Dexter “Living the Dream” recap

Many mourn the days when summer turns to fall — but for Dex-heads it’s time to rejoice, as autumn’s arrival brings with it our favorite blood spatter analyst Dexter Morgan and his ever-present Dark Passenger.  Season Four includes a little extra anticipation in the casting of John Lithgow, who can do a creepy, brainy bad guy as well as anybody you could name.  He’s got a tough act to follow, though, as the normally solid but unspectacular Jimmy Smits pretty much brought it last season, in this recapper’s humble opinion.  OK, let’s get to the killin’, shall we?

The opening credits are unchanged — Dexter keeps smacking that skeeter.  It’s comforting, like your favorite pair of old, bloody sneakers. The lead-in, which usually provides some clues as to where things might be going, is mostly rote — Dex and Rita are married, pregnant, movin’ on up, and…hey, is that a Special Agent Frank Lundy sighting?  Hmmm….

In the opening shot, Dex intones that tonight is the night when he satisfies a primal need.  Turns out he’s just another sleep-deprived new daddy.  This is intercut with a shot of the man we will come to know as Arthur Mitchell (Lithgow) drawing a bath.  The bathroom door opens, and a young woman enters.  This is her home, and Mitchell surprises and subdues her.  Lithgow does this scene butt naked, and we’re given a full-body rear view (one wonders what the producers of Ya Gotta Have Pep would have had to say about this, but what we now know is that Lithgow is gonna be up for anything).  Mitchell kills the woman in the tub by slicing her femoral artery, which causes a previously half-full tub to overflow with blood.  Normally you’d take Mitchell to task for sloppiness — however, in this case I choose to believe that he understands the Law of Displacement, but was undermined by a director who needed to show a clue being left behind.  Darned plot advancement demands!

Mitchell gives the murder a nasty little twist by holding a mirror to the face of his victim so she will watch herself die, and if you didn’t know that to be a tribute to the 1960 British thriller Peeping Tom…well, now you do.  Interesting to note the controversy surrounding the depiction of a serial killer in that film basically ended the career of esteemed director Michael Powell.  Just to illustrate how much times have changed,  contrast that fact with my conversation with a chipper and script-enslaved Comcast rep last week (as I purchased Showtime):

“Is there a particular show you enjoy on Showtime?”

“Yeah, Dexter.”

“Is he the vampire?”

“No, he’s the serial killer.”

“Hmm, let’s see.  Oh, here it is — ‘Dexter, America’s favorite serial killer’.  Okay!  Great!!”

Now we’re in Dex and Rita’s new home, and there’s a funny little takeoff on the opening credit sequence.  The mosquito alights once again onto Dex’s arm, and Dex goes to smack it but whiffs! He pulls on his undershirt, but there’s a spit-up stain on it.  He looks exhausted.  His bootlace snaps.  Nothing is going according to routine, and Dexter is nothing if not a man who needs his routine.  Family dynamics ensue.  We see the neighborhood in all its pastel-and-palm-frond glory, which certainly suits Rita.  New neighbor Elliott issues a cheerful suburban platitude, which Dex answers maybe a bit too literally and he’s off to work.

The next scene finds Deb in flagrante with her musician beau Anton from last season — and, as we shall soon see, Deb is pretty much the only cast member who can manage to pull of a reasonably hot sex scene (while discussing the merits of  Jon Stewart, no less).  Alas, it becomes another case of workus interruptus, but we find out she’s moved in with Anton.   Things seem to be going well for Deb.  For now.  Cut to a courtroom with Dex on the stand as he botches his testimony due to parental fatigue, which he helpfully mentions to the defense attorney, thus springing accused murderer Benny Gomez, who had been collared by detective Joseph Quinn (smoldering in the background).

After a scene of Deb looking for the CI who diddled her daddy (a plot thread from last season that I have trouble caring about), we see Quinn unloading on Dex for letting Gomez walk.  He comes armed with some typically gruesome photos of Gomez’s victims, and Dex is all “dude, that’s all you had to say.”  I believe we have our first winner!

At the bathtub crime scene, Dexter displays much respect for the care taken by the assailant — while Quinn, in full grudge mode, issues a withering putdown and storms outside.  He encounters intrepid reporter Christine Hill, who proceeds to query and flirt with the pec-tacular Quinn, who in turn conveys mute appreciation for Ms. Hill’s calpygean features upon their exeunt.

