December 30th, 2006

Dexter creeps me out

Dexter? More Like Dexter Freebish!

When Dexter premiered, I was intrigued but busy. A show about a serial killer? Cool! I like to kill people! I read a middling review of the pilot, though, so I shrugged it off.

Then some folks on my flist and other boards began saying it was, in fact, really good. So I thought about checking it out. And then by the time the finale arrived, it felt like everyone on my flist was going ga-ga, so I moved it to the top of my queue.

I watched two episodes yesterday and the other ten today. And the things people were saying about the show being fantastic and an amazing season of television? THEY WERE RIGHT.

Dexter is like CSI: Miami meets American Psycho meets The Inside. But better than all of them. Well, I imagine most things are better than CSI: Miami, but that's not the point.

I came into the show knowing almost nothing about the show, and I find that leads to an optimal viewing experience, so I choose to give that to you as well. Mostly. So don't be looking for a lot of detailed spoilers in here. But you might want to be wary of the comments.

By day, Dexter Morgan is a forensics expert specializing in blood splatter. He is very, very good at his job, and it was really interesting to learn just how much an analysis of the blood splatter can tell you. By night, he's a total psycho freak who doesn't want to have sex with Julie Benz. Also, he kills people, but the first part is weirder, don't you think? Because he only kills bad people, anyway! So that part is okay. Or is it? Thankfully, the show doesn't make a Big Deal about that extenuating circumstance because it's an obvious question the viewer is faced with. It doesn't need to be asked. It's understood. It's so understood, really, that after a while, you sort of forget that it's a question. Because, really, the people Dexter kills...are not good people. They are out there doing bad things, and the world is better off without them, right?

Dexter is not your typical protagonist, which means Dexter is not your typical show. Not many shows ask you to sympathize with a serial killer. But we get into his head because he narrates with an air of cool detachment, cracking the occasional joke, making the occasional pun. He repeats many times that he feels no emotion, that he fakes it for the papers, but we're onto him, we're onto him. He's generally well liked at work, and he's snagged a hot girlfriend who's very into him. But none of them know what we know, what Dexter does with his free time. Which makes it very creepy to watch. The end of the pilot hooked me good, and you can see why in my icon. Combined with his very last line, the look Dexter gives to the camera creeped me the fuck out like nothing I'd ever seen on TV, I think. He's some kind of monster. But a lovable monster! He becomes less creepy over the course of the season as we get to know him better, which makes it easier to take.

But, see, the show's not really just "Oh, he's a forensics expert and a serial killer, hee!" The major plot arc of the season involves another serial killer whose investigation leads Dexter on a journey of self-discovery. I was unsure how they were going to be able to really do anything with Dexter's character, but for a while, they're able to distract us with lots of flashbacks to show us how and why Dexter became who he is, and it's pretty creepy and original. (Hey, guess what! He wasn't abused as a child! THANK GOD.) Then Dexter does stumble through some unexpected character development, and it's very subtle and well done.

Dexter's not the only character, of course. I love his sister, Deb, who's cute, spunky, intelligent, and determined. She and Dexter have a nice sibling relationship. I'm utterly tickled by the fact that the show has not one, not two, but three Oz alumni in the cast: Morales! (Angel) Gloria! (LaGuerta) Moses! (Doakes) Morales was one of my favorites, so I love Angel, who's just so decent and respects Dexter's talents. I wasn't a huge fan of LaGuerta, but I liked her more by the end. A few episodes in, I realized she was sort of like Sheriff Lamb, but not entertainingly bitchy, just bitchy. I'm not sure why I like Doakes; I may just be fond of the actor and his whole style. And it is amusing that, as Dexter points out, he's the only person in the precinct who finds him creepy. Not even Masuka, the amusingly horny lab tech. Rita, Julie Benz's character, is, as people have said, about as far away from Darla as you can get.

Why is Dexter amazing? For starters, it feels like watching a really long movie or reading a really great book. Which, given the source material, isn't too surprising. The first season is a cohesive whole with one major plot arc and several smaller ones, along with character arcs for Dexter and a few other characters. Each episode is another chapter in the saga; nothing is wasted. Watching it makes me want ALL television to be like it is on the premium channels. Short, exquisite seasons, unburdened by commercials, constant network interference, long hiatuses and scheduling issues, the need to make things "viewer-friendly," and everything else that plagues network dramas. This is how it should be: you plot that fucker out, and you stick to it. You spend time concocting a good fucking plan, you don't need to deviate from it. Hell, I almost don't think a second season is necessary because I can't imagine how they'll top this or even come close. At one point in the season, and those who've watched know what point I mean, I said out loud, "Oh no, oh my fucking God!" and clasped my hands to my mouth. I love when TV makes me do that, especially because immediately afterward I realized I should have seen it coming. And toward the end of the season, I was almost literally on the edge of my seat, physically stressed out, almost crying. I needed milk and cookies to get through the finale. I love being so emotionally engaged; it makes me feel like the story is worth watching.

And there's so much story, surprisingly. The episodes are pretty unformulaic; it's not just "Who will Dexter kill this week?" Things happen organically, and nothing feels forced. In some ways, it feels like the story drives itself, and the camera is just there capturing it all. The drama isn't manufactured, and it works.

In the end, Dexter is a story about the dark side in all of us and how we choose to embrace, control, or ignore it. It's about family, both the one made for us and the ones we make for ourselves. It's about what it means to be normal.

This is a friendly post, like, "Hey, you wanna watch?" And, yes, you wanna watch.

You really, really do.