Category Archives: Dexter

Dexter – “Buck the System” (And Season 7 So Far)

“Buck the System”

October 14th, 2012

*Blows the Dust Off the Dexter Header Image* Well, it’s been a while.

I watched the fifth season premiere of Dexter waiting for a plane, and found it to be your typical episode of Dexter. But as the time crunch of the semester took over, the idea of watching any more floated away, and I hadn’t seen even a few minutes of the show since that point. The show remained “on the radar” as any show does, and certainly the events from the end of the sixth season were more visible than others, but the fact remained that I was content with Dexter being out of sight, out of mind.

This changed when that no longer became possible. During the past two seasons, people weren’t talking about Dexter: sure, there were still record numbers of viewers, but the people on my Twitter feed—people who used to talk about the show—seemed quiet. And then suddenly, there was Alan Sepinwall and Mo Ryan writing about the show again after watching their screeners for the first three episodes of the season. Tonight’s episode, “Buck the System,” was the last episode they saw before writing those pieces, and their support—and the similar mentions of improvement from the rest of my Twitter feed and my students—led me to take a look at the preview disc Showtime had been kind enough to send along.

I discovered a much better show than the one I left, mostly because we’ve reached the point where Dexter is the season’s star. Moving away from the seasonal serial killers of seasons past, the seventh season is invested in exploring Dexter and his impact on those around him, excising entirely unrelated subplots in favor of a web of character beats all focused on the ramifications of his actions. “Buck the System,” on the surface, is the episode where Dexter successfully begins to show Deb the positive benefits of his actions, and the episode where Yvonne Strahovski is introduced as a woman who, as a girl, once fell in with someone like Dexter. However, it’s also the episode where the unintended consequences of Dexter’s actions are equally as clear, at least to someone who is willing or able to think about them (which Dexter, very clearly, is not).

It’s a subtle distinction, but one that won me over, and has me committed to seeing the season out.

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Season Finale: Dexter – “The Getaway”

“The Getaway”

December 13th, 2009

When Dexter started its season, I spent a lengthy post comparing the show to 24, arguing that the show’s initial interest in Dexter as a psychological case study has been all but eradicated by seasons which have turned the show into your basic serial thriller that fails to take into account just how complex the character truly is. The show took two seasons to establish that Dexter is someone who has a code, and who kills those who deserve to be killed, and now it has taken that stock character and turned him into the blood analyst equivalent of Jack Bauer, happening to find himself wrapped up in compelling cases each and every season that speak to Dexter more than something wholly random but often do so in a superficial way. And like 24, these situations can often be quite compelling, but if you stop and think about the real potential in this character and the series you can’t help but feel that all involved could do better.

If we choose to accept that this is all Dexter is going to be, the fourth season has been quite solid, benefitting from a terrific and terrifying performance by John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell, also known as the Trinity Killer. And much as 24′s fifth season was one of its strongest due to the amount of time spent crafting Gregory Itzin’s President Logan into a complex antagonist, the show works infinitely better when it takes the time to create a character that can give us chills, and who brings out interesting shades in Dexter’s character. So long as we ignore how convenient it is that Trinity is based in Miami, the consequences (like Jennifer Carpenter’s fine work post-shooting, like more time with Keith Carradine, etc.) are quite engaging, and viewed on their own represent some great dramatic television.

But they’re surrounded by a show that can’t help but call attention to its faults, and how those faults could have been prevented. Harry Morgan, once an integral part of the series’ mythos, has devolved to the point of serving as an exposition tool, a physical representation of Dexter’s self-conscience that the writer aren’t even willing to define as either angel or devil because they’re afraid that question would be too complex to handle. The supporting characters, like Batista and LaGuerta, are given stories that are literally just excuses for them to remain in the cast. Rita and her kids, once a beard for Dexter’s inner emptiness, have become a way for the show to investigate fidelity and suburban life, but never in a way that feels like it goes beyond melodrama.

“The Getaway” takes a lot of these elements and puts them to good use, unearthing Dexter’s bloody past in a way which feels organic and concluding the Trinity arc with the sort of momentum that the show is so very good at developing. And in its conclusion, which is in fact truly game-changing, there contains the DNA for the show to reinvent itself, to send it down a darker and more complex path that harkens back to the show’s first season.

