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Monday, October 3, 2011

'Dexter' Season 6, Ep. 1

When visiting Miami, dont forget to bring a bit of the city home with you. Our citizens entrails make great gifts!
  • Showtime
  • When visiting Miami, don't forget to bring a bit of the city home with you. Our citizens' entrails make great gifts!
At the beginning of the sixth season—the victory-lap season for most syndication-minded series—the show-cookers at Dexter seem as flummoxed as ever over the direction of the show and their rascally, sociopathic protagonist. Watching this premiere, you can practically hear the gears straining as the series backs up, lurches forward, backs up some more and occasionally threatens to stall out completely.

The recipe seems to be: return to Season one, add religion, and bake until crumby. It’s true I may be overstating the case against the show—the hour did have its great moments, and seems promising—but after the lumbering mess of season five (which also started out pretty well), I think I'm entitled to worry.

Let’s start with the good:

The return of Dexter Classic: self-aggrandizing narcissist, easily-confused student of human emotion, master of spatter analysis and righteous slaughter. A year since Julia Stiles left him high and dry, things are going “just perfect” for Dexter. Witness his triumph over wicked organ-harvesting paramedics! Witness his carefully-calibrated plan to punish a wife-killing former classmate at his 20th high school reunion! Witness him pretending to feel bad about the grisly slaughter of his wife Rita! Witness his barely-restrained glee while pulling baby snakes out of a murder victim’s stomach! This appears to be the cold-but-colorful serial killer we all fell in love with way back in season one, complete with a serial-killing adversary to admire and stalk for the balance of the season.

All that stuff made me very happy—especially the high school reunion scenes, where Dexter’s good looks and tragic backstory have made him unexpectedly popular with the classmates who used to ignore him. Dexter squirming in the spotlight is always a good time (remember when he took the stage last season with Sick-Boy?), but even better is watching Dexter doing his best to enjoy the attention, culminating in that great biology-classroom blowjob scene.

The abrupt introduction of God: yes, it was a bit ham-fisted, but then most things in Dexterland are, and this theme may in fact turn big dividends. Temporarily forgetting his mission to fit in, Dexter admits—to a nun!—that he doesn’t believe in God, or anything really. When Deb presses, he says he believes in a “set of rules that keep me out of trouble,” and she (never one to note a red flag when it pops up in her face) tells him he needs to start thinking about what he wants his son to believe. This not only gives Dexter a season’s-worth of rich new how-to-be-a-real-live-boy problems—a big step up from last season’s wan how-psychopaths-grieve theme—it puts him at direct odds with this year’s bible-quoting, snake-catching, fruit-stand hating Big Bads: Captain William Adama of the Battlestar Galactica and his protégé, Bosom Buddies-era Tom Hanks.

Actually, that’s Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks, and so far they make a creepy-great pair of villains. It’s nice to see Olmos in a sinister role, and it’s nice to see the Hanks kid playing something meatier than Peggy’s priest on Mad Men. It’s also nice to see a return to the simple formula of season one: Dexter is both fascinated by and driven to stop a brutal but “imaginative” (Dexter’s word) killer, while at the same time cleaning up Miami in a procedural scumbag-of-the-week fashion.

The bad consists mostly of leftovers from last season: the Deb-Quinn relationship, the Batista-LaGuerta relationship, Batista’s identity problems, and LaGuerta’s morally-ambiguous career maneuvering. Added to the mix are LaGuerta’s sister, taking the place of Super McNanny (presumably for greater damsel-in-distress possibilities); a teaching position for lab geek Masuka; and pre-K angst for Dexter and the kid. Happily, Rita’s kids are being kept off-stage (back in Orlando with the grandparents?); the Lumen storyline is all but forgotten; and Quinn is no longer suspects that his girlfriend’s brother is a homicidal maniac. And was it just me, or were the minor-character scenes a lot shorter and to-the-point than last year?

Maybe someone at Showtime got my memo after all!

- Ah, the patented Dexterland text-message screen: white serif text on a soothing blue background. Apparently, there’s only one cell provider in Miami, and no one has updated their phones in the past six years.
- Bright red moon over Miami: COULD THAT BE A SYMBOL?
- “I never saw someone dissect a fetal pig as fast as you, then ask for seconds!”
- “Enjoy your popularity, son”? Did someone put paxil in Ghost Dad’s cornflakes?
- “Can’t Touch This.” Not too subtle, but entirely forgivable for the chance to see Dexter on the dancefloor, and for the awesome killing-room “hammertime” callback.
- Per the season preview: I really hope Dexter doesn’t have to go up against Mos Def. It’s going to be a bitch picking sides on that one.
- Inside sources tell me a Samuel L. Jackson cameo didn’t work out because of scheduling conflicts; he was supposed to play an agitated morgue tech who had “had it with these motherfucking snakes in this motherfucking abdominal cavity.”
- And then there’s this.

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