I have a weird relationship with Dexter. I caught up on the first two seasons before the third and was hooked, but then of course, the third season was generally awful and I was out. I didn’t watch season four live, which is apparently the biggest Dexter-related mistake I’ve made since it is the most lauded of them all. I kept with the season through the extratextual stuff and watched “Thanksgiving” and “The Getaway” before season five began. Figured that was good enough on short notice, particularly for someone who doesn’t really love the series.
Despite all that, I found myself enjoying the first two episodes of season five, “My Bad” and “Hello, Bandit,” more than any episodes since the first season. It’s one thing to make Dexter go on a wild killing streak, avoid the authorities and pull it all together with a winning smile. It’s totally different to have to make him actually face the biggest loss of his life and do with subtlety. Surprisingly (at least in my opinion), these first two episodes tackle that challenge head on and explore Dexter’s issues with relative ease.
There is not a whole lot going on plot-wise as far as Dexter’s concerned, but the character naturally goes through the emotions that someone is supposed to when their spouse dies. He’s originally numb because he hasn’t really had to face a loss like this in his adult life. He can’t show any real explicit emotions, he accidentally admits to the police that he killed Rita and is generally uninterested in the challenges that come with burying a loved one (those are left for Deb).
And he’s that way not because he didn’t love Rita, but because he’s guilty. Dexter knows that his lifestyle and choices are what led to his wife’s death. She was an innocent, lovely woman who loved her family and in Dexter’s mind, he brought all sorts of dark forces into this family’s life just so he could feel better about himself. So of course he chooses to run and leave all that darkness behind. Well, that’s until he finally lets the anger out and kills some random dude at a filling station out on the water and Harry reminds him that the kids need him, and he needs the kids.
Harry’s presence has always kind of annoyed me, if only because it sometimes feels like a crutch the series goes to when Dexter’s in trouble. I know he can’t really share his problems with other characters since his secret is so grizzly and I love James Remar in the role, but it doesn’t always the work. Although I appreciated the fact that Dexter didn’t abandon his kids and let out some of his bottled-up rage, I kind of wish he would have come to it fully on his own without the help of Harry’s ghost. I guess you could argue that Harry’s ghost is just Dex’s subconscious and thus he did figure it out.
My other issue with the premiere is yet another thing that’s always bothered me about the series, and that’s Dexter’s attempts to run. It always tired me out in the earlier seasons when he would realize that the cops or Deb or whoever was about to figure it all out, so he’d trash some tools or try to run or think of a way how to explain…and then Dexter would get out of it. Though the end result (Dexter going back to his family) is what the series needs, going through the mechanizations to get him there is frustrating, if only because we’ve seen that kind of beat time and time again.
If the premiere episode was about letting go and getting rid of some anger, “Bandit” was all about moving on, something the character has always had trouble doing (hence the conversations with his ghost father). I actually preferred the second effort to the first because it doesn’t feature Dexter waffling about his life choices and instead really dealing with the hand life has dealt him. He recognizes that he has to be a father to all three kids, even though he can’t really handle it.
One problem with all that: Rita’s two children are having trouble dealing. Astor is especially angry because she thinks Dexter brought in the darkness, but also convinced her and Cody that they could have a real family again. But with her mother gone, Astor feels like that’s all been ripped away.
Like Dexter’s fleeing in “My Bad,” I appreciate the attempt to bring in the kids to the actual main story, but my lord are the kid actors not really up to the material. There are moments that are supposed to be especially poignant, particularly with the Astor character, and it doesn’t work because Christina Robinson just isn’t good enough. She tries to emote, but it’s mostly blank yelling with little feeling behind it.
Michael C. Hall, however, is fantastic. I have secretly always thought he was a little overrated in the role, but I’m willing to admit that I am wrong after these two episodes. Dexter is supposed to be experiencing new feelings that he’s never really dealt with before and Hall sells them all completely. There’s a layer of complexity there that balances the usual Dexter weirdness with some complicated emotions and it really, really works. His performance is especially great because he’s often doing so without any other characters/actors around.
Moving forward, Dexter has a major challenge ahead of it. The kids are gone, Rita is gone and Dexter is sort of aimlessly out there in the world with no direction. That could be deadly for lots of people around him, but also the series. I suspect it will be interesting to see the season operate without a long-running baddie and it makes sense in the context of the series, but it’s also a challenge. If Dexter is going to around and kill random people, there has to be a reason for it or it’s going to be just as monotonous as the Jimmy Smits season. Things are off to a glorious start, but I’m still skeptical.