Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dexter: Variations on a theme

Spoilers for the "Dexter" season two finale coming up just as soon as I floss...

Well, that was... inevitable, wasn't it?

I would call the season two finale "predictable," but that doesn't seem fair. Unlike season one, which had a genuine mystery about the identity of the Ice Truck Killer, season two hasn't been a whodunnit -- it's been a character study. There was always the question of how Dexter would get out of this mess, but we all knew that he would. And I can't fault a series for delivering a payoff episode that builds off of everything that's come before and plays fair with the audience, can I?

And yet... after what had, for the most part, been a superb sophomore slump-avoiding season, I came to the end of "The British Invasion" saying to myself, "Huh. That seems about right, I suppose."

Where the season went wrong in the end -- and, before I continue, let me say once again that I consider the season as a whole to be outstanding, something that's easily going to be near the top of my Top 10 list for '07 -- was with the Lila character. There was so much potential in the idea of Dexter trying to take a slightly eccentric but not irreraparably damaged person under his wing, but making Lila out to be just as crazy as Dexter was the easy way out.

They already had Dexter confront his cracked mirror image with Rudy in season one, and at least there, they forced Dexter to make a choice between his own blood and the life (and Code) Harry had created for him. Here, Dexter did make a choice in the previous episode when he decided to continue the frame of Doakes, but Lila's actions then absolved him of having to deal with the consequences of his choice. Doakes died before Dexter had to tell him he had changed his mind, before he could loudly protest his innocence and argue for Dexter's guilt during a protracted trial, etc. Sure, it's Dexter's fault that Doakes is dead -- both for leaving him in the cage and for "creating" Lila -- but he still gets off pretty clean.

(This clean feeling was symbolized by the hilarious recreation of the opening title sequence -- which I'm thinking might have just been alternate angles of each shot, as opposed to something they filmed a second time.)

Also, with the death of Doakes -- the far more interesting character and dilemma for Dexter -- so early in the episode, we had to spend the bulk of the hour on more of Lila the kooky-crazy stalker. And for the second season in a row we had the villain (if you can call Lila that; more in a second) abduct and attempt to kill people Dexter cared about. The episode wasn't so much bad as anti-climactic. We spent so much of this season on Dexter (the true villain, a danger even to himself) wrestling with his confidence, his methods, his history, only to wind things up with him deciding everything's okay because the kooky vampire lady solved his Doakes/Butcher problem for him? It seems like one of the least imaginative destinations the creative team could have arrived at.

I'm glad the writers didn't sell out Lundy in the end, that Dexter escaped the noose without Lundy having to look the fool. (Even here, you could tell Lundy knew something wasn't right with the way he said the evidence against Doakes was "overwhelming, really.") Even his affair with Deb came to a better end than possible. Sure, Deb could get on another plane at some point, but she knows she won't, because Lundy is right about her needing to be a cop. Following him from city to city as his groupie isn't the life for her, even if he's a hell of a cook. Bye, Keith Carradine. Please bring your flinty goodness to another show I like, soon.

But back to Dexter. He and Deb both spent this season recovering from what Rudy did to each of them. Thanks to Lila, Doakes and Lundy, they're back to normal -- relatively -- and Dexter is already talking about "new rituals." His monologue at the end about no longer caring about the morality of his actions is an interesting approach for the character -- part of what's always made Dexter so vaguely sympathetic is his own awareness that what he's doing is wrong, and his attempt to be as good as possible given his condition -- and while I think I'm okay with an amoral Dexter moving forward, I don't want the series to let go of those questions.

I don't know what kind of story arc they can do for a third season -- Dexter's been hunted in different ways for the first two seasons -- but whenever this damn strike is over, I can't wait to see what it is.

What did everybody else think?


Candy said...

Like you said, I think the season ended the way it "had" to. By having Doakes discover Dexter's secret, the writers pretty much guaranteed that he wouldn't make it into the third season.

As for where they'll go next season, there are still a lot of questions surrounding Dexter's mother. I'm wondering if a good portion of the season will involve some of those questions being answered.

Unknown said...

I was underwhelmed as well, maybe even more so than I was at the end of last season.

There were good moments, and they're pushing the story through in a very interesting way, but this episode just sort of fell apart for me, mainly for the reason you mentioned -- Dexter was never in real trouble. We knew he'd get out of it eventually, so once the pieces were in place with Lila and Doakes, the show had nowhere to go but in the direction that it went.

It's frustrating, too, because I felt like this season was absolutely spectacular and that I learned a lot about good television just from watching it. With the exception of maybe Friday Night Lights, this is the first show that I've ever said, "Damn, I'm smart for watching this" about.

