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Dexter

The Showtime series Dexter has been on my list of talked about shows to binge watch for a while now. With the recent holiday season I was finally able to get it checked off.

For those few who may not know already, Dexter is based on the book “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” by Jeff Lindsay. The story is about Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a blood splatter analysis specialist by day and a serial killer by night (or whenever he has free time). Dexter’s day job surrounds him with other police officers including his adopted (and perpetually foul mouthed) sister, Debra “Deb” Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) and a slew of other officers in the Miami Metro Homicide department. Dexter’s a bit of an oddball, but is known by most as a likeable nerd with a gift for analyzing a crime scene. Dexter was adopted by Harry Morgan (James Remar), a police officer who was obsessed with his work and frustrated by the failures of the justice system. Harry adopted Dexter when his mother, an informant of Harry’s, was killed in front of her small son. The experience left Dexter scarred and with an urge to kill. Seeing the signs that his son would become a monster, Harry dedicated himself to teaching Dexter how to control and use his darkness. He taught his son to only kill people who deserved it. Criminals that would slip through the cracks of the justice system. As an adult Dexter continues to live by “the code of Harry” while fulfilling the needs of his “dark passenger”.

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Going in, I was aware that the ending of Dexter was divisive for the show’s fan base. Still it got so much buzz when it was on that I figured an imperfect ending was worth it. Like many other shows that come on premium networks, the plot of Dexter is distinctly encapsulated within the confines of each season. It’s the kind of thing that can strike you as weird when you binge watch a show, but it’s also great when you’re watching  a show that takes long breaks in between seasons. Since I was binge watching some of the continuity/plot jumps from season to season are really noticeable but once the plot of the seasons set in, those jumps didn’t bother me very much. The plot of each season is very well executed even if the plots themselves are occasionally trope-y or derivative. Even when I thought to myself, “aren’t they just re-hashing the same device here?”, it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the show at all, which is likely speaks to the abilities of all involved in making the show. The best attribute of the series is the drama of waiting to see if and how Dexter will get away with his kill or how he’ll keep from getting caught (or killed himself). Even knowing that Dexter’s going to win in the earlier seasons (because there’d be no next season otherwise) the show manages to do a great job of building suspense and keeping you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what’s going to happen.

Instead of going through the entire show as a whole, I’ll do a little bit of a breakdown by season. Obviously, SPOILERS.

The short version is that I really enjoyed Dexter and I actually appreciated the ending of the show. The overarching theme of the show is Dexter’s struggle with trying to understand whether or not he can attain his humanity after being raised as a sociopath and killer. It can be argued that the show becomes repetitive because it seems like the show devolves into a loop of Dexter dating a new woman and those relationships failing because of serial killer reasons. In my eyes, each relationship he has seems to reveal a new aspect of his humanity to himself. Over time he becomes more human than monster but that humanity can’t coexist with the monster that he’s been. Around season 4 of the show, I began to suspect that Dexter would end with the death of the titular character, in the same way Breaking Bad ended with the death of Walter White. Similar to Walter White, Dexter is objectively a murderer and a criminal who’s life is incredibly intertwined into those criminal acts. You would think it’d be hard for anyone to ultimately come out of that kind of life ahead. Given that Dexter always blamed himself for the suffering of those around him, I thought that he may actually kill himself. Considering that he couldn’t override his own directive to survive, ending things the way the show did made a lot of sense.

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It’s true that it wasn’t the “happy” ending that most people want out of TV shows. It’s also true that the execution wasn’t perfect. There were a lot of aspects of the story you could poke holes in without trying too hard. It exists in a kind of “hyper-reality” that allows for certain things to occur that don’t fit real science or are otherwise improbable. You could also argue that none of the side characters really matter, which is true when you look at the overall run of the plot. Characters like Batista, Quinn and Masuka are largely there for color and minor plot advancement. Still, the point of the story was about resolving Dexter’s journey. From that standpoint, I think it did a good job of wrapping things up without being too final. Dexter ultimately finds his humanity, but once he has it he realizes that he doesn’t want it. So, he relinquishes the human connections he had worked so hard to build and imprisons himself somewhere that he can’t hurt anyone. The end of the series shows us a Dexter who’s reset himself, emotionally, back to what he was when the show began. That doesn’t mean that he couldn’t, one day, return to the people that love him. As we’ve seen Dexter isn’t always the most reliable judge of what’s right and can be overcome by his own emotions. I’d like to think that that possibility is still there but I have no need to see Dexter go and live happily ever after. For some characters that just doesn’t exist.

This is one of the best constructed and written shows that you could watch. Over the course of 8 seasons and 96 episodes, the show never feels routine, even when it is. When marathoning the show, there were times that I knew what would happen. That didn’t mean I was any less captivated by the show. On the contrary, I found myself wondering if my expectations would actually be met. The secondary characters are also very well used. When you look at the story over the course of a season (or 8 seasons) their individual stories don’t seem that important. However, when you’re watching the show it never feels that way. All of the “throw away” relationships or plot device elements are there and aren’t hard to detect, but they’re never boring and always feel like they’re important. Little moments and big moments alike are well executed and fun in this show. Just to summarize, here are some of my favorite things from the 8 seasons of Dexter:

Favorite “Villains”

  1. The Trinity Killer (John Lithgow)
  2. The Ice Truck Killer (Christian Camargo)
  3. The Doomsday Killer (Colin Hanks)
  4. Isaak Sirko (Ray Stevenson)
  5. Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits)

Favorite Dexter Companions

  1. Lumen Ann Pierce (Julia Stiles)
  2. Lila West (Jaime Murray)
  3. Rita Bennet Morgan (Julie Benz)
  4. Hannah McKay (Yvonne Strahovsky)
  5. Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter)

Favorite Episodes

Keep in mind this is pretty subjective and different episodes are on this list for different reasons. So, this one isn’t in a particular order

  • Do the Wrong Thing (s7e6)
  • Born Free (s1e12)
  • The Getaway (s4e12)
  • The British Invasion (s2e12)
  • Remains to Be Seen (s4e2)
  • The Dark Defender (s2e5)
  • That Night, A Forest Grew (s2e7)
  • Love American Style (s1e5)
  • Easy as Pie (s3e7)
  • Everything is Illumenated (s5e6)
  • The Big One (s5e12)

As you can tell, finales (12th episodes in a season) are a big part of this series for me. You may also notice that I didn’t include anything from season 8 on this list. That doesn’t mean that season 8 isn’t good. It just doesn’t have many stand out episodes. Season 1-5 largely feel like stand alone stories for this show. In contrast seasons 6-8 feel like they’re part of one larger story that focus on Dexter’s development. The last season feels like a long series of wrapping things up (partially because I knew it was a final season). So, if you’re thinking of watching this show, be confident that the ending isn’t bad, but be aware that it may not be what you want. Even if it isn’t though, it’s still worth watching.

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