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Best Dad Ever, My Ass

By J.K. Barlow | TV | November 19, 2009 |

By J.K. Barlow | TV | November 19, 2009 |

In his new backyard shed of horror, Dexter contemplates the blood slide of Jonathan Farrow. He asks, if murderers don’t usually care whether their victims are innocent or not, why does he feel so guilty? Personally, I question his first premise, but maybe he’s just talking about serial killers. He twitchily scrolls through the photos on Farrow’s website. It should have been Trinity on his table, the man who (supposedly) shot Deb. But Dexter doesn’t deal in “should haves;” he doesn’t have regrets. Frustrated, he breaks the slide and cuts his finger. Welcome to remorse, Dexter. It’s one of the worst emotions.

In the briefing room we learn that Jonathan Farrow is now officially a missing person, and that his assistant, Timothy Brand, is suspected of his murder. Angel assigns two background cops to follow up on the case. Vince opines that Farrow is probably gator chow, and no, Riles, I still don’t ever want to eat alligator. Fidgety Dexter is barely hanging onto his cool, and Deb can tell. “What is wrong with you?” she whispers. Dexter admits that he doesn’t know.

Angel asks Deb what’s up with the bludgeonings, and luckily enough she’s prepared a slide show. Unluckily enough, or so she thinks, a random bathtub-murder shot has found its way into the presentation. Pretty sloppy, Deb (and screenwriters). Deb’s been explaining the significance of the smudges of ash at the crime scenes, and the bathtub pic has a smudge too, helpfully circled with a thick red line. It catches LaGuerta’s attention — she can tell there’s more to the case than Deb has let on. Cornered, Deb spills the whole theory, including her conviction that Trinity shot her and Lundy. Much to her surprise, no one thinks she’s crazy; LaGuerta even seems intrigued. Dex is pissed.

Deb, on the other hand, is thrilled. Outside the conference room, she tells Dex excitedly that she’s keeping Lundy’s legacy alive. LaGuerta interrupts them to order Deb into her office, and Deb goes, expecting a commendation. Dex: “Go get ‘em, tiger. Ess. Tigress!” I guess Deb is just used to Dex being a weirdo. While Dexter waits for the elevator, Quinn walks up with a “hey, buddy” and asks him where he’s off to. “It’s called lunch, buddy,” is Dexter’s terse reply. Quinn: “Off-campus, as usual.” Dex gives him a malevolent grin as the elevator doors close.

In his garage, Arthur Mitchell is hunched over his newly-made coffin, head resting on his hands, maybe in prayer. He straightens up and caresses the wood, then covers it with a dirty tarp. He stands there awkwardly for a moment — I really think one of the best things Lithgow brings to this role is that awkwardness — and walks out.

If Dexter is planning to murder Arthur, he should really stop stalking him all the time. If and when he does kill him, the Mitchells will probably wonder about that weird guy who suddenly started hanging around in the weeks before his disappearance. All of which is to say that Dexter is sitting in what I would guess is a loaner, staring at the Mitchell kids as they busy themselves with the car and garden. He gets out, crosses the street, and asks Jonah how “the wheels” are holding up. Jonah drawls “Like a dream, Mr. Butler. Like a real nice dream.” You know, I like this kid. Shame about his dad. Arthur, who’s been hidden behind a shrub, comes over to say hello. Dexter’s pretext for dropping by is that he was worried about Arthur after last week’s Deer Incident. Arthur says he’s feeling fine, then walks over to his son, who is polishing the car in a less-than-circular motion. Jonah accepts his father’s advice cheerfully, but it doesn’t stop Arthur from snapping “There are two ways to do things. Why not choose the right way?” Best Dad Ever, my ass. Karen Mitchell comes out with a glass of pink lemonade and announces that Arthur’s clothes are “clean, folded and ready to be packed.” My husband should be so lucky. Arthur tells Dex that he’s on his way to Tampa for a Four Walls build. He follows this revelation with a stern criticism of his daughter’s watering technique. My, how will they ever get along without him? They’ll have to, because the family doesn’t accompany him on out-of-town builds. He says he’ll be leaving tomorrow, straight from work; Dexter digests this and takes his leave. He’s got to find a reason to go to Tampa.

