Monday, November 30, 2009

Dexter -- Episodes 4.9 and 4.10 -- "Hungry Man," "Lost Boys"

I haven't posted on my favorite serial killer in a while, and after the last two episodes I'm ashamed of myself.

Season 4 of Dexter has received some mixed reviews. On some of the blogs I've read, a few writers have dismissed this season as attempting to water down Dexter's character to make him a more palatable "moral" serial killer over his morally ambiguous origins in order to give the series some longevity (as well as draw in a wider audience who are more comfortable with cuddly killers). There has also been talk that Dexter himself has become a wet noodle, a shadow of his former dark self who left cold and calculated in the Paris hotel room where he killed Lyla.

For me, I can't agree with these ideas about the series. Season 4 has been consistently impressive, spearheaded as it is by the performances of Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow. These two eat up the screen and demand our attention. They're like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, drawing attention to their own greatness as well as bringing out the best in others. Jennifer Carpenter (Debra Morgan) has really blossomed this season as well as C.S. Lee (Vince Masuka).

While this season has been very strong, the last two episodes typify why Dexter is the best thing on television right now. "Hungry Man" and "Lost Boys" are two of the best episodes in the series, and "Hungry Man" may be a contender for the top three.

Let me recap:

"Hungry Man" focused on Thanksgiving. Dexter is torn between two meals, that with his family and one with the Trinity Killer's clan. Dexter, pretending to be Kyle, is invited by Trinity's son, Jonah (indeed stuck in the belly of the whale) to spend the holiday with his family to ensure that Trinity does not erupt. Apparently things are not so sweet in the state of Denmark. Trinity rules his home with an iron fist. He abuses Jonah, and keeps his daughter Rebecca locked in her room to "protect" her. The reign of terror is so much that poor Rebecca feels compelled to offer herself sexually to Dex on the sly in order to garner his favor and take her out of there. Mom, who witnesses this display, doesn't even get angry with Dex, only insisting that he not tell her husband.

Meanwhile, Deb is neck-deep in her research on Trinity's case. She is busy enough that she continues trying to avoid Quinn's annoying reporter-girlfriend, Christine, who's looking for her feature article about Deb's heroism in light of Lundy's tragic death. Avoiding Christine proves to be in vain, though, but not without its revelations. Deb gets a hunch that Christine may have something to do with the shootings when she mentions to Deb how awful it must have been to look Lundy in the eyes as he died, a detail which was not on official record.

Thanksgiving at the Morgan house is chaotic, but things get heated when Elliot, the next-door-neighbor, makes a pass at Rita and kisses her. Rita gives in to her desires briefly before realizing the err of her ways. Elliot points out how absent Dex is, a fact Rita is in denial over. Unfortunately for Rita, Vince Masuka -- invited to Thanksgiving by Deb -- witnesses the clandestine kiss and is devastated.

The ending of this episode is classic, making it one of the best of all-time for the series. Learning that Christine is related to Trinity -- a hidden daughter -- was an amazing reveal, and one that kept me stunned for a whole week. What did it all mean? Does she know about the killings? Was she the shooter? How is she Trinity's daughter when he already has a family -- does his other family know about her?

This led into the most recent episode, "Lost Boys," which served to set-up the endgame of this season, while deepening both the characters of Dex and Trinity. The recap on this one is simple:

We discover Trinity doesn't kill in threes. He kills in fours. Before a cycle, Trinity abducts a 10-year old boy and forces him to wear 40-year old pajamas while playing with trains and listening to 45s of "Venus" by Frankie Avalon. Why does he do this? He's a sick fuck, that's why! Well, that, and the fact that he's trying to find a way to preserve the innocence he lost the day he witnessed his sister die in the family bathtub.

Dexter is trying to preserve his own innocence in a way, too. He ditches the shed outside the house for his office space by renting out a storage unit just like the one his mother was slaughtered in. It's kind of like the batcave in Batman Begins, when Bruce Wayne sets up shop amongst the very creatures that scare him the most.

Dex begins following Trinity, but loses him after the child abduction. He spends the rest of the episode trying to get to Trinity before he kills the kid. This pursuit reaches a pivotal moment when Dex catches the killer in the act as he's about ready to immerse the poor, unconscious child in a well of concrete at one of the Four Walls build sites.

On the Deb front, she finally figures out that Christine is lying about her involvement in Lundy's murder, so she manages to get Quinn to bring in Christine's toothbrush for DNA evidence. The results come back showing that Christine is related to Trinity. So, Miami's finest arrest the reporter, but not before she's able to tell dear-old-dad that the police are hot on her (and his) trail.

What amazes me most about these two episodes -- and this season -- is how Dexter has begun to struggle with the morality behind his code. In the first two seasons, Dex is a killing machine. He doesn't care about what other killers do; he's killing not out of a vigilante sense of justice, but out of necessity to feed the hunger of his "dark passenger." Season 3 began showing cracks in that emotionless facade as Dex sought the comfort of a confidant and friend. Now, in season 4, though, Dex is beginning to realize that he has strong emotions and ties to the people in his life. They are no longer beards protecting his extra-curricular activities. He legitimately cares for and loves his family. This has brought him to a place where he can have a moral and ethical feelings about the behavior of other killers. It hasn't sated his personal bloodlust, but it has given him that vigilante attitude he didn't give a shit about before.

About the only complaint I have with this season so far has to do with a scene in episode 4.7, "Slack Tide." At the end of the episode, Dex discovers that he killed an innocent man. He went after a creepy professional photographer believing the man was responsible for the deaths of his immigrant models. Turned out the real killer was the photographer's assistant, but by the time Dex learned this, he had already taken the man's life on his table. My complaint has to do with the implications of this action. Dex hasn't really dealt with this, nor has it come back to haunt him. Hell, Joey Quinn, as much as a douche as he is, saw Dex at the nightclub where the photographer was hanging out the night before Dex killed him. I know the season isn't over yet, but my hope is that this plot thread will not be left hanging in favor of the more explosive conflict between Dexter and Trinity destined to come.

After this extremely long post, I don't feel so ashamed anymore. There are two more episodes of season 4 left, and if the previews are any indictation, we are in for some fucking awesome shit!

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