I remember when I first watched Dexter. It was in the summer of 2008, and I was pregnant with my now 4 year old daughter, Rhiannon. My husband and I decided to check it out on the strength of multiple recommendations from friends. I was fascinated by the premise, about a serial killer who, of course, to make it more palatable for television, only kills bad guys. He had a code, forced upon him by his adoptive father to keep him in line. He had a tragic origin story. He had an awesome sister I related way, way too much to. And we gobbled up the first three seasons like they were candy, preparing ourselves for season four, which would be airing that fall and co-starring John Lithgow as the villain of the year.
I had liked the other seasons, and the other guest stars of the year; Christian Camargo as "Rudy"/Brian Moser, Jaime Murray as Lila, "Little Miss Pardon-My-Tits", and Jimmy Smits as Miguel Prado (who I like much better on Sons of Anarchy, I'm not sure if it was the writing or Smits' performance, but I never bought him as the district attorney who suddenly gives into his darkest impulses after mentoring from Dexter). But season four, for me, launched the series into a whole other level. The fantastic acting from Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow, made it the most emotional, satisfying chapter of Dexter's story yet.
But I felt that the best acting in that year was done by Jennifer Carpenter, as Dexter's sister Deb. She watches the man she loves, Frank Lundy, die in front of her, while she herself bleeds out from a gunshot. The scene, embedded below, where she breaks down in front of Dexter, is one of the most stunning pieces of acting I've ever seen. Where are her Emmys?
Seriously, they should have just handed her ALL THE EMMYS on the strength of this scene.
And of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the big twist from the end of season four, where a horrified Dexter finds his infant son Harrison crying in puddles of blood, after the Trinity Killer has killed Rita and gotten his final revenge on Dexter. Haunting, harrowing, and it bespoke of great promise for the fifth season.
Promise that the writers and producers completely squandered. This is a show that was always comfortable with the status quo. Too much so. Nobody in the main cast knew about Dexter's "dark passenger" (and lord do I loathe that phrase), and the people that did find out were only guest stars, easily dispatched with when the time came to reset for the next season. With the introduction of Julia Stiles as Lumen, the show might have had a chance to finally have someone who knew about Dexter's secret and stuck beside him anyway. But no. After killing the men responsible for her rape and captivity, she declares that her darkness is gone. She has no need for revenge, and no desire to tag along on Dexter's murderous adventures. Another reset. An entire season squandered with no movement of the meta-plot.
So you can imagine my joy when the abysmal season six, with it's obvious "Edward James Olmos is dead and Colin Hanks is CUH-RAZY" twist and stupid, stagnant religious theme, ended with Debra bursting in on Dexter, shoving a knife through the heart of the season's Big Bad (we're going to ignore the reason she was going to see Dexter. Nope. Didn't happen). FINALLY, she saw. But this is Dexter. Are they really going to have Debra know his secret? Doesn't that go against everything the show has done with it's narrative up to this point?
After Sunday's premiere, I can answer that question with a hearty YES, and unequivocally say that the show is better for it. Debra is a detective, and a damned good one. She would NEVER just accept his weak-ass "I snapped" excuse, and let that be the end of it. But Deb remembers being on Brian Moser's table. She finally unlocks the memory of Dexter standing over her while she was on that table. And so she keeps picking, keeps asking the uncomfortable questions of Dexter, until that stunning scene at the end of the episode, where Dexter comes upon her in his ransacked apartment, kill weapons, blood slides, and Ice Truck Killer hand all laid out like evidence on his coffee table.
It's so exciting to me, to see a show that I previously had found hard to sit through for two years FINALLY break itself out of the doldrums and give itself a shot of narrative adrenaline. I'm excited to see Dexter again, anticipating next week's episode like I haven't anticipated an episode of this show since season four. Thank goodness for forward plot movement. And thank goodness I kept watching, even through the rough times. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to appreciate the beauty of what the show is doing now. I'm still a little wary, but this kind of reinvention, with Deb finally knowing what's been kept from her her whole life, and for the life of the show, cannot be taken lightly. I know the producers know that, and I can only hope that the quality holds while the show races towards its' endgame.Deb: Did you kill all these people?Dexter: I…did.Deb: Are you a serial killer?Dexter: Yes.