In his lab, Dexter searches for any kind of conference in Tampa that sounds vaguely “science-y.” Deb barges in and announces she’s been taken off the Trinity case because she’s one of his victims, which is perfectly sensible. Dex makes a ham-handed attempt to console her, saying this will free her up to help the department “in so many ways.” The look on her face says it all, but she clarifies anyway: “I love you, bro, but sometimes you’re a fucking ‘tard.” Dex accepts the criticism, just as he spots the link to the East Coast Meteorological Conference — his ticket to Tampa.

Cut to Dex in LaGuerta’s office, spewing a lot of science-y talk about how a crime scene is basically a microclimate blah blah blah. He’s laying it on pretty thick, and LaGuerta agrees to let him go to the conference as long as he stops talking. Next up, Rita and the baby get the same song and dance, and both give him the same blank look. In more recognizable English, Dex tells them how great the conference will look on his annual salary review, leading Rita to gush about his dedication to his work and family. Home run, Dex. Also, Elliott is taking the kids fishing this weekend so it would be a good time for Dex to go. Rita makes a trade: she’ll cover this weekend if Dex covers Tuesday nights when she goes to yoga. Dex, not without his reservations, takes the trade. By the way, how awesome is that baby?

That night, Dex is in the shed packing his bag. He chooses a pretty badass hunting knife as his one tool, but after a moment of reflection, takes Arthur’s hammer too. Dissolve from the hammer in Dex’s hand to its outline on the pegboard in Arthur’s garage. Coffin again? No, this time he’s preparing his sister’s ashes for the journey, pouring what looks like the last of them into that little glass vial. He tucks it in among his clothes and shuts his battered old suitcase.

Outside the high school next day, Arthur gets into his serial killer van and is about to take off when Dexter nearly throws himself in front of it. Arthur really doesn’t want “Kyle” along for the ride, but Dexter wages an all-out attack: He needs to get away. He needs to get out of his head, away from this feeling. He says Arthur is the only one who gives him a sense of purpose, and questions his generosity of spirit. Arthur is helpless in the face of Dexter’s overwhelming need, even while insisting he has nothing to give. “There’s nobody else?” he asks. “You’re the one, Arthur,” Dex tells him. “The only one.” Arthur relents, and Dexter scampers to the passenger seat.

At the station, Angel, LaGuerta, Quinn, and Vince are discussing the bludgeoning cases, while Deb hovers nearby, “filing.” They review what they know about the murderer: tall, old-ish, white, blue eyes. Given that this is Miami, they’ve got their work cut out for them. Deb catches Quinn’s eye and mimes something which, in Quinn’s defense, I would also have interpreted as a blow job. Quinn winks, gives her the thumbs-up and mouths, “Now?” Yes, Quinn. Deb would like to blow you in the men’s room immediately. Cancel your plans. No, Deb is actually suggesting mouth swabs, meaning a targeted DNA sweep of the area. Quinn hurriedly suggests this and is met with some resistance, due to the huge cost, the amount of work, and expected objections from the ACLU. Deb, speaking through Quinn, points out that it’s the weekend and Thanksgiving is coming, so the courts will be closed. Moreover, targeted sweeps have been effective before. LaGuerta agrees to come up with the money, and tells Vince to get a protocol rolling. Quinn grins at Deb as he passes her desk; “Happy?” She smiles back.

At LaGuerta’s office door, Angel asks where all that money is going to come from, and LaGuerta says she’s going to try and find it in the budget. Angel offers to help, and they agree to work together in the briefing room, right out in the open.

It’s a pretty tense ride to Tampa. Dexter’s bursting with anticipation. Arthur meets his attempts at small talk with curt answers and increasing annoyance, cutting him off in the middle of his fifth question. He wants to know what “Kyle” is troubled about. Dexter hedges; he made a mistake, a big one, but doesn’t say what it is, and Arthur accuses him of being purposely vague. Dex suggests a pit stop to lighten the mood.

