'Dexter': Why Does the Cast Keep Sleeping Around?

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Dexter's fifth-season kickoff may have pulled in an impressive 2.3 million viewers, but the second episode illustrates a groan-worthy problem of the show—apparently in Miami, the only people worth dating are your coworkers. Yes, Dexter is officially experiencing a veteran show's often-inevitable pitfall—the sometimes painfully contrived in-dating among cast regulars.

Many mature shows suffer from such cast-cest. Maybe the problem develops two seasons in, maybe four. Given a fixed cast of characters, the trigger is simple enough. A show's narrative energies dwindle, and a lightbulb flashes: Hey! Why not throw Sergeant Angel Batista into a torrid love affair with Lieutenant Maria LaGuerta? Or ... what about homicide cops Debra Morgan and Quinn? Perhaps those two should hook up, as we've begun to see in season 5. It's easy kindling for narrative fire, or so writers hope. Friends practically did a complete rotation, where even Joey and Rachel had a turn.

Dexter has always been guilty of plot-convenient hook-ups, with no better example than Dexter's awkward and expletive-spitting sister Deb. Her romantic attachments to key plot players now include:

  • Brian "Ice-Truck Killer" Moser (Season 1, Dexter's long-lost serial killer brother)
  • F.B.I. Agent Frank Lundy (Seasons 2 and 4, hunter of her brother and then Trinity)
  • C.I. Anton Briggs (Season 3, pivotal informant, dramatic end-of-season hostage)

Now in season 5, Deb sleeps with her charismatically obnoxious Miami Metro partner, Detective Joey Quinn—who, big surprise, looks more and more like a major antagonist for Dexter this season, a la Sergeant Doakes in season 2. Quinn is a sleazily tenacious cop who's not quite trusting of the Dexter-Morgan brand, who wants to interview Dexter's neighbors on the DL and who pieces together the Kyle Butler sketches that might tie Dexter to his unseemly Trinity-Killer subterfuge from season 4.

Deb and Quinn, at least, always showed enough flirtatious tension to justify the passionate embrace we saw in the fifth-season premiere. Fair enough set-up. The two characters playfully came to terms with the sex in this episode as Deb crashed on his couch and Quinn hoped for a repeat encounter. But wait a second. Shouldn't Quinn be upset over his ex's recent suicide? Christine Hill shot herself a mere two weeks ago in Dexter-time! Come on, people. Quinn may be a professional, but isn't it a little soon to show him sprawled on a bed in his purple button-up shirt and grinning at Deb? Entertaining banter ("I came over here to sleep—not to have your fat little sausage fingers all over me"), unbelievable timeline.

Yet the most tiresome Dexter example would be Angel Batista and Maria LaGuerta. Their sudden courtship and marriage from last season defied character development, and now we face what amount to exchanges so boring and trite that it's a wonder these characters had been compelling in seasons past. The relationship sucked all the oxygen from their individual stories.

This week's side plot, for instance: Angel discovers his new wife has a savings account loaded with retirement funds. Gasp, the horror! He hides in the dark of her office to waylay her: "Maybe we have different ideas about what a marriage should be." "But you live every day like it's a party." "...It's fine. I'm irresponsible. Everyone knows that." Then of course, he goes and offers to buy the office drinks to show her ... his independence? Right. No thanks.

The levity and diversity of Dexter's supporting cast often serve as a backbone and counterpoint for the show. Colorful characters like Angel and lab tech Vince Masuka provide comedy as well as a break and from the kill tools and trauma so central to episodes. These interludes balance out the somber scenes of Dexter saying farewell to Rita's children, to stalking potential victims, and speaking to the ghost of his dead foster father Harry.

But with recent relationships this contrived? Just give us the psychopath.

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

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