Dexter s1:4 review

'Let's Give The Boy A Hand' - those writers do love their puns, don't they? What would Dexter do with a hand, though, anyway? Probably use it to scratch his back, knowing him.

I… think I’m a little bit in shock. I might have a nice sit-down and a cup of tea while I write this. I don’t want to get too over-excited or anything, but this episode? Actually quite good. I might even go so far as to say “really good.”

Having checked the IMDB, I now know that episodes 1 to 3 were directed by someone different than episode 4, which might account for it, or it might be the fact that writer Drew Z. Greenberg is actually a real writer who wrote an episode of Firefly, but – this worked. I actually enjoyed this episode, which makes me a bit confused and, apparently, slightly gushy. So I’ll get on with the review now.

The episode starts with a gruesome discovery: a severed hand set on a deckchair in the middle of a beach, complete with a nice postcard-style Polaroid of it. The first thing that’s really obvious about this episode is that the cinematography has suddenly got much, much better; they’re making real use of the Miami setting now, and this whole scene looks gorgeous. The gory body part is so incongruous with the beauty of the setting that suddenly I can sort of almost see the artistry of the killer that Dexter’s been banging on about for the last three weeks.

Turns out that the hand belongs to the night watchman that Laguerta has fingered as the killer, which means she needs to make a public apology pretty darn quickly… and that, since there’s actual blood spatter at this crime scene, that Dexter gets to do the job he’s paid to do, rather than just lurking around irrelevantly. Hurrah! On top of all that, there’s some nice characterisation here, when Dexter makes a quip about this being a “nice hand-job” and then not understanding why everyone else thinks that’s funny. Not to over-egg the pudding here or anything, but this is the kind of thing we need to see; this is how you show that Dexter isn’t like everyone else and doesn’t feel the same things that everyone else does. Constantly telling us that he isn’t feeling it doesn’t work nearly so well as just one little light touch like that.

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On top of that, the flashbacks to Dexter’s unconventional upbringing in this episode are much better integrated into the main narrative of this episodes than they ever have been before, or ever will be in an episode of Lost. Unfortunately, some of this cleverness is balanced out by some redundant stupidity in a Dexter monologue about wearing Hallowe’en masks and pretending to be monsters, but I’m willing to forgive that because I’m still so pleased with the hand job joke.

Before long – in fact, exactly 24 hours later – another grisly body part turns up, from the same man, only the blood spatter analysis reveals something interesting: that the man was alive when both of these pieces were amputated. See, Dexter can do his job and his hobby at the same time without it being suspicious, it’s not that hard. Anyway, since Laguerta feels so bad about publicly accusing an innocent man of being a ruthless killer, and because she’s a stupid cow, she decides it’s imperative that they find the guy while he’s still alive, and instead of helping to look for him, she starts stalking the guy’s mother all over the city, as you clearly would if you’re a detective. Bah. I think this was supposed to make us like Laguerta a little bit, but she’s meant to be an obnoxious bitch so it doesn’t entirely work. I prefer disliking her, anyway.

Eventually, it turns out that the body parts are all involved in the perverse game the Ice Truck Killer is playing with Dexter, so obviously only Dex can figure out the message and find the guy. In the meantime, there’s a nice-but-silly subplot going on with Rita’s bitchy neighbour mistreating a dog, which helps Rita learn to stand on her own two feet (or kneel on her own two knees, as the case may be) and there’s a brilliant subplot featuring Angel. Throughout the episode, he brings a selection of jewellery he’s thinking of giving to his wife for their anniversary to Dexter for approval, only to be told that there’s something hilariously wrong with it. (The diamond earrings which are supposed to be Xs and Os just spell out “ox”; the four-leafed clover looks like ‘some kind of bug’.) Only, by the end of the episode it turns out, heartbreakingly, that Angel and his wife have separated. It’s nice because it’s all so cleverly handled, played as a joke right up till the end, when it turned 180 degrees and gets serious, providing insight into a character who previously hadn’t been much more than an annoyance.

Am I praising this episode too highly? It’s just that after three episodes of the writers telegraphing their intentions in letters twenty feet high, giving everyone racially stereotypical and clunky dialogue, something with this level of sophistication seems like a revelation. This show can be clever! And witty! And emotionally involving!

It’ll all be shot to hell next week, I’m sure. Still, it’s nice to see the writers giving their stories room to breathe. Perhaps it’s because Dexter didn’t have a random irrelevant Victim Of The Week this week (unless you want to count the night watchman, so kindly gifted to him by the Ice Truck Killer at the end there) and so instead he got to actually engage with people a little more. Whatever it is, I hope this is a sign that the show is starting to find its feet. I’m actually looking forward to the next episode!

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