Oh well. I definitely enjoyed nearly the entire season, and that's far more than I can say for most shows this season. And I really, really can't wait until next season.

And as crazy as it'd be, I'd love to see Mesuka's screenplay become a movie within the Dexter world. It couldn't be less than awesome.

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed by the end of Doakes, who was a terrific antagonist for Dexter. As well as the fact that Dexter seemed a little slow on the draw in regard to Lila, who he already knew was a firebug. And lastly, it seems as if there should have been a little bit of a moral dilemma for him in doing in Lila, who, after all, did everything she did out of a sort of love for him, crazy as it may have ended up being.

So, yes. Great season, mildly disappointing ending. They said the next season is "coming in 2008," but didn't say when -- so I assume that means it's up in the air depending on how long the strike continues. There aren't too many shows that I care about coming back soon, but this is one I'll be happy to see again any time.

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess maybe I'm in the minority because I thought it was great.

I suppose I can understand why people feel it was anti-climactic, but as has been said, we always knew Dexter was never in any real danger. So the fact that the episode put a nice little bow on everything was a plus for me. Because, as unexpected as it might have been for Doakes to have gotten away or Dexter to have turned himself in...did anyone really want to sit through a long trial next season? And, yeah, having Lila turn out to be just plain crazy was easier and more predictable, but did anyone really want to see more of that character?? Personally, I LOVED that Lila's killing of Doakes to protect Dexter was what finally allowed him to kill her within the confines of "the code."

Myles said...

I was disappointed to see that the chosen resolution for the Deb/Lundy storyline was, in fact, capable of being done without the awkward May/December Romance. I personally liked the idea of Deb simply finding a father figure/mentor, and that she would resist his departure out of insecurity. Then, she realizes her true security is with Dexter and her job, not in Lundy's direction.

To me, that gets the same point across, and doesn't subject us to a predictable and largely uninteresting pairing of the two characters which, for me, kind of killed Carradine's character down the stretch.

Anonymous said...

I love this show, let me start off saying, but I do think they kinda blew it with this finale.
First of all, I don't think they should have killed Doakes, and the way they shot it, with the slow mo of Doakes being blown back and leaving open the annoying possibility of a miracle survival, sort of sapped it of it's emotional heft. Much better would have been to have the cabin burn to the ground with Doakes' screams to haunt the audience.
They could have had Doakes escape and become a fugitive, a daunting future nemesis for Dexter that could reappear at any time.
And Lila? Look, I love a hot, pale English chick as much or more than the next guy, but this character misfired as soon as she confessed her "murder" to Dexter. The psycho girlfriend is sooooo cliche, and there was nothing new here. They even stole the "recovery groups" angle from "Fight Club." I agree that it was far more interesting when they were having the same conversation about different addictions.
I was also disappointed in Dexter's unabashed glee at Doakes' death, given the connection they'd made earlier this season.
There were a lot of wasted opportunities here. They did a great job of fleshing out Doakes and creating a great character in Lundy, only to have them both disappear. Hopefully, Lundy will be back.

Chris Littmann said...

I think "inevitable" is a great way to describe it all.

My personal high points for this episode:

Dexter's inner monologue of "You'll be coming with me, in a trash bag."

The postcard in Lila's room.

Dex running his finger down the open slide box, which just makes me wonder if we'll open next season with a full box of slides.

...yeah, I'm kind of out of stuff. I'm still up in the air on how I feel about Doakes' death, even if it was something that had to happen. And also, I've got absolutely zero idea where it goes from here. Can't wait for '08 (Now that's a catchy slogan.)

Anonymous said...

The paper trail which could vindicate Doakes was either sloppy on the part of the writers or a set-up for the third season. Coupled with LaGuerta's evidence regarding Doakes being in different parts of the world when murders allegedly occurred (which has served as the basis for commutation of death sentences, pardons, and acquittals in and of itself), the additional evidence in the record is sufficient for a true crime writer or investigator to finger Dexter as the Bay Harbor Butcher. We know that Doakes was suspended for his violence against Dexter, which would be part of his disciplinary review records. We know that Dexter would have had access to the motor pool at all relevant dates. We know that Dexter's psycho ex-girlfriend called the chief and alerted him to information about the BHB and mentioned Dexter's name. (Considering that official's interest in the lead, it is unlikely he did not memorialize it some way). We have whatever evidence resulted from Angel's hearing and review and vindication. Thus, there is even enough evidence to connect Lilah to the case by virtue of her connection to the police department at the time of the investigation and her subsequent telephone call. That she was murdered in France shortly thereafter (when passport records would indicate Dexter to be in France) seems like a detail that could be exploited later, as well. There is a lot of paperwork out there in various places and an enterprising person could find enough to clear Doakes but also perhaps point the finger at others.

