09th Jun2013

‘Dexter: Season 7′ DVD Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Yvonne Strahovski, Ray Stevenson, David Zayas, Lauren Velez, Desmond Harrington, C.S. Lee, James Remar

Dexter-1

First, a confession: I haven’t seen a single episode of Dexter since I reviewed Season 4 way back when this site used to have another name – and even before then I’d only seen the odd few episodes from earlier seasons – before I watched this one.

The good news? It’s a show that can be dipped in and out of more or less as long as you watch it a season at a time, thanks to the semi-procedural cop show structure (who doesn’t get sucked into gruesome murders?) and yearly antagonists that usually embody the particular themes a season is trying to explore. I really like the show, and its premise – it’s about a forensic analyst who moonlights as a serial-killing serial killer (the magnetic Michael C. Hall), as if you didn’t know – is so damn juicy that it’s no surprise it’s been running for seven years.

The bad news? I’ve got a lot to catch up on.

This season sees a marked change in how Dexter goes about his life and how he relates to people. We’ve seen changes occur before: how he adapts to becoming a husband, a father, how he reacts to loss and the possibility (in interacting with Trinity in Season 4) of living more or less an outwardly happy life. However, all of those things have been predicated on secrets kept from others and Dexter’s idea of himself as One Unchangeable Thing.

As you might have guessed, both of those things change over the course of the season. His sister, Debra, actually discovers his secret at the very beginning of the first episode, witnessing his murder of Season 6′s big bad and subsequently helping him cover it up. At first she doesn’t know what to think and Dexter tries to play off the event as a one-time thing (what’s a ritual killing or two between friends?)  but by the end of episode 1 she’s got him figured out, and it doesn’t bode well for their relationship.

There’s palpable relief mixed in with the terror of Dexter’s confession that, yes, he is a serial killer, but his hope that this will bring him closer to his sister is thwarted by her abhorrence for his ‘dark passenger’ and her attempts to keep him under 24-hour surveillance, which make him even more antsy than he was before. Deb soon gives up, feeling that she’s better off not knowing, which leaves Dexter in a relative comfort zone – one where he can keep secrets again.

The dynamic between the siblings is complicated by this new revelation as they both know what he’s capable of and investigate crime scenes together, resulting in plenty of subtext and knowing glances, traits shared by scenes with Isaac Sirko (precise, sinister guest star Ray Stevenson), the Ukrainian mobster out for revenge when Dexter kills his male lover (played by the fantastic Enver Gjokaj of Dollhouse in the first episode). Sirko’s relationship with Dexter is more akin to Season 1′s villain than the rest in that his ultimate goal is Dexter himself, and he gets under his skin more than most, partly because our hero knows he didn’t need to kill Sirko’s man, and partly because he’s trying to figure out why Dexter kills.

Isaac’s at peace with his own need, one born of revenge and self-preservation, so he’s baffled by Dexter’s ability to walk away from a situation yet kill without hesitation. In many ways he’s a man of honour, which leads to an always enjoyable mid-season team-up between the pair as they go after a couple of (really quite inept) assassins out for Sirko’s blood. It doesn’t end well between them – though what relationship Dexter has with another killer does – but not because of Dexter, who actually managed to wrangle some respect for his erstwhile nemesis.

Someone else trying to solve the puzzle of Dexter is Hannah McKay (Chuck‘s Yvonne Strahovski), the former teen accomplice of a recently-deceased mass murderer who likely has killed her fair share of folks too. He decides she fits his code (has killed, will kill again) early on and he plans to drive his knife through her chest like all the others, but romantic complications lead to penetration of a different kind. The resulting relationship brings something new to Dexter: an honesty and openness from its lead we’ve rarely seen with people bar perhaps Harry Morgan, Dexter’s dead foster parent who acts as a ghostly moral compass – a sort of Jiminy Cricket with murder in mind. But that doesn’t really count as their connection is hardly an emotional one.

Dex talks with Hannah about his urges and past kills candidly, free of the shame he feels with Debra, and something approaching real love (or as close as a couple with their issues is like to get) blossoms between them. It’s darkly sweet until it all inevitably goes south – trust issues were always going to crop up between a guy who stalks murderers as a hobby and a girl who’s poisoned her way out of many a difficult situation. Things definitely reach a breaking point, but what’s so interesting about these characters is that any ‘normal’ person would have run for the hills weeks ago. They offer one another a semblance of acceptance and affection many would find swallow, especially Debra, who exhibits her slightly perverse jealousy of her brother’s relationship in several attempts to put Hannah behind bars.

As you can imagine, this is a pairing destined to be short-lived, but all the same it’s hard not to get choked up seeing them so caring for one another yet forbidden to be together by the season’s end. This year is all about star-crossed lovers in violent worlds, actually: Dexter and Hannah, too similar and twisted to make things work; Sirko and his lover, torn apart by petty feuds and disdain for their relationship in their world; hell, even Detective Quinn (he of the occasional ridiculous quiff, Desmond Harrington) has a dalliance with an Eastern European stripper that begins with deceit and ends in gunfire, though not in the way you might think.

The latter subplot feels a little fluffy, something to pad out the serious beats and there’s a bit of that in some episodes, like Batista (David Zayas)’s desire to retire and become a restauranter and Dexter’s tiff with his babysitter’s boyfriend over a videogame. That said, the subplots often offer a consistent thread to take you through the season as arcs end (the Sirko storyline ends somewhat abruptly, but not unnaturally) but really, the show is at its best when we’re seeing Michael C. Hall do his affable killer thing and make another character-deepening decision. There’re more than a few in Season 7, and by the end the grave he’s always been digging for himself starts to widen to make room for Deb as well, though he might well understand himself a whole lot better than he ever has.

And knowing’s half the battle, right? Well, that, wrapping up your enemies in plastic and owning a collection of intimidatingly large knives couldn’t hurt.

Dexter: Season 7 is out on DVD now.

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