RUNNING TIME: 629 Minutes
Two episodes of The Tudors S3
Two Episodes of The United States of Tara S1
Dexter by Design Book Excerpts
It’s BATMAN meets HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER
Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, James Remar, Lauren Velez, David Zayas, Jimmy Smits
For the uninitiated –
Dexter Morgan (Hall) is a mild-mannered blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department. He has an annoying, workaholic sister, Deb (Carpenter); a previously damaged but rebuilt and newly confident girlfriend, Rita (Benz) and a bunch of colleagues who love him and respect him and think he’s just the bee’s knees. Buuut…Dexter’s also a sociopathic serial killer with Daddy issues. The majority of the time, the series’ arc does indeed revolve around Dexter’s efforts to maintain the boundaries in his double-life, but mainly it’s about Dexter’s own evolution and his journey of self-discovery.
In a more literal context, what’s more interesting than watching Dexter’s personal journey is watching the journey of the show itself. Season one walked a wobbly line between amazing and atrocious. The concept was awesome, but the supporting cast was a gigantic basket of ass. The scriptwriting was hackneyed and stilted, the drama was contrived, the ending was (amazingly enough) simultaneously revelatory and anticlimactic. On paper, it was a recipe for ballsack. But Michael C. Hall single-handedly made it worth while and was pretty much the only thing that kept me involved to the end. Then season two came around and EVERYTHING was markedly better. The story was tighter and more interesting. The writing was actually natural and genuine (for the most part). The acting was MILES ahead of the preceding series of episodes and the climax was a motherfucking climax. Edge-of-your-seat type of stuff. And, of course, Hall owned every frame that he was in. Given this tremendous improvement I was geared the fuck up for season 3, and in a lot of ways it didn’t disappoint.
But in a lot of ways it did.
“I wish I was a method actor…I wish I was a method actor…”
But we‘ll start with what worked. While trying to capture his newest victim (a drug dealer/pimp called “Freebo”), Dexter ends up inadvertently killing a complete stranger. We find out that our stranger is actually Oscar Prado, the baby brother of both a Miami Sherriff AND the assistant DA (Jimmy Smits). The fact that it defied the familiar trappings of Dexter‘s “chop ‘em up and throw ‘em overboard“ M.O. and John Doe wound up being a rather high profile corpse, it immediately takes Dexter out of his comfort zone. To compound that whole kerfuffle, Freebo – who who the police like as Oscar’s killer and who can definitely put Dexter at the scene of the murder BEFORE it happened if he‘s brought in – is apparently running around skinning people, so Dex has to worry about finding Freebo before the cops do. While Dexter is trying to finagle that situation, Miguel (Smits) has taken a liking to Dex and has pretty aggressively wormed his way into Dexter’s personal life as well as his professional one. BUT WAIT – there’s more! Rita ends up pregnant! So now Dexter has to deal with the notion of being an actual father and family man, instead of just a boyfriend and pseudo-step-dad. I condensed the hell out of it but it’s really fleshed out and given some real weight, and what’s amazing is that this all happens in exactly two episodes.
And all of that is just the foundation for the season – the powder in the keg, so to speak. What lights the fuse and sets every single thing in motion is the moment Dexter finally does track Freebo down. Once he is able to finish what he couldn’t in episode one, he’s greeted outside of his kill-room by Miguel. For the first time in the series we have a character who knows what Dexter is from the very beginning. But not only that – Miguel accepts him. He seems to understand and is even grateful (he does think that Freebo killed his baby brother, after all) and goes out of his way to foster and maintain a friendship that keeps Dexter wavering between trust and self-preservation. It’s a theme they touched on with Lila Tourney in season 2, but with Miguel, they actually have Dexter start to let his guard down and relish in the honest connection. Obviously, and without spoiling anything, it goes way downhill. But it doesn’t stand alone – it interconnects and weaves in and out of every single thing that Dexter has to deal with in the season – and it works.
“Man, I really want a mermaid. Like, I could build a big, nice tank for her and she could hang out and splash around. OH – and she could sing at dinner parties and such. But none of that “Part of Your World,” nonsense cause that would just make everybody feel awkward. And nobody wants that at a dinner party…hm, maybe a mermaid isn’t such a good idea after all…”
Earlier I mentioned Dexter’s comfort zone and that’s pretty much exactly what it’s all about – taking Dexter out of his own personal little safe place. Season 2 certainly did that with the whole Bay Harbor Butcher thing, but it was incredibly blatant and almost “too much too fast.” Dexter‘s footing in that situation was so precarious that the majority of the time, all he was able to convey was anxiety or rage. It was a matter of survival in that case. Now it’s about having Dexter actually adapt to real emotional conflict and letting him grow as a character and Hall is able to play with a few subtle things in his performance that really show through.
