Dexter (Season Two) – A Review

The main question going into the second season of Dexter was whether it could build on its central conceit or would it get crushed under the weight of its novelty. Michael C. Hall continues to bring authenticity and complexity as Dexter, our hero/serial killer, cast from the same endearing and charming mold as Mr. Ripley or Dr. Lecter.

The tension arises from two intriguing story arcs. One, his grisly handiwork has been unearthed and it is apparent that a serial killer of killers is on the loose. Suddenly there are two different portrayals of him: he’s either the Dark Defender, avenger of the innocent and protector of the greater good (because who among us hasn’t wished to do to criminals what they’ve done to us?) vs. the Bay Harbor Butcher, just another serial killer (because murder is still murder—a crime in need of investigating—and victims are still victims no matter how bad their sins of the past).

“I’m not the person I’m supposed to be. It’s like I’m hollow. I hide in plain sight, unable to reach out to people close to me. Afraid I’ll hurt them like I’ve hurt so many others.” –Dexter

The central thrust of his character development for the season: coming to terms with himself as either a hero or a monster, saint or sinner. As such, the other story arc involves Dexter in Narcotics Anonymous as he comes to terms with his addiction. He falls in lock step with his unconventional sponsor, Lila (Jaime Murray), who seems to understand his inner darkness. And he slowly starts to get to the root of his issues and moves to come to terms with the idea of re-defining himself outside of his “need.” And there’s something morbidly amusing about Dexter being on his way to being a self-realized sociopath.

Sometimes when we look in the mirror and are honest with ourselves, we may not like the person we see. But being honest with ourselves assumes seeing ourselves honestly and we’re too quick to see in black and white, either heroes in our own story of the villains. As is true most of the time, the truth is somewhere in between. This is true even in how we see ourselves spiritually and can infect the Gospel message.

“You decide who you are, who you want to be, and you hold onto that. And ride it out.” –Deb (Jennifer Carpenter)

The emphasis is on man’s “natural condition,” our fallen state that we’re born into and we see ourselves as slaves to sin. In so doing this points to God’s divine grace in saving us. It’s a Gospel message that begins with “the Fall,” but I can’t help but wonder that if the story begins with humans as sinners, it fails to deal with the “why would God care about us?”

With humanity created in the image of God and declared “good”, as image-bearers, we have inherent worth. The Fall becomes about not living up to that potential, what we were created to be. There are no short cuts or formulas to becoming the person we are meant to be.

“I’ve passed through the flames and risen from the ashes. Again. I’ve never been one to put much weight into the idea of a higher power, but if I didn’t know better, I’d have to believe that some force wants me to keep doing what I’m doing.” –Dexter

Thick with atmosphere, mixed with dark humor, Dexter continues its brand of rich and engrossing story-telling. This kind of show can’t run forever, but as long as Dexter keeps reinventing itself, it will continue to be Showtime’s best series.

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Dexter – A Review

“Hannibal the series”

Many of us suffer from compulsions—from smoking to drinking to promiscuity—some more self-destructive than others. We look at a character like Monk and see the bundle of neuroses that leads to him trying to control his reality by trying to maintain a strict sense of order to it. On the opposite end f the spectrum from Monk is Dexter.

Put simply, Dexter is a serial killer that preys on serial killers. Based on a crime novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under) is the kind of witty, intelligent, handsome, oddly charming brand of serial killer we’ve become fascinated with every since the popularization of serial killers with the advent of Hannibal Lecter. The self-aware monster. At an early age, his father, then a cop, recognized his son’s sociopathic tendencies and developed what he dubbed the “Code of Harry”* which would allow him to function in day-to-day circumstances.

He works as a blood splatter analyst for a crime lab in the Miami-Dade police department (yes, essentially tucked away within C.S.I. Miami). While the police track the various serial killers, Dexter is along playing cat and mouse with them. Thus combining our insatiable consumption of both serial killers and police procedurals, especially of the C.S.I. variety. Originally developed for Showtime, the show has been slightly edited so that it can be broadcast on network television.

“I don’t know what made me the way I am but whatever it was left a hollow place inside.” –Dexter

Our culture has a fascination with serial killers, having long mythologizing them. Whether caught up by the charming face evil often wears or a simple fascination with the brutality we are capable of inflicting upon one another, within them we seek dark reflections of ourselves. Call it sin or our nature, it’s like we realize that there is something fundamentally broken about us. Sometimes this brokenness evidences itself in ways both sick and criminal. Evil has many guises, yet there are those who have to figure out the pattern of brokenness.

“I’m a very neat monster.” –Dexter

Dexter clearly is psychotic, incapable of human interactions and feelings, but he fakes them well. He remains ever guarded beneath his façade of relative normalcy, controlling the chaos his urges dispose him to. For him, the blood tells the story of seeking justice, balancing the world’s books.

The Code of Harry are the tenets of his belief structure that provide his moral compass, such as it is. However, they do point to the reality of his life: there is real, undeniable evil; and it must be recognized as well as confronted. The laws help him fight his urges, to not only channel them, but use them ostensibly for good. Depicting the dark side to our nature, serial killers specifically remind us that evil death is all around us in the form of each other, lurking in the ordinary.

What we identify with is a damaged person struggling to do the right thing (as close to the right thing as he knows), despite his nature/inclinations to do otherwise. Since he kills only those who “deserve” it, we are allowed to root for him and for his victory in his struggle.

Considering the level of gross out currently seen on network television (see Bones or Criminal Minds), the graphic nature of Dexter isn’t nearly as shocking as it should be. A few things lost in translation, such as the occasional jarring epithet, “mother lover”. Watching Dexter juggle the relationships that give him the veneer of humanity—his love for his sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and his just as broken, except in a different way, girlfriend, Rita (Julie Benz)—makes for compelling television, both gruesome and gripping, with a leavening dose of dark humor.

* “Remember this forever: you are my son, you are not alone, and you are loved.”

The Code of Harry basically boils down to six points: 1. Killing must serve a purpose, otherwise it’s just murder. Killing innocents is never allowed. 2. Always take time and make sure you have the right person. Be sure. 3. Blend in — maintain appearances. Fake emotion and normality to fit in. 4. Control urges, and channel them. 5. Be extremely careful with the killing and more importantly the preparation. Preparation is vital, no detail can be overlooked 6. Most importantly, never get caught.

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