At the Collier County Rest Stop, Dex eats a vending-machine burrito while Arthur sips a diet soda. Arthur thinks “Kyle” should apply the bravery that it takes to eat a vending-machine burrito to the problem at hand. He wants to help because good deeds are rewarded by God, but can’t do it (or be handsomely rewarded) until he knows what’s wrong. When Dexter is still reluctant, Arthur loses his patience and threatens to drive away and leave “Kyle” to fend for himself. Dexter nips that in the bud by interrupting, “I killed a man.” It gets Arthur’s attention.

I don’t think there’s anything feigned about Dexter’s reluctance here, nor Arthur’s shock: Dexter isn’t used to admitting murder, and Arthur’s not used to hearing about it, regardless of their combined body count. Dexter explains by saying it was a hunting accident, which in a way it was. “I was so sure. I’m always so careful.” Even though it was an accident, it’s left Dexter with a terrible feeling. Arthur tells him there are few things harder to bear than remorse, and Dexter repeats the word as though he’s never heard it before; according to Arthur, it’s “what separates us from the animals.” Just giving the feeling a name has clearly provided some relief. But if Dexter has evolved, he doesn’t know it. When Arthur tells him that confession is good for the soul, he can only think, “All the more proof I have no soul.”

In his motel room, Dexter reflects that killing Arthur is the best deed he can possibly do. Since when did he start worrying about that? Surveying the bathroom, he chooses it as the best kill site. He’s looking up a hardware store to get some more supplies when Deb calls, saying wryly, “How’s the weather?” She wants Dexter’s discarded crime scene photos from the Tarla Grant case, too see if Trinity left a smudge there too. Dex tells her that any photos he didn’t file would be on his lab computers and that Vince could access them for her. Unfortunately she can’t ask, since she isn’t officially on the case. Disappointed, she fills Dexter in on the DNA sweep, insults some weatherman named “Sonny Skies” (he’s not real, thank god - I checked) and lets him go.

Armed with an ad for a hardware store he’s ripped from the Yellow Pages, Dexter in on his way out. But as he opens the door, Arthur is standing right there, poised to knock. He appears to have cheered up, and tells Dex that, instead of going to the build first thing tomorrow, he’s got a surprise instead! Apparently it will make Dexter feel better. Arthur, you don’t want to know what would make Dexter feel better. As he closes the door — couldn’t he go to the hardware store anyway? — Dex wonders what kind of surprise could make him feel better, and muses that Arthur might have “some kind of formula for remorse or something.” A formula for remorse? Something tells me we need to go over that concept again.

LaGuerta and Angel are sitting alone together in the briefing room after hours, because they want to get fired. Through creative budgeting they have freed up twenty-four thousand dollars. It’s not enough, and in frustration she takes down her hair, causing Angel to look at her all googly-eyed. Oh, knock it off. He points out that they’re the last ones in the station, and they stare at each other until the pregnant pause is interrupted by a drunken Quinn. Good old Quinn has persuaded a bunch of other officers — drunkenly, no doubt — to donate one vacation day each to help pay for the sweep. With that good news, he staggers out. And then, of course, Angel and LaGuerta go at it on the conference table to the strains of steamy Latin music. Dios mio! Let’s hope no one’s watching the surveillance cameras.

Quinn would like to be sleeping it off at home, but is awoken by a knock at the door. Surprise! It’s Christine! Seems her boss told her that if she can’t get “the lead that bleeds,” she’ll lose her job, so she’s come to Quinn for some comfort. These two haven’t been going out very long, right? A few weeks, punctuated by a breakup? So since when are you allowed to show up at the door of your current lay demanding comfort? In my day, which was just last week, I do believe that would have been seen as needy. Maybe she doesn’t have any friends. Anyway, Quinn is half-drunk and half-asleep and doesn’t want to let her in. He placates her with some comforting words and a hug, during which she spots his instructions for taking mouth swabs on the table behind him. She then rejects his begrudging invitation to stay and saunters off. Should I be angry at Christine for being such a bitch, or disgusted with Quinn for being such an idiot? Guess I’ll just split it and call it a day.

