Dexter Season One
Starring: Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, Lauren Velez, David Zayas, James Remar
Series Creator: James Manos Jr.
Showtime’s Dexter follows the life of Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), who works as a forensics analyst specializing in bloodstain pattern analysis for the Miami-Dade Police Department. The “forensics analyst” part is why I didn’t bother checking the show out when it first aired, as it screams “procedural”. And I don’t do procedurals. I’m sure some of them might be quality TV shows, but the idea of watching formulaic shows that solve whodunits through meticulous examination of evidence just doesn’t interest me. I watch TV shows, first and foremost, for characters, and a lot of characters on procedurals are empty cyphers who get replaced by other empty cyphers as the series moves along.
Luckily, Dexter isn’t a procedural at all. The series isn’t focused on his job as a forensics analyst, it’s focused on what really drives Dexter. What drives Dexter Morgan? Well, that would be killing people.
Yep, Dexter Morgan is a serial killer. A remorseless sociopath who has an insatiable lust for killing, and a sizable number of victims under his belt. The twist is that Dexter’s victims are all killers themselves. Found at a crime scene by his adopted father Harry Morgan (James Remar), a police officer, Dexter was raised by Harry to follow a code that would keep his appetites from doing harm to the public and to help Dexter from getting caught. Dexter lives the code of Harry out of respect to his now-deceased father (no, he didn’t kill him), not out of a sense of justice. He’s not necessarily out to protect the world from those like him, he just likes killing people and has found victims that no one will miss.
Michael C. Hall is phenomenal as Dexter, providing narration that gets into the mind of the killer. In doing so, he reveals Dexter’s motivations and the lengths he goes to make himself seem like a normal person in the eyes of his friends, family and coworkers, all of whom think him to be a sweet, unassuming guy (well, all except for Sergeant Doakes, Erik King, the only cop on the force who has picked up on the fact that something just ain’t right with our guy). Dexter’s thoughts range from the sinister to the darkly comedic, adding the essential element that makes the show work.
The 13 episodes that make up the first season of the show are some of the freshest, most entertaining, engrossing episodes of television I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly an original concept for a show, one that would only work in the world of premium cable television (a network version would be so watered down as to be irrelevant). Moreover, it wouldn’t work this successfully as a feature, which would have had to breeze through the character development and some of the plot twists to adapt Jeff Lindsay‘s novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter.
It’s an incredibly exciting series, not just because it features a killer who we cheer for trying to hunt down killers and evade his colleagues, but also from the rush of excitement one gets from watching a show this good. Movie Central repeated the series over the course of a couple weeks, airing one episode a night, and even though I generally only had to wait a night for a new episode (unless we were busy and let a few gather on our PVR), I found even that wait excruciating. The show has a great blend of episodic stories, following Dexter as he finds new prey, and one season-long arc involving the Ice Truck Killer, who has been killing Miami prostitutes and somehow finds out about Dexter’s dark secrets. Along the way, the show manages to keep the trials of Dexter’s personal life with his girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) and his adopted sister (and Miami-Dade police detective) Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) almost as interesting as his other proclivities.
Hall is easily the best part of the show, crafting what might be the most interesting character on television while delivering what might be the best performance on television. But as the season develops, we get enough of the supporting cast to start to appreciate them. My favourite member of the supporting cast is probably C.S. Lee‘s Vince Masuka, another forensics expert and co-worker of Dexter. At first, it seems like Lee is playing to type, as a short, Chinese lab rat. But aside from those characteristics, he smashes the stereotype by being a foul-mouthed pervert who is constantly verbally harassing Deb with his dirty mouth (obviously not behaviour to be celebrated, but pretty funny in this context, especially since Deb could easily kick his ass and fires right back everytime).
As the season unwinds, the show switched focus from Dexter’s killing to the causes of his damage, and becomes pretty disturbing as a result. One of the best elements of the show is how it makes the audience constantly re-evaluate their comfort levels in identifying with a murderer, and what goes into making a man a monster. On one hand, Dexter Morgan serves as a vigilante that we can live vicariously through. On the other, we remember that he is a remorseless killer and worry when the other shoe might drop. It’s fascinating psychologically what the show does, as well as entertaining.
In all, Dexter is a brilliant show, full of suspense, drama, and black comedy. Michael C. Hall might be the best actor on television today, showcasing his talent in a taught drama that will leave you desperately wanting more. It’s certainly not a show for the feint of heart, but one well worth your time if your looking to explore some darker areas not usually seen on television.