Katy Waldman: Top of the morning! Showtime has put this episode of Dexter online for free and I’m ready to take another stab at this. A few Slate commenters seem to think the episode's intricacy is an asset. Adam T. says the series is "getting good again," after lackluster showings in Seasons 5 and 6. On the other hand, Dodgy believes "a very good series is passing its sell-by date."
Torie Bosch: Did you say "intricacy"? I thought it was mostly the same old—Dexter is frantic not to get caught, someone else in Miami Metro Homicide has been shot, there's a new villain on the loose, and Dexter wants to take care of him before his colleagues. I think I'd have to agree with Dodgy, much as it pains me.
Waldman: I disagree! The more I think about it, the more excited I am by last night's episode. The fact that Deb knows Dexter’s secret, I think, could breathe fresh life into the show. It seems like a game-changer. (And I like the way Kimberly Roots at TV Line puts it: Dex’s “Jenga tower of lies” is beginning to “teeter big time.”)
Bosch: TV Guide has an interview with showrunner Scott Buck that touches on this. Buck says, “We…played a couple seasons in a row where no one was onto Dexter, so this is the season where it all comes crashing in on him.” My worry, though, is that they've painted themselves into a corner. This is the jump-the-shark-or-swim moment.
Waldman: I’m encouraged by a lot of depth in the supporting characters. I know we lamented Mushy LaGuerta earlier, but I like her rogue side. She stole a piece of evidence! Of course, a lot of the Miami metro police don't play by the rules. (And Tierney Bricker at TV Scoop loves that Deb is joining the crooked ranks.) Maybe it’s no coincidence so many killers fall through the cracks.
Bosch: I've always thought that the supporting characters had a lot of depth, at least in the beginning, though they may have lost some of that over the last couple of seasons. And Laguerta's been sneaky before—remember when she had an affair with Pascal’s fiancé to throw her off her game?
Waldman: Yes, but that was personal. Now she's bending the rules in the department.
Bosch: Miami homicide has never been a by-the-book operation.
Waldman: I'm interested in the way the show portrays people stressed to the breaking point. Everyone has an idiosyncratic coping strategy. Quinn and Batista knock back doubles at the bar. Deb runs alone on her treadmill. Dexter murders people. Do you think the show is trying to normalize Dexter's kills? By showing us all these dysfunctional outlets for stress in other characters?
Bosch: I've always thought that this is less about normalizing serial killing—when the show debuted, many critics were disgusted at being asked to empathize with a murderer—than about trauma. How Dexter might have been a normal person had he not been subjected to the unthinkable trauma of witnessing his mother being murdered, then sitting in her blood for days. Really, the show tackles PTSD—and its lesser forms—in a spectacular way.
Waldman: Yes. I think you’ve nailed the show’s philosophy. But in its throwaway details, I sometimes feel we’re asked to believe that Dex isn’t that bad. And then there’s the question of whether he could be a vigilante hero.
Bosch: There is an ongoing suggestion that Dexter might not be strong enough to overcome his dark passenger, but perhaps if Harry had handled him differently, Dexter might not have fulfilled Harry's prophecies. In the end, though, Dexter's motives aren't pure—he wants to kill for the sake of killing. Doesn't that undercut the superhero/vigilante framing?
Waldman: I guess it depends on whether you care more about outcomes or intentions. (Of course, the outcomes would be less grisly if Dexter's motives were to rid the streets of killers rather than to spill blood.)
Bosch: I think of a superhero as one who sacrifices his own quality of life, maybe even life, to help others. Dexter sacrifices others to feed his inner beast.
Waldman: To me, a superhero is someone who stands out in some way, who accomplishes exceptional things.
Bosch: Let’s wrap this up. In plastic.