For a show with a serial killer for a protagonist, Dexter didn't take very long to settle into a formula, and has, in recent years, shown little interest in committing to a creative shake-up. When the show is really cooking—as with John Lithgow's Trinity Killer arc in the fourth season—viewers don't much care. But in my humble opinion (and it seems to be one critics and the show's vocal fanbase share), the show has meandered back over too-familiar ground in its fifth and sixth seasons, stalling for time when it should be daringly advancing its storyline. Teasing audiences with Debra coming as close as possible to learning her brother's secret without actually learning it—at the preposterous end of the fifth season—was a bridge too far for many Dexter fans. (Spoilers follow.)
That elephant in the room does get addressed in Season Six, as the cliffhanger moment of the last episode. But that effectively makes the season a waste of time: one more big stall before pulling a trigger that should have been pulled a year ago. If Dexter had any chance of topping the Trinity Killer, the series might have pulled off another wheel-spinning season, but instead the show's writers settle for hackneyed plotlines that feint at doing something interesting without consummating any ideas.
The thematic arc for the sixth season deals with religion, which is also the central issue for the season's three key guest stars. Mos Def turns up as "Brother Sam," a perhaps reformed criminal who has positioned himself as an anti-gang community do-gooder and—more to the point—a benign Evangelical Christian gently pressing Dexter to examine the role of God in his life. Meanwhile, the season's joint "Big Bad"—Doomsday Killers Travis Marshall (Colin Hanks) and Professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos)—leave their serial murders displayed in supremely screwed-up religious tableaux promising an apocalyptic big finish.
The Doomsday Killer storyline provides the show with a weekly vehicle for icky gore, but the idea that Miami Metro needs to investigate a serial killer every season is wrong-headed and strains credulity (just what's in the Miami drinking water?), especially since Dexter must compulsively continue his own killing spree. The logy writing doesn't help, leaving Hanks and Olmos to do their level best to prop up a lame, obvious, familiar storyline that fails to sustain an unconvincing "twist" element regarding the true nature of Gellar. The Mos Def character has a better shot at intriguing, but his storyline fizzles out before it has a chance to catch fire.
Viewers excited for a format break with a one-week location shift to "Nebraska" found only another missed opportunity, another story that felt recycled, another heming, hawing half-measure mitigated by a perceived need on the part of the writers to keep a foot in Miami. The writers deserve some credit for pulling one truly daring plot maneuver, but it's one that has been poorly received by many fans who view it as sudden and incredible. Given the lumpy oatmeal that surrounds it, I'll take the incest-romance plot, since it's the closest the series has come in years to its envelope-pushing origins.
At least the Sixth Season arrives at a historic moment for the show, one that sets the stage for a long overdue new dynamic for the characters and a new path on Dexter's journey. I'm ready to see Dexter deal with this issue head on, and it'd be nice to believe the show could follow the story to logical and thrilling conclusions entailing yet bigger storytelling risks, like putting Dexter (and Deb?) on the run and even, eventually, in jail awaiting trial, ideas that could make for definitively format-bending seasons.
CBS Blu-ray honors Dexter: The Sixth Season with something very close to razor-sharp hi-def precision. Spread across three discs, these twelve episodes look great, well resolved in bright, tight high-defintion with eye-popping detail and color. Rare pockets of video noise crop up in the margins, but they are very much an exception to the rule of crisp picture quality. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes prove robust, with ghastly effects and reasonable immersion supporting the central (and sharply rendered) dialogue and full-bodied moody music.
CBS Blu-ray continues its unfortunate tradition of porting all special features through BD-Live, meaning none of them are encoded on the Blu-rays. Stored online are interviews with David Zayas, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Lauren Vélez, C.S. Lee, Colin Hanks, and Desmond Harrington, as well as bonus episodes of House of Lies, Californication and The Borgias. Also of note: many have complained about the unskippable Showtime promo frontloaded onto this set, which contains a spoiler of the final moments of Season Six. It's a boneheaded move—if you skipped past my own spoilers to read about the Blu-ray, be aware that you should change the channel while your disc loads if you want to avoid the spoiler.
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