Why Jennifer Carpenter is the best thing about “Dexter”

Michael C. Hall's the star, but as the show slips off the rails, his real-life ex-wife is the character to watch

Topics: Dexter,

Why Jennifer Carpenter is the best thing about "Dexter" (Credit: Showtime/Salon)
This recap contains spoilers for "Dexter" season six, episode eight; read at your own risk.

In better “Dexter” days, this water-cooler mystery regarding this season’s Big Bad, ‘The Doomsday Killer,” could have been fun. We’d debate whether “he” is the joint project of milquetoast incest creep Travis (Colin Hanks) and mad theology professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos). Or is Travis actually committing his art-installation murders solo, with Gellar an evil alter ego.

But with Gellar filmed as he was in tonight’s episode, like a character actually in a scene, or when he seemed to commit a murder that Travis could not have done on his own — not believably anyway — I started to wonder whether there are rules here, or whether the writers are  just making things up on the fly?

Only time will tell. As for this episode, well, it’s occasionally quite good, and as anyone who’s visited this space knows, “quite good” and “Dexter” are an equation that usually ends with “Debra Morgan” (Jennifer Carpenter).

The episode was explicitly Deb-centric, with the “Sins of Omission” referenced in the episode’s title committed by her brother Dex.

Even as he apologizes for not coming clean about last week’s jaunt to Nebraska, which Deb assumes was mainly motivated by Dexter’s grief over Brother Sam’s death, Dexter has to lie about actually wanting to kill the Trinity Killer’s son (aborted) and shafting a redneck with a pitchfork (accomplished).

Deb grudgingly quasi-forgives him, moves on to the Doomsday Killer, and the Miami P.D.’s discovery that two people are involved. Which reinforces Dex’s conviction that Travis is still having second thoughts about a serial killer career path. Which suggests Travis may be amenable to Brother Sam’s biblical teachings. Which will prove to Dex that there is light in his soul. Next up: “Homicide Rehab With Dr. Drew.”

Cut to Travis in high spirits, thinking he’s free of Gellar. But the old freak shows up to caw, “God’s will doesn’t stop just because you want to play house with your sister!”

And then down by the sea, something extraordinary happens — Michael C. Hall acting really badly.

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You’d think Hall could Dexter in his sleep. But here at Brother Sam’s seaside wake, Hall must, by sheer willpower, portray an entire multi-verse of Dexters: the heartless killer, the God-seeking, terrific dad, the face-slicing body-chopper, the loyal brother and friend. The result looks like Hall’s face is suffering a self-inflicted neurological disorder.

Eventually, Dex meets up with Travis and with the help of some Scripture, talks him into letting him deal with Gellar his own way. But first, Travis says he needs to get his sister up to Pensacola. To get her safe. That Dex accepts this on face value instantaneously dumbs this episode down 30 percent.

Worse is the mood-melting padding that’s edited willy-nilly. We suffer through a drunken Quinn getting shouty at a strip bar, through the entirely irrelevant Case of the Naked Prostitute (that just serves to add corruption to the unpleasant character traits of the once lovely Captain LaGuerta), and a date with intern (Josh Cooke) and Dexter’s nanny (Aimee Garcia) overseen by Angel (David Zayas) as the squinty-eyed, cartoon chaperone.

Anyway, back to Deb. Via the miracle-clue plotting style favored of late, Deb sifts through Miami’s population of 362,470 people and in an hour locates and interviews Travis’ sister.

A moment later, thanks again to Miracle-Clue, Travis bikes by exactly in time to see Deb take off her jacket/reveal her gun.

Gellar knocks Travis out with what looks like a hockey stick.  And after some of that stuffing we mentioned, Dexter and the Miami P.D. discover The Doomsday Killer’s Whore of Babylon ‘tableau’ in a school playground. If you ask me, it’s not his best work — very basic Black Metal Album Cover 101.

A dead naked woman sits on some dead alligators wearing a Satan head with Alpha/Omega signage on her belly and letters written in blood on her belly.  The victim is Travis’ sister. Stuck to her body is Deb’s Miami P.D. card. Behind her are curtains that, thanks to Miracle-Clue, give Dexter directions to the Travis/Gellar church.

This leads to scene where Travis is chained to the church floor and Professor Gellar scolds him, saying that his sister talked to the cops, that she betrayed him, “just like the whore of Babylon!” Like a “SNL” parody of a horror movie, the camera pulls back as Travis screams, “What did you do to my sister?” and when he finds out, “Noooo!”

Abruptly, the show performs a 180 and it’s like we’re “In Treatment” as Deb talks to her therapist and the writers save their best work for the show’s most dynamic character.

Ultimately, Deb is about the other side of familial trauma, about the person who suffers for her sanity, and will inevitably lose the one she loves when she’s no longer sequestered from his monstrosities And so late innings “Dexter” always teeters on the edge of endgame. Which is why everything either feels like a retrenchment — last week’s fine, but retro entry — or a formality.

“I think she knew something was up with him,” Deb says to the doctor and it takes a minute to realize she’s talking about Travis’ dead sister, not Dex. “I think she was trying to protect him…which is what a good sister does.” Pause. “And then he ends up killing her.”

Later, Deb makes Dex a luxe dinner but he bails on her again and she just loses her shit. “I am just trying to have a conversation with you!” she screams. “Is that so fucking hard?”

But for Dex it’s all about looking for Gellar at the church of horror.  Travis, still in chains, says Gellar murdered his sister. “I’ll help you kill him,” Dexter vows, thinking that in doing so, he’ll take away one bit of darkness.

But all he’s really doing is getting one step closer to breaking the heart of the one person who loves him — while chasing shadows with a lunatic in a rotting, decommissioned church.

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