Psycho, Dexter

Sunday’s episode of Dexter was a lot of things, but above all it was very, very good.  As I have said, this season of Dexter is, in my opinion, the strongest since the second.  I want to clear that up before saying anything else because the tone of the rest of this may seem distinctly negative.

Warning Spoilers Ahead!

Dexter had a very different feel in its most recent episode, especially the scenes involving Travis and Dexter.  I was wondering why this was happening, why the episode was a tale of two stories that is, until the big reveal at the episode’s end.

As Travis slowly crept across his hotel room, or Dexter lurked in the dark corners of the church there was a nagging feeling of déjà vu.  It seemed that the episode was channeling its inner Hitchcock.

Of course, this is an easy assumption to make given the Psychoesque way the episode ended.  Still though, there was something about the way that the camera refused to pan closer or further from Colin Hanks and Michael C. Hall that was unnerving even before the big reveal took place.

This job was done quite expertly.  What’s really weird though is that Dexter stole the cinematic style from Psycho, before ripping off that movie’s main plot device.  A move that is either brilliant or pathetic.  I choose to go with brilliant though.

The episode’s homage to the suspense genre, which went so far as to incorporate a 50’s style suspense-noir score during its final moments, was not exactly thinly veiled, but it did accomplish it’s task.  It allowed the story to progress, in exactly the way the writers wanted, without having people call foul on the Psycho (or Fight Club) thievery.

It really is a brilliant thing to be able to do something un-original and get away with it in today’s world filled with cynical viewers, but I think the obviousness of the, let’s say, homage, is what makes the episode immune to that type of scrutiny.

I just have one question about this episode though.

Is it trying to take the place of another niche favourite?  One that has been temporarily put on hold to make room for a series adaptation of John Grisham’s The Firm, a reboot of The Munsters, and an as yet untitled Hannibal Lector series?

The charming little show that I am obviously making reference to is of course TV guide’s new cover-gracers, NBC’s Community.

I say this as a joke, but really, really think about it.  If Dan Harmon and his writers team were given a crack at producing just one episode of Dexter, don’t you kind of think it would have ended up like this?

Sure, there’s more to Community than overly obvious movie themed references, and there was more to this episode of Dexter than just a Psycho parody.  But, the end of this episode would have perhaps been the most meta thing to exist outside of a Charlie Kauffman picture had Community not made that particular act their bread and butter, and that, cannot be ignored.

As far as the other story lines f the episode go, everything was fairly status quo.  The department’s newest edition (Billy Brown) was under used.  There is a weak, and overly ominous story line involving the department’s new intern, which needs to proceed or die.  Quinn is Quinn.  And Jennifer Carpenter gives a performance that she hasn’t been able to unleash on us since mid-season four.

If the series is to progress much further it will have to do so on the shoulders of this story line, and the acting of Jennifer Carpenter.  The show realized that a kill of the week and some possible light at the end of Dexter’s tunnel, which just turns out to be a carrot tied to a stick on his forehead, will not be enough to keep the audience’s full attention.  It hasn’t since the second season and the show has tried to fill that void with celebrity guest stars instead of developing a new plot.

To really draw the audience in, the show cannot ask for outside help. It has star power.  All of the current leads are more than capable of emotional captivation they simply require the space to do it.

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Community 306

Tonight’s episode of community was simply titled Advanced Gay.  If that either offends you, or fails to amuse you, this episode is not for you.  If, however, the prospect of Chevy Chase, after a series of unintentionally gay innuendos, telling the rest of the study group to “stop putting gay stuff in his mouth” makes you giggle like a five-year-old, this may just be the funniest television episode shown on any network this year.

The jokes were by no means high-brow.  They focused mainly on inserting an old, racist politically incorrect man, into situations that allowed him to flirt with increasingly blurred lines of homophobia and father issues, or, as the groups pseudo-psych student calls it, his edible complex.  Basically Pierce wants to kill his father, and… I don’t know, something about his mother, as Britta says.

That’s the thing about Community though.  Sure you can have an old man be perpetually offensive, telling jokes that due to their irony, are either offensive or extremely supportive of the gay community (I’m not quite sure which), but then you will have a reference, albeit an intentionally incorrect reference, to a 5th century B.C. Athenian play.

The show amazingly works these two very different types of humour seamlessly.  On top of that, and don’t ask me how this was done, this episode was also able to work in a side plot in which Troy reprises his Matt Damon Good Will Hunting character, this time though, his tradesmen skills were put to use by the school’s Dick Cheneyesque Vice-Dean Laybourne, played by John Goodman.

After unclogging a toilet Troy is scouted to take part in the school’s very prestigious HVAC program.  With this degree, Laybourne promises a life filled with all the comforts the world can offer, even going so far as to introduce him to the room that room temperature is based on.

But after all the gay-jokes, Good Will Hunting references, and failed psycho-analytics, this episode was able to connect the group’s two most abrasive characters through an experience that all men understand: the need to remove themselves from their father’s shadows, and the need to earn their father’s respect.  And while the latter may be too late for these two characters to accomplish, the former is obtained, yet neither character is better for it.  They are simply them.