Stumptown - 1x16 All Quiet on the Dextern Front - Review Roundtable: Flashbacks By DJRiter (March 11, 2020, 9:00 pm)
Once again Stumptown brings us an episode where the actual case Dex (Cobie Smulders) is investigating serves as a tool to push Dex towards confronting her demons about Benny's death. That is part of the unique appeal of this show. Highlighted by a stand out performance from series star Cobie Smulders, Episode 1x16, All Quiet on the Dextern Front, does an incredible job of answering some questions fans have been asking since the first episode while opening the door to an even more intriguing mystery. What did happen to Benny Blackbird? Fellow SpoilerTV writers Ellys, Alison, Laura and I examine what happened and how it might affect future episodes of Stumptown in our latest Review Roundtable (Marko was unable to join us this week). Don't forget if you have questions about Stumptown you would like us to talk about in future roundtables ask them in the comments below.
This episode leaned hard into Dex and Grey (Jake Johnson) as future romantic partners. It's a dynamic that's been missing for a few episodes. Was it a welcome return?
DC: I don't know if I could miss something I don't want to happen. To me, the show seems to be trying too hard to make Dex and Grey a couple. While I do think Grey has feelings for Dex, I think he's just too self- absorbed to be a good partner or at least the partner for her. For that matter, I don't think Dex needs a romance right now, she's barely holding things together taking care of herself. I'm glad the show didn't go what I would have considered the clichéd route of having them sleep together again and then waste screen time with them being awkward around one another about it.
EC: Grey was everything Dex needed him to be in this episode. And Johnson turned in my favorite performance from him all season. I'm not made of stone. When he looked into Dex's eyes after she said she was tired of running and suggested he not run, the supportive compassion in his voice hit me right in the soul. I believed one hundred percent that he understood exactly who she was and knew just how to help her. I didn't doubt for a second that his love for her is real. So, the show is totally killing him off, isn't it? Half-kidding aside, for all the doubting I do about Grey's role in the show and his shortcomings, this episode revealed to me how integral he is to knitting the show's threads together. However, I don't expect him and Dex to pair up officially anytime soon, because that's not how TV shows work.
AD: Not for me. I probably sound like a broken record, but I would like to see their relationship remain platonic. I love how supportive they are of one another. For me, the scene in the hotel tainted the scene from the beach at the end of Episode 15. I could do without the overtures and talk of the future, but I'm not likely to get my wish, so I'll just hope it happens infrequently. And if we're talking about raw chemistry, Violet (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) beats everyone. Although, she is a hired assassin, so if that can't happen then I say bring back Zack (Ion Macken).
LG: I missed it! I love them being a slow-burn romance and I'm so glad they decided to bring it back now that Liz (Monica Barbaro) is gone, and it seems that things with Dex and Hoffman (Michael Ealy) are long over.
Dex claimed her PTSD episode wouldn't have escalated if Ansel (Cole Sibus) was still living with her. Do you believe that? Were you surprised by Ansel's return home? Is it what Dex needs? Is it what Ansel needs?
DC: I believe she believes it wouldn't have escalated if he'd been home. For me though, that's typical Dex, avoiding the hard truth. I was a little surprised by Ansel's return home, but I applaud the move, I think it's a little of what they both need. While his moving out was good for the growth of both characters, they are each other's biggest champions and there may be things ahead where they will need to draw strength from each other. Dex needs to be needed and when Ansel moved out she floundered a little but found she could pull herself together and take steps forward.
EC: Dex clearly believed she would have held it together had Ansel been home. Previous episodes showed us how she took a sharp downward turn after his departure, with partying and lonely drinking. She was still engaging in self-destructive behavior when he did live at home, but she was doing it elsewhere for the most part. It appears that the key with Dex is reaching a point where she cares about herself enough to not need someone as her motivation. That said, some people never reach a point of independence, and she may be one of those people. Any way we dice it, though, the happiness on Dex's face when she let it sink in that Ansel was home was a beautiful thing to see.
