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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
September 28th, 2008
Michael C. Hall has crafted one of television’s most memorable characters in Dexter Morgan, a fascinating psychological enigma who lives and kills by a code handed to him by his father. But after two seasons of murder and the inner turmoil of living with having murdered all of these people, one would have to think that Dexter Morgan would have grown out of his situation, could emerge from the weekly murders to something closer to approximating a real life.
And, the show’s third season premiere finds Dexter as close as he’s ever come: he and Rita are as happy as can be, he’s pretty much a father to her children, he’s more aware than ever about the true purpose behind his murders, and generally speaking his relationship with everyone around him is at last “normal.” Of course, in the world of Dexter nothing is ever that simple: in order to attain this normalcy, he has largely given up listening to his father’s teachings, shunning his sister and turning his back on that chapter of his life in favour of crafting his own code.
The problem with “Our Father” is that it is becoming clearer by the day that there isn’t enough of a series surrounding Dexter for this to feel as natural as it needs to be. Perhaps it’s that this is my first experience watching Dexter after watching The Wire, but this show is falling into a dangerous pattern that cheapens whatever deeper character drama they plan on investigating within the title character. It’s not that the show is failing to deliver on what it promises, but rather that the second season’s urgency and driving force feels lacking, and what we’re left with is a cheap provocation that feels like a show admitting that it doesn’t have the supporting cast or the foresight to develop something bigger or less reactionary.
It’s not just that it’s repetitive, but rather that it feels like an unnecessary intervention: Dexter has largely reformed himself, and as long as the show keeps poking the bear it’s going to (despite Hall’s incredibly strong performance) feel like we’re going through the same motions for the sake of contrivance as opposed to observation.