Deb and Lt. Maria Laguerta in the station break room.  Deb draws upon her lovelorn history to predict bad times a comin’  with Anton.  Laguerta instructs her to keep her chin up, as “someone who’s been there before.”  She’s trying to pull rank in the heartbreak department, which is an odd stance to take with someone who was kidnapped by one lover and then unceremoniously dumped by the father figure she fled to in despair, but whatever.  Some nice bonding.

Dex is back in his lab and better for it.  He goes to work on finding Benny Gomez, but is interrupted by a call from Rita. Little Harrison won’t go down, and she asks Dex to sing to him.  Dex begins crooning “America the Beautiful” — a telling choice.  You don’t take him to be a music lover, so of course he’ll sing a song the words to which he’d know just through cultural osmosis.  He does so while flipping through Quinn’s murder victim photos, and how’s that for duality?  Still, he sings the song with soothing affection and it does the trick.

Now fellow lab tech Vince Masuka is looking for a strip club compadre, which leads to this exchange with Dex:

“It’ll cheer you up.”

“I’m not…uncheered.”

“Yeah? Tell that to your face!”

Bwah.  I don’t know about you, but I’m glad Masuka’s brief preoccupation from last season with wanting to be taken seriously has passed, because this show needs his levity.  He turns to the pork pie hat-wearing Angel Batista, who delivers the line “I could use a shot of tequila…or maybe ten” with all the frazzled intensity of Mr. Rogers on a codeine bender.  We are instructed to believe he’s had a rough week.  Not my last issue with Angel.

We then see Dexter doing some advance field work on Gomez’s watering hole — and we’re treated to the first Dark Passenger monologue of the season!  Wondered when he was going to show up.  This is followed by Laguerta at home, getting ready for bed.  She speaks to an unseen companion, who turns out to be Angel.  So we’ll have that dynamic to fast-forward through this season.

“Tell me again this isn’t crazy,” says Laguerta.

“Yeah, it’s crazy.  Crazy good,” is Angel’s clunker of a reply.  Some people have a way with words.  Angel…umm…I dunno…’not have way’, I guess.

Now Dex is taking baby pictures with his blood spatter camera, which is sure to lead to future darkroom explorations of duality.  Family dynamics ensue (I know, I said that once already.  I’ll expound further should said dynamics get
at all interesting).

The next morning, after some “Three’s Company”-style misunderstood banter among Laguerta, Angel, and a clueless Masuka, we’re back at the bathtub with Deb, Quinn, Dex, and Dex’s Skein O’ Blood Yarn.  An examination of the floor tiles reveals that this is a murder tub with a past.  Quinn is still being a pest, but is lightening up a bit.

Holy crap, it’s Special Agent Frank Lundy!  Dexter is visibly shaken, but the avuncular Lundy asks a couple of innocuous questions about the crime scene and then splits.

Deb goes to see Daddy-era confidential informant Laura Moser, who volunteers to Harry Morgan’s daughter that she would have gladly played the role of Morgan homewrecker, but alas was never asked.  Yep, you’re on a short leash, plot thread.  Meanwhile, Dexter is in the lab and has found a remote hangout of Benny Gomez — an abandoned boxing gym.  Yo Benny, life is with people, hasn’t anybody ever told you that?

Deb and Angel at the station.  Angel inquires as to Deb’s recent whereabouts, and she answers, “Looking for misery.” “No upside to that,” comes the sage reply, and Angel again looks convinced of his own brilliance.  He’s jolted from his reverie, however, by the arrival of some evidence from the latest handiwork of the Vacation Killers, who offed a tourist groom on his wedding day.  Bad for the crime stats, and worse for the civic PR, so Laguerta instructs Angel to prioritize accordingly.

Dexter is next seen rummaging around his old apartment, which I’m pretty sure Rita instructed him to ditch.  Trust us, Rita, it’s better this way.  Dex takes a quick stroll down memory lane by running his finger along the blood slides of his
previous victims — and if there’s a signature sound to “Dexter”, it’s the clinking of those glass slides.  Always creepy, always effective.  Dex packs his knives and goes.  To the boxing gym, where he looks for a staging area and climbs into the ring, which is dusty and decrepit and will do very nicely, thank you.