AD: I don't know that I believe Dex. Her claim that it wouldn't have happened if Ansel were there means the episodes are within her control, and I don't believe they are. I think what's more likely is Ansel living there meant she would have used more alcohol, drinking until she passed out, so her pain wouldn't have escalated. We've seen Dex drink herself into unconsciousness, that's how she silenced her demons in the past. I'm surprised the show made so much of Ansel leaving only for him to return so soon. It might be what Dex needs, but she needs more help and support than Ansel's presence. When we first met Dex, Ansel was living with her, and she was hardly living a life free of her demons and guilt. She was gambling to make money and drinking herself to sleep. Dex needs more than Ansel, and it isn't fair to him. He expressed a real desire to strike out on his own, and I wanted to see it happen. We'll see where the story takes what, for now, looks like a step backward.
LG: I do believe that her PTSD wouldn't have escalated if Ansel was here, because she's always just trying to protect him, and I think she thinks that if he sees her upset, he'll think it's weakness, and she never wants to show him that side of her. I was surprised by Ansel coming home because it seemed like he was gone for good when he left. I think what Dex needs is a good therapist and a good support system, so yes, I think he's partially what Dex needs. I also think Ansel does need to be with her to know that she's okay. He's seen her go downhill recently so I think this will be good for both of them.
This was a heavy episode. Were the scenes between Grey and Tookie (Adrian Martinez) enough to balance Dex's chaotic energy and the flashback scenes?
DC: Having the two men, who apparently both don't have the best romantic track records, counsel a nervous Ansel in asking a girl for his first date was sweet. It set just the right comedic tone to counterbalance the intensity of Dex's energy and the traumatic flashbacks. It was a perfect illustration of one of the best things about Stumptown, giving us characters that truly care about one another and have created a warm familial bond.
EC: Grey and Tookie coaching Ansel through asking his friend out was fun, and I understand why it had to be in this episode. Ansel had to finish his list, for him moving back home to work out. Still, it got lost in the more dramatic and emotional happenings.
AD: The scenes didn't balance the chaos of the episode, which is fine. The tension was nonstop, but Tookie, Ansel, and Grey were a welcome reprieve because I love their interactions. Especially when Tookie and Grey play the angel and devil on Ansel's shoulders, interchangeably. I think the mark of good entertainment is its ability to elicit empathy and emotion. Dex's barely contained chaos came off the screen and made me feel. I was vibrating with my own nervous energy, my own chaos, but I was also right there with Dex, flashing back and feeling the guilt over Benny's death.
LG: I think so, definitely. But I also think sometimes we're due for a heavy episode. This season has been fairly light given some of its subject matter, so it was time to get down to how bad it is, so it can get worse before it gets better.
We got to see a bit more of Detective Lee (Fiona Rene) and Detective Hoffman working together in this episode. Do you think they're trying to make them an item? Do you like them as an item?
DC: Why do two people working together necessarily have to become an item? Why can't they just be good partners who have a great working relationship? So no, I don't like them an item, I like them as a team, although I'm missing the presence of Lieutenant Cosgrove (Camryn Manheim) in the squad room recently.
EC: This works! The entire season we've been watching Lee watching Hoffman's back, making sure he didn't get into too much trouble and even offering him completely friendly, sound advice on his brief relationship with Dex. While I didn't see the pairing coming, their flirty banter in this episode made me a fan. Promoting Fiona Rene to a regular would also ensure that the police detective scenes carry equal weight with the other happenings since we could spend more time with her and Hoffman working on cases.
AD: I do think they are trying to make Detective Lee and Hoffman an item. I can't say I'm happy about it, but only because the root of their flirtation is likely to add more drama to Hoffman's relationship with Dex. If I thought more was going to come of it than a thorn in Dex's side, I'd wish them well, but if it looks like a trope, swims like a trope, and quacks like a trope then . . .
