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?”
“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.”
“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.