‘Dexter’ – ‘My Bad’: Black widower

Senior Television Writer
09.26.10 47 Comments

“Dexter” is back, and I’ve got a review of the fifth season premiere coming up just as soon as I put a Mickey Mouse hat on you…

“I’m a serial killer. That’s what I am. I know I led you to believe I’m a human being, but I’m not. It’s a lie.” -Dexter

With so many strong cable dramas airing on Sunday nights (the 9 o’clock hour alone features this, “Boardwalk Empire” and “Rubicon,” and of course “Mad Men” comes on at 10), and with my overall enthusiasm for “Dexter” having waned the past couple of years, I don’t know that I’m going to be doing full-length reviews every week. (I learned last year that more often than not, you and I were both happier if I just did a quick “What did everybody think?” post.) But “My Bad” featured such strong work from Michael C. Hall that I wanted to give it a proper write-up, and the episode did so many potentially interesting things with Dexter that perhaps my love for the series as a whole might get rekindled as we move along.

In killing off Rita, outgoing showrunner Clyde Phillips left replacement Chip Johannessen a juicy but potentially problematic starting point for season five, and Johannessen embraced it. The show has always toyed with the question of how much Dexter is capable of feeling versus how much is just him acting the way he’s learned to, and for a while in “My Bad,” it seemed as if Johannessen were embracing the latter theory. Dexter shuts down, keeps reminding himself that he’s a remorseless killing machine who’s better off without a family, etc.

But of course an actual remorseless killing machine wouldn’t be nearly as changed by what happened to Rita. The Dexter whom Dexter keeps insisting he is would have continued right about his business, pretended to be the grieving widower, faked things as best he could with Deb and the kids and the funeral director(*), etc. He would have viewed Rita’s death as an inconvenience, and little else. But Dexter did love Rita, as much as he was capable of love, and so he goes into a shell to protect himself and the other people he’s grown to care about, and decides the best thing he can do for all involved is to leave.

(*) Played by Bill Brochtrup, whom I unfortunately haven’t seen enough of since “NYPD Blue” ended. And, of course, it’s always somewhat amusing whenever Hall has to revisit “Six Feet Under” territory from a different angle.

And we can see the difference between the Dexter in the flashbacks to his first date with Rita – a man who absolutely was faking everything – to the Dexter of today, and the one who finally has his catharsis in the gas station men’s room where he beats the obnoxious customer to death with a rusty boat anchor, then moans and screams and cries for Harry’s ghost. It’s a tour de force moment for Hall, in addition to being a mark of how complicit the show makes us in Dexter’s crimes. We want him to admit that he’s grieving so badly that it’s a relief when he kills the guy, even though it’s entirely outside The Code of Harry(**), which Dexter (and the audience) uses to rationalize his usual homicidal activities.

(**) I’ll be curious to see if Johannessen has any more interest in exploring the ramifications of Dexter killing outside the Code than his predecessors, who always made it seem like a big deal and then forgot about it moments after Dexter did it.  

As usual, there was some weak stuff with the supporting characters, and the attempt to send Quinn after Dexter has a definite whiff of both Been There and Done That. We know his investigation into Dexter is going to end with either a patsy (my money would be on Elliott) taking the fall or with Quinn doing something bad enough to get strapped to Dexter’s table, so it feels like filler.

Still, a great start to the season, and I like the idea that this year won’t have one Big Bad – because who could top Lithgow? – and as much as Dexter misses Rita, the show itself is better off without her after the way she was written the last couple of seasons.

So I was pleased with this one. We’ll see if my enthusiasm continues as the season moves along, but either way, there will be some kind of “Dexter”-related post every Sunday or Monday.

What did everybody else think?

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