Apparently there’s something floating around that I’m allergic to. Itchy eyes for the past two days has finally added in difficulty breathing, and as I’m not quite in the exhausted-crash-no-matter-what state, this leaves me unable to sleep. Anyway, rather than spend the next few hours failing to fall asleep, I’ve decided to spend them doing things more productive.
I’ve just finished season 2 of Dexter. For those of you not familiar, you should probably stop reading because the rest of this post is full of spoilers. If you’re already seen season 2, or just don’t care about things like this, read on! Dexter as show manages to keep its nose above the suffocating waters of mediocrity I suspect largely in part due to its unique subject material rather than any inherent quality. Sure, the antihero is hardly new even in television, but serial killers have such a deep rooted and unwavering cultural response of “Evil!” that attempting to turn one into a protagonist is bound to be interesting. I just wonder where they can possibly go from here…kiddie porn?
The first half of the season was actually pleasently compelling. While it certinally wasn’t sweeping me off my feet, it did an exceptional job of developing multiple intriguing and interwoven plots. The idea of Dexter seeking some from of help for his ‘addiction’ was a fairly obvious plot arc, but the manner in which it was presented, as something that was surprising and humanizing to the character himself, and the profound way in which it began to affect him, were truly excellent. The backdrop of minor character aside, there were four ‘movers and shakers’ on the show besides Dexter himself: his sister Debra, his sworn enemy Sergeant Doakes, the FBI specialist Frank Lundy, and the odd woman from his support group, Lila.
As far as the minor characters go, the show really is never up to snuff here. Not only is it painfully obvious that no one but the five central characters matters even in the slightest, but the most of them attempt at least one sad little subplot in a vain attempt to convince the viewer that they provide anything but backdrop. Even Rita, arguably a central character, does nothing other than provide slightly wavering levels of disapproval and sad, puppy dog acceptance of Dexter throughout the entirely of the season. Bringing minor characters to life is what elevates a production to the next level, and in that regard Dexter fall flat on its face.
Now, as I’ve already said, the first half of the show is actually quite pleasant to watch. I may know that at the end of the season, one of the characters will have to discover Dexter’s identity, while another one turns out to be someone other than who they claim to be, but I don’t know which one of them will do which, and the outcomes of each would be so vastly different that it’s fascinating to watch and wonder. The tipping point, the point in which the show stops weaving in new threads and starts tying them off instead is Doakes confrontation of Dexter at the docks. And here’s where it all starts to go downhill rather rapidly.
Doakes discovery of Dexter’s nighttime habits was a long time in coming, and I don’t begrudge the writers for finally bringing that to fruition, but having him become the antagonist was just a poor move on their part. While Dexter takes episodes to painstakingly arrive at his conclusions as to what to do about Doakes, to the viewer it’s painfully obvious that he either has to turn himself in, thus ending the show, or kill Doakes, thus ending the show for all practical purposes. The idea of framing him holds water for about five seconds; even ignoring the actual relative levels of evidence the two could provide against each other, if something like that occurred, for the show to continue the entire thing would have to be regulated so far into the background as to render it absurd. So obviously Dexter can’t go to prison, as a show about a serial killer escaped convict would get pretty boring pretty fast. He also can’t kill Doakes, as that would ruin the entire dichotomy of good and evil within Dexter that is the essence of the entire show. The Protagonist Shield says that some third party must therefor come in and kill Doakes for Dexter, thus removing the threat while keeping him free to continue in his moral conundrum. Hoo hmm, that makes for some really suspenseful episodes. The conversations between Dexter and Doakes might have been interesting if it hadn’t been so painfully obvious the latter was headed straight to the grave. I think even the writers got apathetic about that one; the development seems halfhearted at best, as if they didn’t want to put the effort into a dead end character. My last bit of beef surrounding the Doakes character is the actual confrontation on the docks. Doakes is supposed to be an enormous badass, ex black ops, and the dude is fucking ripped. Dexter’s no slouch himself (I wish my abs looked like that), but he’s clearly outclassed in any sort of fight with Doakes. Despite all of this, a handcuffed Dexter manages to overpower and choke out an expert marksmen bodybuilder ninja with a fucking gun in a matter of seconds. Really, guys? Really?