Back outside Benny Gomez’s dive bar hangout, and Dex lies in wait — but drifts off to sleep (again, new daddy).  He’s awakened by a cop with a flashlight, and not even flashing his homicide ID can spare him from a field sobriety test that allows Gomez to make his getaway unawares.

Frustrated, exhausted, Dex heads home for some much needed sleep, but a frisky Rita has other ideas.  Specifically, “sex…slow, hot, steamy, naughty sex.”  Points for straightforwardness, I suppose.  Dex summons a small smile to indicate he might like a cookie.  He lies down on the bed, and Rita arrives with what appears to be the wand from a Glenda the Good Witch costume and a caddy of automotive care products.  “I’ve been saving these,” she coos, and proceeds to whack Dexter in the face with the business end of the wand.  He grunts as if to say, “this is sexy how?”, and we leave them to their business.

Baby.  Awake.  Dex’s turn.  He gives Harrison a bottle, and breaks the news about his hobby.  The news is received with blessed peaceful equanimity.  The next morning Dex is mainlining Cuban coffee while not far away reporter Christine Hill presents Quinn with a copy of the paper containing her story on the bathtub killer.  She presses him for more info, and while he has none he does clue her in on the Vacation Killers.  She offers to meet him for a drink and he ups the ante to dinner.  I’m getting used to Quinn — at first I dismissed him as an ersatz Doakes, but he’s beginning to convey an easy charm.

At the station, Masuka frets that his extensive DNA testing on the old, degraded blood sample from the bathtub has come to nothing.  Dexter ponders this, then enters the street address of the murder into the police database and comes up with a 1979 victim’s name in, like, one second.  Which pretty much renders Masuka extraneous, doesn’t it?  Before Masuka has a chance to reflect on his uselessness, a voice is heard behind them.  It’s a second surprise entrance by Special Agent Frank Lundy!  Masuka goggles, and exits.  Lundy tells Dex he’s retired, giving the stock “I fish, travel” explanation of a man who will never, ever be able to leave his work behind.  Sure enough, he’s on the trail of a man he calls the Trinity Killer, who kills in threes (duh), but whose existence Lundy cannot prove even to the FBI.  Dexter’s new evidence convinces Lundy that Trinity is back in Miami, and we cut to Arthur Mitchell’s anguished wails in an empty institutional shower.  Again, butt naked.  Again, Lithgow up for anything (so far just this, though).

Deb is sweet talking Anton over the phone and is stunned to see Special Agent Frank Lundy (Retired).  Clearly, Special Agent Frank Lundy (Retired)’s chief weapon is surprise.  She hangs up the phone, and struggles to keep her composure.  She asks if he’s here on a case, and Lundy is curiously circumspect in his reply, considering he just told Deb’s brother that very thing.  Yep, everybody patronizes Deb (and you know, Jennifer Carpenter caught a lot of grief early in “Dexter”‘s run for her acting ability, but I’ve always been a fan, and this scene shows why.  She conveys a jumble of emotions — confusion, vulnerability, a little righteous anger — without having to say much.  She’s open and expressive — no cardboard cutout, unlike some others I could name.)

After his initial plan was foiled, Dexter decides he’ll have to snag Gomez at the trailer park he calls home.  The potential for discovery worries him, but he’s able to subdue Gomez without a problem.  Then we’re in the ring with a terminally exhausted Dex and a shrinkwrapped Gomez.  Dexter goes to the smelling salts and some shadow boxing to perk up, as per the chosen motif.  He wakes up Gomez and readies himself for some killin’…slow, hot, steamy, naughty killin’. But alas!  His cellphone rings — it’s Rita (natch) and the baby is sick (double natch).  No time for dawdling, then.  He does the deed and hurriedly packs his cargo (but not before fumbling a chunk of femur).

On his way to disposing of the dissected Gomez, Dexter falls asleep despite some curbside warnings from the most helpful deceased father in television history.  He awakes just in time to veer out of control and do a triple flip off the road.  This does not look good.  EMTs pull him from the wreckage over the closing credits…but the pieces of Gomez remain inside!

All in all, a solid opening episode of a series that might be getting a bit long in the tooth, as exemplified by the increasingly irrelevant search by Deb for the truth about her sainted father, and the tacked-on romance between Laguerta and Angel.  Dex and Deb retain our goodwill, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing Dex’s new neighborhood dynamic develop.

