Stars: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Lauren Velez, Desmond Harrington, C.S. Lee, David Zayas, James Remar
Writer: Chip Johannessen
Director: Steve Shill
Network: Showtime, Sundays @ 9 PM
Original Telecast: September 26, 2010
Sometimes when a show does an episode that veers from the basics of that particular series, the audience has to exhale a collective deep, patient breath and wait for the show runners to get whatever it is out of their systems. Then again, sometimes there’s an episode like DEXTER’s fifth-season premiere, “My Bad,” that has no mystery running through it, yet is a stunningly effective hour of television.
DEXTER viewers will remember that Season Four ended with protagonist Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), Miami Police Dept. blood spatter expert by day, serial killer (of other serial killers) by night, finding his wife Rita (Julie Benz) murdered and their infant son Harrison crying in a pool of her blood. Dexter blames himself, because even though he killed the man who murdered Rita, the killing could have been done much sooner and Rita would still be alive.
Dexter spends the rest of the episode wrestling with his shock, grief and guilt. He is used to wrestling with existential questions of who and what he is, but a conscious sense of loss of a loved one – indeed, the ability to even define another person as a loved one where he’s concerned – is something new.
Deborah and LaGuerta rally firmly behind Dexter, with LaGuerta discouraging the department from investigating Rita’s death. So far as they know, the Trinity Killer (who really murdered Rita, and who was killed by Dexter before Dexter knew Rita was dead) is still out there, thanks to Dexter’s misdirection, and the FBI is handling that case. Detective Quinn (Desmond Harrington) is suspicious of Dexter, partly stemming from his own awkward history there and partly because Dexter is frankly acting even weirder than usual.
“My Bad” isn’t entirely free of DEXTER signature moments. Dexter does kill someone, but this is in a fit of pure, spontaneous rage rather than methodical research, with a victim guilty of nothing more (that we know of) than being rude. Granted, the guy is extremely rude, and it’s about the recently deceased Rita, so the show manages to slip in one of those uncomfortable moments of audience complicity, where our first thought is something along the lines of, “Go, Dexter!” before we think, “Wait a minute …” No doubt the fallout from this unplanned incident will turn up to bedevil Dexter later, but it’s not the focal point of the episode. Moreover, Harry (James Remar), who seemed to have vanished, reappears to Dexter and reassures him, rather than chastising him for his lack of care.
We see what is sure to be a very rocky road between Dexter and Rita’s two older children, Astor (Christina Robinson) and Cody (Preston Bailey), who both blame their stepfather for not being home to protect Rita. Dexter feels their fury is more justified than they even realize, and his mute, self-loathing pain in the face of it is mightily affecting, even as we can’t help but agree with Dexter’s logic.
Benz, showing extreme good sportsmanship, shows up in flashbacks that illustrate the beginning of the Dexter/Rita relationship, which are both telling and a lovely send-off for her character.
What’s most extraordinary about the episode, though, is its finale, as Dexter finally brings himself to do the “human” thing, attend his wife’s funeral and give the eulogy. The writing is lovely, showing us that Dexter, despite himself, is indeed evolving as someone who not only experiences real emotions but is capable of acknowledging them. This won’t, of course, stop him from being who he is. Bring on the rest of the season!