Deftly Dissecting Dexter

TVGuide.com, courtesy Christian Weber, Showtime

TVGuide.com, courtesy Christian Weber/Showtime

When Channel Ten started to air season one of U.S Showtime’s acclaimed hit Dexter, I was both excited at Ten’s bold move, and intrigued by the show itself. Everything I had read claimed that although the protagonist is in fact a serial killer, this alone should not put one off giving this little series a try. I wasn’t convinced that it would be for me. Although I am partial to horror movies, the presentation of Dexter as a normal person, living a somewhat normal life with his girlfriend, her children and his stable, respectable job, made the whole idea a little eerie and unsettling. But, knowing the calibre of Showtime’s programming, and the talent of Michael C. Hall from his days on Six Feet Under, I wanted to give it a go. So I watched. I’ll admit, the first episode was strange and somewhat challenging to watch; it was creepy, daring, violent, and messed with many of the moral-absolutes that one might believe should guide humanity. However, by the end of the episode I was hooked, thanks in no small part to the astoundingly measured performance by Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan himself. Hall manages to imbue Dexter with polarized personalities, the one he shows the world within the text, and the deeply private and personal one that is only seen by his victims, and by the audience. On the outside he is the responsible, lovable and dedicated forensic blood-spatter analyst. Yet underneath this persona he shows the world is something else, a darkness, a bubbling rage just beneath the surface that he knows could blow at any time. It is this understanding of what he is, of what is inside him that has led Dexter to become a serial killer. He knows he needs to kill, and has channelled that need into killing those that slip through the normal parameters of the justice system, usually through legal loopholes. Dexter kills murderers, people that have killed, gotten away with it, and shown no remorse. This is of course, the great irony of the show and the audience is forced to face the realisation that no matter how noble he is, no matter how much we may grow to love him, Dexter may be no different than his victims.

After unravelling the mysteries of The Ice-Truck Killer in season one, I was compelled to jump right in to season two with the DVDs already released in Australia (season two will air on channel ten later this year; Caution, spoilers ahead!) Season two again raises more moral questions when Dexter’s clandestine activities are in danger of being discovered after his underwater graveyard is found. His victims come back to haunt him, and his greatest fear comes to light: execution by electric chair. We learn more about the relationship between Dexter and his adoptive father Harry (James Remar), and how influential Harry was in moulding Dexter into the person he is today, including teaching him the code he kills by. Dexter begins to deal with some of the emotions associated with having killed his brother (The Ice-Truck Killer), and starts to deal more and more with the emotional weight of his “dark self” when Rita (Julie Benz) surmises that he must have a drug addiction after discovering he assaulted Paul (her ex-husband), coupled with the strange hours he keeps. Dexter confirms to her that he does have “an addiction” and she vows to stand by him as long as he submits to a 12-step program. It is here during a Narcotics Anonymous meeting that he meets Lila (Jaime Murray). A former junkie, Lila convinces Dexter that she knows more about him than anyone could, she knows the darkness and she understands the daily struggle to keep it at bay. She draws Dexter into her web of dependence until he begins to think she may be a better match for him than Rita. Although their addictions are clearly very different, she may be able to begin to understand the pull of the darkness inside him. However, Lila is a destructive and dangerous force in Dexter’s life, doing anything she can to try and keep Dexter as her own, including framing Detective Batista (David Zayas) for rape, and placing the lives of Rita’s children in jeopardy.

Meanwhile Sergeant Doakes (Eric King) is convinced that there is more to Dexter than what he shows the world, especially after the way Dexter managed to save his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) from The Ice-Truck Killer. Doakes has taken to trailing Dexter at night, eventually discovering his secret in the final episodes, that he is the Bay Harbour Butcher (the moniker adopted by the media for the elusive killer of Dexter’s found victims). While Dexter holds Doakes hostage in a cabin in remote swampland, the investigation into the Bay Harbour Butcher breaks, with a lead pointing Debra and Batista to an unknown member within their own Miami Metro department. Dexter decides that this is his only chance to get rid of Doakes, the man he fears will bring him down, and protect his identity at the same time. He frames Doakes, drugging him and placing his fingerprints on a set of butchers knives, the very ones Dexter has used for so long, and throwing them into the ocean at the end of a pier, a pier he knows is used for dive training every week. When Doakes’ car is found at an airstrip with blood slides of all the Bay Harbour Butcher’s victims inside – the prized trophies Doakes had stolen from Dexter’s apartment – along with the found knives, the case closes in on Doakes, although he can’t be found.

During Dexter’s imprisonment of Doakes, we begin to see a new vulnerability within our stoic protagonist. Dexter seriously contemplates the idea of turning himself in to authorities, of accepting his fate and facing the punishment for his crimes. We see him struggle with his emotions, with the same emotions that the audience may be feeling. Is what he is doing – killing murderers – in some way just and therefore morally acceptable? Or is he simply the brutal killer he is portrayed as in the press?This polarized sense of self is only heightened by the debates taking place between the Miami Metro staff, and the everyday people of Miami on the very subject, when it is discovered that every single victim was a criminal who slipped through the system. As Dexter contemplates the inevitability that there is less and less time before he is found out, he begins to have his affairs put in order, making Debra sign his Will and spending some last quality time with Rita and the kids.

