Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Dexter - Season 6
We've come to the end of another harrowing season of one of TV's finest programs: Dexter. I've been hooked on the show since I first clicked "Play" on Episode 1 - back when the first two seasons were available through Netflix Instant Watch. I haven't been on the Dexter bandwagon since its beginning, but I've been a huge fan since the moment I started. It's a show that's without peer when it comes to engaging characters, consistently well-written scripts, and white-knuckle suspense. And for old fans of the show and new, the latest season is rock solid. It's not without it's shortcomings of course, but that's what this blog is here for.
Dexter's journey as a character has been an incredibly colorful one. The first few seasons of the show spent a good deal of time with Dexter trying to figure out how to "be human." Much of his character's inner struggle came from a growing desire to resist his sociopathic tendencies; but invariably such pursuit was waylaid by circumstance. The most disastrous of which was, of course, the death of his wife Rita in the last moments of Season 4. Season 5 saw Dexter making one last bid to "be human," embodied in the person of Lumen. But once Lumen's revenge-streak was over Dexter was left once again with only his Dark Passenger. It's been a troublesome back and forth that verged on growing tiresome, but thankfully the writers decided to open on a much more self-confident Dexter in this past season. Some time has passed since the events of Season 5 and Dexter has moved on to completely embrace his role as both father and serial killer. It's something of a return to the characterization in Season 1, and it's very welcome.
In place of Dexter's struggle for identity, we're treated to Dexter's struggle to determine his religious beliefs - if he has any at all. On the one hand, Dexter (along with the entire city of Miami) is presented with another incredibly disturbed and creative serial killer (played by Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks) who's obsessed with bringing about Armageddon through re-enacting several tableau's in the Book of Revelation. It's a puzzling query: can one balance devotion and faith with the pursuit of a savage instinct?
It's the first place Season 6 scores major points in my book. At first, I feared the show had finally lost its glimmer by taking one of the most overused stock characters, the religious nut-job, and hoisting it up as Dexter's latest arch-nemesis. Had this been the case, I would likely have dismissed most of the rest of the season. But the writers wisely (and brilliantly, I might add) do a compare-and-contrast between the Doomsday Killer and the character of Brother Sam (Mos Def). Sam is something of a blast from Dexter's past; one of his targets that managed to slip through his fingers. Originally suspecting that no man can truly change and become born again into a new life, Dexter plans to put Sam "on his table." But as Dexter gets to know Sam, he realizes that Sam's journey of faith has genuinely changed him into a better man. It's one of the most favorable treatments of a Christian character I've ever seen on a show this dark, and works as a much needed refresher from the tiresome cliche of the Bible-thumping wacko. Not every Christian is a nut-job, just like not every Muslim is a terrorist and it's high time this kind of honest characterization was employed.
Presented with two sides of the same coin (Sam's genuine transformation through faith, and the Doomsday Killer's perversion of Scripture to murderous end) Dexter wrestles with where he fits on that spectrum. Ultimately, he decides that the pursuit of faith in God is just not for him, which makes perfect sense for his character. But again I was very impressed with how the writers still allowed room for those who do claim faith to not be completely marginalized. In the end, when Dexter finally has Doomsday on his table he says "I know people who believe in God; they would never use their faith as an excuse to murder innocent people. You used God, not the other way around."
The show also explores some fresh territory with Deb, Dexter's foul-mouthed adoptive sister. Promoted to lieutenant early on in the season, Deb's character is very much thrown to the wolves as she becomes the new face of Miami Metro Homicide. But during this turbulent time, Debra comes to realize - through speaking with a therapist - that she's developed feelings for her adoptive brother, Dexter. It's a tough sell, because we as an audience have been used to Dex and Deb as brother and sister - despite having no blood relation. I'm not sure audiences will really go with where the writers are taking it because it might just be *too* big a stretch. But one thing this show has proven is that the writers have done their homework on their characters' psychological profiles. So while it's maybe a little unsettling that Deb is coming to terms with romantic feelings for Dexter, it does make perfect sense. As a child, Deb yearned for her father's attention - but Harry was quite occupied with trying to focus Dexter's homicidal tendencies in a less destructive direction. So dealing with the psychological pain of a father that she felt didn't give her enough attention, it naturally follows that she would develop complicated emotions toward the object of Harry's attention: Dexter. Those complicated emotions have matured, and they're generally romantic in nature. I'm interested to see exactly how the writers are going to tackle this obstacle in the next season, because it could very well cause the show to jump the shark. But for now, I'm quite pleased with the writers' continued commitment to making artistic risks and shaking up the formula of the show. It hasn't served them wrong yet, so I'm still largely optimistic.