Okay, onward. Debra’s plot development didn’t really disappoint me so much as fail to inspire. She makes her way past her issues with the Ice Truck Killer within the first few episodes, and beyond that she stays pretty static. Though she’s a central plot piece, often pushing or pulling Dexter in various directions, the character herself stays disappointingly undeveloped. A slightly calmer, more assertive Debra is what emerges at the end of the show. While this is probably a realistic depiction of the level of personality shift a person would undergo in such a time frame, it still leaves me with a very bland taste. Since when is TV ever about realism at the expense of entertainment anyway? I honestly expected Debra to be the one to discover Dexter. The conflict of keeping her brother, whom she loves and relies on out of harms way, all the while knowing and hating what he does would have made for some excellent season 3 material. Oh well, such is life.
Lundy I actually had pegged as our plot twist man. Like Dexter, I spent the entire show expecting him to know more than he did. I even toyed with the idea of him being a killer himself, and the like mind being what lead to his success in catching his peers. But no. In fact, Lundy proved to be exactly what he appeared to be: a smart, old guy that catches bad guys. And nothing more. I spent the entire show waiting for something, anything interesting to emerge from this character, sure that they would not have talked him up so much at the beginning to just leave him a cardboard cutout special agent. Alas, I was to be disappointed. The sad attempt to provide a subplot between him and Debora was trite at best, and entered the truely laughable when it was abruptly cut short in an obvious case of Kayyouwereagueststarnowwegottagetridofyourattachments-itis. I was impressed with his adherence to facts, and his willingness to change what he believes in the face of evidence to the contrary, but as far as being an interesting and compelling character, he may as well have been a water cooler.
Lila I’ve saved for last as she was the one character in the show that remained interesting from beginning to end. From the moment you met her you knew she was trouble, but you needed to see where it lead. Her sponsorship of Dexter, especially her subsequent seduction and rather considerable breakthroughs with him were superbly written, and her portrayal of an unstable obsessive woman spiraling out of control was nothing short of brilliant. The constant yo-yo effect between Dexter and her was morbidly fascinating to watch, as it captured the dysfunctional relationships all too common in the real world in a depressingly accurate fashion. The character herself seemed a better cast of Dexter than Dexter himself even: messed up, dysfunctional, recovered(?), understanding girl with an apparent heart of gold presents far more shades of gray than Dexter’s own fairly polarized self. They were perfect for each other, in a twisted sort of way, and the confirmation that she suffered from the same sort of emotional disconnect as Dexter only served to strengthen this idea. The betrayal of the two of each other, for the final time, whispered of ripples for seasons to come. And the fact that she had killed, taken his tools, gotten away, and was pissed? Oh man. She could be a new mass murder, his unwanted counterpart. She could hold her knowledge of his identity over his head in fascinating ways. She could find inner peace and return to share it with him. The plots were ripe for the picking. And then they killed her. And not even that they killed her, but they killed her as a fucking afterthought. The show was clearly over, the main story wrapped, and then for no reason at all other than the writers are apparently allergic to loose ends he kills her. It’s terribly done. An isolated event that serves no purpose, and in fact lessens the entire season in its execution, is stuck in there at the very end to do what? Make sure the show can’t get interesting again? Really drive home the point that they don’t want that actor back? What the fuck point was there to it?!
And of course, there’s the man himself: Dexter. The internal conflict of the man is what drives the show, and for all my complains it’s there. There’s several problems with the character in season 2 however, and they are as different as they are glaring. To being with, the entire first half, which is devoted to this beautiful unraveling of Dexter’s self identity, is all undone by the end. Questions, doubts, hesitations, sparks of humanity, solving a problem without killing it, all of them are evaporated. Dexter is in the exact same spot he was as a character at the end that he was at the beginning, despite a marvelous story arc that should have added depth to him. The clumsy dives into his past are another problem, not so much in their execution as what they do. Which is nothing. They can’t seem to decide what sort of message they want to convey via old papers and flashbacks, and the net effect feels much like they took a bunch of half baked ideas and threw them at a wall, hoping some would stick. Then there’s the actor himself. I realize that Dexter is supposed to be emotionless, but the more I watched the more I got the feeling I wasn’t seeing a detached character so much as bad acting. I’ve seen sociopathic, detached, or otherwise emotionless characters done well, and I really don’t think this is one of the cases. Keeping a roughly similar expression in the face of emotional situations is all well and good, but good actors will give off tiny inflections in voice or body language, even subtle changes to their expression that convey that their character is in fact reacting, despite being unwilling/unable to properly respond. Standing there with the exact same expression plastered across your face regardless of the circumstances is not inspiring.
I’m not sure how I feel about the next season. I’ll probably watch it just to itch my own compulsive urge to finish things, but I’m worried it will be more of the second half than the first. Though, I suppose half of a good show still beats out most of the competition.