Early next morning, Dex is planning to register at the conference and establish an alibi, then make it back to the hotel before going on Arthur’s surprise outing. No such luck. Arthur, as we already know, is an early bird and has apparently just returned from purchasing two large coffees. He’s so excited he does a little tap dance, though regrettably without the appropriate shoes. Dexter watches him with the air of an anthropologist who is making first contact with the Sentinelese. As he walks around to the passenger side, he ponders the drastic change in Arthur since yesterday’s car trip and wonders what it all means. Is his mask crumbling? I use “mask” here in a metaphorical sense, as no mask carving or wearing has yet been observed.

Speaking of masks, Deb is sitting at her desk looking at a photo of Lundy’s dead face. Morbid but kind of understandable, I guess. Quinn walks in. You can tell he’s hung over because his hair is messy and his collar unbuttoned. Deb tells him to ask Vince for Dexter’s discarded crime scene photos. Quinn, annoyed at being bossed around, asks if he’s just her tool; Deb, trying to lighten the mood, says he is, but she’s just trying to make him look good. Quinn storms silently away while Deb watches him in disbelief.

We follow Quinn to the lab, where Vince is overseeing the construction of DNA swab kits. When asked if he has access to Dexter’s discarded photos, he responds that he and Dexter share everything, but “not in a gay way”. When Quinn tells Vince what he wants them for, Vince is surprised and impressed at the initiative, which has to sting. Then Quinn refers to Dexter’s conference as a “geekfest.” Vince takes offense: “I’ve almost banged so much tail at those geekfests.” He further clarifies that Dexter is “pure jungle cat,” and for some unimaginable reason, fills Quinn in on the Lila (the “hot English muffin”) episode of two years past. Quinn looks like he appreciates the info. Yeah, I can see where this is going, and it isn’t down James Doakes Lane.

Neighbor Elliott brings the kids home with the catch of the day. Rita is suitably impressed. Cody is eager to fry ‘em up, and Elliott suggests that in Dexter’s absence he clean all the fish, Rita cook them, and it will be a nice wholesome family party. Rita relents, on the grounds that she makes a mean mango salsa.

In Tampa, Arthur pulls up in front of a tidy suburban house, runs to the door and starts frantically knocking and ringing the bell. An Asian man answers and takes them for salesmen, but Arthur explains that this is the house he grew up in — that garners a reaction from Dexter — and, ignoring the man’s protests, bounds up the stairs. The man and his wife argue in Chinese (I guess). Dexter, whose curiosity has conquered his sense of propriety, puts his hands together and bows to the distraught couple before running up the stairs after Arthur.

In the upstairs hall he comes across Arthur standing, terrified, across from the bathroom door. This is where it all started, he says: as an innocent boy of ten, he was watching his sister in the shower. She saw his reflection in the mirror and it startled her; she slipped and shattered the glass shower door, cutting her leg, and had bled to death by the time the ambulance arrived. “Born in blood … both of us,” Dexter thinks. Arthur says that his parents blamed him. His mother never recovered, and eventually killed herself, leaving Arthur all alone with his father, whose alcoholism worsened after his wife’s death. He began to beat his son and taunt him, calling him a pervert, accusing him of their deaths. When Dexter asks what happened to Arthur’s father, Arthur will only say that he died. With that off his chest, Arthur is amazed at himself and relieved. It’s the first time he’s ever shared this story. He’s told Dexter, he claims, to make him feel better, to show him what they have in common. He embraces Dexter, and asks him if he feels better. Dexter can’t respond. The Asian couple come out of hiding to demand that they leave, with the wife threatening to call the police. Arthur seems to think this is an overreaction to two maniacs barging into your house and hugging in your bathroom, but Dexter defuses the situation by suggesting lunch — he’s heard of a great place.

Deb’s taking a break behind the station, adding some coffee to her sugar. She turns around and almost literally bumps into Christine, who is looking for her; she wants to know about the roadblocks, if they’re related to Lundy’s shooting. Deb starts lying her ass off, trying to cover up the real reason for the roadblocks, but Christine knows she’s hiding something. Out of desperation, pity, or both, she suddenly agrees to the interview Christine’s been coveting. Christine, for once, is speechless.

