“Ricochet Rabbit” is a flat-out superior "Dexter" episode that multitasks as an critique of an entire season’s worth of mistakes, missteps and misconceptions. Directed by Michael Lehmann ("Heathers," better "True Bloods") with wit, pacing and a deep feel for inner Big Bads, it’s "Dexter" pared to primal basics.
It starts with Dex (Michael C. Hall) trapped in The Doomsday Killer’s decommissioned church/HQ basement. The body of Professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos) lays frozen in a fridge. Through broken colored windows Dex can see Travis (Colin Hanks), aka The Doomsday Killer, babbling to himself.
What we see is Travis, enraged at his one-time teacher — guilty of nothing more evil than sleeping with hot TAs -- for not becoming a serial killing lunatic like himself. Gellar remembers things differently. “You killed me, Travis… then you stuck me in a freezer.” Oh, Edward James, how you can deliver a ripe line.
While Travis and his figment argue, Dexter’s ghost Dad Harry (James Remar) shows up to offer running commentary. It’s pretty droll, funny stuff introducing a major theme: maybe Dexter really was made, not born this bad. Accordingly, Hall’s performance is shaded in ugly shades of understandable wrath.
And that season-long God thing? Dex dispenses with it thusly: “From now on I’m only putting my faith in myself,” just as Lehmann cuts to Dex’s sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), the person he should be putting his faith in.
Deb’s own self-growth becomes analogous to separation from her only living family member and maybe her job. No wonder she’ll suffer an epic panic attack. More on that later.
Most of the time, this episode is forward motion with character-revelation pit stops -- Dexter searches for Travis, while Travis looks for new acolytes, settling for blog-site fans Doomsday_Adam and his wife Beth (Jordana Spiro), both jobless and crazy.
Meanwhile, the Miami P.D. learns that Travis’ latest atrocity will be about a plague of poison called wormwood. And when Deb has that panic attack I mentioned, it’s Dexter’s presence and not a fistful of Ativan that cools her out. This is an important detail.
Then the despicable Laguerta (Lauren Vélez) shows up to be hateful and inept and to cover up for what turns out to be the carnal involvement of Matthews — the mucky-muck who promoted Deb — in The Dead Callgirl Case.
Meanwhile, Dexter believes that it was his actions that allowed one girl, Holly, to escape Travis’s brand of Bible-based installation-art murder.
Turns out, Holly was a rich jerk’s sex toy — class resentment is all over this episode — which makes saving her a real pain. Also, Dex has to stop Travis from enacting “wormwood,” whatever that is.
And then, a beautifully crafted scene. It’s Dexter walking in frame, pausing, and out of frame as Deb reads a report about Travis (but Dexter doesn’t know it’s about Travis). She says he had “violent tendencies since childhood… a lack of empathy… a master manipulator with delusions of grandeur.” She frowns. “So weird… his sister seemed so convinced he was a good guy.”
Dexter says with no particular emphasis, walking out of frame into a dark room, “Maybe she didn’t know” and “Anything’s possible…”
And then we’re in the darkened room of Deb’s shrink (Rya Kihlstedt). Deb recalls having nightmares, laying on the floor next to her sleeping brother’s bed and finding solace there. The shrink gently tries to get her to see that she’s come to associate absence with comfort. The episode is kicking dramatic ass softly.
Travis, meanwhile, has easily talked Doomsday_Adam and Beth into becoming God-loving murderers. And so at Holly’s boyfriend’s yacht, the terrible trio serves up what is this season’s most terrifying, terrible moment, no question.
In one take, and with the couple helping hold Holly down, Travis just slits her neck and watches her bleed.
Lehmann deftly cuts to a classic black-and-white cartoon as a bumper between the Holly atrocity and the next tame scene. It’s dark humor, to be certain, but it still respects what has just happened, as opposed to the glued together shot-list approach that’s made so much of this season so artless and uninvolving.
Louis and Dex’s nanny Jamie (Aimee Garcia) are readying for a date, which is really about Louis cornering Dexter for approval for the serial killer RPG he’s been creating.
The show rings the bell of choice again — why, Dex wonders, would anyone choose to play at being what he is? In so many words he tells Louis to piss off and am has anyone else gotten the sense that the show is suggesting that Louis might have his own Dark Passenger?
Anyway -- Dex gets to the yacht and finds someone in a silver HAZMAT suit carrying aluminum bottles. Dex tears off the mask and it’s Doomsday_Adam, who gasps, “Wormwood can’t be stopped!”
Back at Doomsday_Adam’s house, Angel (David Zayas) interviews Beth who totally promises her husband will give up his pro-murder YouTube apocalypse fixation when Travis knocks him out cold.
Beth freaks — he’s a cop! The law! Travis: “He doesn’t enforce God’s law!” Then he looks at Angel’s Miami police badge and decides that’s where “God wants us to stage wormwood.”
At the yacht, Dexter finds Holly’s dead body hanging on the anchor. Also hanging is that argument with Harry about whether he had a choice to become a serial killer. This isn’t an abstraction; this is the only thing for Dexter.
And then Dex finds the ingredients for poison gas -- wormwood -- as in poisoning all of Miami. Holy to-be-continued, Batman.