Season Premiere review — Dexter, “Those Kinds of Things”

Dexter is a series that I don’t really care about anymore. I’m not emotionally invested in anything that happens to any of the characters and the writers and Showtime have made it perfectly clear that they have no problem avoiding taking the series into the final stretch (i.e. putting pressure on Dexter and/or having Deb find out the secret). They would prefer to keep Dexter as a mediocre procedural in shiny pay cable clothing and it’s their decision.*. I thought last season did a lot of interesting things, but ultimately washed its hands of most of those things by the end. That’s unfortunately par for the course with Dexter these days. In any event, I come into season six with absolutely no expectations. But because of these things, I’m basically just along for the ride with Dexter, good or bad.

*Apparently no else cares either, as last night’s premiere was the highest-rated to-date. So, drat.

Not surprisingly, the premiere episode, “Those Kinds of Things,” did absolutely nothing to sway me one way or another. This effort had a number of really solid moments and it got a lot of mileage out of throwing Dexter into the high school reunion setting. Before Rita was murdered and the series got too wrapped up in The Dark Passenger nonsense, Dexter and its namesake character could be really funny. The first two seasons had a slew of great moments that were powered by Dexter failing to totally understand typical social interactions or proper conversational decorum. Michael C. Hall is a great comedic performer and he nails the awkwardness of Dexter’s persona perfectly. Thus, I was happy to see that the writers remembered all this and allowed Hall to be funny in this episode. Dexter trying to make his way through the class reunion floor, getting hit on, DANCING and playing football while Harry runs up and down the sideline like a wannabe Mike Ditka? That’s the kind of Dexter I wish we received more often these days. If this season turned in to one big, messy dark comedy, I’d be so excited.

Even if I know that won’t happen, the reunion setting created some solid dramatic character work as well. This entire series has been about identity struggles, so putting Dexter in a situation where he is somewhat forced to look back upon who he was and see how he’s changed worked well enough for me. The episode was probably too worried about the kill-of-the-week to really dig deep into those issues, but they’ve spent five seasons going down that road so I cannot complain too much.

However, just as always is the case with the series, “Those Kinds of Things” featured a great deal of wasted time on a supporting cast of characters that seems to be stuck in a holding pattern of suck and boringness for yet another season. Again, this is all typical for Dexter. LaGuerta received what I think is her 17th promotion in five-plus seasons and now Angel is taking her job as LT. Cool? Masuka has some new student interns and one of them is a hot girl. Really cool? And Deb and Quinn still love coupled life, with Quinn thinking about popping the question. So cool? The supporting characters on this series are the worst on any major drama series and it’s almost like the writers just create these awful, cyclical stories for them to taunt us. I know Michael C. Hall can’t work all day every day, but good lord these people are terrible.

Moreover, there’s one big element of this episode that is confirmed to be a big part of this season that I pretty much despised: the religion. Let me be clear, I don’t necessarily despise religion itself or want to impart upon you my beliefs. I think television series should be able to tackle complex, controversial subjects like religion. The problem isn’t that Dexter wants to talk about religion this season, it’s how the series apparently wants to talk about religion. Apparently, “talking about religion” basically means bringing on a few religious killers and then putting Dexter in a situation where he’s forced to listen to people ask him big, obvious questions about faith and belief.

Again, I don’t have an issue with this topic in theory, but it is kind of difficult for the series’ writers to bring it into the fold when it never has been discussed without it playing awkwardly. There’s little subtlety to the discussions in “Those Kinds” and the whole “theme” approach doesn’t quite fit with Dexter anyway. It’s not like each individual season has been so overtly about something before and so trying to do so now feels like a desperate stretch coming from a series that would be better off getting into the endgame. These are the things that happen when you don’t tackle the stories you should tackle.

“Those Kinds of Things” was generally enjoyable when Michael C. Hall was on-screen and relatively tepid when he wasn’t. This is the norm for Dexter and it’s pretty much confirmed that Showtime only wants the norm. Nevertheless, I’m very worried that the religion elements are going to sink the non-Hall scenes from tepid to extremely awful quite quickly and if that’s the case, Dexter season six is in perfect position to top season three and become the series’ worst. Yay?

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