It’s a year after Rita’s death and Dexter (Hall) is getting his life back on track. Starting to worry that Harrison will inherit his ‘dark passenger’ though, Dexter begins to questions his beliefs and befriends an ex-con (Def) who’s found inner-peace through religion. Meanwhile, Miami is being terrorised by a new spree of serial murders, with a religious studies professor (Olmos) and his former student Travis (Hanks) basing their killings on passages from the book of revelations…
The fifth season of Dexter might have been the most successful in terms of ratings, but it received mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. Though some maintained that it was just as addictive and gripping as ever, many of us – this writer included – felt that HBO’s flagship series was beginning to feel tired and that the central premise had grown stale. Whilst there was definitely reason to feel optimistic with long-time writer-producer Scott Buck taking over as showrunner (he was easily the most natural choice), season six confirms our suspicions that the show’s best days are behind it.
Crucially, it’s still pulpy entertainment and Michael C. Hall remains one of the most compelling central characters on television, yet it’s easy to forget how far we’ve fallen since the early days. Whilst the first two seasons infused the seemingly worn-out forensic-science cop show with insightful psychodrama and pitch-black comedy in a manner which was consistently sharp, chilling and shocking, everything since has become a variation on the now-familiar formula. Inevitably, after six years it becomes increasingly difficult to surprise audiences, but what was once fresh and edgy now sadly feels like we’ve seen it all before.
Still, the decision to have our eponymous ‘hero’ explore ideas of faith is certainly an interesting direction for the show to take, even though Dexter wouldn’t genuinely entertain religion as a man of science. That said, Hall’s vigilante serial-killer has grown since the series began, and the slight ‘softening’ has been handled well for the most part. As one of the season’s pleasant surprises, former rapper Mos Def proves surprising engaging as religious ex-con Brother Sam, as the talky scenes between him Dex are definitely among the highlights.
Unfortunately though, the same can’t be said about our villains this year. No question, Edward James Olmos is an unusually magnetic actor and his casting is something of a coup, but regrettably he’s saddled with a one-note character (IE, we have to bring on the apocalypse as God says so). Likewise, Colin Hanks isn’t terrible as Olmos’ understudy, but he undoubtedly pales when compared to previous Big Bads like Jimmy Smits and John Lithgow.
Elsewhere, whilst there’s another new face in Billy Brown’s Chicago detective Mike Anderson, he doesn’t get anything to do apart from spout intelligent and well-enunciated exposition. One of the problems with Dexter has always been its inability to find worthwhile story-arcs for the show’s supporting players, as it often feels like a generic cop show when Dex is off-screen. Making matters worse, it’s harder still to invest in said character arcs when you know from experience that they’ll probably be abandoned rather swiftly at the start of next season. Case in point, we’re barely ten minutes in and season five’s ‘big’ romance between teddy bear Angel (David Zayas) and the increasingly-unlikeable La Guerta (Lauren Velez) has already been eradicated.
But if this all sounds overly-harsh, it’s mostly down to frustration about how top-drawer the series once was. Importantly, season six is more frustratingly formulaic than it is unwatchably awful, even if marred by some sloppy writing (Dexter sending a video of himself to the killer?!) and a few iffy narrative choices (like having Debs take a fancy to her non-biological brother). Point of fact, there’s a really decent self-contained episode where Dexter crosses paths with an ageing, uncaught serial killer whom he idolised as a child (played by ’80s favourite Ronny Cox), leading him to ponder if he’ll also end up as a lonely old man with nothing more than a box of trophies.
And, although the ‘big twist’ proved divisive online (with some claiming that they seen it coming all along and others admitting they didn’t), the finale was a reasonably tense affair and the climax provided (slight spoiler ahead) a long overdue realisation which has to shake up the format. Plus, with Showtime recently announcing that Dexter has two more seasons to go, hopefully we can now start moving towards the end and seeing the storyline many of us have been waiting on: Dexter getting found out…
Despite still offering pulpy thrills and one of the most compelling central characters on television, Dexter is definitely growing tired and the premise now feels stale. A late revelation should shake things up for next time though…