Review: DEXTER S7E08, ARGENTINA (Or, A Clumsy Start Somehow Yields A Strong Finish)

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Review: DEXTER S7E08, ARGENTINA (Or, A Clumsy Start Somehow Yields A Strong Finish)
Here's a fundamental truth about Dexter, something that has very much been the case right from the beginning. It's a show that often struggles to get things right, swinging through peaks and valleys from episode to episode and season to season as it struggles to get and maintain the right blend of character, action, and drama. Some seasons have been saddled with dodgy actors. Some have been hampered by poor writing. It has a tendency to veer into bad telenovela territory from time to time. And yet, when it gets things right it really gets things right. And every single one of those tendencies was on display in Argentina, an episode that started off in incredibly hackneyed and clumsy fashion before resolving itself in a pair of absolutely stupendous scenes - pieces that were written and performed as well or better than any other single moments of the show. And suddenly something that started off earning scorn ended on a very positive note, indeed.

First, the scorn.

As you'll recall, last week's episode ended with Deb calling Dexter and asking him to kill Hannah McKay which would be fine and all except Dexter happened to be in bed - post-coital, no less - with Hannah at the time the call was made. We begin - as we should - with the morning after. Dexter and Hannah are making breakfast, with Dexter wondering what this all means, when Deb calls and he needs to make an exit. Cue the rapid slide in quality.

Deb gives her impassioned speech for why Hannah needs to die, a speech with Dexter dodges and deflects without ever spilling the full truth. They get the plot points right and - as is very much necessary - create a direct conflict between Hanah and Deb, the pull on Deter between them clearly being a central issue for the rest of this season, but the execution is weak, weak, weak. Deb's "Grr, I'm angry" act is rote and routine and played way over the top, her later visit to Hannah even moreso. Yes, we get it, we know this is important ground that needs to be covered relatively quickly but the way its handled feels more like a daytime soap than anything else. No depth, no complexity, no nothing.

Things get even worse when Aster, Cody and Harrison turn up on short notice and Deb witnesses Dexter's wonder-dad speech to Aster and somehow immediately turns around on the whole "Go kill Hannah" thing. Suddenly it's okay. Dex is just looking out for me, life is good. Aw. So warm and fuzzy. But seriously, you don't hit people with a hammer just to turn around and go "Hey, just kidding!" You would be forgiven if you were ready to pull the chute at this point.

Likewise with Isaak Sirko. The early going is rote and routine, though things turn the corner earlier here when Dexter kills a rival killer in Isaak's apartment prompting Isaak to call the police and offer up commentary while Dexter is working the scene. It's a clever turnabout and one where the powers behind the camera were content to simply let things roll while Ray Stevenson's natural charisma carries the scene. The donut shop shooting? That was shit. But the apartment crime scene? That was pretty damn good.

Yes, there were other plotlines - Joey falls farther under the control of the Ukrainian mafia (this being another bit of the show handled in patently ridiculous fashion), LaGuerta's suspicions of Dexter grow, Dexter shunts off his kids yet again while his nanny seemingly finds nothing odd about being told she has to take care of three kids in someone else's home while Dexter's off doing god knows what, Angel takes control of the bar that is meant to be his retirement option and yet continues working on the force as well - but all are given minor attention next to the Hannah / Deb conundrum and the ongoing vendetta with Isaak. And the show is really quite weak through the first two thirds.

But then we hit the home stretch and two absolutely fantastic scenes.

First comes the moment when the coin drops for Deb, she realizes that Dexter is romantically involved with Hannah and, in her confusion, she lets it slip that she herself is - or was - in love with Dexter. This confession moment, rife with conflicting emotions and powerful urges pulling her in all directions, is - I believe - Jennifer Carpenter's single best moment in the entire run of Dexter up until this point. While I've never been a huge fan of Carpenter - in this or anything else - for this one stretch she is absolutely magnificent. Is she venting some frustration over the failure of her real life relationship with Michael C Hall? Probably, and it gives this moment an undeniable bit of authenticity that had been entirely missing up until this point.

And then comes Dexter's confrontation of Isaak Sirko in what he belatedly realizes is a gay bar and the coin drops for Dexter as to the true nature of Isaak's relationship with Victor. As with Carpenter in the preceding scenes, Stevenson is magnificent here as he plays out the pain of loss and the two men seem to forge a genuine understanding and connection. You believe Isaak when he says that it's a shame he and Dexter met under these circumstances as there is now a mutual understanding and respect that could have formed the basis of a genuine friendship. It makes the inevitability of one of them killing the other all the more tragic.

Good episode? On the whole, no. Two thirds of it were mediocre at best. But it puts the good stuff in the right place and the high points are very high indeed.
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