'Dexter': A Tale of Two Standoffs

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One week remains. One week before Dexter airs its fifth season finale.

And the art of the finale is, more than anything, the art of setup—tension, cliffhangers, and, as the season's penultimate episode showed us, dramatic standoffs. Or melodramatic standoffs, as some of this week's scenes also demonstrated.

Two strains of suspense really drive the show at this point—the first coming from the more overarching threat of Jordan Chase, self-help guru extraordinaire with a secret predilection for raping blonde women with his childhood pals, and the second concerning Stan Liddy, rogue cop obsessively tracking Dex's every move. Both these arcs reached a fever pitch this week, one with raw drama and one that, well ... let's just say it was serviceable but not exactly heart-pounding.

The compelling drama involved sly and unpredictable Stan Liddy, hired by Quinn to look into Dexter. Despite a relatively one-dimensional personality, the lanky, grizzled Liddy has added tremendous fun to the show. Scenes benefit from his drinking and noxious wisecracks, all subtly offbeat. Liddy displayed a true investigator's instincts in pursuing Dexter. This pursuit is, in fact, largely sympathetic once we remember Dexter is a serial killer. Liddy is right in suspecting the body that Dexter and Lumen dump, the weapons they buy, and the murderous plans they plot.

Dexter rather arbitrarily discovered Liddy was on to them this episode. He, interestingly free of any moral qualms that he faced with Sergeant Doakes in season 2, planned to kill Liddy, only to have Liddy successfully lock up Dex in his van. The capture was short-lived, however, as Dexter managed to brutally kick Liddy in the face and then stab him to death. Sloppy, Dexter, and hardly enough to solve the dilemma of Liddy. Also, does killing Liddy fit the code of Harry? Unlikely, but the show doesn't worry quite as much about that these days.

The drama is likely to continue because 1.) Dexter left the bloody body in place, 2.) Quinn knew Liddy was on to Dexter, even arriving at the van and unconsciously getting drops of Liddy's blood on his shoes, 3.) Dexter may have tossed Liddy's laptop, but that can't have contained the entirety of the evidence against Dexter. The sudden, jerky spontaneity of Liddy's pursuit and subsequent death created quite a surprising degree of suspense, as do the remaining questions. How will Quinn react when the police find Liddy's body? Will that lead to a standoff with Dexter in the finale? Or will he drop it completely? He is, after all, emotional jelly at the thought of Deb now.

The second, vaguely underwhelming standoff: Mr. Jordan Chase, square-jawed huckster of clichés, knows Dexter and Lumen are on to him, so he tries to lure them to Emily Birch's house to, presumably, show them who's boss. Chase seems bizarre and unstable throughout the whole episode, and reeks more of a B-movie villain than anyone psychologically compelling, more pest than powerful. The quick cuts to his chats with Emily as he ominously sits in the shadowy chair? "You're quite the actress"? Please. You practically expect him to burst out with a "muahaha."

What happens, of course, is a little predictable: Jordan Chase entraps Lumen while Dexter is caught up with Liddy. Dexter shows up at Emily Birch's house only to find blood all over, Emily Birch dead, and no sign of Lumen or Chase. Our protagonist starts to panic, the mystery of what happened hanging in the air. Cue credits.

The real standoff at work, as always, is Dexter versus the law, his sister, and the truth of what he's been doing for years. His sister Deb has grown infinitely more effective and brilliant as a cop since her awkward debut four seasons ago, and she now has killer instincts equal to Dexter's own. She correctly suspects Chase of his crimes and is bound to interrupt Dexter right at the wrong moment. She also accurately suspects that one of Chase's former victims is a vigilante offing his fellow abusers and that a man is helping her. Our favorite serial killer better watch out—that standoff in the wings is where the true drama waits. Hopefully as soon as next week's season finale?

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

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