“DEXTER: THE SEVENTH SEASON” (DVD Review)
Stabbing its way onto shelves this week, all wrapped in plastic and ready for purchase (sadly, with no special features of any kind save for the pilot episode of the new series RAY DONOVAN) is the seventh season of DEXTER, the mainstream-yet-still cult Showtime TV sensation that needs no introduction and yet–oddly –is rarely charted in the pages of FANGORIA, nor mentioned much here on our sister site. Much of that is due to timing and the fact that DEXTER veers between thriller and soap opera, with a dash of Ian Fleming on occasion and isn’t viewed exclusively as a horror property, which is silly considering the level of violence and the fact that, y’know horror fans tend to love it.
So it is with the seventh–and reportedly second to last–season that we turn our jaundiced eye on the show for spell and we do so with sincerity due to the fact that this is beyond a shred of a doubt, the most demented and darkest DEXTER run to date. It’s a massive leap forward after the limp sixth season, but one whose choked-into-a-corner narrative somewhat betrays the chief reason audiences flock to the show year after year.
See, Dexter himself (as played with usual Cro-Magnon appeal by Michael C. Hall) is ostensibly a serial killer. Though, in reality, he is of course a vigilante, a hero who channels his “dark passenger” to murder those who offend his moral code. He’s a blend of Batman and Hannibal Lecter and his chief appeal is watching him mete out rough, festishized justice to evildoers, evading capture while consistently staring at his own navel in a state of existential angst. Throw in a cat and mouse mystery, some tortured, often dangerous romance and an ongoing thread where he methodically uncovers and builds his humanity and you have a winning formula. The woeful sixth season not only provided the pithiest mystery yet, one whose cards were exposed in the first episode (anyone who didn’t know Edward James Olmos was a figment of the maniacal Colin Hanks’ imagination would be challenged by an average episode of MURDER, SHE WROTE) it betrayed what might be the show’s biggest and most potent device: the relationship between Dexter and his beloved sister Deb (the always fantastic Jennifer Carpenter). First we get a wretchedly penned subplot about Deb’s sexual attraction to her brother and then we end with the capper, Deb walking in on her brother murdering a baddie in a church. It was of course a game-changing cliff hanger, but one that set off warnings that perhaps the writers were painting themselves into a corner.
Season Seven opens with the show desperately trying to un-squish themselves from those scripted confines. The sexual attraction is thankfully pushed to the sidelines in favor of Deb trying to figure out why her brother committed such a ghastly crime, immediately covering up for him as she calls in the killing and plays along by calling Dexter (for those not in the know, Dexter’s gig is working alongside his detective sister on the Miami PD as a blood spatter expert) to investigate the crime scene. Though Dexter initially claims lingering stress from the murder of his ex-wife (a still-missed Julie Benz), he eventually relents and admits that he is indeed the Bay Harbor Butcher, a handle pinned on another cop in season two. Suddenly Deb becomes his willing accomplice, trying to damage control her brother’s impulses and stop him from killing again… unless it’s convenient for her. This snap-back arc is an utter betrayal of who Deb—the strongest moral core of the show—is. The character has always been righteous in her convictions and will stop at nothing to “get her man,” and it’s puzzling and alienating to suddenly find her accepting that her sibling, who she adores more than anything else, is such a fiend. It happens too fast and feels contrived.
But by the third episode of Season Seven, if you eventually throw your hands up and accept this “new” dynamic, the show commendably veers deep into trashy, exploitation melodrama, becomes something new, vital and deeply weird. First up, we see Deb and Dexter working together to annihilate rampant villains, with Deb now using her brother as a kind of Golem to go out and kill. Dexter plays along, all the while making his own lethal plans of attack that fit his OCD code. Then we have a torrid love affair evolve between Dexter and a sexy female serial killer (Yvonne Strahovski) which includes a sweaty cemetery sex scene and plenty of dysfunctional kink. THE PUNISHER and ROME actor Ray Stevenson breezes into the series and owns it as a dangerous Ukranian mob boss who runs a strip joint, and who comes after Dexter for killing his even more psychotic gay lover; a storyline that gives DEXTER some of its greatest dramatic frissons, as the two men sit and drink coffee while plainly discussing how one will gleefully murder the other when the chance arises. While all of these threads circle and smash against each other, the show finds its dramatic center in the long neglected plight of Lt. LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez) who after discovering a glass slide on the crime scene from Season Six, becomes convinced Dexter is indeed the real Bay Harbor Butcher.
The further the show slimes down into its final episode, the more head-spinning, exciting, involving, disorienting and sleazy it becomes, climaxing in a jaw dropping finale that sets up the skeleton for the next season. This writer’s personal favorite season is still the fifth—with Julia Stiles as a liberated victim of a sect of entitled, wealthy psychopaths and Dexter serving as her lover and avenging angel—but this bolder, meaner seventh is right up there with the best. The writers have flamboyantly gone for the throat, balancing elements before blowing the doors off every expectation and pushing the show into a zone so black that one wonders how any Miami sun will make its way into the final chapter…if indeed the eighth is the final go, as reported. And if they can keep up the manic energy and ferociously grim twists, I for one would happily go another round or three.