Alan Sepinwall said...

did anyone really want to sit through a long trial next season? And, yeah, having Lila turn out to be just plain crazy was easier and more predictable, but did anyone really want to see more of that character??

My point isn't that I thought they should have gone in a different direction at the end, but rather that the season had progressed in such a way that Lila killing Doakes and then Dexter killing Lila was pretty much the only direction it could go.

Candy said...

After reading Curious George's comment, I just thought of something. Remember the scene where Dexter went to clean his boat, and then we saw that there was a security camera on the dock? I always expected that to come up at some point, but it never did. This makes me wonder if the BHB case will be reopened next season....

Alan Sepinwall said...

Candy, that was a major plot point in the very next episode, where Dexter has to pull a fire alarm so he can delete the footage from the FBI computer.

Bobman said...

I'll admit, I was kind of surprised (and relieved) that Dexter hunted down Lila. I thought they would leave her plot open-ended, only to predictably return next year in some rip-off of a Nip/Tuck storyline. So I'd rather them do a predictable kill-off of her character and be done with it rather than have the predictable return next season when they can't think of anything original to do.

Candy said...

Thanks, Alan, I don't know how I missed that. I always wondered what happened there.

Tom said...

I really like this show, but share Alan's disappointment that the resolution was so inevitable. Still, inevitability is the stuff of tragedy. This wasn't tragic because Lila, was, well, Lila. I would have enjoyed it more had Dexter developed true feelings for her over the course of the series and murdering her was murdering his best chance to feel. That, and it seemed like lazy writing to have the plot hinge on b-movie villainy -- the lock 'em in a burning building while you head to the airport bit smacked of Dr. Evil's unnecessarily slow dipping mechanism. To me, anyway.

Still, a very very good show.

Anonymous said...

I'll chime in with the "disappointed/predictable" comments here.
So many ways to go- and the easy way out was taken on every occasion. Most have already been enumerated, so I won't repeat them- but the deaths of Doakes and Lila were just cop outs, plain and simple.

My Alter Ego said...

I was disappointed that they had Dexter go to Paris to kill Lila. Not that I necessarily wanted to see her come back in the future, but the way it was handled was too cursory--"Oh, by the way, Dex goes to Paris to kill Lila."--as if that scene were there only to tie up a loose end.

I agree with Alan that the main problem with this season, or at least the second half of it, was the way Lila was handled. I would have liked to have seen Lila really force Dexter to question himself in the way Doakes did, but with her it would be from the opposite end of the moral spectrum. She did this to some extent earlier in the season, but that was before she knew the full truth about him. Also, its disappointing that in the end she was characterized as "just" crazy and amoral. I say "just" because this show is at its heart an exploration of the root causes of why people are who they are and why they do what they do. What made Lila be the way she is? Sure, there are lots of crazy people out there, but not so many who, upon learning that the object of their desire is a serial killer, feel more strongly than ever that they've found their soulmate. What was it that caused her to turn out this way? Now that she's dead, we'll never find out. A Lila who behaved exactly the same way as the one we saw would have been much more interesting if she were more three-dimensional.

My broader disappointment with the final episode is that it seemed rushed. I think this was a structural problem. There were so many interesting storylines and interpersonal dynamics this season--the Lundy/Deb interaction, the Dexter/Doakes interaction, Dex and Rita, Dex and Lila, Deb and Lila, LaGuerta and Doakes--I could go on and on. The problem is that the writers chose to leave all those threads unresolved until the final episode, and so all of them had to get resolved in under sixty minutes. I would rather have had some resolved in previous episodes, or have some remain unresolved and left for next season, than to have them hastily concluded. One of the things I love so much about this show is the way it takes its time with things, so I get disappointed when they do that. However, I'm hopeful that some of these threads will get a more complete resolution early next season, in the same way that Paul and Brian/Rudy were revisited at the start of this season.

But again I agree with Alan that these are relatively minor complaints given that the second season as a whole was so outstanding. It is only because everything else was so perfect that anything less that perfection becomes reason to complain.

Anonymous said...

I agree the finale was somewhat predictable - but I have to comment on a great moment that even crazy Lila had. I thought the scene where she realized Dexter had come to her apartment to kill her was absolutely perfect. It was hard to believe you'd feel for Lila there, but I really did. Going from a fantasy of leaving town with "your soulmate" to realizing the same guy was planning to kill you was sad enough to put Dexter in another bad light. Along with Doakes' empty funeral (destroying Dexter's fantasy of the public loving his life's work) - I thought the episode did an excellent job in keeping Dexter too clean.

