[Credit where it's due: Episode Five (Swim Deep) aired this weekend as was very good, indeed. Could've gotten where they ended up in one episode rather than wasting three, but they did at least end up somewhere interesting.]
I make no great secret of the fact that Dexter has been a staple of my TV viewing over the past six years. Though the quality has varied from episode to episode and season to season the high points have been very high indeed and many of the lows are flagrantly goofy enough to remain firmly in guilty pleasure territory. But three episodes in to Season Seven, Dexter is losing me. Dexter is failing in a manner that is no longer pleasurable and it all comes down to the writing, specifically in the dogged resistance to change.
Dexter (the show) has been running for six full seasons now without any actual development in Dexter (the character). He is exactly the same now as he was when the show began. Worse, the show's writers and the characters within the show - Dexter himself included - seem perfectly content to just continue asking the same questions about the character now as they were when they began, i.e. is the drive to kill something that can be controlled or is it a fundamental part of who he is. That this question has been asked and answered repeatedly from day one doesn't seem to phase anyone.
Now, they've gotten away with it to a degree thus far by shifting
Dexter through different contexts in the early seasons. He went
from lone hunter to husband to father and each of those shifts provided
some basis to explore, at least slightly, some different aspect of his
fundamentally unchanging character. So while he wasn't developing at all
we were at least getting to know him a bit better. That has not been
the case for recent seasons - ever since Rita was killed, really -
and the show has essentially become a basic procedural with the
character constantly resetting back to zero. And it's taken a good bit
of heat for that.
Now, the final episode of Season Six and the opening episode of Season Seven opened the door for this to finally change. The established parameters of the show shifted, with Deb finding out who / what Dexter really was and Dexter acknowledging and stating what he truly is without any embellishment or apologies. He's a serial killer. Period. By putting Dexter into direct conflict with the only person in the entire show that he has ever shown an ounce of actual emotion for - and, no, I don't think he's ever shown any particular bond to Harrison, who is mostly treated by the writers as a prop to be called on when convenient - they finally opened the door to DO SOMETHING NEW. And given that they are now on the road to concluding the show that meant that they had the opportunity to do so in very conclusive fashion.
And what did they do instead? They immediately stepped back, pussied out and instead reset the character right back to the way things have ALWAYS BEEN. The revelation now means nothing. Deb is stepping into the role that Harry was in through Dexter's youth and - oh, joy - any discussion of his character has once again been reduced to "Can Dexter control his impulse to kill?" Because, you know, they haven't asked and answered that question enough times already.
What they've done is taken a story arc that could have been bold and fresh and pushed the character into new directions - bluntly, I want to know if Dexter will kill Deb if that's what it takes to save himself - and instead taken a route that is cowardly, small and completely lacking in imagination. They have revealed, conclusively, that the emperor is naked. They have nothing to say at all and so they are just going to revert back to the old standbys and hope that nobody notices. Well, I noticed. I noticed because they flew a great big flag in my face that said they were finally going to grow and develop and then immediately refused to do so. And so now all that I see is the enormous squandered opportunity.
Can Dexter pull out of the tailspin? I hope so. I'll give it another episode or two to find out, at least. But with the road that it's on now the show looks poised to end with a whimper rather than a bang and that's just sad for a show based on dousing people with blood.