Dexter: Season One
Usually, when people think of serial killers, they think of a monster. Sure there are some charming ones like the fictional Hannibal Lecture, but mostly the kind of man who could take life after life is horrible. After all, there has to be something seriously wrong with the kind of people who become serial killers. The new Showtime crime drama, ‘Dexter,' takes a new look at this genre, the viewpoint of the killer in a more sympathetic light. Based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay this series focuses on a serial killer who decides to use his ‘talent’ for the greater good, killing murderers and child molesters that the justice system can’t touch. This series does for serial killers what the ‘Sopranos’ did for mob bosses; show that underneath the stereotype there is a very damaged human being. ‘Dexter’ is more than a crime show, it is a psychological study of not only the protagonist more humanity in general. There is a dark humor that pervades each episode which pulls the plots and themes together. This is a smartly written, incredibly well acted show that could never be on regular television. Fortunately, with the more adult standards that Showtime holds to, we can get quality television like this. ‘Dexter’ is quirky and very dark but so worth the time. This quickly became one of my ‘must see’ series of the season.
Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) looks like a nice guy. He is handsome, reserved but friendly and seems to be a regular sort of a fellow. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Dexter is a serial killer. His day job is as a blood splatter expert for the Miami police department, but that is not his true calling. From early in his life Dexter knew that he was different. He had urges to kill others. As he looks back on his life, he knows that some trauma made him into a monster, but that doesn’t matter. What does is how he focuses his compulsion. After an early childhood tragedy, Dexter was adopted by a police officer, Harry Morgan (James Remar). When he realized that Dexter was an emotionless killer he devises the Code of Harry. This set of rules would guide Dexter, teaching him not to get caught and also to kill only those people would deserve it. Dexter also gained a sister by his adoption, Debbie (Jennifer Carpenter). As Dexter muses one time if he were capable of love he would love his sister. She was always jealous of all the extra attention Harry paid to Dexter, unaware that her father was trying to cope with the impossible task of dealing with a natural killer. Debbie starts out working vice posing as a prostitute until Dexter helps with a clue to a big case getting her promoted to the detective in his homicide squad. An example of a suitable case was the ‘Ice Truck Killer.' There is a serial killer loose who murders hookers and drains all of their blood. Since there is no blood splatter, this pretty much keeps Dexter on the edge of the investigation. Heading up the investigation is Lt. Maria Laguerta (Lauren Vélez), an ambitious woman with higher offices in mind. Also on the team is Detective Angel Batista (David Zayas), a likeable guy in the middle of a painful and bitter divorce. One detective, Sergeant Doakes (Erik King), has an atrocious feeling about Dexter.
The constant voice over by Dexter explains just how he gets to ply his trade without detection. Miami has a rate of over 80% unsolved murders; a perfect hunting ground for Dexter. Since Dexter is devoid of normal human emotions, he has learned, through the code of Harry, to mimic them. He smiles at people, brings donuts to co workers and can fake interest in their lives. As part of his cover, he also likes a girlfriend, Rita Bennett (Julie Benz). She is a divorced mother of two whose ex husband was physically and emotionally abusive. This makes her almost as emotionally damaged as Dexter. He is capable of sex, but the intimacy is difficult to fake. Julie is not initially interested in a physical relationship, so it is perfect for Dexter’s cover. In the voice over Dexter explains how he has to wear a mask to make people think he is normal but he needs to kill. When he targets a victim, usually a killer or molester, Dexter is a killing machine. He knocks out his target taking them somewhere that has been prepared with a plastic tarp to catch the blood that always comes. As a memento, Dexter saves the first drop of blood on a microscope slide and hides it in a little case in his room.
As the team is chasing the ‘Ice Truck Killer’ Dexter has to face a lot about his inner motives. He begins to admire this rival killer. In many ways s Dexter feels a kinship with him. In return, the Ice Truck Killer starts to leave little clues that only have to mean for Dexter. Since Dexter ‘motivation is different from the usual human need for attention, he gives all his insight on the case to Debbie making her career advance. Dexter has become an expert at hiding his true face, but this case is causing him to make mistakes that could ultimately lead to his fall.
What makes these series work in the introspective view it gives of a serial killer. The little touch of making him a vigilante gives the audience an emotional out to cheer for Dexter. He only kills the people who murder or abuse others, and they deserve it. Watching Dexter overtly mimic human interaction is a great insight into the roles that each of us plays every day. The way dark comedy as used here is brilliant as is the irony that a man who catches killers by day is one of the most successful serial killers himself. Each episode is like a piece to a puzzle. This is the kind of series that you can discuss with friends and analyze the nuances of the many levels of sub text.
This is one of the most amazing casts I have ever seen. Michael C. Hall became a household name during his tenure in HBO dark comedy, ‘Six Feet Under.' There Hall played a man who buried the dead; here he is more on the supply side of the equation. Hall has a dead pan look that he can animate on demand. His control of his character is incredible and a real sign of his considerable talent. In his previous series Hall played a man who was repressed by his insecurities; here he portrays Dexter in almost the opposite way. Dexter represses out of necessity. If he lets his guard down, he is certainly a candidate for the death penalty. How Hall interacts with his cast mates is incredible viewing. Jennifer Carpenter is best known for her title role in the ‘Exorcism of Emily Rose.' This pretty young actress has a depth to her acting talent that is given the right vehicle here. She plays Debbie as a young woman who is brash and even bordering on the offensive. This is used to hide the inner, insecure Debbie. In many ways, she plays a dual role much like Hall. The contrast between the two people hiding is great viewing and a study in great acting. Although only seen in flashbacks James Remar as Harry is an essential part of the cast. He presents a man who loves his adopted son but realizes that a monster is living in his house. By creating the code of Harry, he hopes to guide Dexter to some social good at least.
Showtime has released the first season of this series through the parent company, Paramount. In typical fashion, they do an excellent job of it. The anamorphic 1.78:1 video is excellent. The color palette showcases the blood against stark white backgrounds making it look more like a back drop for a fashion layout than a murder scene. The colors are vibrant and pop off the screen. The Dolby 5.1 audio is crisp and offers a full feel to the sound stage. The best extra presented is the audio commentaries by the cast on selected episodes. They have a fun feel that makes the comments seem more like a bunch of friends meeting over drinks to discuss a favorite television show. There is also a featurette on forensic blood analysis that is interesting, to say the least. This is not a series for everyone but if you like dark humor juxtaposed with a taut criminal story then picks this up and enjoy.
Posted 07/27/07 (DVD)
Posted 12/20/09 (Blu-ray) 04/05/2017