And I’d be a hell of a lot more excited if I thought that was actually going to happen.

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Dexter – “Hello, Dexter Morgan”

“Hello, Dexter Morgan”

December 6th, 2009

“Who are any of us, really?”

There’s a requisite scene or two in “Hello, Dexter Morgan” where Dexter stands in front of a four-part mirror discussing his fragmented self or sits in his storage container chatting with his conscience in the form of his dead father. In these scenes, the show taps into something within Dexter Morgan that serves as the very basis for this character study, and I consider myself legitimately interested.

Except that, in this the show’s fourth season, those scenes have been completely ineffective, to the point where I consider them a parody of what the show once was. Lines like the above used to have some legitimate weight in this show’s universe, but the theme has been dragged through the muck so many times that it has lost all meaning. Michael C. Hall has never stopped capturing the inner torment of Dexter Morgan, but the show is so insistent on surrounding that with absolute chaos in an effort to “excite” the audience that moments of contemplation feel like exposition as opposed to inquisition.

What makes “Hello, Dexter Morgan” work as an hour of television is that in a collection of scenes it manages to capture at least one character in an new light, finding Jennifer Carpenter doing some of her stronger work on the show to date. If you were to isolate her scenes, you’d have a bang-up Emmy tape – unfortunately, you’d also have a non-representative statement of where the show is truly headed right now.

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Dexter – “Hungry Man”

“Hungry Man”

November 22nd, 2009

There is no question that I have been highly critical of Dexter this season, which isn’t to suggest that I wasn’t also critical of season two (where the conclusion fizzled) or season three (where things felt as if they wrapped up too neatly): this is a show that I have always felt struggled in the balance between the parts and the whole, and this has been especially clear this season. While I’ve enjoyed the majority of the story surrounding the Trinity Killer, and Michael C. Hall is delivering as compelling a performance as ever, I’ve found myself watching episodes out of obligation more than interest, and fastforwarding through anything not involving Trinity, Dexter, or Deb.

If we follow that strategy, “Hungry Man” contains perhaps the best connection yet between Dexter and Trinity, offering glimpses of two theoretically similar Thanksgiving dinners that in reality tell two very different story or, more problematically for Dexter, two very different stages of the same tale. The problem is that this isn’t actually a new theme, having effectively been the purpose of the Trinity story since we meant “Arthur,” and despite some really fantastic execution throughout it (like seasons before it) feels a bit too on the nose, thematically.

However, when you have a show that likes to meander about as it does and (in my opinion) waste our time with storylines that are irrelevant until the show decides to deliver a bombshell like at the end of this episode, I’ll take compelling contrivance over mundane mind games any day.

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Dexter – “Road Kill”

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“Road Kill”

November 15th, 2009

I spent part of last week finishing up the fifth season of Six Feet Under, which has long been half finished after a lengthy marathon session of the entire series just proved dire last summer, resulting in “Depressive Melodrama Burnout” (DMB, for short). Returning to that show was a reminder of just how amazing Michael C. Hall can be, and how in some ways I wish that Dexter could feel as…progressive as Six Feet Under often did. Say what you will about Alan Ball’s incessant refusal to allow his characters to be happy, but the sense of growth in David as a character (and, not to spoil anything, a late series regression) helped to provide a sense that the collective weight of the show was actually having an impact on his psyche.

Dexter, as a series, is like a masochistic, homicidal version of “Will it float?” where the writers throw various circumstances at Dexter to see whether it will mix with his existing psychotic personality. The argument the fourth season has been making thus far is that Dexter is not aware of how much his personality has actually changed, and the Trinity Killer is a sign that perhaps there is some secret switch that will help reconcile his new life in the suburbs with his murderous impulses (and actions). And, now into the show’s fourth season, the psychological experiment at the centre of the show is downright uninteresting to the point where last week’s violation of Harry’s code is about a season and a half behind the times: we’ve been waiting for Dexter to realize that the code is flawed, and develop his own, since the start of the third season, but the show is formulaic to the point where that would disrupt the flow of the story.

“Road Kill” works as an episode because it completely sidelines Dexter’s predictable responses in favour of the unpredictability of the Trinity Killer. To do so, of course, the show has to admit that the actual impact of killing a mostly innocent man is entirely counterproductive to the show’s intentions, instead heading to Tampa in order to delve into the psyche of a character that, in being new and interesting, the writers actually seem interested by. The rest of the episode isn’t nearly as interesting, but letting Hall and Lithgow go on a road trip together is a recipe for success, if limited by the show’s current focus.

