Dexter: Season 3
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Showtime's breakout hit series Dexter, about a lovable psychopath, a serial killer who targets only the scummiest of the scum, hits its stride in season 3. Dexter Morgan, played with nuance and glee by the outstanding Michael C. Hall, begins the season somewhat chastened by the events of the previous season--where whiffs of his secret life became known to others and he was nearly found out. "I need to find out what it's like just to be normal. If that's something that's even possible for me," he muses, as he tries to settle in to domestic life with girlfriend Rita (the baby-voiced Julie Benz) and her kids.
Yet Dexter is soon back to his compulsion for seeking out criminals who've somehow escaped traditional justice. Hall, one of TV's most talented actors, manages to make Dexter's off-kilter moral compass totally believable, if not quite sympathetic. The rest of the cast is stellar, including Dex's sister, Debra, played by Jennifer Carpenter as the seemingly more combustible Morgan--a hot-tempered Miami detective in the same division where Dexter toils in the background as a blood-spatter specialist. Deb wears her heart on her sleeve, as a cop and a sister, and her deep love for her brother is a key part of what makes Dexter so human. (And Carpenter's chemistry with Hall is amped by the fact that in real life, the actors are married.)
Season 3's breakout guest star is the amazing Jimmy Smits, who plays District Attorney Miguel Prado, a polished pillar of the community, an ambitious politician--and a guy with a secret every bit as dark as Dexter's. As Miguel and Dexter peel away each other's unsavory layers, Dexter tries to tamp down Miguel's blistering desire for revenge, and Miguel begins leading a double life--one that could threaten Dexter's life and family as much as the growing list of bad guys in Miguel's crosshairs. The other main star of Dexter is the city of Miami, its teeming beauty and corruption celebrated in equal measure, and its blistering sun shot without tempering. The city is so integral, visually and viscerally, that it's impossible to think of Dexter being shot anywhere else. The set's best extras--engaging interviews with cast members Hall, Benz, Carpenter, Lauren Vélez (Lt. Maria Laguerta) and David Zayas (Det. Angel Batista)--must be watched on a computer, for reasons that are unclear. Still, the interviews are must-sees for all Dexter fans. It's a killer season. --A.T. Hurley
Inside the Writers Room
Bringing Miami to LA
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Season 1 is a dramatic bullet-train of non-stop heart-pounding thrills – in which Dexter is toyed with by a fabulously talented serial killer who seems to know him intimately and whose skill seems to exceed his own. Dexter works as a blood-splatter analyst for Miami Metro Homicide and helps his step-sister cop Debra hunt the Ice Truck Killer who leaves beautifully exsanguinated corpses. Family ties become strained and the question posed is what sort of family ties a serial killer can have as Dexter struggles to maintain a relationship with his girlfriend Rita and her two kids.
By season 2 Dexter’s relationship with Rita is thrown into turmoil with the reappearance of her drug-addict husband and a passionate romance with Lila, an artist, tormented with her own demons, who is determined to have Dexter as her soul-mate, but who keeps threatening Rita and the kids. Season 3 finds Dexter exploring the prospects for friendship with a rogue prosecutor with his own sense of justice. Dexter teaches him how to kill but the friendship sours as Ramon Prado pursues private vendettas with his new-found skills and, like Lila, must eventually fall under Dexter’s knife. Except for Rita and her kids, an intimate relationship with Dexter is a bit like conjugation with a black-widow spider.
Part of the series’ charm is the way we find ourselves rooting for a serial killer trying to act the way he should when he can’t feel it. All those moments of emotional isolation, of feeling different but trying to fit in, of acting how we think we should in order to belong – make Dexter a sympathetic figure. The show is also packed with wry irony and double entendres that put us in Dexter’s shoes, and mordant wit as when Dexter is ready to kill a psychologist who pushes his patients to suicide – but puts it off for a few days because he needs another session with him to address some intimacy issues he has with Rita.
One of the best critical reviews of The Final Season describes how the writers gave up in the final season and the show went to pot; I suspected that the decline would come earlier because it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief to watch a full-time serial killer, boyfriend and father surrogate, homicide forensics expert, sympathetic brother find time to juggle it all – and indeed by Season 4 things break down quite badly. Dexter is on the trail of Trinity, the USA’s most successful uncaught serial killer with a 30+ year record. Trinity hides in plain sight as a model citizen, father, deacon and home-builder. He takes troops of workers around the country to build homes for the needy and kills at these distant locations. Dexter undertakes to enter Trinity’s life as one of his helpers and becomes an intimate of Trinity’s family and church. When Dex decides that it’s time for Trinity to go, Dex offers a confidence that triggers a profound guilt in the senior serial-killer. Dex stalks Trinity to his job site, takes out his anesthetizing needle and sneaks up from behind but sees Trinity about to leap to his death by impaling himself on the rebar below. As the very large Trinity jumps, Dex grabs his wrist and unlike real life where they both go over or you can’t hold on, Trinity hangs there while Dex has the insight that it is okay for Trinity to die so long “as it’s by my hand.” So just as Dex is about to release Trinity’s wrist, 4-5 co-workers come up and grab the boss and pull him to safety. Whoops! Whatever happened to the meticulous take-no-risks Dexter who never comes close to being caught? Dexter doesn’t have even a moment’s reflection about what he was doing planning to snatch Trinity from the middle of a fully occupied work site.
It gets better, or worse. Dex becomes a softy and wants to start saving people instead of just killing the bad guys. One of Trinity’s victims is a 10-year old boy drugged and put into a duffle bag who will be dumped at night into a cement fill at the job-site. (Don’t ask how Trinity gets a large pit full of wet cement in the middle of the night at the build site.) Rather like rescuing the damsel tied to the tracks, Dex arrives in the nick of time, but Trinity dumps the bag into the cement and then the two commence to struggle over the shovel in Trinity’s hands. Dex wins, whacks Trinity in the head and he goes down. Now, certainly this is a moment with not a lot of time to spare, but certainly a few seconds for a couple more good whacks to make sure Trinity is done for; or a slit with the shovel edge against a jugular so the bag can be pulled out without Trinity’s interference. But Dex gives one whack, then turns toward the sinking bag and here is the kicker: the serial-killer manual 101 says than when engaged in hand-to-hand life-and-death struggle with another experienced serial-killer you don’t let him out of your sight unless he’s dead or permanently disabled. But Dex simply turns his back on Trinity and …
Well, folks, the writers started to shut down and call it quits in Season 4. Between Goodwill, Amazon and E-bay I managed to buy Seasons 1-5 for under $24.00 but it’s 50-50 whether Season 5 will ever get watched. By the way, Showtime must have produced the DVDs on a shoestring. The only one with subtitles was my sole Blu-ray purchase, Season 3; and both Season 3 and Season 4 begin with mandatory inescapable Showtime advertisements.
Each episode is still of the highest quality, regardless, but I didn't have the "holy crap I can't stop watching" drive that I did with the second season. Jimmy Smits is wonderful to watch as Miguel Prado, but I never felt the same danger that I did with Jaime Murray/Lila Tournay.
The show looks amazing in HD, because the cinematography is so good.