Dexter Season 7, Episode 9: “HELTER SKELTER” Recap & Review

CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD. After a harrowing, emotional journey through the mad land of “Argentina” in last week’s installment of Dexter, “Helter Skelter” only heightened the fresh intensity with a new landslide of action, aggression, and things once foreign becoming felt; enormously so. Propulsive at every angle, “Helter Skelter” has us slaloming our wild way down a near-cliff riddled with momentous obstacles; and, of course, we’re still too far from the ground to make out just what kind of turf we’re going to land on. With Dexter exploring his uncanny, inescapable bonds with two killers both incredibly alike and unlike himself—particularly Hannah, with whom he is becoming increasingly vulnerable—will we see a reconstruction or a deconstruction of the Dexter we know and love in the chapters to come? What are the implications of being fully alive and allowing oneself to engage with parts of the human experience once held steadily at arms’ length? If you’re still reeling from the thrill of the new ride, try to ground yourself with the mini-synopsis below, followed by an in-depth review of just what is spinning into fearsome motion with this episode and the sharp stab of a surprising double-edged sword that’s changed the nature of everything! “Helter Skelter,” here we come—whether we like it, loathe it, or find ourselves unsure of every broken shard. 

THE BREAKDOWN: As Dexter explores his humanity through the eyes of Hannah and finds himself challenged by her inquisitions into the depths of his nature—which he feels may not even exist—he is quickly awakened to his responsibilities in their togetherness when Isaak Sirko uses her as leverage in getting Dexter’s assistance in taking out two freshly-minted foes sent by the Brotherhood. Caught between a rock and a hard place and pulled back and forth between brand new crime scenes which point to the oeuvre of the “Phantom,” a killer with a flair for setting others to flame, Dexter tries to help Debra understand her feelings as she helps him secure Hannah’s safety in the midst of his precarious partnership with Isaak. LaGuerta continues to weave her way through the shadows of the system and calls former-captain Tom Matthews out of retirement as a recruit in her delicate operation of re-framing the Bay Harbor Butcher. Then, in a not-so-delicate turn of events, Quinn discovers the vengeful George’s sexual transgression against Nadia and gives him the violent piece of his mind long in the making. Love and fear drive the wild episode, as the body count stacks and as Dexter seeks to walk the tightrope of reconciling with Debra and investing in Hannah. Which love is safe? And does Dexter’s fearlessness of death cloud his fearfulness of life? What does living life in full look like… and just how helter-skelter can things get before they go over the edge? Skip the jump for more…

“When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again…

Do you, don't you want me to love you?
I'm coming down fast but I'm miles above you.
Tell me tell me tell me, come on tell me the answer;
Well you may be a lover, but you ain't no dancer.”

So read the lyrics of The Beatles’ classic, “Helter Skelter.” And the parallels between these words and the unraveling of tonight’s events are starting to come forth in vivid colors. If we look at Dexter’s volatile connection with Hannah McKay and his revelations in the art of love, we see a Dexter seeking to feel in ways that he’s never felt. We see him journeying through himself and back again, scanning his inner horizon for some sign of humanity that will carry him forward with her. “You can be absolutely fearless in the face of death,” a fading Isaak says to Dexter, before drawing his final breath over the same sea in which Viktor was dumped. Absolutely fearless; yet, “so afraid to live.” One of Isaak’s final admonitions to Dexter is for him to feel all that there is to be felt for the sake of the one he loves—even though love of this fervent, vulnerable caliber feels as foreign to Dexter as sunlight to the Marianas Trench. Urging him to give all he can give, Isaak spits, “For fuck's sake, Dexter! She needs to know how you feel about her.” And he lets her know when he reaches the hospital where Hannah is in recovery from the wounds she incurred from her desperate, poison-and-blade brawl with Jurg. Dexter seems to wrench open the soul he’s denied himself all these years, as though begging her, “Do you, don’t you want me to love you?” Yet, while she may be the one in need of stitches and slumped against the white sheets, it seems that Dexter is truly the more helpless of the two. Leaning against her, he is unable to see a chary ambivalence etching its way onto her cool face. She may be a lover, but she ain’t no dancer. And maybe that same fear she recalls experiencing while nearly drowning as a child, may be the fear that Dexter should allow himself to experience before his love-blindness comes to bite him.

