Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dexter, "Our Father": Killer cravings

Spoilers for the "Dexter" season three premiere coming up just as soon as I go to the dentist...

This is going to be a weird review, and possible a weird season of reviews for me with this show. Like I said in my column on Friday, and as I hope I made clear all through season two, this is a show I have loved and passionately championed for two years, and even though there's not one thing I can put my finger on that's wrong with the new season, what I've seen so far has frustrated me. In fact, there were moments in various episodes -- good moments, with Michael C. Hall saying and doing interesting, Dexter-like things -- where I really had to fight the urge to put something else on instead.

Maybe this ennui goes away the deeper into the season I get, maybe not. I wrote a few times last year that "Dexter" feels like a show that should have a very limited shelf life, that the concept and character aren't built to run for season after season. And though there's no shark-jumping or fridge-nuking or Landry-killering to be found in "Our Father" or any of the next few episodes, I can't help thinking that I've seen as much of Dexter Morgan's world as I need to.

If that feeling solidifies as I see more episodes, I may just taper off on these reviews, or simply shift to open thread posts at a certain point in the season. After all, the episodic discussion last year was pretty good with or without me involved, and until or unless I can articulate my unease better, it may be pointless to keep weighing in on every episode. I don't want to be a weekly killjoy if I can't find anything to complain about other than the show's continued existence, you know?

Now, for some specific thoughts on the themes of "Our Father" as opposed to my malaise:

Can Dexter change?

That's the question he asks himself at the end of the episode, and the question Harry asked himself years ago. Harry decided the answer was no, which has led to the Dexter we see before us today. But Harry's long gone, and we've seen that Dexter is capable of doing and being more than either he or Harry ever imagined. His relationship with Rita, started as a cover identity to support his true passion, has become real. He cares for her, cares for her kids, even if he insists to himself (and to us, his unseen confessors) that he's incapable of feeling anything but a need to kill. But so long as things stayed status quo, Dexter was never going to have to challenge Harry's (lack of) belief in him, and his own self-doubt. But with Rita apparently pregnant with Dexter's child, things are going to change, and Dexter's going to have no choice but to change with them. And once he realizes that he can change, what then? What does he become at that point? More normal, or less?

The end of last season had Dexter promising to explore new rituals, new ways of killing, but as we return to his life, he seems to be going about things the same way as always until he accidentally kills Oscar Prado, youngest brother of powerful Miami DA Miguel Prado, played by the mustachioed Jimmy Smits. As Dexter says, he's never killed anyone before that he didn't "vet" according to the Code of Harry. For most of his life, the Code has successfully channeled his psychosis into the most socially constructive path possible, short of incarceration or death. Dexter has convinced himself that he has to kill according to the Code; what happens if he discovers that he's not very troubled by going off-mission? He doesn't join Deb at the bar to toast Harry because he wants to let go of the old man; does that mean letting go of the Code, too? And how many bodies get dropped if that happens?

(I should say, by the way, that I'm not fake-speculating based on what I know is coming in the next few episodes; these are the thoughts I had when I watched "Our Father.")

Again, these are promising directions, and even if I wasn't in the tank for Smits based on "NYPD Blue," I would find him a very good choice to play off of Michael C. Hall this season. But for whatever reason, I'm having a hard time stirring up any emotions about it all -- which feels oddly, disturbingly Dexter-like.

A few other random thoughts:

• With Doakes' unfortunate passing, it makes sense that Angel would wind up as the new sergeant, though all of LaGuerta's talk about the responsibilities of that rank never seemed to apply to how Doakes carried himself. Taking Doakes' place as a body in the squad, meanwhile, is Desmond Harrington as Quinn, the object of Internal Affairs' interest. As always with "Dexter," all the office politics are only necessary in that they prevent the producers from overworking Michael C. Hall, but they always pale in comparison to the main storylines. That said, I did like David Zayas and Jennifer Carpenter's drunken bonding at the bar.

• Not a fan of Deb's much-discussed new haircut. Anyone else?

• I laughed at Masuka asking Dexter, of all people, to proofread his article on the Bay Harbor Butcher. He has no idea how perfect that choice is.

What did everybody else think?


KrisMrsBBradley said...

Hated Deb's hair. Liked the rest.

Mrglass said...

