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Review #3058: Dexter 6.2: “Once Upon a Time”

Posted on the 11 October 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

It seems fitting that Dexter would be so good with Harrison, given how he often feels more comfortable looking at things from a more child-like perspective, always attempting to simplify the world around him and make sense of it. The scenes with Harrison go a long ways toward allaying my fears that the season would be attempting to dehumanize Dexter and ignore all the progress he’s made throughout the show. Dexter is still something of an outsider when , but he does genuinely care about his family, and his friends to a lesser extent.

Review #3058: Dexter 6.2: “Once Upon a Time”

I’ve always liked seeing how much effort Dexter puts into being absolutely certain that his target is guilty. I remember an episode in a previous season when Dexter got dangerously close to killing an innocent man before realizing his mistake, just in the nick of time. Last season, Dexter finally broke his code and killed a man during his grieving period over Rita. But the show worked hard to make us empathize with his mistake. This time, I was glad to see another example of Dexter’s expectations being reverted.

Mos Def’s Brother Samuel may still be more than he appears. But for now, I enjoyed the surprise involved in discovering that he really does seem to have changed for the better. Sam is a surprisingly likable character. I’m about as anti-religious as it gets, and my own opinion is that humans would be better off overall without religion, but even I will admit that religion does have the potential to make a person more moral. Whether you think Biblical standards of right and wrong come from God or from man, they do include a lot of good philosophies and principles to live by (particularly in the Gospels). There’s a lot of bad as well (particularly in the Old Testament), but that doesn’t defeat the point.

And at the same time, the episode also includes plenty Travis Marshall and Professor James Gellar: the show’s examples of how religion can drive people to commit immoral acts, believing themselves to be doing God’s work. Admittedly, the characters were presented in a somewhat simplistic light during the premiere. But as expected, the second episode makes great strides in humanizing them and crafting them into complex personalities. The casting still seems great to me, particularly in Olmos’ case. But Hanks is also working quite well in his role.

The two men seem convinced that the end of the world is drawing nigh, which fits in pretty snugly with the Revelation references in the premiere. It seems inconceivable that the show would ever dip into anything openly supernatural, considering how poorly that element was received in the “Dexter” book series. But the psychology involved in all of this is still intriguing. Having been raised in a religious home, with parents who believed that Armageddon could be upon us in our our lifetimes, I understand all too well what’s going on in Professor Gellar and Travis Marshall’s heads.

The humanization of Travis and Gellar is handled in a couple of different ways. First, we get to see more development of their relationship; how they work together. Also, there’s a great scene of Travis visiting his sister. What’s interesting is how Travis’s connection with his sister serves as a source of doubt, and creates conflict between the student and his mentor. We see evidence that Travis is slightly torn between his loyalty to Gellar (and God) and his love for his sister. But Gellar is an extremely disciplined figure, and knows exactly how to re-strengthen Travis’s devotion. I liked how that final scene with them subverted my expectations by first making me think that Gellar would be burning Travis with the rod, and then having Gellar turn the rod on himself. The fact that Gellar is willing to do that makes him an even more terrifying figure.

It’s also interesting to consider exactly what it is that Gellar and Marshall believe themselves to be doing, and what basis it has in Biblical text. I’m sure someone else has probably discussed this possibility already, but my personal theory is that Gellar and Marshall believe themselves to be the “Two Witnesses” of Revelation (see Revelation 11:1-13); two prophets who are killed by “The Beast” (Dexter?) and then resurrected after three-and-a-half days. I’m not even going to begin to try to explain the actual intentions of whoever wrote Revelation, since there are multiple interpretations for nearly everything in that book (depending on what church you ask). But I can attempt to provide some insight into what the characters in the show might think it means.

Assuming that Gellar and Travis see themselves as the Two Witnesses, my first guess was that the murders they’ve been committing are intended as a form of prophecy, which would fit with the idea of two prophesying figures in the end times. But looking back to the premiere, I’m not so sure it fits. The first murder, with the snakes coming out of the man who’d been in the sea, had to have been an attempt to actually fulfill the prophecy of the first Beast (called a serpent by Gellar in the premiere) rising out of the sea. I can sort of understand this as a religious motivation. But what doesn’t make sense is the second murder. I thought it was pretty clear that the verse Travis quotes was just a description of heaven itself. It seems like it would have made more sense for the second murder to be a fulfillment of another end times prophecy, like the second beast. I suppose the murders could be intended as symbolic of prophecy, rather than direct fulfillment. But that doesn’t seem to fit as well.

I do think that for most of Revelation, no one interpretation is more correct than any other. But an interpretation still has to make sense, on some level. If not, then it’s just the writers randomly cherry-picking verses from Revelation, knowing that most viewers won’t have actually studied the book enough to know if the killers’ actions fit with their beliefs and interpretations of the Bible or not. This storyline has a lot of interesting potential, but it’s all going to depend on the eventual explanation of the killers’ motives. I’d be disappointed to discover that the writers didn’t put the necessary effort into crafting believable religiously-motivated killers, as this would require only a minimal amount of research into what religious people actually believe. Of course, Travis and Gellar could be mentally ill, in which case it doesn’t matter whether their religious motivations make sense or not, but I didn’t get that impression. And besides, Travis and Gellar are much more interesting when they’re just two sane individuals with strong convictions.

As for the other subplots in this episode, rather than being all boring, they were more of a mixed bag this time. For one thing, my man Masuka now has his own subplot (it’s about damn time), and it’s actually pretty entertaining. For a while, it was looking pretty likely that Masuka’s creep-factor would land him or the department a lawsuit. But again, the episode subverts my expectations by having hot intern Ryan Chambers react positively to Masuka’s personality. I’m starting to get the feeling that this is the woman Masuka has been searching for all his life.

Besides Masuka, there’s the drama over Deb’s heroism netting her a promotion that Angel was expecting to get (plenty of people saw that coming). I wasn’t that interested in this subplot, but I was impressed with how Debra and Angel handled the situation. Deb basically lets Angel know that their friendship is more important than any promotion, and though Angel is obviously upset over not getting the promotion, he’s not about to order one of his best friends (who’s like a daughter to him) to let him have it instead. And then there’s Quinn, who I felt a fair amount of sympathy for during his attempts to propose to Deb. Last season, Quinn abruptly became an surprisingly likable character. So I’m feeling a bit sorry for him at the moment. Deb sure isn’t making it easy for him.

Having become pretty familiar with how seasons of “Dexter” usually play out, it’s to be expected that things will be progressing at a somewhat slower pace at this point in a season. This period of build-up is important, especially knowing that it won’t be long before the season kicks into high gear and the suspense begins to mount. The usual weaknesses are present, but the focus on Dexter’s continuing examination of religion and the coverage of our two religiously-inspired killers keeps this slower period sufficiently interesting.

Rating: 8/10

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