On Letting Go — Checking in with Dexter

As I’ve said previously, Dexter is a series I enjoy, but not one I really enjoy or one that I make time to watch on a regular schedule. With Mad Men and Rubicon off the schedule, I might be keeping up with the Showtime thriller more often so I have more Sunday television to discuss.

And part of the reasoning for that is despite its many faults, I’m really enjoying this season of Dexter, perhaps more so than any other season but season two (remember, I didn’t see all of season four, and though I liked the episodes I did see, didn’t find it overwhelmingly amazing like most). There are still numerous issues here, particularly with the god-awfulness of Angel and LaGuerta, but there’s a lot of great stuff going on here that’s worth mentioning.

One thing that’s compelling about these first five episodes (of which, I’ll be discussing mostly the last three since I already did a post on the first two) is that it really feels like the series’ attempts to make things feel “different” are actually working. The series typically works best when it deploys a breakneck kind of pace that makes both Dexter and the audience feel like they’re suffocating. It’s usually in the middle of the season when things get boring because the story is kind of flailing around looking for direction or even stalling to keep all the good stuff until the end.

However, this season, the pace is exceptionally slow in many ways, and though it took me a bit to get used to the transition, I’m actually now invested more in Dexter than I have ever been. It’s one thing to talk about how in the aftermath of the death of your lead character’s wife, you’re going to slow down the plot and really let Dexter marinate in that terrible event, it’s another to completely execute that plan with little to no problems in a series that usually likes to move fast and present a facade of character development amid a slew of cool moments. And really, it’s even another thing to take that approach past the stellar premiere and really let it seep into Dexter’s life moving forward in a way that suggests killing isn’t going to make things better this time.

Thus, putting Dexter into a unique situation with the horribly-named, but supremely compelling Lumen (Julia Stiles, in surprisingly potent performance) has led to relatively high returns in the drama department. The series has really never been able to have Dexter interact honestly with anyone but Harry for an extended period of time, so to have him come into contact with a woman who already knows what he’s done and who is just as messed up as him is a great approach on paper and one that has been executed in a fairly consistent fashion.

After Rita’s death, Dexter might feel like the only way to make himself feel better is embrace his monster side and rid the world of more bad people, but his relationship with Lumen, however strained and still undefined, is going to show him that he needs to embrace his human side as well or the guilt is just going to run over him and he’ll end up killing without regard to the code or any sort of moral rules. He can’t share his guilt with Deb or his 10-month old baby, and without expressing those feelings in another way aside from murder, Dexter would speed down a darker path than he’s even been on.

But now, he’s almost responsible for Lumen, who has been held captive and sexually assaulted by a gang of men for an extended period of time and is generally a screwed up mess. She can’t be touched, can’t even bring herself to sleep in a bed now because she’s so used to the safety of the closet she hid in while held captive and is out for all sorts of revenge. The two of them not only share the secrets of her almost-death and Dexter’s discarding of Boyd, but also can work out their jacked up lives together.

By taking care of Lumen and keeping her on the straight path, Dexter is going to find that he can almost right his own life by helping another. He’s always been so caught up in keeping his demons at bay that trying to assist another person in that same task will surely open up some doors for his issues. Dexter is dealing with the guilt of something he caused, but he’s trying to prevent Lumen from going through that same process.

Like I said up top, I’m enjoying all of this because it feels slightly different from anything Dexter has been interested in doing before. There is some mystery as to who else tried to kill Lumen, but for the most part, the relationship between she and Dexter has been the most important part of the story. And while their relationship isn’t completely defined yet, I think that’s part of the journey that we and Dexter needs to take. He needs to be someone’s friend and although that’s not exciting as watching him slice open rapists, it’s a complication to a character who needed it.

Of course, it’s Dexter, so there are a number of stupid things happening that make me angry. Though they’re always awful characters, Angel and LaGuerta feel particularly detached from anything else going on right now, as they seem to be acting out some sort of terrible soap opera that no one else knows about or especially cares about. Go away, both of you. Quinn and Deb hooking up is predictable, but kind of intriguing just because of they’re both smart-ass messes who go well together. However, Quinn’s journey to find out if Dexter killed Trinity seems purposefully stalled every week and because we’re all pretty sure that A.) Quinn won’t be proven right or B.) He will, and then he’ll be killed before he can tell anyone, watching a story we already know the ending to get stalled is frustrating beyond belief.

But aside from that, I’m all in on Dexter for the first time in a while. So what if it might just be because there’s no Mad Men on — it’s something!

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