This season also saw the maturation of a few other characters, namely Maria LaGuerta. Why this season couldn't be the one in which *that* poor excuse for a leader wasn't offed is beyond me. I cringe every time she comes on screen and in this season she seems more confidently committed to being one of the show's actual villains - rather than just an occasional obstacle. Her treachery is less veiled here and I prefer it that way; her passive-aggressive and shadowy characterization verged on being just too annoying to abide.
Masuka also proves that he can think with more than just his sexual urges, and I was particularly proud of him when he managed to fire the intern who was insanely hot...but also bad news.
Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos make magnificent additions to the cast, and jump into their rather unnerving roles whole-heartedly. The same can be said of Mos Def, whose characterization of Brother Sam is as genuine as it is accessible. Though he did look oddly like Dave Chappelle with those glasses and the goatee.
Dexter is a show that manages to kill people off and somehow still get away with either bringing them back or just keeping them around. I'm talking of course about James Remar - who plays Dexter's adoptive father Harry - and the fact that he's been a staple of the show since the beginning...despite having died long before the show officially started. Harry plays something of "an angel on the shoulder" for Dexter, appearing occasionally to give him guidance and act as a manifestation of the code he imparted to his adopted son. For a brief two episode stint, the formula was shaken up a bit, as Christian Camargo (who played Dexter's murderous brother Brian in Season 1) replaced Harry as a manifestation of Dexter's Dark Passenger. It was an interesting arc, and the cinematography of those episodes became a bit unhinged to reflect Dexter's psyche in flux. It was brilliantly handled and continues to prove that Dexter is a show that knows when and how to bend the rules.
Following up a left hook and right jab (Seasons 4 and 5, respectively) with something equally stunning was quite a task, and Season 6 comes admirably close. The big difference between the ending of this season and every season previous is a profound sense of "unfinished business." Even with Season 4, there was a moderate sense of closure to all the loose ends - despite ending on a shockingly disturbing note. Season 6 instead opts for a true cliff-hanger - closing on the very moment Deb walks in on Dexter killing Travis. It's a great hook, and just what the finale needed after a mildly disappointing build to little payoff. But I was a little miffed to have so many other details in the story left completely un-dealt with yet.
Up to this season, Dexter has been one of the few crime dramas to not out its writers as complete morons when it comes to computers and technology. You don't have to be an IT guru to know that there's no such thing as the "high score" on an MMO (much less the possibility of having achieved it in "almost every MMO"...the offender here is NCIS, I'm sad to say), and there are plenty of other examples of shows that don't know what they're talking about when it comes to "computer stuff." Season 6 marks the end of Dexter's streak as a show without any such missteps, as one moment finds Masuka's new intern saying he "deleted any trace of the transaction from the internet." Ya know...with that big "Delete This" button the internet has. At another point he uses the term "IPA" to reference an IP address. It's not "technically" incorrect, but in my 4+ years in the IT field I've never heard anyone say "IPA" in place of "IP" or "IP address." Part of the character's arc is his making a video game...which he apparently manages to do in the space of a few weeks. That's not entirely impossible, if that's all he did every waking hour for those few weeks. But between being Masuka's intern, stealing from the evidence department, and wooing Batista's little sister there's just no way he could have made a complete video game by himself in that amount of time - at least not the kind he shows to Dexter, complete with fully rendered versions of some of Miami Metro's detectives. Maybe these are minor gripes, but for a show that's been so meticulous in every other detail I was a bit let down by their apparent sloppiness.
Season 6 ain't no Season 5, and it sure as heck ain't no Season 4. But being one of the lesser seasons of one of the greatest shows on television is kind of like graduating in the lower portion of your class...you still graduate.
This season started off decidedly strong and really upped the ante with some of the most gruesome kills we've seen since the Ice Truck Killer's exploits. There was an ominous quality to much of the cinematography, and the entire season was billed as a no-holds-barred type of outing. My expectations were incredibly high, maybe a little too high, because I didn't feel like this season fully lived up to the hype. It just barely misses the mark, just barely. But the white-knuckled dread I'm accustomed to about midway through a given season didn't really take hold until the last two episodes. Moreover the character of Dexter doesn't seem to really evolve as much as in previous seasons. The premise of Dexter getting back to basics was a great hook, but it doesn't feel like the writers totally committed to it.
Season 6 had quite a tall order to fill, following hot on the heels of two knock-out seasons. But it isn't quite the season to end all seasons, despite its "All Hell Breaks Loose" ad campaign.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy it greatly. True to form, every episode of this show is utterly engrossing. And the writers continue to showcase their prowess; that team of scribes is undoubtedly without peer. So I'll take the good with bad this go 'round, especially since what little "bad" there is doesn't truly besmirch this show's sterling reputation.
Dexter, however, does have some 'splaining to do. And I hope the show manages to handle the challenges it's made for itself with as much panache is it has in past years. Dexter has its work cut out for it, but I'm confident the wait for Season 7 will be quite worth it. Here's to another half a year of waiting!