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#1 — Spy: The Funny Years

spy-book

“I read the first sentence of this book, threw up my hands and then stayed up all night to finish.”Liz Smith on Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, as quoted in the recently published paperback edition

“Behavioral Science, the FBI section that deals with serial murder, is on the bottom floor of the Academy building at Quantico, half-buried in the earth.”
the first sentence of The Silence of the Lambs

That’s a little satire dog-whistle, circa 1990. If you were a magazine reader in those days and didn’t get the joke, you were probably a Reader’s Digest afficionado. If you thought it mildly humorous, Esquire might have been your bag. But if you considered it an hilarious skewering of the lazy bloviations of “celebrity critics”, chances are you anxiously awaited the delivery of each new issue of Spy.

Spy: The Funny Years is the story of how a small group of young, witty New York writers embarked on one of the great seat-of-their-pants publishing successes of modern times — an independent, nationally distributed, celebrity satire mag. Spy was the spiritual heir of the original National Lampoon, and the pre-Internet forerunner of the Daily Show and, well, pretty much every site on the Pajiba blogroll.

(Take the term “blogroll”, for example. While they didn’t invent the term “logrolling” [n. The exchanging of favors or praise, as among artists, critics, or academics], from whence “blogroll” was coined, Spy popularized the term via its regular feature “Logrolling In Our Times”, in which pairs of famous authors were revealed as craven blurb-ers of each other’s books.)

Spy took its name from the tabloid mag Cary Grant wrote for in The Philadelphia Story, and it worked the same urbane, cynical celeb beat as did Grant’s C.K. Dexter Haven. But not even Haven would have been likely to plot Katherine Hepburn’s socialite Tracy Lord on an X-Y axis of Estimated Dollar Value Of Trust Fund versus Degree Of Self-Congratulatory Anorexia, as Spy once did with various Gotham heiresses of the 1980s.

The magazine centered on the New York epicenter of American culture, and while the rhetorical blade was always drawn, its creators made no bones of Updike’s “secret belief that people living anywhere else have to be kidding”. They loved their city, and a great deal of the crazy-quilt of celeb horoscopes, phone pranks, charts and graphs, and even the occasional journalistic scoop that made up each issue conveyed an undercurrent of anger and disbelief (never stated — this was satire, after all) that the New York they had known was being given over to the wanton profligacy of “greed is good” capitalist rock stars.

So their mission was to take down a peg both the craven accumulators (i.e. Donald Trump, the “short-fingered vulgarian”), and those who would be (“The Second-Home Homeless”), while still retaining the sense of humor that kept them on the A-list party circuit, among their benefactors and their targets.

Well, so far it sounds like I’m trying to sell you the magazine, and this is supposed to be a book review. Amidst the generous helpings of material from old issues is the telling of how Spy came to be. It was the brainchild of Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter, two Time magazine writers who discerned a lazy complaisance in their city between those who reported and those who were reported upon. They hooked up with young Wall Streeter Tom Phillips, who coaxed them into taking their idea from conception to reality by rounding up individual donors of like mind. This is the most impressive part of their story — that they were actually able to create a large-scale publication without the backing of Time/Life, or Conde Nast, or any other well-heeled publishing house. Such a thing was rare back then, and practically unheard of today.

Spy: The Funny Years is largely a vanity publication, but it’s hard to begrudge them the indulgence. The text is essentially a reminiscence among the creators of the magazine, and as such it might have a limited appeal outside its circle of contributors. I enjoyed its “let’s put on a show” vibe — there’s a vicarious pleasure to derive from reading about a small group of wildly inventive people who actually pulled off, for a while, something big. But even if that doesn’t interest you, there’s all the old material to sift through. From Swift, to Twain, to Spy, great satire doesn’t just age well — it doesn’t age.

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Yee-haw!

The Georgia state Senate today approved a measure that would allow holders of concealed weapons permits to bring guns aboard MARTA trains. The pertinent AJC story quotes a senator from Social Circle who is in support of the legislation. Where is Social Circle, you ask? Right here in south Walton County, an area which is not served, and never will be served, by MARTA (which now stands for Moving Armed Riders Through Atlanta). The vote was 37-17, which may or may not exactly reflect the proportion of senators who have ever used public transportation. For what it’s worth (very little, evidently), the two senators from Atlanta who were quoted in the story opposed the measure.