Love is blind. Dexter, a virgin to this world of feeling and openness, just might wake up to find blisters on his fingers from this helter-skelter game.

Fear and love compel this wild, wide-eyed race of an episode, which sees many ends, beginnings, and creeping confusions. With breakneck speed, “Helter Skelter” charged through the final days of Isaak, the aftermath of Debra’s confession, the rise of action in the Quinn-Nadia-George triangle, the reopening of doors in LaGuerta’s dogged mission, and the entry of our naïve Dexter into a vortex of emotion—while clinging onto his lizard-brain logic in terms of understanding Debra. Dexter is endeavoring to make the shifting tectonics of his once stable world settle, trying to soothe the quakes into a standstill by grappling for understanding in his relationships. Of course, the wrench that’s thrown in here is Isaak’s detainment of Hannah in persuading Dexter to help him out of a sorry jam—and he uses the opportunity to get to know the man who stole from him his truest love. Dexter gets to witness both Hannah’s fear on the back of his boat and Isaak’s fear of seeing his life ended by the work of his own Brotherhood. He sees them fearing death and misunderstands, as death, to him, is “soothing, predictable, inevitable.” Yet, Isaak continues to pursue Dexter’s humanity and bring it into the light, causing Dexter to see that his fearlessness of death reflects a fearfulness of life, not a route to control and power. Cliché though it may be, with great power comes great responsibility: Dexter’s responsibility is to exercise fearlessness in both death and life. Vulnerability comes at a high cost and requires the one being vulnerable to exercise discernment. But he’s never had emotions to be preyed on before, from his perspective, so his entertainment of violent delights will lead to violent dark if he fails to guide his budding feelings to the safest shore.

While Dexter explores the implications of guiding his feelings in Hannah’s direction, he endeavors to keep Debra close, trying to logic her into a position that will keep them both secure. Giddily he explains right back to Debra why she feels how she feels as Debra is attempting to make her way back to the station from a crime scene (which points to the work of a serial-arson—a new plot that has strangely been introduced rather late in the season and may promise some intriguing twists)—the scene is a vomiting of emotion that doesn’t really seem to do justice to the power of Debra’s overwhelming concession of truth in the previous episode, but it does reflect Dexter’s confusion over just how to deal with this Pandora’s Box of feeling that’s been opened within him. Logic has served him his entire life, and by using logic—and even a “fuckin’ M&Ms” metaphor that’s beyond cringe-worthy for both Debra and the audience!—to help justify Debra’s emotions, he hopes to calm her and keep her from running the other way in the midst of her chaotic re-realizations. At the same time, Debra is trying to reject the truth now that it’s uncaged and romping in the wind. Out of the need to protect herself, she hopes that her confession will sign the papers on her freedom from the heavy truth—she’s ready to breathe and have that lost peace she’s been vying for: “…and then I blinked.” And with Hannah in the equation and not going anywhere just yet, there’s all the more motivation for Deb to try to substantiate herself where she knows she can’t deter Dexter.

As if this fearsome Dexter-Debra-Hannah triage weren’t enough to keep us reeling, there are also the matters of Quinn (I will preemptively say, rest in peace!—If I see your face by the finale, I might have to pinch myself; you’re a bit of a dead man walking unless George gets hit by a bus) and LaGuerta, who has elbowed her way back into Matthews’ life in hopes of getting his assistance with the ever-elusive Bay Harbor Butcher. After giving her the humorous reeming she deserves, he ends up consenting, and we’ve got to wonder what suspicions Matthews may have about Dexter after his close involvement with Harry. He bore the truth of Harry’s death on his own until sharing it with Dexter in the third season; has he held onto any other truths into his sun-kissed retirement? Will LaGuerta’s suppositions stir up any dust? And could the new “Phantom” menace (no pun intended) have anything to do with Dexter’s undoing, as the Bay Harbor Butcher case finally starts to gain momentum? Dexter’s love life isn’t the only thing that’s leaning towards the helter-skelter. From the ashes of endings rise new beginnings that seem to promise chaos… and surprises.

How did “Helter Skelter” strike you? What are your thoughts and theories? Leave them in the comments below! Thanks so much for reading! 

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