Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dexter - Season 1

Based on a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay, this series about a serial killer who is a cross between Jack the Ripper and Robin Hood has been airing on CBS where I caught the pilot episode and responded with a "meh." My friend Di raved about it at work and I told her I'd seen it on broadcast TV and she said, "Oh no, you have to see it on cable. It's not the same!" So, what was I missing? Explicitly gruesome murders? I can live with that. But in deference to Di's recommendation, I rented the first season from Netflix. It's summer, TV sucks, what else is there to do?

Dexter has a blood lust caused by an unspecified (early on in the series, anyway...) childhood trauma. Raised by an honorable cop who adopted him after finding the abandoned three year old at a crime scene, Dexter was taught to keep a low profile and channel his dark desires for good rather than evil. That is if your definition of "good" includes killing bad guys--other serial killers, pedophiles, etc.--chopping them up into small pieces, stuffing them into a Hefty bags (hmm--wondering...product placement? Nah!) and tossing them into the ocean.

Dexter lives by a code--a code instilled in him by his foster father, Harry. He works in forensics at the Miami Police Department specializing in blood spatter. Michael C. Hall, with his generically average good looks and hooded eyes, does a marvelous job as the deadpan Dexter. What's amazing about the show is not the darkness--which I love--or even the levity. But the humanity. Although Dexter does very bad things, the character is written and acted so well that the audience ends up rooting for him. And as he indulges in far more self-reflection than your average sociopath, we see Dexter is more than the monster that he believes himself to be. The story is all about the darkness we all hide, but the writers allow us to see glimmers of light in Dexter, while balancing that with exposing the shadows in the characters around him.

For example, Dexter's nemesis Lt. James Doakes (Erik King)--who thinks the blood spatter analyst might enjoy his job a wee bit too much--may have more in common with the murderous psychopath than both know. Didn't he perform what amounted to an execution of Haitian warlord in the name of justice from a judge and jury of one? And then again, there's the libidinous and power-hungry Lt. Laguerta (Lauren Vélez) who constantly hits on Dexter while blocking his sister Deb's (Jennifer Carpenter) attempts to get promoted. But we got to see a much softer side to Laguerta when a young Cuban refugee inspires her nurturing instinct. I particularly love Julie Benz as the meek and damaged Rita--the girlfriend who arouses Dexter's softer, protective side. In one scene where Rita sputters with rage over the machinations of her abusive ex-husband saying, "Fucking bastard!" in her kewpie voice, Dexter responds, "Only you could make that cute." And so she does. As Dexter witnesses the conflicting facets of his peers' personalities and the masks they also wear to hide from others he not only earns our empathy, but in fact EVOLVES.

The initial episodes keep flashing back to give us Dexter's backstory. This was a bit of a turn-off for me--the character was intriguing enough on his own that I really didn't need to know how or why he came to be that way. But then the backstory got woven into the current events, making it more valuable and interesting. And finally, Dexter's past caught up with him in a big way by the end of the season--it was a complete shock to me. Although I had fingered (No pun intended!) the Ice Truck killer the moment the character appeared on screen, the rest of the twist left me surprised. I was on the edge of my seat (technically, the edge of my bed...) by the end of season one's episodes. But Dexter prevails to slice another day:

Rita: I got your message. How's Debra?
Dexter: Hmm, she has all her limbs.
Rita: Thank God she is alive. That poor thing must be a mess, falling for a serial killer.
Dexter: What are the odds?

But Doakes is more suspicious than ever and is watching Dexter...

I've already added Season Two to my Netflix queue...


  1. I think I'm way too squeamish for this. I like mystery novels but somehow reading about all the gruesomeness on the page is different than seeing it on the screen.

    Btw, thanks for adding me to your blogroll.

  2. I'm very squeamish and if I can watch it, I bet you can as well.

    I added you a while ago, but somehow it disappeared. I think something is wonky with Blogger.

    But you're very welcome!

  3. I saw a few eps from Season 2 the other week, when I was in Austin, and was hooked. I've now seen 1-3 of season one, and for some reason, I like two better. The character and acting seems more "baked" and solid. The first episode I found unengaging, you didn't follow the character that well.

    It's fun, but One at least, plot elements and characters don't seem to connect for me.

  4. John,

    I completely agree--I would have given up on the show if I had only watched the first couple episodes of season one. Watch the rest of season one and you will find yourself on the edge of your seat, biting your nails. It doesn't really hit its stride until mid-season.