Can a person change? This simple question is at the heart of “Once Upon A Time,” the second episode in Season 6. This was one of the most thought provoking episodes in the series because the theme of change doesn’t just relate do serial killers; it’s something that society as a whole deals with.

Season 4 asked if Dexter could maintain a functional family while being a serial killer.

Season 5 offered Dexter another chance at companionship in his solitary world.

Season 6 is going to question our own ability to change and forgive ourselves and others.

In “Once Upon A Time,” we’re introduced to Brother Sam aka Samuel Wright, an ex-con accused of killing a convenience store owner. The entire police force despises the guy and the work he does: he gives jobs to other ex-cons in his repair shop. And at least one of his “flock” has previously gone astray and killed a nineteen-year old girl. Needless to say, everyone is suspicious of Brother Sam’s work.

Including Dexter. Dexter is initially convinced that Brother Sam is the same man who entered jail: a murderer who got off easy in Dexter’s eyes. Turns out the judge that was presiding over Brother Sam’s case died before he was convicted resulting in a mistrial.  “Now he’s calling himself ‘Brother Sam,’ professing to be a changed man,” says Dexter cynically.

The Face of Change?

What’s brilliant about this episode, however, is how Brother Sam, played expertly by Mos Def, surprises Dexter at every turn with his openness and self-deprecation. This isn’t the usual suspect that ends up in Dexter’s slab; he doesn’t cover up his sins or explains them away. Brother Sam acknowledges that he’s done wrong and that he deserves to be punished. He saw his time in prison as “walking off scott-free,” and that he has a long road to redemption ahead of him.

And Dexter just doesn’t know what to make of this man. I’ve never seen Dexter more perplexed than he is in this episode. Dexter is an atheist who believes in nothing but his code, yet Brother Sam and his ideals are starting to make Dexter question his work and his victims. “All wrong; is this what the power of belief is about . . . the ability to change?”

Dexter’s entire work is based on the idea, even implicitly, that the men who murder, torture, and rape others will continue to do so for as long as they live. They have or will beat the justice system and will never change. But here is a man who seems different than what Dexter himself remembers. Dexter planned to kill Brother Sam years ago when he learned of the store owner’s death. But now, according to Dexter, “Brother Sam wasn’t who I thought he was.” Brother Sam is earning Dexter’s respect, and I’m hoping we see Dexter grow even more throughout this season.

Maybe Dexter will believe in a person’s ability to change. This would be in stark contrast to his enemy this season. Travis loves his sister, but his mission is a greater calling; the end of the world is coming, and he needs to prepare for it. His older mentor certainly doesn’t believe in forgiveness or change: “You know she can’t be saved?” he tells Travis after learning he spent the night with his sister. And he forces Travis to agree not to see his sister anymore. With all the religious tones in this series so far, it’s fascinating to watch this duo supposedly believe in God yet condemn others to damnation instead of trying to save them.

Forgiveness doesn't come easily . . .

The other plot lines in this season aren’t bad at all, but they didn’t stimulate my mind or pull at my heart strings. Debra will have quite a battle ahead of her as Lieutenant. We already know how vindictive LaGuerta can be; but who is she going to take her anger and frustration out on: Morgan or Captain Matthews, who she shares a rocky past with?

Oh, and does anyone else feel for Quinn a little bit? I know Dexter hates him, but I can’t help but sympathize with his efforts. He hasn’t given us any real trouble for a long while; He deserves a little happiness with Debra, doesn’t he?

Overall, this was a great episode that promises some fantastic dilemmas ahead, both philosophically and emotionally.

Score: 9/10

Check back tonight for a review of episode 3!

What did you think of this season’s second episode?