For Your Consideration: Drama Series – “Dexter”

[As part of Cultural Learnings’ For Your Consideration Emmy Nominations Preview, the next two weeks will feature 7 Drama Series and 7 Comedy Series worthy of Emmy consideration. Check back daily for a different series, with drama and comedy alternating positions. For all of Cultural Learnings’ Emmy Coverage featuring Supporting and Lead Acting candidates, check out our For Your Consideration Index.]

Outstanding Drama Series

“Dexter” (Showtime)

When I first decided (Way back about four weeks ago) to place Dexter on my list of Drama Series contenders, I was going out on a limb. This moderately rated Showtime series didn’t get much buzz outside of its deserved attention for series star Michael C. Hall, so many didn’t have it on their Emmy radars. However, Showtime’s aggressive Emmy campaign (Which bolstered Huff two years ago) seems to have done some wonders for the series, as there is confirmation that it has placed in the Top 10 contenders, giving it a solid chance at maybe even garnering a nomination. Of course, some people are up in arms over this, claiming that Showtime is just buying nominations with their DVDs and that Dexter is taking the spot of a better Drama. And thus, since I’ve been a proponent of the show even before this announcement, I want to make something very clear: Dexter deserves to be there. And it is, without a doubt, a Drama series worthy of Emmy consideration.

The show follows the life of Dexter Morgan (Hall in a stunning turn), a forensic analyst specializing in blood who has a hidden secret: he has a consistent urge to kill. That urge to kill has replaced all of his other emotions, rendering him an actor: he acts out love, he acts out caring, he acts out sympathy, but in reality he feels nothing but this urge. At a young age, Dexter’s foster father taught him to use this rage for the side of good, as opposed to evil. Teaching him to honour “Harry’s code”, Harry Morgan (James Remar) teaches Dexter to dole out vigilante justice. He kills only those who hurt others, those who break the law and fall through the cracks. And so we have our hero, a man who brutally murders others and takes small microscope slides of their blood for his collection.

While some may find this premise too visceral, this is not a show about gore or about blood (Although there’s plenty of the latter). Instead, it is perhaps the most compelling psychological and sociological show on television. While Dexter is the real case, the people he interacts with are equally compelling as created and crafted by novelist Jeff Lindsay and the show’s creative team in conjunction with these actors. Dexter’s sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter, pictured) is struggling to overcome her gender and sexuality to be taken seriously as a cop, and Dexter’s relationship with her is perhaps the hardest for him to deal with: he wants to love her, but can’t. Lt. LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez) is struggling to live down her quick ascension to her position, while Angel Batista (David Zayas) struggles to keep things together with his wife. And Sgt. Doakes (Erik King) is your normal gruff cop who slept with a colleague’s wife and has his own problems.

All of those elements might seem clichéd, and some are…but they are seen within the eyes of Dexter Morgan. The important thing to remember here is that Dexter’s lack of emotion, and his murderous side, are not apparent to those around him. Dexter’s false emotion forces us to consider further the authenticity of those around him. We are immediately skeptical of all of these characters, searching for the demons that lie inside of them. No show that I have seen (Note: I have not watched The Sopranos) forces the viewer to consider everyone in this manner, with everyone being as much of a case study as Dexter.

I believe that this is most clear in Dexter’s relationship, if you can call it that, with Rita Bennet (Julie Benz, pictured with Hall). Rather than being devoid of emotions, Rita had them torn away from her when her husband beat her; he is sent to jail, while she is forced to live a damaged existence with her two kids. She and Dexter find each other, and things are perfect: Dexter is able to act the role of the caring but asexual companion, while Rita does not desire the physical contact that Dexter cannot act as easily as playful chatter. Their developing relationship was complex and unique; she was as damaged as he was, and over time he began to actually desire to love her like he knew he couldn’t.

This psychological perspective extended to the show’s recurring storyline of the Ice Truck Killer, a psychopath who knows Dexter’s secret and is taunting him with his own killings. The game of cat and mouse between Dexter and the mysterious killer was a constant source of drama, intrigue and natural plot development: it never moved too quickly, and it always felt distinctly related to the themes the show valued. The personal aspect of the crime to Dexter elevated this to a level beyond what you see on normal crime procedural: this wasn’t a serial killer that Mandy Patinkin could solve in 42 minutes, in other words.

Where Dexter went wrong was when it abandoned this psychological and sociological perspective in favour of more traditional plotting. Rita’s ex-husband showing up never clicked with the remainder of the storyline, and it dragged things down towards its conclusion. However, that was simply one thread of a multi-tiered story; Dexter presented a fairly diverse set of storylines ranging from basic police procedural content to sociological questions of Miami society.

Set against the sunny skies of Miami, Dexter certainly understood its setting. In Jeff Lindsay’s novel “Darkly Dreaming Dexter,” Dexter notes that Miami in the daytime is a completely different city. The stark sunshine somehow places death as being something less gruesome, more acceptable. Dexter, as a series, shines light on death and tries to make it something that we understand, that we don’t find deplorable. And yet, it never answers that question: it never makes Dexter into a bright, sunny character, still allowing that darkness to exist within him. We are rooting for Dexter by series’ end, no doubt, but we do so apprehensively. Emmy voters will see a man who is damaged, who had things done in his presence as a child that changed him forever. And, invariably, he now feels the need to kill because of it. He is a flawed man, a flawed character, but he is this show’s hero. And this show is perhaps the best new drama of the season, and one that is most certainly deserving of Emmy consideration.

Episode Selection: “Born Free” (Aired December 17th, 2006)

I’ve gone back and forth about how I feel about this selection. On one hand, Dexter’s season finale was a tense, dramatic thriller that culminated in some serious new revelations about Dexter’s character and his interaction with the world around him. The stakes were high in this episode, and it brought forward all of Dexter’s psychological problems. I also think that it features Dexter at his most vulnerable, which might keep Emmy voters from viewing him too harshly (He also does not kill anyone in his usual gruesome fashion within the episode). And thus it makes sense to show it to Emmy voters, who might find others episodes too visceral for their tastes.

At the same time, though, I like Dexter best when we’re forced to question Dexter, as opposed to being immediately sympathetic with him. The show hinges on us suspending our reaction to Dexter’s actions based on our knowledge of his situation and his motives, but “Born Free” is the first time I feel the series has treated Dexter as a hero without such extreme caveats applied to the term. It might be easier for voters to swallow, but it doesn’t reflect what I believe makes this series an Emmy contender.

YouTube – “Born Free” [SPOILERS]

1 Comment

Filed under Award Shows, Dexter, Emmy Awards, Television

One response to “For Your Consideration: Drama Series – “Dexter”

  1. Pingback: What I’m Reading: ‘Darkly Dreaming Dexter’ « The Myles Files

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