Monday, December 18, 2006

Dexter: Literacy is now welcomed

"Dexter" finale spoilers coming up just as soon as I squeeze some fresh OJ...

"Dexter" has been an odd show for me, blog-wise. I've loved it all season and am trying to figure out where it's going to fit on my year-end Top 10 list (assuming I don't wimp out and do separate lists for new and returning shows, in which case it would be near the top of the new list), and yet I've only blogged about specific episodes three or four times. Part of that was because I was watching episodes in chunks as screeners from Showtime arrived, which made it hard for me to comment much on where the story might be going. Mostly, though, I didn't have much to say. The show was so consistent both in what was working (Michael C. Hall's performance, the flashbacks to Harry's lessons, Dexter's relationships with Deb and Rita, the advancement of the Ice Truck Killer mystery) and what wasn't (office politics in the Miami PD) that I would have been repeating myself week after week.

But I was very pleased with the finale, particularly the revelation that the ITK was Dexter's long-forgotten brother. In other contexts, that twist would've been cheesey, but it would almost be cheesey to have these two meticulous serial killers not have some kind of common bond. It explained not only why Rudy killed, but why he was so interested in Dexter's past and present.

At this point, I want to open the floor for two things: opinions on the finale and the season, but also comments from readers of the novel on what the show left out, what it added in, and whether you feel the changes improved the work. I know a few key differences, like the fact that the ITK's identity wasn't revealed until the very end (and that he never tried dating Deb), but not everything.

Fire away.


Anonymous said...

I was kinda disappointed that we didn't meet the killer until so late in the series - episode 7 or 8 wasn't it? I admit that I had great fun trying to guess the identity of the killer upto that point so maybe its just sour grapes on my part, but it did feel like the only wrong step in a flawless conception...for me, without a doubt, up there with Friday Night Lights as best show...both new and returning.

The big difference between the novel and the TV that the novel played a lot with the notion that Dexter might be doing the murders himself and be repressing the memories of doing so, there is a constant mention of 'his dark passenger' - the force that guides him through the murders. Its internal monolgue stuff in the book, so the TV writers could have kept it but didn't...I presume because they felt it was too obvious/unbelievable... but otherwise, the they lifted lots of the dialogue/set-ups from the book and strayed to expand/explore the rest of the team.

Hats off to them


Alyssa said...

I've read both books and watched the series and I think the series is better than the books. The book is tight and short and all from Dexters POV - the series has the luxury of unfolding over a dozen episodes and that allows you to get to know all the secondary players.

I think the show really benefits from that and it's something that is missing from the book. The characters are just richer in the show - especially the women characters. LaGuerta probably evolved the most from the book to the show, with Rita pulling a close second.

I still like the books but they're different and I think Jeff Lindsay's prose is very spare relative to the show.

I'm glad that they were able to capture the humor from the books in the show. I laughed out loud several times while reading them and it would have been sad to lose that.

The ending of the book is different from the show - but I thought that was okay. I wasn't disappointed we didn't meet Rudy until late in the season - that's totally different from the reveal in the book. I expected that the killer would be revealed in the show since it's essentially a drawing room mystery.

I liked setting up next season with Doakes hot on Dexter's trail - which is how things open in the second book... I'll be interested to see how Season 2 unfolds.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the books, and maybe that's why I'm not bothered by when they introduced Rudy. on the contrary, it felt like the right time. I'm also very glad that the reveal at the end gave the Deb-dating a twist. Instead of the deus ex machina of having the serial killer conveniently be someone we've met and who could put an officer in peril, it gets twisted on its head in that the killer already had a connection and that's why all these people are involved in the first place, and he picked Deb to date deliberately. Very neat, and well done.

Michael C. Hall deserves every award he gets for this part. Such a masterful job with such a difficult character. Julie Benz also did incredible work.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the entire season, including the finale. It was weird seeing Dexter have emotions, such as his sadness over killing "Biney"--who had to die not just because he was a threat to Deb, but because Dexter felt compelled to adhere to Harry's code, despite finding out that Harry had lied to him--and his realization that he cares for Deb and Rita. Of the brothers, Rudy was the worst and probably would've wound up killing Dexter at some point when Dexter showed weakness (and we've seen weakness in him several times, like when he let the young serial-killer-to-be go because he recognized himself in the kid), although it would have been an interesting dynamic to explore (but then, we wouldn't have the Dexter we've come to know in the show any more).

