Last night saw the return of “Dexter” on Showtime, now kicking off its sixth season, and the premiere episode did what all of “Dexter” premieres have managed to do so: Lay out the themes, remind us of what we love about Dexter’s character, and elicit our excitement for the rest of the season.
What “Dexter” rarely does anymore, however, is keep up the momentum of the opening episode. “Dexter” has some of the best first and last episodes of the season for any show on television, but it typically suffers through the middle episodes. It’s a problem with the way the show is formulated: The highlights of the show are Dexter’s cases, not the ongoing story lines. “Dexter” might have been an even better show if it had gone the “Veronica Mars” route: Cases of the week bookended in each episode by the season-long storyline. Can you imagine what an amazing show “Dexter” might have been if each episode were a mystery that ended with Dexter’s kill-of-the-week? Guest stars would be lining up to be one of Dexter’s victims. The dark humor would’ve been more pervasive instead of periodic, and the somber, repetitive self-reflection that tends to dominate the middle episodes might have been excised.
Instead, we live for these opening episodes, and last night’s did not disappoint. All the loose ends from last season magically tied themselves up. Time has jumped ahead a year or two; either that, or a lot of things happened very, very quickly: Dexter’s son has grown up; the step-kids have apparently been shipped off to the grandparents permanently; and LaHeurta and Batista have divorced. In fact, LaHeurta has blackmailed her way into a promotion to captain and brought Batista in as the new lieutenant, never mind that LaHeurta and Batista have mostly functioned as obstructionists through the first five seasons. Everyone else has managed to solve cases mostly by disregarding them, and yet they are the ones who get promotions? Whaddya gonna do, right? Batista has also moved in with his sister, next door to Dexter. Batista’s sister is now Dexter’s nanny, which frees Dexter and his dark passenger to kill more freely.
And kill more freely he does! Beginning with lethally defibrillating a couple of paramedics who have been letting patients die in order to harvest their organs for profit and ending with a sequence of events at Dexter’s high-school reunion that reminded us that this show once had a strong sense of humor before Rita came along and ruined it, like she RUINS EVERYTHING. There’s Dexter as Mr. Popularity at the reunion dance, struggling with the meaning of “Hammer Time”; there’s Dexter playing flag football and throwing an elbow into the quarterback’s nose; and there’s Dexter on the receiving end of a blow job from his high-school homecoming queen. Where has this show been for the last three seasons? Also, what high school reunion lasts the entire weekend?
The season-long narrative I’m not as excited about: It involves Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos. It’s unclear what their angle is, but they appear to be well-educated religious nuts. Either way, their first kill was glorious: Replacing a man’s intestines with baby snakes, a set up that made for one of the more amusing crime scenes. The look of excitement in Dexter’s face was to die for, as was Debra’s exclamation, “Holy freakin’ fuck! Snakes!”
The guest star narrative will surely merge into Dexter’s crisis of faith, as he attempts to bring up a son without a dark passenger of his own. That apparently entails putting him in a Catholic preschool with a busy-body headmistress, who I’m already quietly rooting will die at the hands of Dexter. Maybe he will plunge a cross into her chest.
The opening episode has me feeling a little blood-thirsty.
The other subplot is that of Quinn and Debra: Quinn has apparently relieved himself of his suspicions about Dexter, at least for now, and he’s trying to propose to Debra, all of which reveals another ongoing issue with this show: With the exception of Rita, major characters never seem to die, and that’s a problem when — with the exception of Debra, occasionally, and Masuka, for comic relief — no one really cares about the supporting characters. Hell, if you’re going write Cody and Astor out of the show, why not do it with a death? Astor has had it coming for three seasons, anyway. LaHuerta and Batista serve very little purpose; if their characters died, at least they’d be doing something to move the story forward.
All in all, it was a solid first episode, even if I don’t love where the show is going. Hopefully Dexter will be able to maintain his sense of humor throughout the sixth season and continue to embrace his dark passenger instead of questioning it.