Dexter, it’S become clear, peaked with season 4’s Trinity Killer story line. When John Lithgow took his perfect small-mouth sneer and walked off with an Emmy for the series, much of the fresh air left the show — its formula (a season-long Big Bad plus a big bad-romance subplot for sister Deb) became obvious and mechanical. Which is not to say that the current sixth season hasn’t had its share of good jolts. The image of a corpse stuffed with live snakes, sewn up and left to be found by Michael C. Hall’s Dexter and his police colleagues, was a gross-out wowser. And promoting Jennifer Carpenter’s Debra to lieutenant has proved to be a good move, because a Deb who’s not in her foulmouthed comfort zone is a lively Deb, and Carpenter equals her real-life former husband Hall in intensity, scene for any given scene.
The challenge, post-Trinity, is inventing a villain who comes close to Lithgow’s Arthur Mitchell in freakish evil. Last season, Jonny Lee Miller’s sleek creep Jordan Chase was blown off the screen every time the corrupt cop played by Peter Weller showed up, looking like a vivid refugee from a John D. MacDonald ’60s crime novel. So the producers doubled down now on a villainous duo, played by Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks. The so-called Doomsday Killers work from a hash of inspirations including the Book of Revelation and the signs of the apocalypse. Playing a religious scholar and his student-disciple, respectively, Olmos and Hanks look pained and constrained — they’re no fun, and Dexter’s best opponents are always the ones who share the serial killer’s puckish sense of irony.
Then, too, the show is invariably better the less voice-over Dex-talk there is of “dark passengers” and the “There’s no light in me” remorse to which our antihero pays lip service. Which is why the reappearance of Dexter’s dead brother, the season 1 Ice Truck Killer (Christian Camargo), was a drag. It was as though, behind the scenes, writers were shouting, “Wait! You’re not buying our new bad guys? Here’s an old fave for you! Or how about Mos Def?” The latter had a brief arc as Brother Sam, a redeemed addict and criminal who went out with a violent but saintly death. Like Julia Stiles’ run last season, Mos Def’s well-acted cameo unfortunately felt like one too many in an already cluttered show.
Hall continues to find new ways to keep Dexter Morgan from becoming a mere killing machine, and Carpenter is aces. But sometimes a series, no matter how good it can be, starts to run out of creative steam, and Dexter is beginning to feel that way. With the show having just been renewed for two more seasons, now’s a good time for Dexter to reject the voices from his past and plan for a killer future. B