The last few episodes of Dexter have been moving a fairly speedy pace for the middle of the season, but “Teenage Wasteland” brings most of that pacing to a screeching halt so it bring up a primary story from the first few episodes that was mostly dropped so that Dexter could get on with the killing and Lumen healing. And while returning to that story sounds like a reasonably good story idea in concept, the execution is muddled, primarily scattered episode structure, and ultimately, “Wasteland” is the most disappointing effort in four or five weeks.
Astor makes her first appearance in a while, and in the (seemingly) short time since she was shipped off to Orlando with her grandparents, she’s turned a little goth and became something of a heathen, drinking and stealing, etc. She and a friend sneak into the old Morgan household to drink and hell-raise, thinking it would be completely desolate, only to find a terrified and awkward Lumen there waiting. Dexter quickly shows up and with all the booze and hormones top-lining her obvious disappointment in seeing a new, hotter blonde where her hot blonde of a mother used to be, Astor isn’t happy. Great.
Like I said, in theory, this seems like a smart move. First of all, it delays some of the Jordan Chase stuff, which was probably going too fast for its own good. There are still four episodes left, so the series needs to pace out those reveals a bit. Secondly, the season handled Dexter and Astor’s relationship so well early in the season — overcoming the young actress’ obvious limitations — so it made sense to remind the audience and really, Dexter, that Rita is still dead and that still sucks for more people than just him. Sending her off to Orlando in episode two felt like something of a cheat so that the series could get back to Dexter doing what he does, but I think it was a necessary one. Just as bringing Astor back is a necessary plot pivot.
However, the way Astor’s story develops over the episode seems frivolous, frustrating and a little boring until the last few moments. She and the friend show up, act like teenage girls (re: pretty bitchy), then seem to be okay with hanging out with Dexter for a day. Then they’re apparently kidnapped, which completely derails the middle of the episode for something of five minutes, because oh wait, they’re actually just at the mall, AND they’re stealing! And the friend has gotten beat by her mom’s D-bag boyfriend! So Dexter of course has to be the hero and be the crap out of the boyfriend. Fine.
Not only is that all reductive and not particularly important to Dexter and Astor as a father-daughter combo, but the episode seems overly satisfied with itself for exploring the avenues it does. Harry makes his first appearance in a while as well, but basically only to tell Dexter, “Hey, good job, son!” and it juts seems all too self-congratulating. Sure, Dexter does a nice thing for the girl, but it’s not especially moving or personally important to Astor. The two can share a moment about it at the end of the episode and realize they’re both kind of weirdos that don’t know how to deal with Rita’s death since she kept the family together, but Dexter beating up a child abuser to get to that point felt wasteful.
I hope Astor returns before Lumen dies/gets arrested/goes away, because it would be interesting to see those two interact more. I understand the reasoning in keeping them apart here because Astor can’t really deal with Lumen’s presence, but Astor still needs a strong female figure in her life, and outside of Deb, Lumen seems to be the only choice.
And speaking of wasteful, don’t even get me started with this Harrison crap. This season has legitimately tried to get 2-3 episode stories out of what this 11 month old baby does and it’s absolutely ridiculous. Here, he says “Mama” near Lumen, which rightfully freaks out Astor, but of course, the end of the episode sees him do it again when she’s nowhere nearby, making Astor feel better, but making me feel dumber.
Moreover, in general, “Teenage Wasteland” feels like the episode where the season pumps its breaks and we spend way too much time with the 4th, 5th and 6th level stories that aren’t interesting or remotely good. The episode tries to get a lot of mileage out of what’s happening at work, with Deb regulated to filing duty but finding more people were actually in on the barrel girl killings — a great name, by the way — and all the office politics that go along with that discovery. I don’t care why LaGuerta buried Deb, I don’t care that Deb is mad about it and I especially don’t care that Batista is stuck in the middle. It’s good to bring back up the barrel girl killings because it puts everyone else back on the same case as Dexter and Lumen, but let’s just forget the rest of this nonsense.
Deb finding out about Quinn’s search for Kyle Butler and his subsequent realization that he needs to stop investigating Dexter and thus fire Peter Weller’s Liddy are less annoying plot points, but because we can assume two things — A.) Deb won’t find out about Dexter and B.) Either one or both of Liddy and Quinn are going to be killed for what they know — it’s all wheel-spinning to create false drama.
Finally, the little time we do spend on the Jordan Chase plot also feels like something of a depression before things really rev up again. Dexter is spending a lot of personal time with Chase, a well the series goes to way too often, but it’s done well enough here. Dexter examines some blood Chase carries around his neck and finds it belongs to a woman who is still alive, but Chase now knows that Dexter and Lumen are working together as well. Both sides gain new information, but neither do anything about it, so again, feels like some place-setting.
This is probably an episode that had to happen because the pacing couldn’t be sustained, but unfortunately, “Teenage Wasteland” is mostly just a waste. Ha, see what I did there?