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After a riveting fourth season, Dexter’s latest installment ultimately fails to delve deeper into characters

Note: This review contains spoilers.  If you haven’t seen Season 5 of Dexter, then you might not want to read this article.

I just finished watching the fifth season of Dexter, and it’s apparent that, like many great television series, this one’s ready to end.  There’s a phrase called “jump the shark,” which originated when Happy Days’ the Fonz jumped over a shark while waterskiing in an episode during the fifth season of that series.  Critics widely agree that this unbelievable scene marked the beginning of the downslide of Happy Days.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, Dexter may have “jumped the shark” last year when Dexter discovered his wife, Rita, dead in their bathtub, as she’d been the final victim of John Lithgow’s Trinity Killer.

At the time, I thought that Dexter was alive and well.  Season 4 was my favorite, as Lithgow brought multi-dimensionality to the main villain, and the season ended with much promise for the future of the series.  Would Dexter finally halt his serial killing ways now that they had inadvertently caused the death of his lovely wife?  Would Dexter be cast under police suspicion for the murder of Rita, considering that she was found in the bathtub of his home?  Would Dexter finally confide about his “dark passenger” to someone close to him, such as his sister Debra?

Instead, Season 5 seemed lost in terms of the direction its creators want Dexter’s character to take.  Until now, each season had an intriguing theme.  Season 1 was the introduction to the vigilante serial killer; Season 2 explored Dexter’s inner fear of being caught, as the Miami police zeroes in on the “Bay Harbor Butcher;” Season 3 considered Dexter’s dilemma between being a solitary actor and his need for human companionship; Season 4 revealed Dexter’s competing senses of admiration and disdain towards a villain who was his intellectual equal yet his moral opposite.

I’m not really sure what Season 5 gave us.  The main villain, motivational speaker Jordan Chase, was as boring and cookie-cutter as Season 3’s Skinner, but at least Season 3 also featured a compelling anti-hero, Jimmy Smits’ vigilante District Attorney.  In fact, Season 3 is probably the most comparable to #5, as Dexter again acquires a vigilante partner, this time a rape victim, Lumen, played stoically by Julia Stiles.  Predictably, the relationship evolves into a bit of a love story, and that’s where I ran into some problems with the show.  It’s not only repeating itself thematically (i.e., the problems of exposing your darkest side to a partner in crime), but it’s also becoming cliché.

For the show to evolve, it needs Dexter to expose himself to one of the supporting characters.  One of the best parts of Dexter over the years has been the continuing development of its cast, such as Dexter’s hard-nosed yet emotional sister, Debra, and the enigmatic yet suave Detective Joey Quinn, who walks a moral tight rope that’s analogous to Dexter’s.  There’s a scene in the final episode where it seems almost certain that Dexter’s true nature is going to be revealed to Debra.  But it doesn’t happen.

Tension mounts betwen Dexter (left) and Quinn

Also, Quinn’s personal investigation of his suspicions of Dexter gets dropped too quickly, despite much promise for a fruitful confrontation at the beginning of the season.  There’s a chance for the show to salvage this storyline in the final two episodes, but Quinn becomes uncharacteristically lame in his decision to sweep his suspicions under the rug in order to prevent hurting Debra with startling revelations about her brother.

In the end, Dexter continues to be the omniscient demi-god amongst a supporting cast whose inner fortitude ultimately proves weak.  Why spend so much time developing these characters if they’re just going to pull the wool over their eyes in order to shield themselves from the sight of the wolf?

After so much promise at the end of Season 4, Dexter has taken a step backward.  Rather than demarcating a springboard for the show to take a new, intriguing direction, Rita’s grisly death turned out to be the first sign of the “shark.”

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