There are many ways to judge how good a TV show is, as many, at least, as the different reviews that get published about it. I have my own standards, but the one I like to apply to Dexter is the ‘Oh Crap!’ factor. If you hadn’t guessed, that’s the number of times I shout ‘Oh Crap!’ at the screen during the episode, none being less enthralling and once or more being better.
It is, therefore, with great pride I’d like to present an award to Dexter, Episode 9, for making me shout that and various other obscenities at the TV countless times. That’s because the rollercoaster that’s taken eight episodes to reach its highest point now suddenly plunges from on high with a full ensemble of the terminally terrified onboard.
I can’t practically talk about what goes on without spoiling some of it, so if you’ve not seen Hungry Man then stop now and do not return until you have!
Gosh, this show is cooking with gas, and this week it’s not just the turkey that’s left for too long in the oven.
Revolving around the US tradition of Thanksgiving, Dexter decides to get himself invited to the Mitchell household for a festive dinner, despite the obvious issues that not being at home with his own family will create. But early on it builds on some subtle hints that life in the Mitchell home isn’t the loving and pastoral experience it’s portrayed.
Very soon we get to realise that this time of year is actually a nightmare for all concerned, and that what Dexter really needs to learn here is that how Trinity achieved what he has was at great cost to all those around him.
Dexter sees Arthur destroying his son Jonah’s sporting awards, and his son leaving in the Mustang his father gave him. Jonah takes it to a remote spot and assaults it with a baseball bat! This is a precursor to Dexter being invited to dinner, although Jonah doesn’t actually tell his father that ‘Kyle’ is coming, because of the damage to the car.
When he finally does show up, Arthur’s reaction to the car damage is one of the most chilling scenes this show has delivered so far. I almost couldn’t watch. This is the tipping point for a Thanksgiving dinner that nobody there would ever forget, with everybody seated with the possible exception of Dexter in blind terror of Arthur.
The tension at his point is fantastic, as they are all forced to say what they’re thankful for, and they make the mistake of not including Arthur in their list. Arthur picks the weakest link, his son, and physically attacks him, much to Dexter’s amazement. It looks for a moment like they’re all going to witness a killing, and then Dex steps in and almost kills Arthur!
At this point, I’d said ‘Oh, crap’ at least ten times, as this was probably the most explosive scene this show has ever delivered. All the acting here was brilliant, from the slutty daughter desperate to escape from her padlocked bedroom, to the abused resentful son and his desperate mother. But as I entirely expected when he was cast, John Lithgow was totally chilling as psychopathic Arthur Mitchell. He transitions from charm to malicious like he’s moving through a manual gearbox. I was scared.
I’ve lumped all this action together in my review, but in the show it’s actually split up by events unfolding in the Morgan household and the romance between Angel and Maria. That last plot line I’ve not had much time for, but in this story it was vital to defuse some of the tension in the Dexter thread. Without their light relief, I’d had been in a much worse state at the end of proceedings.
In this respect, Dexter earns another gold star for controlling the pace so well and not just sticking with the main event.
After the fight, Dexter leaves the Mitchell’s and returns home, where, realistically, Thanksgiving couldn’t actually go remotely as badly, even if Rita kissed the neighbour and Vince saw them at it.
But after all that there is one last unexploded firework which has been lit, and supports a suggestion about who shot Lundy and Debra that I predicted last week. Except it’s actually much worse than I’d anticipated, and it’s a vital reveal that glues all the plotlines together in a wholly unexpected way.
Phew. After watching this I actually needed a stiff drink and, frankly, a few tranquilisers might have also helped. I thought that with the Miguel plotline in season three they’d moved Dexter up to a new level, but the Arthur Mitchell story has now eclipsed even that!
If only one of the other shows I’m covering could deliver 20% of what Dexter achieved this week I’d be a happy man; but on current form that’s, sadly ,too much to expect.
Three more stories to go, which is, to my calculations, two more than my fingernails will support.
Read Billy’s take on episode 8 here.