As this week’s "Dexter" begins, Edward James Olmos’ Rapture-ready girl-killer rifles through an open-air market until he finds just the right material for his exciting “Whore of Babylon” project. “I think this will be sufficiently tawdry for our purposes,” he muses. Problem is, nothing in "Dexter" is sufficiently tawdry enough.
Even when a possible lead is identified by her occult butt-cleavage tattoos and then accused of “laying naked in the middle of campus with a dead sheep on your head,” "Dexter" stubbornly clings to a fig leaf of classiness, even when it’s obvious that kitsch is the only fun left in town.
So what we have this week is an episode stripped of theological jabber that still only serves to reveal structural problems shared by classier shows like "Treme." And there’s the simple probability that "Dexter" — a show that’s always owned a sort of post-9-11, liberal "Death Wish" vibe — has simply reached its sell-by date. Aptly titled “Just Let Go,” this episode finds everyone at a crossroads.
Shot last week in his auto shop, Brother Sam (Mos Def) is in the hospital and barely hanging on. Dex (Michael C. Hall) wants to carpe diem the hell out of the situation and kill someone, anyone, and give his Dark Passenger a sweet ride through VengeanceVille.
Remember last week’s cascade of coincidence that solved every mystery in half a pop song’s running time? Well, this week, a handy video, a non-barking dog, some bloody baseball bats and a data base allow Dexter to figure out who shot Brother Sam in roughly two minutes — imagine what he could do with the Warren Report! Before you can say "Holy Judas, Batman!," the perp is revealed to be the dude that Brother Sam baptized in the season’s opening episode.
Will Dexter forgive the shooter and gain grace? Or terminate him on his trusty table?
Whatever. Over at the bayou church of Hammer horror, Travis (Colin Hanks) is stressed out. He tries, but just can’t torture women with the psychotically Biblical aplomb of his father figure, Doctor Gellar.
He’s such a wuss he even asks Gellar if he can give the girl some pain meds. This freaks Gellar out so much he sort of free associates, yelling “What’s wrong with you, Travis? You’re slacking off!” before throwing in “We are the chosen ones!”
It’s remarkable how little Dexter’s redemption story has to do with the central Doomsday Killer story. But that isn’t what’s truly amiss with "Dexter." Nor is it the season-long religious babble, almost entirely absent from this episode.
No, the problem is the show’s perverse insistence on not honoring what’s working.
As always, one of those always interesting elements is Deb (Jennifer Carpenter). In her therapy sessions, the loud-mouth tomboy quiets for low-key introspections about gender, success and isolation. She feels the loneliness but there’s no way she’s a victim to anything. A cop show with a strong/fragile, loud/soft character like this — that would be something.
But no. Like "Treme," "Dexter’s" main characters and storylines must be addressed each week as if dramatically equidistant. Fine scenes are cut up to fit limited running time. Mood is shot.
As for what actually happened this week:
That professor (Mariana Klaveno) with the butt-cleavage tattoos (long story) offers more proof that Gellar has a theologically homicidal worldview in line with his "Buffy" -style book of death contraptions that have already led to the death-by-installation-art of one girl. Angel (David Zayas) reports that Gellar believes the Book of Revelations has a hidden secret code that will cause the end of the world.
Dex, meanwhile, visits Brother Sam, who tells him not to give in to his darkness and kill the guy who shot him. Hall and Mos Def have such terrific chemistry that their final adieus might have really been something -- but again the show will calm down and let things play out organically.
And so scenes of a giddy Masuka (C.S. Lee) talking to his new intern about video RPGs, a drunken Quinn (Desmond Harrington) dragging a club girl to Deb’s house party, and Brother Sam shuffling off this mortal coil as are all intercut and treated as if of equal import. It’s just maddening.
Speaking of which: Dexter catches the guy who killed Brother Sam. He’s a heartless dick without remorse. Mulling that “there’s no light in you — there’s no light in me,” Dexter kills him.
This season’s God obsession has been exposed as nothing more than color and cover-story for a freakier-than-usual serial killer riff and as a way for the show to mark time until a final, awesome season that may come sooner than the show’s creators wanted. Because right now, the only mystery about "Dexter" is why people who can barely afford cable are still shelling out extra for a sad Xerox of better days.