I don't get Alan's unease with Dexter. Some shows runs should be much shorter (Lost should have lasted only 2 years, for example), but I wouldn't place Dexter in that category. Hall's performance is as strong as ever, and I like the premise of this season better than for the (still very strong) last year.

The first season was the weakest, if anything this series is getting better and better. And now they add Jimmy Smits to the cast? Count me in for the year.

sedeyus said...

I agree completely Alan. I don't know what it is but watching this episode is felt so pointless. This theme of Dexter going beyond Harry's code doesn't feel like it can sustain the season. It specially doesn't help that they don't seem to have another season long arc planned except with Jimmy Smits character but I've never been a fan of his. I'll definitely watch more because this show has been great the last two years but I hope they figure out what they're trying to do.

Bobman said...

Geez, I feel like Dexter, I barely noticed Deb's hair, but thought it looked fine.

Thought the episode was pretty good, though I can definitely see the series feeling.... I guess repetitive? That's kinda where the "shelf life" comes in, right? Once we've seen everything they can do with the character and situation, it becomes kind of like rehashing the same storylines. I don't think we're quite at that point yet though. I hope not - I just ordered Showtime almost exclusively for Dexter, and it ain't cheap.

Anonymous said...

I loved it!
I was trying to figure out why smits has taken a key interest in dex... anyone have a take? Seems a bit of a stretch just to get the two involved that he noticed that he was looking into the database?? My only thought is that Oscar Prado is not an addict... smits is. He, as any good tv da would do, checked into the medical history of his subordinates - and noticed that dex was "in the program". Thus a bonding relationship that can flourish for the season...?

Anonymous said...

I had similar concerns abot how long the show could last. In a perfect tv world the creators would do this season and one more and close the story over about 50 episodes. I was glad that the scale of this years murder was lower. I could not take another major serial killer story that stretches reality like it did last season.

Anonymous said...


Out of curiosity, how many episodes of the new season have you seen?


Miranda said...

I think Deb's haircut is cute. I can't imagine wanting to have long hair if I lived in Miami.

Anonymous said...

Except for the ending, this episode left me feeling "eh."

It made me wonder if any of the characters can really change, for example,
Deb is still a loose cannon who has something to prove...
LaGuerta still gives her shit and is also too emotionally involved in the main case...
Masuka is career-minded horndog..
Angel is well Angel but with a promotion...

The whole time I felt: "Ok, we know this, get on with it."

Alan Sepinwall said...

Anon, I've seen the first four.

K J Gillenwater said...

I only got to see the first episode b/c they had it online early. But since I don't have SHOWTIME and don't plan on it, this will be my only participation in this...I wait for the DVDs and catch up...

I love this show. I adored the first season. Same with the second (which I watched in three days!).

I like where this season is headed b/c before we could always 'count on' Dexter to behave a certain way. Now, he is unpredictable. The first thing being the accidental stabbing. I really am curious to see how dark and depraved he can go while still managing his real life.

I also find the new set-up for the sister intriguing. Guy in office who is being watched or investigated by the IA people. You all know she will end up in love with this guy, and I'm looking forward to seeing that develop and how she will handle herself while in the middle of this investigation.

It's all good to me. This show keeps me riveted to the tv. Every single time. Hard for me to understand someone who is losing interest!

Anonymous said...

Normally, I’d blast you on principle for judging a show based on what you want/expect it to be and not on it‘s merits. But, since I’ve got this combination of not caring about the show all that much and agreeing with your general point, I won’t. I‘ve been dissatisfied at some point or another with all the Showtime series. I dropped Weeds in Season 3. Californication came off as obnoxious and self-satisfied. Maybe Dexter is the next show I'll drop. Or, at least not be as intense about. Brotherhood is the only one of the Showtime series that I’ve ever felt approached HBO level excellence. Mostly just due to pretty excellent character writing and acting (Chapman/Freddie Cork personifies this).

My main problem with Dexter is that the show appears to be going for a “Dexter becomes a real boy” arc for the series. The vibe I got from the pilot was much darker; a sociopath held in check only by a code. Obviously, the show needs to get us in the door by justifying his killing to an extent. But, once you’ve won the audience over (as Season 1 and 2 of this show did, both were a fine entertainment and developed the character well), you have earned the ability to challenge the audience.