Anonymous said...

Many have said "...the resolution was so inevitable..."

May I remined everyone of an oh so long ago episode of another series... Pine Barrens.

Not everything must be tied up in a neat little Christmas bow...

My Alter Ego said...

Glad todmod mentioned the scene in Lila's apartment. That entire scene was outstanding, with Dexter almost accidentally jabbing the needle into Deb's neck, Lila arriving and realizing that Dex's promise to leave together was just a trap, Lila threatening to open Dex's bag-o-knives in front of Deb--excellent stuff. That whole scene was easily the high point of the episode.

Anonymous said...

What happened to Dexters "tool" kit???

Anonymous said...

Putting all the plot stuff aside, I was actually really impressed by the stuff with Lila in Paris. Either they really did go to Paris to film a few scenes or they did some of the best green screen work I've seen in a long time. Do you know which it was, Alan? And, in either case, if a show like Dexter is able to pull it off, why does a big budget show like Heroes always look so laughably unrealistic when they're supposed to be in a foreign city?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Per an interview Rob owen did with the producers, they sent a skeleton crew to Paris to film those scenes.

And, in either case, if a show like Dexter is able to pull it off, why does a big budget show like Heroes always look so laughably unrealistic when they're supposed to be in a foreign city?

It's one thing to spend, like, an afternoon doing some fast guerilla-style filming of a character walking around and another to film actual scenes with people talking and interacting. The "Heroes" green screen work often looks cheap, but I would guess the cost of filming those outdoor scenes with Lila comes out as less than, say, a few "Heroes" scenes with Mohinder in India. (Those would be filmed with a full crew, require studio space, the FX work, etc.)

Susan said...

Agreed with most of what's been said - I wasn't disappointed exactly, but it did all feel inevitable and a bit cursory. One thing that really bothered me was the jumps in reasoning that Dexter had to keep doing to stay one step ahead of Lila. First he looked at the bags of evidence and immediately knew to look for his GPS unit? Then he heard from the Captain that Lila had called in a tip about him, and he immediately figured out that she'd targeted Rita? Maybe not a huge leap to make, given Lila's past behavior, but it still took very little time for Dexter to make these jumps - Lila could have just as easily targeted Deb or Angel or Dexter himself, but it would have slowed down the plot for Dexter to go searching all over town for her.

I'll miss Doakes, and the relationship that he and Dexter eventually developed while he was in the cage. But it was clear from several episodes back that he had to die. I also wish Lila had died in typical BHB fashion - taped down to the table, the blood slide, etc. It seemed like it would have been a perverse thrill for her to go through what all of Dexter's other victims had gone through, but Dexter was in a rush, so we got a quickie. Perhaps it's a foreshadowing for next season, when all of Dexter's methods have to change.

Also, those were some pretty happy, non-traumatized kids there at the end, given that they had narrowly escaped a fire and almost saw their father figure killed.

But todmod, totally agreed on those moments. I loved Lila's horror at actually seeing the proof that Dexter had come to kill her. And I loved Dexter at Doakes' empty memorial service, a great counterpoint to the "I love Dexter" parade fantasy he had earlier this season.

SJ said...

Disappointed with the last 2 episodes. Smacked of sloppy writing. They just decided to kill Doakes...pretty easy way out.

Anonymous said...

As long as we're pointing out sloppy writing, remember early in the season when such a big deal was made of the algae found on the rocks and how it made clear that the Bay Harbor Butcher must have access to a boat from certain specific docks? Did anyone ever check to see if Doakes owns or even has access to a boat?

I agree with everyone else that the episode was too tidy. And having Lila kill Doakes was such a shameless copout. And no, having Dexter narrate about how lucky of a break it is for him does not make it any less of a copout.

These last few episodes where we've been able to see Dexter from someone else's perspective have been quite illuminating. It'll be interesting to see how I view the show now that I'm actually hoping he gets caught. It hasn't effected my enjoyment of The Shield at all, so I wonder if this show will do.

Anonymous said...

I think I would have been more surprised by a few things in the finale if I hadn't seen those obnoxious spoilers two friggin' weeks ago (or the previews last week, for that matter), especially the way Doakes died.

Still, it's the little touches that made the whole episode (and the season, for that matter), such as the new beginning for Dexter (different angles of the credits, as you brought up, Alan), or Dexter being so emotionally tone deaf that he brings donuts to the office the day after Doakes dies--and finding his *true* soulmate in Masuka, who is the only one to grab a donut.

