Deftly Dissecting Dexter, courtesy Christian Weber, Showtime, 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.