In fact, the performances were pretty damn good across the board. Obviously I’ve already discussed Hall, but pretty much everyone else stepped up as well. And considering that she may have been the single worst thing about the first two seasons, I’m happy to say that even though Carpenter isn’t necessarily given the emotional challenges that she’s had (and met with varying degrees of success) in the past, her Deb feels much more like a well-rounded, emotionally mature character. She ain’t perfect, but she’s steadily gotten better and it’s worth noting. Julie Benz doesn’t have a tremendous amount to do this season but she definitely strides through Rita’s hormonal pregnancy with ease, charm and humor. In fact, she may be the least clichéd supporting character in the entirety of the show.
“No, I’m not shitting you – it’s a BOX OF BABIES. Obviously you have to pay a little more but motherfucker it’s DELICIOUS. Oh and don’t think I don’t appreciate the irony of the box itself.”
But, dare I say, the real star in this particular set my be Jimmy Smits. In essence, the character of Miguel Prado has two speeds – your best friend or a psychotic motherfucker. But Smits is able to keep the two from being mutually exclusive. He doesn’t play Miguel with a Jekyll & Hyde complex – instead he subtly drops little hints of both in each. The way he uses that to let himself seamlessly walk back and forth between his two personas – letting his façade slip but still being able to save face and bring us (and Dexter) back to his side – is impressive. It becomes apparent that Miguel is actually the anti-Dexter. He’s what Dexter would have probably been without Harry’s guidance. It serves to humanize Miguel instead of belaboring him with a bunch of cartoonish villainy. And it’s because of that that he’s able to maintain our sympathies when he needs them and his arc gives some credence and nuance to Dexter’s issues at home.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on the various subplots. Deb partners up with new detective Joey Quinn (Desmond Harrington) who is apparently being vetted for a takedown by Internal Affairs which ties itself into Deb‘s new love affair with a pot-smoking C.I. Harrington works pretty well with what he’s given but Deb is once again saddled with a lot of bullshit melodrama. The skinner subplot actually works really well, keeping a lot of momentum on everything that’s not Dexter and Miguel while still tying everything together.
“So I said ‘What the fuck does Ricky Schroeder have that I don’t?’ and she did this. Really? I mean, first of all, how does she know I DON’T have that, and secondly, bullshit.”
It’s all very well organized and outlined with a touch of grace, but, unfortunately, what makes almost every single thread unravel is the fact that everything ends as abruptly as it started. It’s never a bad thing to set up conflict right off the bat and then watch the slow burn towards a climax, but when you let it burn to the very last possible second and then wrap up every single loose end almost as an afterthought, it cheapens all the buildup that came before. Even the Miguel story – the single most important arc of the entire SERIES thus far – is mishandled and thrown away at the last second. It’s all a tremendous letdown.
It’s a testament to the fact that even though it tries with all of its heart, it’s still not a very smart show. It’s a show that coasts on moments and performances, and even though those moments can reach levels of brilliance, the writers are still having a hard time making it all gel into one great, singular experience.
But I love it anyway.
“What’s this show even about?”
“I dunno – nobody will let me watch it.”
The box art shows Dexter in a suit and tie (he’s getting married, after all!). The color palette is nice and as a whole it’s definitely attractive, but it’s missing something. The slipcases inside are a little better, but they share the same image and that’s just wasted real estate in my opinion.
As for bonus features, well…there are some, but I didn‘t really care about them. The cast bios are in teency text and hard to read. I didn’t particularly care to watch two episodes of The United States of Tara, but I can dig why they’re there and it’s actually a pretty nifty thing of Showtime to do.
What’s NOT nifty, however, are the features that can only be accessed by putting the disc into your computer. Sure, once you do it you can watch video interviews with the cast, read excerpts from the new Dexter book and see two episodes of The Tudors, but with all the bullshit regarding DRM and unwanted software being installed on people’s computers, it kinda makes me wonder why they went that route. Needless to say – I didn’t bother.