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Dexter – “Dirty Harry”

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“Dirty Harry”

October 25th, 2009

When “Dirty Harry” begins, the problems start before the episode even does. After the exciting finale to “Dex Takes a Holiday,” which was a strong episode which really connected with the qualities that make the show work and which ended on that cliffhanger of Deb and Lundy bleeding on the pavement, things seemed exciting in a way that the show was struggling with early on.

However, the lengthy “Previously on Dexter” sequence reminded us that the things that made that episode great were an exclusion (of Rita and the kids) and a shock (that won’t be recreated in the next episode), which means that “Dirty Harry” is immediately handicapped. And while there are some stories that seem legitimately compelling, those seem to be at a standstill while the “drama” comes from conflicts that are either entirely uninteresting or which feel like the sort of simple “Dexter meets Suburbia” type stories the show has been dealing with this season.

It proves once and for all that Dexter is a series best watched in extended bursts on DVD, because the hype is going to create expectations that this season isn’t able to live up to.

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Dexter – “Dex Takes a Holiday”

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“Dex Takes a Holiday”

October 18th, 2009

After missing one episode while I was in New York, and having another one delayed by a DVR failure, I’ve finally caught up with Dexter’s fourth season. Ultimately, both episodes were an improvement over the premiere, although they suffered from similar problems. The show’s decision to place Dexter into the suburbs and into a family life has made for an odd shift in tone. In some ways, it’s a return to first season storylines, with Harry Morgan recurring to remind Dexter that he’s deranged and that he can’t truly have a family. However, the show spent two seasons largely ignoring that story, and something about the way the show played them in a comic light early on has robbed the show of some of its teeth. Just as we see a legitimately intriguing new serial killer who creeps us out, Dexter’s storylines have felt like bad thrillers (the vandal scenario) by comparison.

What “Dex Takes a Holiday” does better is to marry Dexter’s predicament with less of an awkward identity crisis and more of a profound identity crisis – whereas consequences before have been a teenage girl thinking Dexter is being lame, and for Dexter’s suburban dream to suddenly turn into something less than Cleaver-esque, this week posed a far more extreme question in a direct fashion which lacked in subtlety but connected thematically. The episode had its problems, but by literally shipping off Rita and letting Dexter act burdened by inner emotions and not halogen flood lights it really brings into stark contrast the potential of this character.

The problem is that it required sending the family away, a luxury that not every episode will have, and a factor which even an intriguing twist at episode’s end can’t exactly overcome.

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Season Premiere: Dexter – “Living the Dream”

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“Living the Dream”

September 27th, 2009

“It’s already over.”

I have always made the argument that Dexter, slowly but surely, has turned into the pay cable equivalent of 24. However, until watching “Living the Dream,” I had always considered it a sort of referential shorthand for me to say that I’m not amongst those who consider the show in the same league as more complex cable series. After watching the show’s fourth season premiere, however, I’m now convinced that the show is intent on proving me right.

It is a show driven by a single lead character whose personal struggles form the basis of emotional investment. It is a show where each season features a different “threat” that the lead character needs to respond to. It is a show where the supporting characters are interesting when interacting with the lead, but mind-numbingly boring and pointless when left to their own devices. And, perhaps more importantly, it is a show where the similarities between seasons begin to feel repetitive, resulting in its negative qualities becoming that much more apparent in subsequent seasons.

I would be fine with formula if I felt that the formula was actually resulting in a show that made good on the first season’s premise of a vigilante serial killer coming to terms with his morality and engaging with “The Dark Defender.” However, the fourth season is shaping up to continue the trend of the third season, drawing most of its interest from an implausible scenario whereby a national serial killer happens to have originated in Miami, just as every terrorist attack seemed to happen within driving distance of Los Angeles on 24, than from what that means for Dexter.

And while Michael C. Hall will continue to be fantastic in a storyline played more for laughs and convenience than anything else, the show feels as if it is rebooting every time they start a new season. And for a character once defined by the haunting of the past, and by a complex set of characteristics I do not feel have been significantly examined to be undermined, to have only as much past as the show decides he should, is to find a show moving further away from a complex character study and closer and closer to a serialized action thriller with a strong central character and nothing else to show for it.

