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Monday, October 11, 2010

"Dexter" Season 5, Episode 3

Oh thank goodness for nannies.
  • Oh thank goodness for nannies.
Last week we saw Dexter hit a bit of a speed bump, a forehead-slapping episode full of lazy writing, confounding plot developments, and the weakest supporting-character side-plot in a show that could win an award for weakest supporting characters. It was everything bad about Dexter, barely anything good, and a dispiriting segue from old business to new. Seemingly designed only to jettisoning the most bulky, extraneous baggage from last season’s cliffhanger—the two Rita-lings, Cody and Astor—it felt to me like a cheat, backing out of the family story and leaving us with nothing to look forward to but a lame new victim-of-the-week (two weeks running) and a ho-hum murder cult for Deb to pursue half of each episode.

Then I got learned. My first hint that things were going to get better: Julia Stiles in the credits! Why, she’s my favorite part of any dance- or high school-themed movie! And wasn’t she in one or two of the Borne movies?! Julia Stiles! Who will she play?!

And yet, it goes beyond Julia Stiles. After a nanny audition (their choice, “practically perfect in every way,” trips red flags for everyone but the cop and the serial killer), a bit of last-episode recap (like we need it; see attached Previously On Report), a nicely deployed reality check regarding baby Harrison (the crisis counselor says a 10-month-old like lil Harry isn’t susceptible to Dexter’s “born in blood” curse), we settle into a comfortable Dexter rhythm. As Dexter stalks his truck-driving victim, schmoozing his way into a ride-along and prepping a kill room along his route, Deb pursues leads in the beheading case Miami Homicide caught last week, aided by knowledgeable, friendly Officer Manzon, who Deb hates. When one of their leads turns up beheaded, all viewers’ suspicions—but not, of course, any of the detectives’—focus on Manzon, last seen telling Deb she wanted to talk to this lead by herself. (And behead him.)

Elsewhere, Dexter springs into action, dosing blonde-murdering roadkill collector Boyd like a pro. Also like a pro: Boyd, who whips around before he falls and pops Dexter with his tranq gun. Nice! The ambulance-ride and hospital-bed sequence that follows is unexpected and tense in all the ways last week’s goofy cat-and-mouse scene wasn’t, plus it’s funny. It’s also a great setup for the episode’s killer reveal—another neat reversal on last week, which ended on a creepy but unsurprising note. After offing Boyd in his own home, Dexter experiences a feeling of letdown: nothing’s changed. It’s the same thing an audience might feel over, say, a long-running TV series with a formula that’s gotten a little stale.

Then they pull the rug out: seems Dexter has a witness. Locked in a room, Boyd’s next victim—ladies and gentlemen, the beautiful and talented Julia Stiles!—was watching the whole thing through an improbably-located window: “She saw everything. She saw me.” Now here is a plot arc worth ditching those kids for, something that could keep this series fresh in both its plot developments and moral wrangling: Dexter has a prisoner. Everybody squeal!

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