Nothing is in order anymore
This was one of those weeks on Dexter where I felt like I could have been surfing the internet while I watched. I like these episodes – a little slow, mostly about the characters small developments, relationships, etc. – but they don’t really grab me. My favorite part was probably watching Deb try to figure out what it meant to wield her new power. We’ve heard rumors that LaGuerta was a good cop before she took a desk job and got embroiled in politics, but we never got to see that transition. I think it could be fun to watch Deb figure out if being Lieutenant really is just about putting a blazer on over her old clothes. Her show down with Mike Anderson made it clear that Deb’s straight-talking, take-no-prisoners style will survive the transition and might just be what saves her. The only downside to this plot line is that LaGuerta seems reduced to the slimy, insincere woman we first met, after the last several seasons had done a lot to make her more compelling and three-dimensional.
Deb is not the only one struggling to make sense of her new position. If Quinn hadn’t been such a d-bag this episode, I might have felt sorry for him. Was all his growth and sensitivity just an act? the product of infatuation? Where is that maturity he threw in Deb’s face last episode? I get that he is pissed, but couldn’t they at least have a real conversation?
Dexter’s big summary voice over at the end of the episode tried to tie all the plots together by suggesting that we are all searching for meaning, for something to make our lives make sense. I’m not sure the episode really tied all of that together for me, but there was a fascinating connection between our attachment to objects (big and small) and the way we order our universe. On the surface, Ryan stealing the ice truck killer’s mannequin hand doesn’t seem much about giving her life meaning. Nor does it seem on par with Harrison’s wanting to sleep with a model horse or an old serial killer spending hours staring at his box of tooth trophies. But in each case, these objects form the attachments people have with the world, for better or for worse. Sometimes the objects do their work – Harrison sleeps cuddled up with his plastic precious. Sometimes they don’t – Walter Kenney’s trophies are just dead objects to him now. And of course at the end of the episode, Dexter spills his box of blood slides, breaking at least one and knocking the rest out of order. Dexter’s been so much on the up and up this season, it was a bit hard to take him seriously that this one mishap introduces meaninglessness into my life, but something tells me it might just be the first indication of greater chaos to come.
Isn’t this often the way with Dexter? He encounters a victim that makes him question some aspect of his life – in this case, whether or not he will end up a bitter old man staring at a box of blood slides – and this sets him into existential questioning and a search for deeper understanding. Maybe the disordered blood slides are just the beginning of his realization that they don’t actually provide the order he needs anyway. The biggest reason Dexter has to think he won’t end up like Walter is that his slides aren’t trophies of power he can or cannot wield like Walter’s teeth are. They are reminders of the tenuous thread of connection he maintains with his normal life and the people he has come to love who give it meaning.
As much as this is probably setting us up for Dexter’s larger spiritual search, I kind of hope we get on with it next week. The bloody apocalyptic horses seem very promising in that regard.
can’t wait to hear what you thought!
I guess I’m surprised to hear you say you didn’t enjoy this one! All last season we complained about how the plots moved too quickly, leaving little time for character development, and a complete inability to focus on the details that a narrative like this requires if it is to become believable. I found this episode to be a beautiful return to the forms of detailed storytelling that, while they can be rare, when they appear, make this show truly great.
Besides the humour (and I’m not quite sure how you managed to resist calling this post either, “Teen Ass, Nipple Parade, and Spanked,” or “I goggled you!”), the slow pace also enabled me to recognize the aesthetic details that often fade into the background of a cram-packed storyline. For example, I was stunned by the colours at the retirement home – it’s a cliché of every representation of retirement communities in tv and film (a cliché based on a sad reality) that the spaces of old-age are filled with muted, pukey colours: the types of colour that you would imagine lining caskets, not plastering the walls of your favourite Cuban restaurant.
But why does this matter? Because I think this “tooth fairy” story was telling us something very important about Dexter’s spiritual progress this season. I love what you have to say about things falling apart, and the chaos that can ensue from a breakdown in narrative continuity. But this story also illustrated perfectly the reason for this breakdown. The bright colours of the retirement home offer us some glimpse of a joyful end of life –perhaps the joyful ends of life that Dexter had mistakenly imagined for himself. Then, locked in the storage room – a brilliant echo of both the shipyard container that was the site of Dexter’s original trauma, and of the shed he built in Rita’s backyard to house his “extra-curricular activities” – Dexter is faced with a decayed remnant of what his slide collection will one day be. The end for him will not be good. It’s a realization that the path he is one is tragic.
And this was all the more emphasized by the significant role the “tooth fairy killer” played in the inauguration of said path. This was the guy who started Dexter’s scrapbook! So sure, he was a guy Dexter has always wanted to kill. But he was also a guy who inspired, who birthed Dexter’s desire long before Harry honed it for him. That was a fascinating detail, I thought – Dexter plotted out life as a serial killer long before Harry taught him how to do it! That’s new information, I think. We knew he was violent, but we didn’t know there was a discipline to it, an order before Harry imposed one. Now, loosed from Harry’s order, bracketed by the birth and death of the tooth fairy’s significance in his life, Dexter’s own order has also crumbled.
Sure, it might be corny to do it in such an obvious way as dropping the box of slides, but I found the moment to be believable and perfect. Those slides have been such an important part of both Dexter’s and the audience’s journey. Only he and we share the knowledge of them. As much as his own life is now in chaos, I get the sense that our own relationship to him as viewers is too.
And this made the ways in which Harry and Dexter disagreed with each other throughout the episode all the more poignant for me. Harry wants to act like this isn’t the “tooth fairy” – Dex knows it is. Harry doesn’t believe in Deb. Dexter chooses to support his sister. Harry receives demotion after demotion each season, and in this one I’m fascinated by how dismissed he seems; he is peripheral to Dexter’s story. He is trying to still be relevant, but failing at it with each step.
The apocalyptic storyline still looms, but it found some energy for me in this episode for two reasons. First, as Dexter pondered his own origins and end, I wondered how his personal theological narrative would relate to this grander one. And second, I couldn’t help but wonder how the victim’s name might be important. Nathanial is certainly a Biblical name – but what are they trying to evoke here? Nathanial was the prophet who called King David to true repentance of his prolific sins. In that sense he was a savior of the Davidic kingdom or, rather, he prolonged its inevitable demise, allowing it to hobble along for a few more years. Is that what’s being evoked here? I’m not sure, but again the slow pace gave me the time to ponder it.
And of course, that 4 horsemen scene at the end was pretty amazing. Come on! That just got real!? We haven’t seen anything like that before, and the spectacle was incredible. For all the ways Dexter plays with the relationship between public and private lives, that was the most blatant form of public spectacle we might yet have seen – and I’m intrigued to see where it goes.
But perhaps my favourite moment in the episode, and this is just because I’m a sucker for bloopers: at the very beginning, when they rolled over the prostitute’s body, did you see how she accidentally lifted her leg? Awesome!
Yeah, so I guess I like the slower ones!