Season Four of 'Dexter' was the best that the show has ever been. It shook things up, took the narrative in a new direction and finished with a bang. Season Five was slightly underwhelming, partly because it had a lot to live up to, and partly because the dust was still settling. And so it felt like a placeholder — a transition — and Season Six is very much the same.
As the season opens, things are relatively normal for Dexter (Michael C Hall). By day he works for the police as a blood analyst, by night he is a serial killer of criminals, and somewhere in between he is a single parent. Something is bound to go wrong, and of course it does.
The Doomsday Killers, a ‘teacher’ (Edward James Olmos, creepy) and his ‘student’ (Colin Hanks, unstable) terrorise Miami with religious-themed murders. They re-enact some of the most gruesome parts of the Bible, and place displays of horrifically butchered victims all over Miami. These murders are the most gruesome that the show has ever seen. They are also slightly more interesting, literally riddled with obscure references and codes.
At their best (or worse, depending how squeamish you are) these murderous scenes make an episode feel like something out of 'Se7en', and are the most interesting parts of the season. The treat is two-fold - seeing the strange relationship between the killers, and watching Dexter try to solve the mystery. Dexter’s forensic work remains one of the most watchable and fascinating aspects of the show.
But that is a problem in itself. Dexter is so good at his work that if he actually worked with his department, the killers would be caught within three episodes. But he doesn’t - he always carries out his own investigation. He does great work and then goes off to do his own thing.
This usually serves to create extra tension, but this season also features religious debate. While on the track of religious killers, Dexter finds himself contemplating the concept of faith. This leads to a subplot about whether or not his son should go to a Catholic school, as well as a friendship with a religious ex-convict.
Mos Def gives a good performance as Brother Sam, and his relationship with Dexter is touching, but the entire subplot feels somewhat disconnected with the more urgent issues. It’s understandable for Dexter to have some ideological questions, and it can be argued that it’s an attempt at prolonging the drama. But it is more likely that the main plot was a bit thin, and the writers decided to pad it out a bit with subplots galore.
There’s one about a forensics intern strangely obsessed with Dexter, and another one about Dexter’s sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and her failed relationship with a fellow cop. On their own these tangents are fine, but they don’t really lead anywhere and it is frustrating to be focusing on something irrelevant when there’s an effective, creepy story right there.
For once, the office politics subplot actually matters. Debra becomes the department’s lieutenant — and Dexter’s boss. She is not ready for this post, and relies on Dexter for support. This adds another layer to their already complex relationship because every time he goes off on his own investigations, he is actively undermining his sister’s chances of catching the season’s bad guys. However, as good as this is for characterisation, the fact remains that she now has power and not much to do with it.
That is, until next season. The thing is, all these criticisms about subplots may turn out to be irrelevant. The last episode states rather clearly — almost promising — that there are big things coming in Season Seven, and that a large part of Season Six was just preparation. That doesn’t show these 12 episodes in a new light. But it is less unsatisfactory knowing that there is a bigger plan here, and that the show isn’t just treading water.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Dissecting Dexter – mini featurette on the making of one of the episodes
- Guest stars
- Cast interviews
'Dexter': The Sixth Season was released today, and is available to purchase at amazon.co.uk.