'Dexter': Too Much Teasing, Too Little Action

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Dexter is a show that relies on suspense. The show's latest episode again stretched the audience, beguiling us across all plot threads yet without ever truly delivering much advancement. Last week presented several cliffhangers, virtually all of which we still hang from expectantly this week. Why? Ostensibly to keep us at the edge of our seats.

These cliffs begin, of course, with the subject of last week's recap: Lumen Pierce from Minnesota, the battered young woman played with authentically throaty-voiced trepidation by Julia Stiles, who saw Dexter kill her captor and becomes captive once more to our own serial killer, who is trying oh-so-desperately to win her trust. The cliffhanger proposes, like all the rest, a question to which we already can (unfortunately) guess the answer: Will Lumen flee with knowledge of Dexter's kill and, as the vision of father Harry Morgan suggests, lead to baby Harrison growing up to visit Dexter on death row?

Spoiler alert, folks—the answer is a resounding nope. At least not yet.

The episode also bluntly creates several other faux-dramatic situations: Is Dexter's charming Irish nanny truly quitting in a huff? What'll happen when Quinn finally approaches Jonah Mitchell and connects Dexter to the alias he used with the Trinity Killer's family last season? Oh, and that Santa Muerte cult—is Deb really breaking through and about to find the culprits? Is Angel still in trouble with internal affairs for his bar fight? Wait, Lumen's successfully run away, trampling through a creek to the road! Is that car going to pick her up? Is LaGuerta actually going to...

...Yawn. Because no. Nothing happens with any of this, really.

Sure, Quinn dramatically throws a photo of Dexter at Jonah but gets yanked away by the FBI before any revelations. Deb hunts a Santa Muerte lead in Carlos Fuentes but aside from a wild standoff, nothing materializes. The car speeds off without picking up Lumen, and Dexter wrestles her to the ground. Even the nanny returns: "One more chance, Mr. Morgan, but that's it." You tease us, Dexter, but nothing much has happened.

When done well, suspense is Hitchcockian brilliance. Yet if done poorly, it's rubbish. Should we feel cheated? Is all this filler and a nonsense waste of time?

Not entirely. Last week we saw the machinery of plot shift, creating an opportunity for momentum that could drive the season with the character of Lumen. That fresh element still drives this episode. No, we the audience don't share Dexter's dread that she'll bolt and blow his secret serial-killer identity. That fear is as transparent as the ghost of Harry riding in the backseat and sermonizing about the special serial-killer code ("Don't get caught!").

But particularly in the second half of the episode, several lovely character moments save the narrative and make what could be considered false drama worth the suspenseful ramp-up. We do learn more about Lumen's backstory, for instance. Julia Stiles blends into her traumatized character surprisingly well, and the concluding moments between the characters of Lumen and Dexter suggested an authentic and believable connection might develop—a damaged, uncomfortable relationship based on her desire to kill past abusers, perhaps, but a tender and natural one nonetheless. Michael C. Hall has continued to provide the nuanced touches to Dexter's acting that ground the drama and somehow make the wild conceit at the heart of the show riveting and seemingly credible. Much remains enjoyable to watch despite the incremental crawl forward.

Now we just need to hitch Hall's killer acting to realistically dramatic stakes that advance the plot. Suspense will never be effective without those.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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