Warning - Discussing the latest season of Dexter is nearly impossible without spoiling the previous season. If you haven't seen the sixth season in its entirety, you should probably skip down to the other segments of this review.
-Excerpt from my review of Dexter - The Complete Sixth Season
Without question, the previous season of Dexter was divisive amongst critics and fans alike. Some were unable to make peace with the sloppy writing that aimed to provide shock over substance, and despite the fact I was personally content with the twists and turns that finally propelled us towards the series endgame, I can understand where they're coming from. Still, there's one thing I believe to be indisputable - The finale was the most shocking of the series to date, finally giving the viewers at home exactly what they've been waiting for. I know the phrase 'game changer' is used irresponsibly more often than not, but that's exactly what it was... but that cliffhanger left everyone's mind free to roam the land of 'what ifs' for an entire year. As a result, expectations soared to an all-time high, but with the decline in writing apparent over the last couple of years, one couldn't help but wonder if reaching this vital turning point would actually reinvigorate the series. Nevertheless, hopes remained high when it was announced that only two seasons of the Dark Avenger's tale were left to tell, because much like the blood spatter vigilante himself, the creative staff had nowhere left to run. Even so, would they even be able to come close to matching the hype?
The seventh season's marketing campaign consisted of only four words - He saw. She saw. It was simplistic, but highly effective. It informed us that the writers weren't going to back down from the challenge they had set for themselves - that Dexter wouldn't merely charm his way to safety this time. For years, we've watched his sister Debra transform into the sharpest mind at Miami Metro Homicide, devoting her entire life to upholding the law, and she was even recently rewarded with a promotion to lieutenant. All this with a serial killing brother right under her noise, mind you... and now she's caught him in the act. With his knife plunged and her gun drawn, season seven begins precisely where we left off, and I was surprised at just how far the writers pushed the envelope in the first episode alone. I won't spoil what happens next, but the writers make it perfectly clear that they are not messing around. The first episode is far more intense than the sixth season's finale was, and its cliffhanger is debatably more of a stunner. To be honest, it was actually the moment I expected season seven to close with, so to say this season starts with a bang would be something of an understatement.
The most interesting plotline/dynamic this season is, obviously, what transpires between Debra and Dexter. As foster siblings, they were raised by the same man - Harry Morgan, an outstanding officer who was seemingly the moral compass personified - and both 'siblings' acquired a penchant for delivering justice, albeit in very different ways. Debra goes by the book, even if it means losing a collar once in a while, whereas Dexter scoops up the filth (and wraps them in plastic) as they're slipping through the cracks. With Deb's discovery however, everything she thought she knew comes crashing down. She modeled her entire life after her role model father, so how could he have been responsible for training a serial killer? But, the biggest issue of all is coming to grips with Dexter's 'Dark Passenger'. Once upon a time, Deb actually allowed herself to fall in love with a murderer, and she's internalized a belief that she was just too naive to see the signs. Now, years later, she's actually fallen in love with Dexter... also a serial killer. At the same time, she's known Dexter her entire life. So, what's next? How does she even begin to process this information? Again, I won't exactly spoil what happens, but I don't think I'd surprise anyone if I said this marks a spiraling descent into madness. No, the real surprise comes from watching how it all plays out, anxiously awaiting to see the path she chooses after all is said and done, especially since Dexter goes to great lengths to try and make her accept what he is.
Yet, this is only the beginning of her troubles. While she's hammering out her feelings of 'more than brotherly love' from within, Dexter - and his timing couldn't be worse - goes and falls in love. Now, we've seen him try his hand at various relationships over the years - There was Rita, who was more or less his lifestyle camouflage, and there were a couple of other women he's mistaken for having legitimate Dark Passengers of their own... but this one is different. Hannah McKay (Yvonne Stahovski) has a dark side indeed, and for the first time, Dexter actually feels like he has a partner he can completely open up to. Unfortunately, this not only conflicts with Debra's personal feelings, but because Hannah is the primary suspect in a homicide investigation, this also rubs her the wrong way professionally. It's a risky game that Dexter is playing, for sure - Not only does he have to worry about Deb throwing him in the slammer, he has to wonder if she'll throw Hannah, the only person who truly understands him, behind bars as well. With all this beginning to cripple Debra's heart and soul, Jennifer Carpenter is able to take the reins and deliver. This is, without question, the finest performance of her career.
Of course, a season of Dexter just couldn't exist without a 'big bad' guy trying to take him down, and year seven stays true to form. When Dexter puts a cop killer under his knife, he attracts the attention of Isaak Sirko (Ray Stevenson), a feared member of the Ukranian mafia with local business ties. Some of you might groan at the prospect of another game of cat and mouse, but Stevenson plays one of the best villains of the series thus far. I think it's fair to say my personal favorite will always be John Lithgow's portrayal of Trinity, but Stevenson is hot on his heels. You see, Isaak is a different kind of killer - He's smart and sophisticated, and although he's someone to fear because of how cold and calculating he can be, he's likeable as an adversary because he has class, and above all else, has a fairly respectable code of honor (for a killer). Not every actor could have portrayed Isaak the way he was originally envisioned, but I think it's safe to say he absolutely nailed it, if not exceeded casting's expectations.
