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It would be pretty difficult to deny that Sunday was largely about Breaking Bad’s fourth season finale for me and likely many viewers of Dexter, but when the dust was settled for another year over at AMC, Showtime’s behemoth stood front and center. Dexter’s sixth season premiere had a lot to take on last week when it hit screens, as the fifth season wasn’t what one might call universally loved. Scour the internet and you’ll find no shortage of people that cite the fifth season as their favorite, but conversely, you’ll find many that would take a rusty pole to Julia Stiles/Lumen Pierce’s face given the opportunity. Taking its task in stride, the premiere would likely have converted many (if not most) of the season five haters, with an abundance of character and plot progression. While the goings on of the past year hadn’t been solidified quite yet, we’d dealt with any residual rubbish from the gap by the episode’s end. Then along came “Once Upon a Time...”
We picked up this week with Dexter putting his son to bed. Mundane as it might sound, seeing and hearing (through inner monologue) Dexter interact with another human on a completely emotional level is a fairly big thing for his character. Many people probably have not been a fan of Dexter’s humanization over the years, but I find it to be one of best things about the show. Knowing what Dexter is truly made of, seeing him balance his roles as brutal killer and loving father so skillfully, yet at the same time earnestly, is pretty great. In the earlier years, the show derived copious amounts of dark humor and even drama from the double meanings and hidden agendas of Dexter Morgan, but now we just get to see him be himself. With a young son incapable of comprehending the subtleties of his father, we get a view of who Dexter really is outside of his dark passenger and he is a man worth knowing.
Although it wasn’t the only dose of humanity in the episode, with Dexter’s shepherding of his son over, the focus shifted to his guiding of his sister. After a gunman rudely interrupted his first attempt, Quinn finally got to propose to Debra, to which she responded with her usual brand of emotional retardation. Not being a particular fan of Quinn, Dexter hardly encouraged his sister to take the plunge, something which after almost the entire episode’s span, she agreed with. Although she loves Quinn, Debra is for some reason not such a fan of commitment (perhaps because the last man she agreed to marry tried to kill her) and with the rejection, Quinn goes postal and that is the end of that. Although her year-long relationship was over, a break up wasn’t close to the biggest thing happening in Debra’s life this week as her fame following the restaurant shootout last week opened up new career avenues for her.
Deputy Chief Matthews has always been something of a dick, but this week his involvement in the plot had a bittersweet feeling to it. Wanting to show LaGuerta that being blackmailed isn’t something that he takes lightly, Matthews puts the Lieutenant promotion in the hands of Debra. I have never liked Maria, but Angel is and always has been a thoroughly decent guy and seeing his dream ripped away from him wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to watch. That being said, Debra as Lieutenant adds a new dynamic to the show that should unfold in a very rewarding way. Now, being not only her brother and Batista’s boss, but also Quinn’s, Debra’s relationships are all going to change. If the writers have any guts, Dexter is going to get found out at some point and if Debra is going to be the person in a position of power when it happens, it’s going to be a sight to see. This cast can act, but that will be something else.
The bulk of the remainder of the episode was then devoted to filling in a lot of the blanks left by last week's episode, namely, introducing Mos Def’s character and giving us some insight into this year’s bad guys. Mos Def plays Brother Sam, a former convict who escaped a death sentence on a mistrial and a prime candidate for Dexter’s table before he was picked up by the police. When he comes into the station after last week’s horrendous murder victim is found to be an associate of his, Dexter’s kill-vision is switched on and he goes about his usual hunting routine. Intentionally crashing his car to get close to the ex-con filled auto shop owner, Dexter is astounded when he discovers that people really can change. Although it initially appears as a facade, Brother Sam’s faith is likely unimpeachable and due to a possibly divine confluence of events, an adversary of the “Good Shepherd” falls into Dexter’s lap instead.
With the beginnings of a possible friendship between Dexter and Brother Sam put in place, all that was left was to give us some sense of the relationship between our killers. Although they remain largely mysterious, we see through student Travis’ actions that he and Professor Gellar have, for lack of better words, a God complex. There is an implication that the killings that they are performing are of world ending importance and we see that to disappoint the Professor is, to Travis, as bad as disappointing God. He clearly has regular human emotion - a strong attachment to his sister in particular - but he also believes that the work that the two men are doing is more important than anything else. Why exactly they are killing who they are killing in the way that they are has yet to be revealed, but I already get the sense that the Michael C. Hall/Edward James Olmos showdown is going to be amazingly good television.
Whereas last week set about developing the new religious theme in Dexter’s life, “Once Upon a Time...” had a strong episode-wide theme of shepherding. Whilst not every single second of screen time was devoted to the cause, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that of the thematic episodes in the show’s run, this week’s was one of the more overt. While the preaching (pun totally intended) might sound abnormal for a show that, at its core, has always been about a largely self-contained and emotionless guy, it really did work. I was a big fan of last week’s “Those Kinds of Things”, but it was “Once Upon a Time...” that really drove home quite how good this show is and reminded me why I watch it week-in-week-out. All of the characters, but in particular Dexter, are learning new things and going to new places in their lives. If progression is the key, then "Once Upon a Time..." just used it to open a massive door.