(Walton County is most recently known for its annual re-enactment of a 1946 lynching, performed by some brave souls still determined to bring any perpetrators still alive to justice. No word on the progress of the screenplay for Monroe, GA Burning.)

UPDATE: The gun toters get their way in the 11th hour in what was described as an ideological battle between the NRA on one side and local business owners and civic groups on the other. If you thought that an even matchup, you ain’t from around these here parts. Creative Loafing live-blogged the final session, and I’m filled with equal parts pity and admiration. The correspondents made repeated mention of heavily boozed participants. They made repeated mention of the increasing belligerence of Speaker Glenn “Be A Man!” Richardson. Assiduously, the references were kept separate.

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Good Old Skip

The AJC reports today that Skip Caray had a serious health scare during the offseason. For those of us who are longtime, die-hard Braves fans, it pains to hear the ever-irascible Skip speak in such a somber tone. I’ve been a faithful listener for his entire tenure with the home team — sometimes laughing in agreement with his sarcastic tirades, other times shaking my head at same. It’s the same way I feel about Furman Bisher, who’s a generation older and still writing circles around the young ‘uns. Maybe old Furman can give Skip a pep talk.

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and tune in to Skip as often as you can during the home games this year. A few years ago, I signed up for the MLB.com radio package just to hear Jack Buck’s last few broadcasts, and I cherished the sound of his voice along with the wisdom that only age and experience can bring. Skip’s career also spans the oceanic gap between the transistor radio and today’s technological muddle, and I’ve enjoyed every minute. I know he won’t mind if I raise a glass of spirits and say here’s to your health, my good man.

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A Word About My Congressman

I live in the Georgia 5th Congressional District, and it has been an honor and privilege to vote for John Lewis as my representative. There aren’t too many genuine heroes among politicians, but Rep. Lewis is unquestionably one. Although he has run unopposed in the last three elections, I would walk to my polling place in any weather to cast a ballot for him, even if that was the only race being run.

Rep. Lewis has been a friend and political ally of the Clintons for many years, so it was no surprise to learn of his initial support for Hillary. She is my second choice, and will get my vote with more enthusiasm than reservation if she’s the Democratic nominee. But this district went overwhelmingly for Obama in the primary — the extent of his victory here could not have been foreseen when Rep. Lewis endorsed Clinton.

And although Rep. Lewis has gone on record very recently (go halfway down the page for the transcript of his conversation with Judy Woodruff and Rev. Joseph Lowery) defending the Clinton campaign, it’s now clear that he has struggled with his decision. He’s had to balance personal and political loyalty against his stated desire to one day support a black candidate for President and also against the will of his constituents. We take constituent service seriously around here, as Cynthia McKinney found out next door. And Rep. Lewis’ status as a superdelegate adds another increasingly important variable. He knows that his decision carries a lot of weight — if there’s such a thing as a superdelegate with coattails, he’s it.

So now he wavers, and I respect him for it. Too often we conflate certitude with strength — I tend to mistrust pronouncements of certainty in an uncertain world. Better to admit to being torn, I say. In the admitting, John Lewis reassures us that we are represented by a serious and thoughtful man.

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Allow Myself To Introduce…Myself

(thinks for five minutes…)

Know how you can tell that someone is an introvert? It’s all in the hellos and goodbyes. Most introverts comport themselves just fine during the bulk of social interactions, but can get tripped up, figuratively speaking, in the arriving and departing (a hopeless few may actually stumble). Conversational flow is interrupted, and a stiffness can creep into one’s manner. When an introvert says “hello”, an intrusive internal monologue may be announcing “this is the moment in which I present myself for your consideration”.

Hello.

I’m kicking off this blog with no grand design, just a vague determination that it will be Atlanta-centric. There are plenty of good ATL blogs out there already — my goal is not to find a niche so much as to find a tone that has some appeal. I may rail against hypocrisy, but it won’t be my reason for being. I may post about the Braves three times in a row, but hopefully not four. I may venture into memoir, but any actual physical description of my navel is hereby verboten.

This is my third stab at blogging, but my first solo effort. Previous collaborations were fun at first, but eventually became echo chambers, which limit any appeal to a larger audience. So the Reluctant Atlantan is unknown to close friends and family, for now, in the hopes that readership will grow a little more organically (or virally, as the kids say nowadays).

That’s about it for now — please check in from time to time, and comments are always welcome.

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