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.
“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.
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.]
“Goodbye, My Friend”
March 5th, 2009
Holy flashback, Harry Henderson.
There’s a whole lot of familiarity in “Goodbye, My Friend,” an episode that cribs quite liberally from last season’s “Succession” and this season’s premiere, and it’s not all bad. I liked both of those episodes, and after spending a lot of time on relationships we get a far more individual-driven hour that pairs off some characters that we’ve never seen together while even reintroducing some characters back into the fold however briefly (Hi, Josh! Bye, Josh!).
The episode didn’t really break any ground in Liz Lemon’s fight for a child, but I can’t resist sad and pathetic Liz; similarly, I don’t think that Frank’s brief foray into respectable life is going to change his character, but I just can’t resist Jack Donaghy on a mission to rescue someone from their sad middle class existence. Combine with a Jenna/Tracy subplot that might as well have been ripped out of the show’s second season, and you have either a sure sign that the show is fundamentally bankrupt, or a sick sense that Tina Fey knows the show can rip off itself and still entertain us, just like Harry and the Hendersons ripped off Shane.
Well, Tina, you got me – I had a lot of fun with this one, self-plaigarism be damned.