In Tampa, Dexter leads a skeptical Arthur into a generic hotel coffee shop. Asking Arthur to order him a tuna melt, he runs to the men’s room; only not really, because this is the hotel that’s hosting the meteorological conference. Sneaky Dexter! He checks in and grabs his name tag, then takes a photo of himself with the famous Sonny Skies and sends it off to Rita with the message “Me and Sonny! Learning lots, xoxo D.” But Rita doesn’t notice the message because Elliott is busily chasing her around the kitchen with a fish head. She’s fending him off with a wooden spoon. Adorable.

Dexter returns to the café but Arthur isn’t sitting at their table. He’s sitting in a corner booth with an uncomfortable family of four. He calls them “the neighbors,” and recites their names and city of residence while they all look as though they’d like to call security. Apparently Arthur has been telling the family about his morning, bathroom included. Thinking of his children, the father protests, but to no avail: “Bob!” Arthur scolds. “They should learn to speak the truth!” Bob assures him that his kids already know how, but Arthur won’t be stopped: “We all need to confess our mistakes, so we can go into the light unburdened!” In short, he’s gone off the deep end. His face is red and he’s breathing heavily as he stares at Dexter, inviting him to confess his own sins. Instead, Dex tells him they need to go and leave the family in peace. Arthur is up like a shot and strides quickly out of the restaurant with Dexter trailing behind.

You’d think he was embarrassed at his own behavior, but it turns out that Dexter has embarrassed him; he thinks it was rude to leave. He says Dexter’s lack of openness is caused by his remorse, and the only thing to do is to shed his remorse. Dex says he can only do that by giving; he wants to stop by a hardware store to pick up some things for the “Four Walls Build”. Also, Arthur’s murder.

In Miami, Deb’s got her hands on those discarded photos of Tarla Grant and for some reason she’s looking at them by the sinks in the women’s washroom. LaGuerta walks singing out of a stall and asks what Deb is doing. Deb says nothing and asks why LaGuerta was singing. LaGuerta says she wasn’t singing. Well it’s just a regular web of secrets in here. Deb: “Are you happy about something?” LaGuerta: “Are you hiding something?” Deb: “Are you?” Ladies, ladies. LaGuerta hums on her way out of the washroom. Deb, in her haste to get back to the photos, drops them on the floor, and groans as she bends to pick them up. Staring at her wounds, she has something of an epiphany. Mumbling “mother shit fuck,” she runs out.

She goes straight to the lab, where she closes the door and the blinds and takes off her shirt. Vince is distracted momentarily by her tits, which do look nice, but his forensics training soon kicks in. What’s got Deb distracted is that her wound is perfectly straight: the entry and exit points are perfectly level. Given how most people hold a gun, they should be able to tell from that how tall her shooter is; and after putting Vince on a plastic stool, they figure out there’s no way Deb’s shooter was six-four. Matter of fact, the shooter was probably about as tall as Vince himself. That means it wasn’t Trinity.

Arthur and Dexter walk into Dexter’s room and drop their purchases on the bed. Arthur says there’s “nothing like the spirit of charity to make the heart right.” He’s like the Magnetic Poetry Protestant Kit. Apparently Dexter has insisted on buying loads of plastic sheeting, in case it rains. Yes, it might … rain. Dex then fakes a huge yawn, and Arthur leaves, but not before saying that he and “Kyle” are kindred spirits. More than you know, Arthur. More than you know. Dex grabs the plastic sheeting and walks into the bathroom.

Back at Dex and Rita’s house, all the kids are passed out in the living room while Elliott and Rita share a bottle of wine. Rita’s already buzzed, so Elliott polishes it off. He calls her a lightweight, which leads to the revelation that fifteen years ago, Rita was a “dress-over-the-head party girl.” What’s that you say, Mrs. Morgan? Elliott is charmed. This is followed by the awkward staring silence that we all knew was coming, and then a retreat to every good wife’s refuge: the kitchen. She gathers the plates, wondering what’s gotten into her.

While Rita’s at home having impure thoughts, Dexter is blood-proofing the motel bathroom. Oddly enough, he has a selection of knives, even though we saw him choosing only one earlier this episode. He hangs the photos — quite a number of them, including Tarla Grant, Deb and Lundy — then breaks into Arthur’s room, which miraculously has an old-fashioned key lock and not a card key. Good luck, that. Unfortunately Arthur isn’t in bed, nor is he anywhere else in the room.

