The main reason I’m so critical of Dexter is because, despite its many flaws, the series still has the capacity for greatness. “Nebraska” is a case in point as Dexter’s road trip proves to be one of the best stories it’s ever given us. Brian’s presence brings back the tension that’s been missing this season as we wonder just how unhinged Dex will become. An opportunity to bring some edge back to our protagonist lets Michael C. Hall do some of his finest work and Christian Camargo makes for the perfect wingman. The only flaw with this story is that it’s a small part of Dexter’s wider narrative and concludes with a return to the mediocre status-quo.
The central conceit here is that Dexter’s losing it, and the episode wastes no time in establishing that fact. Not only is Brian a far more sinister voice in Dexter’s head, he’s in control in way Harry’s never been. I can’t remember ghost-dad ever interacting with the physical world or even talking to Dexter when anyone else is around. Brian’s under no such restrictions as Dexter perceives his brother “helping” him dispose of a body and is unable to shut the voice off in Deb’s presence. It’s a bit of a leap for our boy to become this deluded this quickly, but I can forgive that when it takes us to such interesting places.
Yes, Nebraska counts as an interesting place, mainly because it’s anywhere but Miami. I’ve complained extensively about the rut this series is in and Dexter heading out on the open road was as refreshing for us as it was for him. It’s not just the new scenery and supporting character that made this episode feel like a renewal. There are some deeply creepy moments as Dexter and Brian overlap; I was a particular fan of their mirrored expressions as they check out the gas station clerk. The gun-toting joy ride that followed was a bit much, although the clear overlap between the brothers helps sell the fact that Dex isn’t the one in control.
Brian’s growing influence delivers some much needed tension as we wonder just what mistakes it will cause Dexter to make. We need to remember that this isn’t the real Brian, who was nearly as careful as Dexter in his own right, but a personification of Dexter’s darker urges. This part of him has no patience for the care that Harry instilled as his impatience sees him making stupid mistakes like giving some sketchy motel clerk his car keys and letting himself be seen discovering said clerk’s pot field. Things come to a head with Brian actually being the one to kill him in one of the most satisfying visual twists the series has ever pulled.
The fact that “Brian’s” hands are the one on the pitch fork may seem to absolve Dexter of responsibility here but, in a rare occurrence, the series actually has the guts to follow through and remind us that the Dark Passenger isn’t something that exists independently. Dexter shares Brian’s satisfaction in watching “the light leave his victim’s eyes” and there’s really no way to sell this as anything but evil.
Of course, Brian represents only one part of Dexter and the other reappears not through Harry (as I was expecting) but through Harrison. Jonah’s despair over having “become his father” is a compelling reminder of where Dex could lead his own son. Dexter’s ability to forgive Jonah and urging him to do the same for himself is a nice call back to Brother Sam and a great way to finish the story. My only problem with this ending is that it’s an ending. The abrupt conclusion is in keeping with the brisk pacing of the rest of the episode, but I just don’t understand the urge to return to the status quo. Brian’s influence made for compelling television; how much more compelling would it have been to watch him influence Dexter’s interactions with his friends and family over several episodes, or even a whole season? Harry’s greeting as Dexter returns to Miami was one of the most unwelcome lines the show has ever given us.
This episode proved just how thoroughly superfluous the supporting cast have become. The only parts of that dragged were “meanwhile, back in Miami.”
The above goes for Travis and Gellar as well. These “two” were once a bright bundle of potential, but they just haven’t paid off.
I’d like to think that Dex actually stopping the car to “pick up” his imaginary friend is a sign that his delusions are still growing, but I suspect that it was just the writers assuring us that the series would once more slip into comfortable complacency.
Speaking of which, was Harry holding a sandwich when Dexter picked him up? What’s up with that?