Before looking at last night’s season premiere of Dexter, let me explain why Showtime’s drama has transitioned from a show I used to love into a show that I couldn’t feel more apathetic towards. There are two main reasons, both of which Michael Cresci and I briefly discussed in our Emmy predictions podcast, as to why Dexter doesn’t excite me as much now as it once did, or nearly as much as other dramas do.
More than anything else, outside of Dexter Morgan himself, there isn’t one single likable character (and whether he is likable is debatable). But that’s not even the problem. The problem is that not only are these characters not likable, they just aren’t interesting, and for the most part, are exactly the same as when we first met them. Peter Campbell from Mad Men isn’t likable, but damn am I glued to the screen when he’s on it. None of Dexter’s supporting characters cause any type of emotion other than brief humor coupled with hopes that they will soon be off the screen.
But my main gripe has more to do with the show itself than the characters. After a creepy fourth season, one that ended with the bold decision to murder Dexter’s wife Rita, the series followed up with stale, risk-less fifth and sixth seasons that seemed to care more about cheap thrills than anything else. The show has become a victim to it’s own premise, where every season (at least each of the last three) follows a formula with very little variance. A new serial killer is introduced within the first few episodes but we know come the season finale, just like all those before and no matter how unlikely it might seem in the middle , the killer will be plastic wrapped to Dexter’s table awaiting his knife to strike down. The ride is much less exciting when you can see the tracks laid out ahead of you. Because of this, Dexter has only become as interesting as the antagonists it provides. And we haven’t had a compelling one since John Lithgow’s horrifying portrayal of the Trinity killer in season four.
But, the ending to season six and the premiere of season seven provide a glimmer of hope. If we’ve learned anything from the early seasons of Dexter and other dramas where our characters walk a thin line between life and death (or imprisonment), it’s that these shows are much more effective when consequences come into play or these characters’ lives are at risk. Since Dexter is literally the show’s title in which he is the entire premise of the series, his life won’t be legitimately at risk, if ever, until the series finale. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be repercussions for his actions. In season four, he lost his wife, but her death didn’t serve as much as an obstacle as it should have in season five. The writers immediately dismissed the possibility of Dexter having to juggle three kids while moonlighting as a serial killer by sending two of them away and suspicions of Dexter being involved with Rita’s death never developed like they could have. Fortunately though, it appears that the writers are treating Deb’s discovery differently.
Fifteen minutes or so into the episode, I was nervous that Dexter would be able to talk his way out of it and this season would carry on like every other season with the exception that Deb had suspicions that he experienced more than just a “brief moment of insanity”. Instead though, the writers made the right choice in having Deb find out that Dexter is more than just a one-hit wonder. Now Dexter is finally forced to suffer some sort of consequence for his actions, and for the first time in the series, it actually makes Deb relevant. Even more so, with the Dexter-Deb dynamic, the Ukraine plot (which came about a bit too conveniently), and Louis becoming increasingly more suspicious with each episode, there is a good chance that this season could have more than one interesting storyline for the first time since season two.
So while one episode isn’t enough to get me fully re-energized about the show, I am cautiously optimistic that Dexter can return to the level of entertainment that seasons one, two and four provided. Or, at the very least, be better than the previous two.