LG: I think they're trying to make them an item, but I'm not sure if it will pan out. It could just be the actors' chemistry, but I wouldn't mind them being together. I would love to see more of Detective Lee!
We finally learned why Dex blamed herself for Benny's death. What was your reaction to the revelation? Also, what are your theories for what really happened the night Benny died, after Jeremy (Robert Adamson)'s revelation? And how surprised are you that we haven't had a single clear Benny flashback yet?
DC: From the get-go, I've believed that Dex's guilt over Benny's death was misplaced. The disturbing flashbacks we got proved that. Is there something far more sinister at work here than a case of friendly fire or bad timing, I think so. It likely has to do with her commanding officer (Kirk Acevedo)'s urgency in getting information from the woman Dex refused to torture. Like Dex, Benny may have confronted him about the mission or had doubts about information obtained through the ultimate torture of the woman and the commander retaliated and made it look like friendly fire. And the lack of a clear Benny flashback intrigues me and makes my imaginative mind wonder if somehow Benny survived and is in some sort of military witness protection in exchange for his help for taking the officer down. I think Benny would do that to protect Dex and her career and even his family. Whatever the reason it has provided us with a very intriguing mystery as Season One draws to a close.
EC: I'm not sure yet how I feel that Benny's death was even less Dex's fault that initially suggested. It feels a little too easy, but I can't say that caveat isn't in line with the lighter tone that Stumptown clearly feels most at home with. The flashbacks were a little confusing, in terms of how everything and the interrogation connected. My working theory now is that Benny's death was a friendly fire situation, no doubt caused by Acevedo's villain. Interestingly, we haven't seen Benny himself yet, considering how major a character he is in Dex's history. In the next episode, we may finally meet him, as Sam Marra has been cast in the role. Viewers will recognize Marra from his supporting role on Amazon's Homecoming and as the bartender in Star Trek: Picard's standout Stardust City Rag episode.
AD: I don't know that it had an impact on me that it was supposed to have. Dex blaming herself was easy for me to understand without there being more to the story. Having said that, I am happy that there is more to the story and that we have a deeper mystery to uncover. Dex refusing to participate in the torture of the woman was the right move, but it certainly adds more depth to why she blames herself and explains her constant refrain that Benny was there because of her. I always took it to mean the Marines or Afghanistan, but it was literally Dex's failure to obtain the much-needed information. I don't have a single idea about what might have happened that night. My guesses would be shots in the dark—Drugs? Weapons? I'm sure it isn't aliens, but other than that we'll see. I'm curious and ready for the ride. The lack of a clear image of Benny, for me, fits with the chaos of Dex's PTSD. She sees the past in bright, booming flashes. We are meant to experience her trauma. If we get flashbacks of their time together outside of combat, I think it's then we'll see Benny.
LG: I was shocked that his death was much more involved than we expected. I figure it would just be that she didn't have enough time to save him, or was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this goes much deeper and I can see now why she blamed herself, even though it wasn't her fault. I think we're going to find out that that attack was always planned, and nothing Dex could've done -- whether torture the woman or not -- would've stopped it. I'm not too surprised with the lack of clear Benny, because this is a time to get into the nitty-gritty. If we get more seasons, I think we'll see that, but for now, I think Dex is more focused on the sad than the happy memories they share.
It took a lot of courage for Dex to go to Sue Lynn (Tantoo Cardinal) with her confession about her role in Benny's death. Did Sue Lynn react as you expected her to? Did Dex? Where do you see their relationship going from this point?