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Going Through the Motions (with Style): John Lithgow cast for Dexter Season 4

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Going Through the Motions (With Style):

John Lithgow and Dexter Season Four

I am, without question, a Dexter contrarian. I like the show, don’t get me wrong, but when everyone was jumping up and down at the end of its second season I was frustrated with a lack of finish. When the third season was ramping up and getting everyone excited, I was observing a few too many similarities in the way that Jimmy Smits’ character, Miguel Prado, mirrored Season 2′s primary focus of Dexter’s attention, FBI Agent Frank Lundy. By the time they got to the Season 3 finale, I had more or less given up on ever liking the show as much as ever, and penned what I consider to be the definitive statement of my frustration in my review of the episode.

In that review, I conclude the following:

“But what “Do You Take Dexter Morgan?” reminds me, against my will, is that this is a show with limitations, one which in the introduction of Jimmy Smits shed more light on its weakly developed supporting cast, and in its slow start made us stop and think “what other directions could this show be taking that would be more dramaturgically interesting” for a few episodes too long. In those moments, I know exactly why I jumped on that drunk, hungry, and entirely innocent TV viewer: Dexter could be a better show than it is, and the third season was filled with warnings that the show seems unaware of its recurring problems.”

So with news that John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun, Harry and the Hendersons) has been cast in a key role in the upcoming season which begins on September 27th, and that a particular familiar face will be returning (I’ll leave that beneath the jump as it’s a bit more of a spoiler), I can’t help but feel that Dexter is just going through the motions, repeating patterns that give us a single strong character dynamic while robbing the show as a whole of a chance to actually develop into a show on the level that the series aspires to.

[Note: the below post spoils who his character is, and the basic plot of Dexter's fourth season - if you want to be surprised, stop reading.]

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Season Finale: Dexter – “Do You Take Dexter Morgan?”

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“Do You Take Dexter Morgan?”

December 14th, 2008

I was minding my own business one night about a month ago when a (drunk) resident in my building asked if I would like to join a game of poker. I declined, planning on getting some work done that evening, but he saw that I had a fair amount of food in my room and asked if he could have a sandwich. I obliged, as it falls within my job description as a Resident Assistant to on occasion feed the inebriated folks who wander the halls.

The reason I bring this up (I swear, there’s a reason) is that we then got into a discussion about popular culture, and eventually we got into an argument about Showtime’s Dexter. He said he liked the show, which wouldn’t ellict an argument under normal circumstances, but then he proceeded to single it out as “one of the best written shows on television.” And, maybe it’s that my patience for drunk people goes out the window during food preparation, but I immediately scoffed at this remark. He demanded I name him some better examples, I listed off the usual (Wire, Mad Men, BSG, Lost – you read the blog, you know what I shower with praise), and eventually he went off to play his game of poker, no longer in danger of alcohol poisoning.

But that conversation has stuck with me, primarily because I don’t think I had ever been quite so quick to undersell Dexter as something below the level of the shows I just listed. Admittedly, I was more down on the second season than most people, but even I couldn’t argue against the palpable tension the show created. However, while I would never question the performance of Michael C. Hall who remains as fantastic as ever, something happened at the end of the second season (mainly Lila) that the third season wasn’t able to rectify in my critical mind.

Since then, Dexter’s been my favourite punching bag, perhaps unfairly: I even trotted it out while recording a podcast about The Wire, which is something that really isn’t fair to any show. The third season had a lot of elements that certainly helped the show: the introduction of Jimmy Smits to the show has given it two Emmy-level acting contenders for the first time, and the season’s slow start paid off in the end by allowing them to ratchet up the momentum at the right time instead of about three episodes too early.

But what “Do You Take Dexter Morgan?” reminds me, against my will, is that this is a show with limitations, one which in the introduction of Jimmy Smits shed more light on its weakly developed supporting cast, and in its slow start made us stop and think “what other directions could this show be taking that would be more dramaturgically interesting” for a few episodes too long. In those moments, I know exactly why I jumped on that drunk, hungry, and entirely innocent TV viewer: Dexter could be a better show than it is, and the third season was filled with warnings that the show seems unaware of its recurring problems.

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