No matter how deranged and destructive a force Lila may have been, upon discovering his true secret, she did prove to Dexter that he is capable of receiving love; that someone could still love him knowing what he does. She is also ultimately, the person that sets Dexter free from his exceedingly confined situation. Lila’s obsession leads her to steal Dexter’s GPS device from his car; following the last route taken, she discovers Doakes, and exactly who Dexter really is. Taking things into her own hands, Lila, with a history of arson and with a deep desire to protect Dexter’s big secret, sets the cabin on fire killing Doakes and eliminating any chance he may have to expose Dexter and clear his own name. In a last ditch effort to win Dexter’s heart, she then kidnaps Rita’s children and almost commits them, and Dexter himself, to the same fate as Doakes. Now convinced of her volatile, unpredictable nature, Dexter is certain she can’t be trusted, and pays Lila back for his freedom, and for her endangerment of Rita’s children, by sending her to a watery grave.

Dexter leaves season two by declaring he is done contemplating the question of whether he is good or evil. He doesn’t have the answers, and questions whether anyone does. I myself would posit the same question. This certainly isn’t a show for everyone; some will not be able to see past the violence, and among those that can, some will struggle to entertain the concept itself. However Dexter serves as a fascinating, insightful look into the mind of a serial-killer, positing the unsettling notion that maybe one of them could be simply like you or I. Dexter works on many moral levels, and it can’t be ignored that at its heart lies the simple understanding that, sometimes good people do bad things, a notion that is all too familiar in this world.

Dexter is available for purchase from all major retailers, or from DVD Orchard.

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Channel Nine: One step forward, Two steps back

TVGuide.Com, courtesy Andrew Eccles/The CW

TVGuide.Com, courtesy Andrew Eccles/The CW

 

Hey upper-east siders, Gossip Girl here, your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite world of television in Australia.

So, this was going to be a post about how happy I was that channel Nine in Australia had started to air Gossip Girl, albeit at 10:30pm on a Wednesday during summer non-ratings period, but instead, it’s just going to be an angry rant. Channel Nine originally bought the rights to Gossip Girl back in mid-2007, but on-sold them to FOXTEL’s Fox8 because it didn’t feel the show fit its demographic. Clearly channel Nine is committed to its whole crime procedural/reality vibe, because I honestly couldn’t tell you anything else that they screen. Listen up Nine, you’re not ‘the one’ anymore, it isn’t working, move on. You need to take a chance on some original programming that doesn’t involve a blue light and evidence bags. Gossip Girl was your chance to begin to attract a younger audience. OK, let’s not kid ourselves, this show isn’t going to win any Emmys, but it’s deliciously fun, and bitingly funny, and never fails to entertain. However, it was probably never going to work out, because you wouldn’t have invested anything in promoting it (anyone remember Nine airing three episodes of The O.C before giving up on it? Probably not, because it was barely promoted; Channel Ten bought the rights from Nine, promoted the hell out of it and it became a ratings staple for the underdog.) 

Anyway, I will try and get back to the original point of this article, before I digress again at the end. Gossip Girl has been airing on pay-TV network FOXTEL, with the second season premier set to air tonight. But of course, not everyone can afford, or even wants FOXTEL. Channel Nine, after the show’s now proven success, has picked up the second-run rights (or perhaps these were part of the original sale agreement) to air the first season. Although all the cool kids have already seen it, this is a step forward for free-to-air television and the Australian television industry. Pay-TV has not been the success story here in Australia that it is the U.S. People are not willing to part with their hard earned money for a boatload of garden design and cooking shows speckled with biographies of washed up stars. However, increasingly, FOXTEL is gaining the rights to more and more first run original programming from the U.S, and is producing more quality Australian shows such as Love My Way. This is making it harder for the average Australian to get access to these original and quality shows. The fact that Nine has finally decided to screen Gossip Girl, despite its ridiculous time-slot, means that more people can have access to this exceedingly addictive show. It is a trend that has been occurring increasingly, most notably with Channel Ten’s brilliant pick up of Showtime’s Dexter, which brought quality, original programming to Ten’s Sunday night line-up. Season 2 of Dexter will screen on Channel Ten early 2009, while Showtime will be screening season 3 on its Showcase channel at the same time. I hope Ten continues to acquire such quality programming – even if it is second-run, still, the majority of the country has not seen it – and I can only hope that Nine and Seven follow suit.

Now, on to the continuation of my rant. In my post about Pushing Daisies a few weeks ago, I mentioned that channel Nine would most likely air the brilliant but cancelled series over summer beginning in December, well, while doing some research for this post, I have discovered that this is no longer the case. Channel Nine has sold the rights to its swag of Warner Bros. shows which includes Pushing Daisies, as well as the successful and delightfully funny NBC spy comedy Chuck (incidentally also from Josh Schwartz, the creator of Gossip Girl and The O.C), and the action thrill ride and highly-acclaimed Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. FOXTEL really is becoming a force in the quality TV stakes, and if Nine keeps selling its original content to them, it’s only going to get harder for people to access quality television programs in this country. In this regard, Nine really has taken one step forward, and two steps back in terms of providing Australian’s access to great, entertaining, and well written television programming. I really hope they see the error of their ways, stat, and stop bulking up their schedule with more crime and legal shows.