DC: Since the first time Smulders and Cardinal blew me away in their scenes together, this may be the scene I've been waiting for all season and they didn't disappoint. Sue Lynn saw Dex was in pain and genuinely tried to help her. Part of me believes that had this scene happened in earlier episodes we would have had an angrier more vengeful Sue Lynn. I think that sometime between those early scenes and this one Sue Lynn has either come to accept that Benny's death wasn't Dex's fault, or someone has filled her in on some of the circumstances of his death. I think she may be at peace that regardless of the situation her son died a noble death. I think she also sees how tortured Dex is about it and has come to understand and perhaps gained some compassion for the woman her son loved and who loved him. Perhaps she saw that anything she did to Dex couldn’t be as bad as what Dex was doing to herself. This was an amazing scene from my two favorite characters on the show. I think there is much more to come from the relationship of these two women including setting aside whatever differences or anger they have toward one another to band together to get to the truth about Benny's death.
EC: The only person waiting longer than us for this conversation would probably be Sue Lynn herself. What we got in this episode felt like just the first half of the conversation. Dex clearly had more she wanted to say, but she doesn't know how yet. And that may be in part because a part of her knows there's more to the story. This scene was one of a few times that I've noticed a little bitterness in Sue Lynn's exchange with Dex. It must take a good deal of strength for her to look past all the negative feelings that are associated with Dex and her son, including her guilt for separating them, an action that the show hinted sprang from a different motive than has been revealed. Everything these two need to say to each other has yet to be said.
AD: In my mind, I thought Sue Lynn knew the details of Benny's death, maybe not about Dex's role in the interrogation or her failure to get the information the Marines needed, but that he was there because of Dex. Does Sue Lynn knowing about Dex's refusal to participate in the torture of a possible enemy combatant make Benny's death worse? I think Sue Lynn's response is in keeping with her character, but also mirrors my view of the situation. Torturing the woman wouldn't have guaranteed Benny's survival. And what about the personal cost? Trading a life for a life. Dex might have Benny, but she'd still be living with demons, just different ones. The confession was a pivotal moment for Dex, and definitely for Dex than Sue Lynn. Their every interaction strengthens the relationship between the two women, but it'll be a bumpy and winding road.
LG: Sue Lynn has always been somewhat of a pseudo-mother to Dex, and I think this is especially true now. Her reaction was more motherly than anything else -- understanding, but still visibly upset. I hope they can grow from this. Dex is no longer feeling like she's keeping something from Sue Lynn, and hopefully, Sue Lynn will feel the same way.
Overall thoughts of this episode, has the series performed well enough for a Season 2 renewal?
DC: This may be one of my favorite episodes of the season. I like how they brought Jeremy back and how he was the one to help Dex face her demons and ultimately brought her the truth. And as stated above, it contains the scene I've been waiting for all season. It is a unique show that turns the standard detective fare on its ear. It rarely does the expected and has given us intricately crafted stories and multi-layered characters and performers to care about. It would be a big mistake for ABC to not give this outstanding show a second season. Stumptown is easily my favorite of all the new shows this season.
EC: We track Same Day as well as Live+7 numbers here at SpoilerTV, and Stumptown remains in the middle of the pack. Going off numbers, the renewal could go either way. In terms of content, it doesn't seem like there is another show that has what this one does. Cobie Smulders's consistently excellent performances, the cozy hometown feel of the setting, the timeless nature of the cases….the show is both modern and traditional all at once. I want to spend time each week with these characters, spend time in their world, and very few shows check those boxes. It deserves a renewal.
AD: I don't know if the ratings are enough for ABC to give the show a second season, but I certainly hope that's the case. I will say that the performances, story arc, and character development are more than enough to warrant a second season. This show is incredibly compelling and, on the surface, or to the casual viewer, it could seem like the typical case of the week procedural, but there is far more depth found here than in most of the offerings on broadcast television. Here's to a Season 2!
LG: I absolutely loved this episode. It was fun with the will-they-won't-they for Dex and Grey, and we also got to see more of Dex and what she goes through daily. I think this season has been wonderful, but I'm not a ratings expert or a network exec. I hope they can see how many people love the show and love the representation it gives because I do truly think it deserves a season two.