His van is in the parking lot, but his tools aren’t. He must be at the Four Walls build. Dexter takes off running. As he stalks through the skeleton house, he hears the thud of Arthur dropping his tool belt. He’s on the roof, ready to throw himself onto a row of thick steel cables protruding from a half-finished wall two stories down. Dex doesn’t grasp Arthur’s true intention until he’s right behind him, and sees him emptying the last of his sister’s ashes onto the ground below. Arthur spreads his arms, ready to dive; Dex lunges forward and grabs him by the arm. The glass vial falls and shatters. Arthur begs to be let go, and Dex does wonder, “Why keep him alive just to kill him?” He’s about to let go when a bunch of Four Walls builders materialize behind him and grab on, hoisting Arthur back up to the roof. Falling back, Dex realizes that Arthur planned this, and that’s why he was able to unburden himself. He wonders if this is what he’ll be driven to someday.

Arthur, being helped to his feet by the Four Walls folk, gasps, “I thought God sent you so that I could save you. But God had another plan … He sent you to save me.” The irony doesn’t go unnoticed by Dexter. Everyone gathers around to shake his hand as he feels his anonymity ebbing away.

At the station, Deb is sharing her new theory on the shooter with LaGuerta, Angel, and Quinn. They seem to buy it, and LaGuerta lets her back on the Trinity case now that there’s no conflict of interest. Quinn is relieved: “No more backseat driving.” In fact, Deb gets to take lead, and Angel will take on the job of finding out who shot Lundy. He perches casually on the table and it collapses. You know, because he and LaGuerta had so much sex on it last night. Their awkwardness is palpable as they dismiss Deb and Quinn, then giggle in private about all the bad things they’ve done.

At her desk, Deb is caressing Lundy’s FBI badge while promising that at least she’ll get Trinity. How does Deb get to keep all this shit? Lundy had a daughter, right? Wouldn’t she be the heir to all his personal effects?

On the way back to Miami, Dex thinks about how he’s not going to let Arthur go again. It occurs to him that the purpose of remorse might be to keep you from repeating mistakes. Arthur tells Dexter not to worry. He’s embarrassed but not suicidal, and asks Dex to treat the jump as a fall. Dex agrees. We all make mistakes. Likewise, Arthur will never spill the beans on how “Kyle” killed an innocent man.

As (bad) luck would have it, they get caught in a line for one of the DNA checkpoints. Dexter tells him he’s heard it’s for “some huge serial killer,” that they already have his DNA and are looking for a match. Arthur’s face betrays nothing. When a red car ahead of them pulls out of the line and drives back the way it came, Arthur decides to follow his lead, and suggests the scenic route instead. Can it be so easy to get out of line? Doesn’t that defeat the point?

Arthur laughs as they drive away and Dexter is amazed at how he can be so changed, feeling no regret. Is it because he’s a monster? Can’t be: “If erring is human then remorse must be too. Wait, does that make me … human? Huh.”

I think it’s clear now that Arthur was building his own coffin, and planning his suicide. This leads more credence to the idea that he wanted to be caught; he could no longer stand his compulsion to kill. Once Lundy was dead he had only one option. Now, however, with his new lease on life, he’s avoiding DNA checkpoints and protecting his freedom. Also, there’s no way that Trinity shot Deb and Lundy, and I totally called that. All we’re left with now is the possibility that someone from Lundy’s past was the shooter. I like that theory, as it explains the look of apology Deb said was in Lundy’s eyes just before he died.

As for Quinn, he’s decided that Dexter is a womanizer and isn’t quite sure what to do with the information, because he can’t decide whether he likes Dex or not. Should he use the information against him, or invite him to go on the prowl?

Last, I prefer Angel and LaGuerta’s relationship when it’s on the down-low, and it does lend some suspense as we wonder who’s going to get fired first. More importantly, I think the characters are acting more like themselves now, and that’s all I wanted in the first place.

J. K. Barlow lives in Europe, which stresses her out. She doesn’t currently have a blog — or not one she wants you to see — but she can be reached at i.barlova at gmail dot com.

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