I had picked Rudy as the ITK from the moment he came on, but I wasn't sure how he knew about Dexter until the details of Dexter's past were slowly revealed (despite reading the spoiler--to me, non-book-reader, anyway--that he was Dexter's brother).

One thing I wanted to know--in the book, do we learn more about Dexter's bio-dad? Was he the one who butchered his own family? I'm looking forward to reading it and finding out how the series differed. Anyway, great show, definitely a Top-10 contender for all shows, new or old, and I totally forgive Showtime for excising "Imprint" from "Masters of Horror" thanks to giving us "Dexter" :-)

Anonymous said...

I thought Dexter was mostly a decent show (the cop stuff was unbearable... "I'll be watching your Morgan!!"), but here's my question: where can the series possibly go from here? Now that Dexter knows his past, knows he had someone he could related to -- and killed him -- what's left for a second season? Like Veronica Mars, Dexter might be able to still produce good episodes, but it will never have an arc as strong as the first season because it will never have the personal urgency.

Anonymous said...

I too found anything involving Dexter very compelling but anything involving the other cops or office politics was rather tedious and cliched (especially watching this on the heels of The Wire. The stuff with the captain was particularly awful in comparison). I was also fascinated by Deb; I initially found the actress highly annoying, but by about halfway through the series I settled on the fact that her character was supposed to be annoying (obnoxious, overly emotional, everything Dexter isn't), thus it was actually a good performance.

rukrusher said...

My initial question about this show when I heard about its premise was that it was going to be hard for me to accept that Miami would have enough serial killers for Dexter to kill on a regular basis. I was surprised when the show turned out to have little to do with the people he was killing other then to serve as a catalyst to develop the overall character that is Dexter. I agree that the story arc of this first season will be difficult to repeat in the next season but I will be sure to tune in and see how they do it. I think Showtime did a poor job of marketing this show when it began.

With regards to Rudy, I began to suspect the brother connection in the episode they met. The scene when he scattered the ashes at the bowling alley immediately made me think they were at least half brothers. However, the little memory of his mother with the seperate colored finger nails was a great little touch when it all came together. I hoped for a second he would come back for a second season but now think it was best to wrap that part up, but I cannot believe anyone would see Rudy and think suicide.

Since I cannot buy Dexter as caring about the girlfreind I do not care if she trusts him or not next season, it will be too much of a leap for him to suddenly feel deeply for her, it took 30 some years to have any feelings for his sister. That being said the way Paul ends up in jail may be the funniest moment of the season.

Finally, Doakes inner cop sensing something wrong with Dexter just comes off as a bad cliche. I understand it may be needed to move the show forward but I would think anyone who spends his time studying blood spatters for a living may be a little odd at work.

Anonymous said...

anonymous above: If you hold cop shows to the standards of _The Wire_, you may never watch another cop show (except _The Wire_) ever again. That said, I agree that the office politics just wasn't compelling. I think the Doakes development in the finale might help on this front, as will having LaGuerta back as a detective (and possibly still attracted to Dexter, a kind of dropped storyline). I'm not saying this will solve the problem, of course, but I like too many of the actors in the squad (those who used to be behind bars in _Oz_, at least) to just write them off. But with everyone just "on the squad" maybe the political stuff will go away.

rick: I don't see this as the same as _Veronica Mars_, since the actual personal connection between the two characters was only revealed near the end of the season (though some of it was guessable once Rudy appeared on the scene). I also think the show worked hard in the finale not to make Rudy the "key" to Dexter -- Rudy filled in his past, but as dez noted already Dexter still chose to save his "fake sister" and follow Harry's rules even though he doesn't hold Harry in high regard anymore. This makes Dexter's character more complex, not less, and gives the writers something to explore next season. In particular, I could see the events of the finale making Dexter a more merciful _or_ a more ruthless character. It'll be interesting to see which way he goes.

rukrusher: Doakes has been suspicious of Dexter all season (almost from the first line of the show), and you have to admit Dexter's behavior in the final two episodes was damn suspicious. Maybe in season two we'll get a little more background on why Doakes might be more attuned to Dex than the other cops. We've already learned he's had some special forces experience in some rough places.