Compared to the formula we're used to seeing thus far, all of this is very ambitious for the show to handle at once, but they surprisingly didn't stop there. Combing a recent crime scene, LaGuerta finds a piece of evidence that proves the Bay Harbor Butcher is still at large, so unfortunately for Dexter, she begins a personal crusade to clear Doakes' name once and for all. Outside of this nail biting device however, most other side plots are a disappointment. Masuka, who still needs to be written out of his 'perverted genius' shell, was severely underutilized. It would be nice to see him finally piece things together, as opposed to merely being a comic relief tool. Batista debates buying a restaurant to fulfill a lifelong dream, but I'm failing to see why this was necessary to the season as a whole. Quinn gets a lot of airtime this season, and it's definitely the best story he's had to date, but it all delivers a big 'so what'? Are the writers just keeping up with certain characters because they feel they have to? Granted, most of the secondary characters intersect in Deb and Dex's troubles, but those moments only enhance their development. The upside? I think, at the very least, that Quinn and Batista have some promising things in store for the eighth and (now confirmed) final season... that is, if the writers don't decide to write off some of the ideas they've teased.
Which brings me to my final, albeit minor complaint - The sixth season introduced a ton of stuff that was potentially damning for Dexter, but these subplots have mostly been dropped. Although the writers do what they can to tie up loose ends so there aren't any continuity issues, it's blatantly obvious they were hitting the 'abort' button in the early stages so they could tell a better story. Don't get me wrong, I have no doubt in my mind that this batch of episodes is all the better for it, but it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. As one amongst the minority who actually didn't mind the sixth season, I was disappointed that this changeup actually served to weaken the previous season overall. I know they had to throw things into high gear since they were anticipating only two seasons to wrap everything up, but it's disappointing nonetheless. I don't think any writer ever wants to devalue any of their previous work, but that's pretty much what happened here.
But, despite my nitpicking, there's no denying that this is one of the strongest seasons to date. One of the best things about it, despite predictably having another 'big bad', is that this feels like they've finally taken Dexter to the next level. Year after year, people have complained that things have more or less been the same, even though we've been exploring integral aspects of the main character's psyche, but this is Dexter 2.0. To answer the question earlier poised, yes, the writers have actually matched the hype and reinvigorated the series. If you've been a fan of the series up to this point, you're going to be blown away... but if, however, you've fallen off the wagon some years back because you've just been waiting for something significant to happen, then now is the time to come back to the fold.
This is an impressive 1080p, AVC encoded presentation (1.78:1) that's even better than how the show looked during its initial broadcast. I would be surprised if I heard this Blu-ray set didn't completely capture the principle photography as was intended - Skin tones are dead on, any variation of crimson is displayed with bold intensity, colors are vivid yet lifelike most of the time, and intended contrasts are replicated flawlessly. Daytime scenes that take place outside appear to be overly bright and skin tones can look a little off as a result, but the show was filmed this way to convey to us the sweltering heat in Miami. Certain scenes in the dark seem to be bathed in more black than would be natural, but again, this is also a photographic trick that's used for tone and effect, and not an issue with the encode. And the detail? Absolutely immaculate. In close-up shots you can see individual fibers on clothing, every strand of hair, and the image always retains a decent amount of depth and dimensionality. There's only the occasional shot that looks soft (due to the photography). Of course, all of the amazing work done during principal photography would mean nothing if this were a subpar encode, but have no fear. There's no edge enhancement, digital noise reduction (certain dark scenes will exhibit a bit of grain or noisiness that relates back to the source), banding, aliasing or digital artifacts. In short, the encode we've been treated to for Dexter - The Seventh Season is absolutely to die for.
There's always been a surprising amount of attention paid to detail in Dexter's sound design, and the sixth season is no different in that respect. This lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track has a quality to it that's almost cinematic. It's a dialogue driven show, for sure, and the voices are always crisp and clear, but it's everything else that continues to surprise me year after year. As always, Daniel Licht's score is haunting and always drives the suspense on-screen to heights that make my spine tingle. Rear speakers can be aggressive when the show calls for it (which isn't very often), but they're always active in a subtle way, providing an uncanny ambience that makes you feel like you're following Dexter every step of the way. When you're indoors, you'll feel like you're inside of a room, and when you're outdoors, you'll hear the openness of dialogue change and the environmental sounds will keep you fully immersed. Fans of the show will be satisfied, and for anyone experiencing the show on Blu for the first time, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Normally, Dexter gets the home video treatment in August, but since the eighth and final season is slated to begin at the end of June this year, the complete seventh season comes to us mid-May. That's good news for those who want to catch up on the series, but it's bad news for us when it comes to supplemental material. Dexter Blu-ray sets have always been cheap in this respect, even when compared to the DVD's. Last year, I complained that 'bonus content' shouldn't be BD-Live only, nor should episodes from other series constitute as such. Well, they partially listened this time around...
Included is an Ultraviolet code, and with it, you can watch the pilot episode of Ray Donavan. As far as Dexter related content is concerned, there is none. Not even the Biographies that are supposedly included on the DVD set. To make matters worse, the Ultraviolet code doesn't even include stream-able Dexter episodes. It's a shame to see Showtime's flagship series treated this way, especially when HBO pump everything they've got and more into their releases.
Usually when a show gets its second wind, we say it 'returned to form', but Dexter - The Seventh Season is really unlike anything we've ever seen (in context of the series). With the upcoming eighth season marking the end of this smart crime thriller, everyone from production to on-screen talent have stepped up their game, delivering a nonstop ride through astonishing drama. He saw, she saw... and the seventh season holds nothing back in exploring the cast of characters who are slowly, but surely, losing everything they thought they ever knew. Regardless of where you've been as a fan for the last two or three years, make no mistake about it - This is the season you've been waiting for. There are no supplements, but this great season comes with a fantastic A/V presentation that's even better than broadcast. Highly Recommended.