We’re an age of tragically flawed heroes, the one time in history anyone would have even tried to make a psychotic cannibal murderer like Hannibal Lecter a sympathetic protagonist. That didn’t work, but the Showtime series Dexter DID actually manage to make a serial killer into a likable hero. I’m still at a loss to explain how they did it exactly. I’m even a bit emotionally damaged by having to figure out why I like him as much as I do. But there it is. The ‘naughts’ is the era when we realized, much like Shakespeare understood, that a villain with depth, personality and a complex rationalization behind his dire behaviors is much more interesting than Superman or any number of goody-two shoes hero-types. We're all just so sick of the cowboy in the white hat.
Dexter, played with disturbing charm by the great Michael C Hall, is a blood-spatter expert who works for the police department in Miami. He has a girlfriend named Rita (Julie Benz), a loving sister and fellow police officer named Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), a nice place to live, lots of friends on the force: other than his somewhat morbid career choice, who could be more nice to be around than the always polite Dexter? Only the thing is, he spends his spare time investigating other killers, abducting them, and ritually murdering them. Dexter, is a five-star totally deranged serial killer but a functioning one. Kind of like me with alcoholism. I'm not wildly drinking at work or at noon or anything. Instead I imbibe secretly at night in my basement with a bottle of jack and a power saw.
I’m not going to go too much into the first season except to say, why haven’t you seen it already? I don’t want to give away anything for those who haven’t watched it. Suffice it to say, Dexter's search for the “Ice Truck Killer”, who he admires in his own detached professional way, is resolved in a shocking and heart-pounding fashion. We learn things about Dexter through the regular flash-backs to his childhood with his adoptive father Harry Morgan (James Remar) that show us why he is the way he is and where the oft-repeated “Code of Harry”, that keeps Dexter from going completely off the reservation mentally, came from and why. We are introduced to Sgt James Doakes (Erik King), the one officer on the force who doesn’t like Dexter, and why he starts to suspect something dark is going on with him. The entire season is amazing and sets you up for season two’s primary villain chase: Dexter himself.
Dexter has been cutting up, bagging, and dumping body parts of his evil victims in the ocean for a long time now and when some treasure hunters accidentally stumble upon the pieces, all hell breaks loose. The newspapers seize upon the “Bay Harbor Butcher” and the FBI sends in a specialist, Agent Lundy (Keith Carradine) to investigate. Now Dexter has to “investigate” himself, cover up his own tracks, and try to prevent his own urges while the heat is on.
While the second season of Dexter is all kinds of bloody frakking awesome, I couldn't help but feel that it wasn't quite as good as the first. Certain patterns of story telling seem too familiar at points. The new characters introduced, Rita’s mother Gail (JoBeth Williams) and a totally crazy art chick (aren't they all) named Lila (Jaime Murray) who becomes Dexter’s lover during a separation from Rita, are both annoying to the point where you actually want Dexter to break “The Code of Harry” and turn both of these annoying biatches into fish food. That being said, the creators of the show knew what they were doing and by the end of the season, I couldn’t complain about where the story arcs for Gail and Lila eventually took them.
Season two succeeds because of many things, but mainly for the new revelations about Dexter’s past that are shown through regular flashbacks. His relationship with his family and especially his father is considerably more complex and even darker than we’ve been shown before. Thanks to some of these revelations about where he came from, Dexter’s delusions are primed to evolve and for a serial killer, that’s not usually a good thing. While the season’s “Bay Harbor Butcher” storyline wraps up almost (but not quite) too neatly, taking one of the series regular’s out of the continuity with it, the changes Dexter is going through leave you with a tingly, creepy skin crawl that does nothing so much as make you desperately crave more episodes. THIS is how you write interesting television.
Season three is on the way beginning September 28th on Showtime. Jimmy Smits will be a new season regular who plays an assistant DA who befriends Dexter and changes the way he looks at everything. Also, the inevitable Dexter slip up reportedly happens and he has to deal with killing an innocent. Either way, I’m hooked and will be watching.
I’m ready to read the series of books the show is based on by Jeff Lindsay. I’m ready for more Dexter, but hopefully only in the fictional way. With my luck, I’d befriend some killer who only murders those who have downloaded songs illegally a few times, kept drinking after 2 am or one time stole a snickers bar from a 7-11 when he was twelve.
Now that I look at my criminal career objectively like that, I feel like even more of a geek. I'm gonna go get my BB gun and take a few potshots at a stop sign. Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta'.