Also, I don't think Dexter was looking specifically for the GPS, just for anything that would prove Lila was at the cabin. I was really hoping he was going to frame her for framing Doakes as the BHB, and making everyone think she was the real BHB, but I guess they need LaGuerta obsessing on cleaing James next season and maybe, finally, catching on to Dex.

Jill said...

Dez: I loved the bit with the donuts. Because Dexter is so good at "hiding in plain sight", these little hints that he really is clueless about social cues continue to hold the entire premise together. And I loves me some Masuka, who is far more interesting than this show has let him be so far. (Also loved the cool bug-eyed shots of him with the hood last week.)

The loose end that I think is likely to carry through to next season is the relationship between Deb and LaGuerta, who now (think they) have the bond of misjudging guys who turned out to be serial killers. This has always been an interesting relationship, but I'm looking for that to be developed more next season, along with LaGuerta continuing to try to clear Doakes' name, almost to the point of obsession. (No spoilers here, just speculation based on nothing.)

But here's something that still doesn't work for me, and I'm hoping this is developed more next season: The scene with Harry telling Dexter he's going to be like this forever bothers me. I know that it's essential to the very premise of the show, but as someone who works in the mental health field, I simply cannot imagine a parent not named "Barbara Bush" deciding that it's perfectly OK that a kid kills animals. And I can't imagine said parent telling said kid that he's going to always be a killer. So far we've seen that Harry has a nasty vigilante streak in him (despite his revulsion when faced with the reality), but I want to know more about Harry and why he went this route instead of getting this kid some help.

Anonymous said... y'all think it's a little weird that I have made Dexter's opening theme my cell ringtone? :)

Anonymous said...

Jill: I think Harry realized Dexter was a sociopath, and from what I understand, sociopaths can't be "cured." Is that correct? If so, it would make sense that Harry would tell Dex that Dex would never change.

Anonymous said...

I went through the first two seasons through Showtime on demand. A question from season 2. When Dexter had FBI protection and had to sneak out his back window, didn't he take his boat to the everglades? Wouldn't that have shown up on the hidden cameras? Love the show, Michael C. Hall is very good.

Unknown said...

Before Dexter sneaked out, he said that he was going to his "new marina." He must have found a new marina which wasn't one of the three that the task force placed under surveillance.

Anonymous said...

I thought the way the season ended was particulary lame, like the way he could just kill Lila after screwing with her head tell her they will go away together, she who was in love with him and saved his ass, he killed her without a second thought. pretty disapointing

Anonymous said...

This is really, really late because I don't have Showtime, so can't watch Dexter in realtime; thus, I just watched Season 1 and Season 2. This also means that I haven't watched any of Season 3 yet, BUT I really enjoyed reading these postings and I wanted to throw in my two-cents, which at this time probably isn't even worth that.
So here goes:

In this season, I really liked the 12 step program device because it totally fits. Dexter does need help, it’s not normal what he is, which, I think, was what happened to lead to the dad’s suicide. As best he could, Harry tried to teach Dexter to deal with who he was, probably because he felt responsible for what he went through as a boy, but when Harry actually saw it (kind of like Doaks’ reaction), he realized that Dexter is truly awful and needs help, but Harry couldn’t see how to get Dexter help that wouldn’t land Dex in jail. So the hopelessness got to Harry (and I totally agree, Alan, that I seem to remember some shots of near-death Harry in Season 1, but would have to review if those were during the time he was getting poisoned by the evil nurse).

I liked a lot of the stuff going on in Season 2, like Dexter’s identity crisis and the stages of him working out who he is, and how it manifested itself in his two love interests who are, in my opinion, both bad choices.

I thought the stuff with Lundy and Deb worked, although I was hoping there were some skeletons in Lundy’s closet. Definitely the Doaks/Dexter relationship development was great, and even though I understand why they got rid of Doaks, I’m going to miss him.

I never liked the power struggle stuff with the police heads changing, started in Season 1. I wonder if Laguerta’s ruthlessness will come into play later, or if it’s just a red herring (I’m thinking the latter).

It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the Season 3 Dexter character because the last moments bring up lots of questions of who he will be and how he will be dealing with his serial killerness. I think he treaded on murky waters with killing Lila. While crazy and not the best person, she was doing what she was doing to be with Dexter and she was in a cloud of jealousy. I don’t even think a court of law would have sent her to jail; more likely she would’ve been sent to a mental institution. I don’t think what she did fit the Code of Harry, and I think Harry would agree, but I guess that doesn’t matter to Dexter anymore since he feels free to not live by that anymore. I think killing Lila was more serving his needs than doing society a favor, and that’s dangerous. I wonder if his killings will become more questionable in Season 3...and unfortunately, I'll have to wait to find out when the DVD comes out.