The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Dexter: “My Bad”

Posted by therebelprince on September 28, 2010

(This review contains spoilers for the Dexter premiere. Read on.)

As with Weeds (and, indeed, all of Showtime’s current output), I run hot and cold on Dexter. And lately, the temperature fluctuations in my house during each episode are starting to give me a headache.

The first season of the show was fascinating, allowing us to have a genuine antihero – not just a Jack Bauer whose ends were always justified, but a cold-minded man whose arrest and capture at series’ end we almost hope for. This was followed by the tense-if-contrived second season, the ill-conceived third, and last season’s bi-polar attempt, which combined a terrifying serial killer storyline with the culmination of four seasons of terribly uninteresting subplots for the terribly uninteresting secondary chraacters. And here we go again.

“My Bad” is a pretty damn awesome episode. The aftermath of Rita’s death feels like the right place to climax this series, and indeed all the characters – in spite of the sins visited upon us in the names of ‘subplot’ – are all perfectly located to make this a good chess game. Quinn is justifiably suspicious, in light of past event, while LaGuerta knows that Dex is innocent because, wouldn’t it be ridiculous for him to be a killer after all they’ve gone through?

It’s Deb, though, who holds our interest: every instinct in her body is saying that Dexter’s actions don’t make sense. And his words and actions here just do not compute, even compared to the tears of Rita’s next-door neighbour. But the idea that Dex could kill Rita? (And what else this might imply) It’s just too much to consider. So she’s pushing back and inventing stories like her claim that Dexter was always the strong one. Obviously the show can’t expose Dexter until it ends, but I can imagine the penultimate season climaxing with Deb learning the truth – after all, she’d have reason to protect her brother, and may even agree with his motives if not his methods. Putting Dex in the position where he must trust his sister’s silence, or make it happen; and asking Deb to choose between the law and her family? That would certainly make an interesting addition to the plot. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Michael C. Hall, this season, gets to add a new layer to his character, and I’m sure he agrees that it’s about time. Watching Dexter deal with his grief was hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. In his own way, he really does care now. This is not the Dex of season one, but a man who has been taught what relationships and human contact mean. He is grieving, but his breakdown is animal and bloodthirsty. It can’t be showcased in public like his friends and family would like. The show’s recurring theme, that there is a right way to act in society, comes through in the scene at the funeral parlour, where a perfectly smarmy funeral director offers a gold box of Kleenex. But the idea is reinforced all the more by the fact that, everything Dexter does, the feds – and his own people – are watching him. When it was just a date with a friend of Deb’s, he could fumble through his mind and say the ‘right’ things. In these circumstances, that’s a hell of a lot harder.

His subsequent revelation to the family was also shattering, and Christina Robinson brought her A-Game to the role of the grieving Astor. I don’t quite know where the series is going from here. Like Dexter, we’re at a bit of a loss.  He’s already had to take out people who stood in his way but didn’t deserve death: Doakes, Lila, some skeevy redneck. Now, Dexter truly has to confront what he has been doing, and find a way to suppress his demons, for the sake of the people he… dare he say it?… loves.

Of course, not everything was perfect. After five minutes (five!) of previously-ons, did we really need as much narration as we received? One of the hilariously Showtime ironies of this show is that Michael C. Hall is so fascinating in the role of Dexter, and yet every subtle moment he plays is then dictated to us in a deadpan voiceover. It worked better in season one, replacing the traditional sidekick exposition, a luxury Dex obviously cannot afford. (Well, he tried, and we got Jimmy Smits – so figure out the damage yourself, folks). Over the seasons, in spite of Hall’s considerable talents, Dex’s narration has trampled far past melodrama and into self-parody. In that perfectly played funeral parlour scene, Dexter breaks down inside himself, even though he can’t cry like expected. He is already considering the practicalities of the situation, and abruptly wanders out of the room to watch someone else’s funeral, to see how “normal” people process their grief… And then we get a narration from Dexter, telling us exactly that. I mean, if the show can accept that we’ll figure out Dexter’s actions on his flashback date – in which he uses Rita as a cover for a hit, and then decides to go on another date with her anyway, all the while utilising cliched catchphrases to show his interest – surely we can grasp his feelings after his wife’s death, right? I’m not against the narration completely, but there’s an obvious limit.

Still, as with every season, I’m back on board, so let’s see where the game takes us. I have no doubt that the season must end with Quinn discredited (Dexter can’t really go down until the show ends), yet there are a lot of variables here – Astor’s hatred, Trinity’s family (who can identify Dex by sight, after all), Quinn’s investigation, and Deb’s own investigation into Harry’s private life – that I feel truly concerned for our hero. Well played, Dexter. Well played.

Diverse observations:

* As a big Julie Benz fan, those flashbacks were heartbreaking.

* I love that Dexter’s voice message is just the generic factory setting.

* It’s strange: we see blood every week, but between the direction and Jennifer Carpenter’s face, the cleaning of Rita’s bathroom was quite sobering.

* And we open with Masuka kneeling by Rita’s corpse, joking about alway wanting to see her naked – welcome back, show.

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