I've long said that "Dexter" is one of the worst-written shows that I can't stop watching.
For those of you unfamiliar with "Dexter," let me catch you up on the past six seasons:
Dexter is a serial killer. He works for Miami Metro Police Department. Sometimes his side-gig as a serial killer causes him to lose people that are important to him. He and Hamlet's Father Obi-Wan Kenobi, his ghost-dad, chill from time to time in theatrical breaks from reality that don't get dealt with structurally until the show's sixth season.
And really, that's about it. Plot-wise, that's what has happened in six seasons. Character development is non-existent or painted only in the broadest strokes (Masuka gets more perverted, LaGuerta gets more irritating, etc.). Each season of Dexter is thrilling, but as a series, the show has had a very weak arc.
Last year's season finale upended that in a big way, with Debra walking in on Dexter during a kill. There was no hiding it, there was no denying it or pinning it on somebody else – she literally saw the knife go into the body.
After a brief flash forward, the premiere of Season Seven jumped right back into the action: Dexter staring at Debra, Debra staring at Dexter, in-medias-stabbing. What follows is arguably one of the best-written scenes in the entire series.
Part of what makes the scene so good is Michael C. Hall's complicated and layered execution of Dexter's deception. His character is panicking because his sister saw him murder someone. The challenge in this scene is that his character must let that panic through – otherwise he would appear to be, well, a sociopath – but he must appear to be panicking about something that doesn't actually concern him at all – the fact that he murdered someone.
His adoptive sister's reasons for walking in on him in the first place are another element that will surely make this an impressive season and help the arc of the series. At the end of the last season, it was revealed – and discovered by Deb herself – that she had feelings for Dexter. She was walking in to tell him about these feelings when she found him standing over a freshly-killed body.
The adopted brother/sister romance was criticized last year by some as cheap soap-opera tactics. It could be, but I'm hoping they'll do something more with it.
Because here's the thing: the show has always been about family dynamics. If the writers can navigate away from the cheap thrills of gruesome murders (which don't get me wrong, are entertaining) and towards the intricacies of these family dynamics – that would be something that people could relate to.
And I guess that's always been my problem with Dexter: he's always been more of a freak show than a human being that I can connect with. The greatest power of storytelling is to build bridges between people and allow us to see them as they see themselves. I think the writers of Dexter paint in too broad of strokes – Dexter is charming, enigmatic, sinister, and any number of other words, but the sum of his parts equals less than the whole of a human being. And perhaps this has to do with the origins of the series being a graphic novel, but if that's the case then the show has been wrong stylistically from the start (also, try reading Watchmen and tell me you can't empathize with things drawn in ink).
So if that's the direction that season seven is going – away from broad, stereotyping strokes, towards helping me understand these people to whom I've devoted seven years of my life – I'm all in. As Michael C. Hall demonstrated in the first scene of this season, he is more than equipped to handle the multifaceted deception required to make the peeling away of Dexter's masks an intriguing and dangerous journey. My question is: what will we find at the bottom? Will it be a human being that on some level I understand, or just an approximation of one?
Rating: 4/5 Elephants

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