'Dexter': A Mid-Season Report Card

By John Hendel
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Showtime


New twists marked this week's episode of Dexter, the latest dilemma identical in form to the one of the previous season. Miami police have stumbled upon the several blonde victims of Lumen's kidnappers. Justice might be served. Ostensibly this should be a positive development ... right? Wrong. "I don't want the police to take care of it," Lumen tells Dexter. "I want to take care of it." Suddenly the race for the abusers is on—the investigation of Miami cops versus the vigilante justice of Dexter and Lumen. Bring on the déjà vu, as Dexter tries to mislead his coworkers away from the culprits at large, just like he did with the Trinity Killer a year ago.

We've also officially passed the mid-season mark of Dexter's fifth season. Seven episodes in, the death of Rita has been resolved, the broad plot arcs have surfaced, and the new Julia Stiles character of Lumen has developed into someone Dexter now calls a partner. We can also start judging the season.

As of episode 7, how has Dexter done? Let's review:

Serial Killing: Four new bodies so far this season yet only two ritualistically. Dexter has remained busy, and his stalking is severely limited by baby Harrison as well as ensuring his new protégé Lumen stays in check. If anything, this season revealed a Dexter Morgan who's far more willing to kill people in the heat of the moment—last week's wounded dentist and the premiere episode's bar kill both happened spontaneously.

Once upon a time (the outset of season 3 comes to mind), the idea would have floored Dexter. Now it's a matter of course that he's a sloppy serial killer (neither of the two ritual, code-motivated kills happened smoothly either, with Lumen witnessing one and the other victim bursting from Dexter's trunk within a few feet of the police). Harry Morgan would not approve (speaking of which, Harry's an awfully forgettable presence this season, isn't he? Even for a ghost).

Loose Ends: Season five is, in many ways, the nauseated hangover from the heart-pounding intoxication of the fourth season, fraught with John Lithgow's dynamic Trinity Killer and culminating in his wife Rita's death. We still see Dexter affected by the memory of Rita's murder, and his advocacy for Lumen's vengeance is a way to redeem his misguided actions of season 4. Dexter's protective tenderness for Lumen can be weird, and as this week's episode illuminated, comes with uncomfortable sexual tension.

Yet what of Rita's children Cody and Astor? Their departure happened so tidily, so suddenly. We've heard perhaps one reference to them in the past three episodes after moving in with their grandparents. Although their presence would be intrusive for the Lumen storyline, their absence is also an awkward and unfortunate plot hiccup. Other elements from last season also fell to the side. After a season's worth of suspense about Deb connecting Dex to the Ice Truck Killer, nothing really came of the season-finale revelation.

Supporting Cast: Weak outside of the consistently amusing Vince Masuka, who, between auto-erotic mummification and his full-back tattoo, has been an absolute scene stealer. The romantic dialogue between Quinn and Deb, however, fails—the banter can be humorous but most somber exchanges are painfully wooden. Angel and LaGuerta's marital tension is still yawn-worthy, and the Irish nanny and Officer Manzon have been mostly undeveloped. Thankfully Captain Matthews added some pressure in recent episodes. We need any sparks we can get.

Season Obstacles: Emotionally and practically we've been all over the place! The FBI, Quinn, Astor, Santa Muerte, Lumen, Liddy, Lumen's abusers—all have been season 5 adversaries. Positive: we're not hooked into the easy narrative structure of the Big Bad. Negative: we feel tugged in a half-dozen directions. Luckily the parallel threads of Lumen's abusers and the Fuentes brothers have provided solid drama that's consistently ramped up in recent episodes. And characters HAVE been colorful enough, particularly Lumen's gang of abusers (Boyd, the dentist, the self-help guru and his bodyguard ... hardly boring, especially given the hints at a deeper backstory now).

Verdict So Far: The season suffered from a jumbled start (no surprise, given the amount of wrap-up required), but recent episodes have picked up significant steam. The introduction of Stiles as Lumen may have been a genius stroke in the sense that it broke the grief-fest surrounding Rita's death while also propelling the plot forward in a way not emotionally divorced from Rita's memory. New chemistry, new momentum, yet an emotionally continuous arc for Dexter himself. Not quite as magical as last season but hardly a waste of time.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/11/dexter-a-mid-season-report-card/66205/