocative premise, wholly conventional.  

Where last season’s premiere had a head start in terms of drama, picking up just moments after the shock reveal of Dexter’s wife’s murder, there’s no such instant hook this time around. The most recent finale saw Dexter abandoned by newfound kindred spirit Lumen (Julia Stiles), whose dark impulses turned out to be more short-lived than his own, but several months have elapsed between seasons. Rather than Aftermath, the buzzword for this year, it seems, is Religion.

In theory, this just might work. There’s always been a dim element of the vengeful god about Dexter as a character, dispensing violent (if not quite biblical) justice to those who have escaped punishment for their sins. But the clunkily written discussions of religion in this episode don’t bode well. First, there’s Dexter’s exchange with an overly judgmental nun working at the school into which he hopes to enrol his son, during which he admits, “I don’t believe in anything.” Later, there’s an odd scene with his spiky adoptive sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), in which she seems to berate him for his lack of belief. Setting aside the idea that these two siblings – whose close bond has been well established and remains the show’s most interesting dynamic – have never discussed religion before, it’s just plain out of character for the boundlessly irreverent Deb to take the position she does.

New villain Travis (Colin Hanks)The religious theme dovetails conveniently into what will presumably become the season-long villain plotline, wherein Colin Hanks (Mad Men) and Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica) play two very, very creepy blokes who do some very, very creepy things in the name of the Book of Revelation. And fair play to them – their replacement of a murdered man’s intestines with snakes is one of the show’s most impressively grim moments to date.

This is also a very funny episode, thanks to the A plot which sees Dexter attend his high-school reunion in order to exact justice on a murderous fellow student. Hall is very good with fish-out-of-water comedy and the initial reunion scenes take full advantage, between his bemused reaction to his co-attendees’ dancing (“I have no idea what Hammer Time is. Or how it differs from regular time.”) and his awkward shuffling attempt to join in. 

One of Dexter’s biggest problems has always been its cast of supporting characters, who vary from less-than-compelling to so-dull-I-may-chew-my-own-arm-off. The writers have never seemed to know whether they are making an ensemble or a character study – presumably, the answer is that they’d like to make a character study, but in order to avoid overworking Hall they try to have it both ways. But it’s clear that their real interest is their protagonist, and so with the exception of Carpenter’s Deb the supporting players are cardboard cut-outs, wheeled on sporadically between Hall’s scenes to stem the gaps without ever making you care.

Dexter (Michael C Hall) with Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), Quinn (Desmond Harrington) and Masuka (C.S. Lee)Fortunately in this episode we’re spared too much of Captain LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez), a serial offender in this regard, but her interminable marriage plotline with Angel (David Zayas) has been replaced by a subplot involving his scantily clad younger sister, who’s begun working as a part-time babysitter for single dad Dexter. On the basis of previous seasons, you just know that you’re going to be spending vastly more time with these characters than you’d like. One can argue that the show is called Dexter and such an imbalance is par for the course. But numerous such shows from House to Buffy have developed compelling supporting casts, who can sustain their own plotlines without compromising focus on the lead.

With a consistently first-rate leading man like Hall at the helm, there is no good reason Dexter should fail to be one of the best things on television. But thanks to its increasingly lazy character writing and reluctance to really mime its premise’s vast potential for bleak, black drama, it remains a show that was great only in its first season. If you’re looking for a truly smart, truly dark series about a compelling character wrestling with his capacity for morally motivated evil, look no further than Breaking Bad

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