I'm also hoping for more development on Rita next season. What could have been a convenient prop character for Dexter (his "beard") turned out to compelling character in her own right -- one who was doing a not-too-bad job of handling Paul on her own. Knowing that her relationship with Dexter puts her and the kids at risk works nicely against the temptation to just root for Dexter. Liking Rita, and similarly feeling sympathetic to Deb (for how the Harry/Dexter relationship messed her up) means disliking Dexter a little. That tension really worked for the show, and I hope they figure out a way to maintain it next season.

Now obviously this will have to be a "major serial killer a season" show for as long as people are willing to buy that premise. And each serial killer probably has to be more messed up than the last. Which means things will probably get even bloodier next season.


Anonymous said...

I also really wonder where the show can go next season. I thought Dexter was good from the start, and the last few eps were positively great. I even started to like the Deb character a bit, as others have noted, either she toned it down or the character began to make a bit of sense, or I learned to tune her out better -- take your pick.

Anyone else think it was weird how terrible a cop La Guerta was portrayed as at first -- just bad on all fronts, inefficient, stupid, etc. Then she's all Mrs Teamwork at the end? That transition was not handled well.

But anyhoo, the Rudy storyline and finding out about who he was, his terrible past -- that gave the second half of the season so much momentum and energy and pathos. How can they top that? But I can't wait to see them try.

I think Doakes having Dexter's number is pretty damn funny.

finally, it's already been said, but no one other than Michael C Hall could have played this part. He was phenomenal. He'll get multiple awards for this, if there's any justice (but as we all know, there isn't much when it comes to the awards process).

Anonymous said...

anon: in regards to my comparison to Veronica Mars, what I was getting at is the characters motivations. In VM's first season she's trying to solve the mysteries of 1) who killed her best friend, 2) who raped her and 3) where her mother is (that was season 1, right?). No mystery, until they kill off Keith (and god help us if they do) will ever provide as much motivation for her to solve the mysteries. Dexter is the same way. Now that he understands where he came from and why he is what he is, what's left aside from a standard "can they catch me" plotline.

Anonymous said...


In _Veronica Mars_ all of those concerns will laid out right in the first few episodes. Veronica's personal stake was clear to her and to the viewer right from the get go, and it added urgency to solving the season's mystery.

But there's wasn't a similar arc in _Dexter_. Dexter viewed his relationship with the ice truck killer as a game, and, if you'll recall, he "admired" the ice truck killer's technique right from the beginning, before any contact occurred between the two. The "professional rivalry" viewpoint held up right up until the "bloody room" episode, after which Dexter realized there was a personal dimension at work. But before that point Dexter wasn't looking for an explanation of who he is or where he comes from -- and while the audience might be curious, the season wasn't structured to make the viewer expect an answer to "Why is Dexter the way he is?", the way Veronica Mars' first season was set up to climax "Who killed Lily Kane?"

After all, it was made clear from the very beginning that _something_ traumatic happened when Dexter was a child, before Harry adopted him. The exact details might explain Dexter's fascination with blood, but they don't really explain who he is _now_. And it is Dexter's attempts to understand who he is now (and how he can survive in the world) that makes the show compelling. Furthermore, all season Dexter has gained insight into himself via interaction with all sorts of other killers (the teenager who was faced the same choice Dexter once faced, the murdering couple who explained how relationships work, the psychiatrist who offered insight into Dexter's issues with intimacy), not just Bynie. The "big bad" for next season _will_ have to provide some sort of cracked reflection of Dexter, just like Bynie did this season, but there are plenty of ways to get at that without delving into Dexter's childhood. What about a killer who has his own warped personal version of Harry's rules?

And just to reiterate, none of this would work without a compelling performance from Michael C. Hall.


Anonymous said...

"audience might have been"

"climax with"

"teenage who faced"

And apologies for any other typos and grammatical mistakes.