Obviously, Dexter needs to justify his actions to himself to function inside the show. I guess I feel like Phillips and the other writers are invested in Dexter as a “likable” (not the right word) protagonist. As a result, they feel the need to continually justify his actions to the audience which has sort of made the show, the character, the concept and all that kind of flat.

Maybe they’ll amp it up later in the season, I haven’t read any spoilers, but I’d really hope this season starts moving in more interesting direction. I’ll still watch, because I admire Michael C. Hall and the show is good and deserves support. I guess I’m just disappointed, because I think the premise and the darkness of the pilot (which, the residual awesome created by the dark, weird vibe of that pilot carried the whole first season) could have lead to greatness.

Anonymous said...

I thought the first episode was okay, but nothing great. But I guess I'm okay with that because I have always thought that Dexter took a few episodes both seasons to truly immerse me in how great the show was. I had similar feelings about The Wire.

Alan, I'm curious, have you read any of the books? I have read all three of the books, and I felt like the third book completely took away everything that made the character of Dexter "cool". I know that the first book is the only one they have really used for the show, but that would be weird if they both fell apart at the same time.

Anonymous said...

I've been slow getting into both previous season of Dexter, so I'm not worried about my interest levels yet...

Deb's hair: while I don't love the cut, I think it reads totally true that she would get it cut after the end of her last relationship. She needed a change, and that's the physical manifestation.

Cree said...

I liked the episode quite a bit. I was concerned after hearing that you didn't have the same fire for the show that I was suddenly going to stop liking it too. I am glad that I don't feel the same way as you.

I struggle with Dexter becoming more human because in the beginning the show promised a dark and disturbing tone. For the most part that tone is gone and the killings just don't bother me like they should. Yet the stories and the season long arcs are more interesting than most of what's on television these days.

My biggest issue with the show is that last season they had Lyla kill Doakes thus giving Dexter a way out of doing it himself and breaking the code. Then this season begins with Dexter basically breaking the code right off with much lower stakes. I just felt like last season the writers missed out on a chance to really up the ante with its main character and they didn't do it.

I'm sure as this season wears on we will learn more and more about the ADA's brother and find that Dexter's code is safe and that Oscar Prado was a goon far beyond just being an addict.

I don't know why they didn't have Dexter just kill Doakes himself, thus putting Harry's code to rest right then and there. It would then feel like a brand new show.

Anonymous said...

One major improvement is that Doakes is gone-I couldn't stand that character (although I think it was more about the actor). The IA asian actress is also horrible. I too am a Smits fan from back in NYPD Blue days-so I have high hopes. For Kristin above-I too don't have Showtime so I just watch this on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

I'm still enjoying the show and plan to keep watching. I, too, found Doakes annoying and am glad he's gone. No one else has mentioned the series of novels the show is based on, but a very interesting plotline is germinating in the novels that the series might want to look into: the fact that Dexter is pretty sure that Rita's children may well be incipient serial killers who need his help to develop their potential.

Anonymous said...

Up until Rita's surprise reveal, I felt the tone of the ep was off. Mostly, Dexter's narration wasn't as deadpan as in the past. Hopefully, it's just the one ep and everything is back to "normal" next week.

Alex said...

I hate storylines involving kids; they're as boring as listening to people talk about their kids in real life. So, not a fan of the pregnancy.

Also not a fan of Deb's hair.

Still a fan of Deb's tits.

I agree that it would be more interesting to see Dexter break the code - ideally starting last season with Doakes. That whole wrap-up was terribly force.

Fascinating idea about Smits being a druggie from Greg there.

Really, the novels are pointing Rita's children toward serial killerland? Doesn't that seem a little...convenient?

R.A. Porter said...

@alex, it only seems convenient if Rita's kids really *are* budding serial killers. It could just be an interesting comment on Dexter's view of the world that he sees himself in them.

I'm just speculating. I've never read the books.

Joan said...

I'm right there with you, Alan, but I'm thinking that problem may not be Dexter but the people he is surrounded by.

Deb is a stupid cow. Sorry, she just is -- way too stupid to be a detective. The haircut was OK, though, but not the way she acted towards Dexter about it. She grew up with the guy, she should know him by now.

All of the police office politics is so much clutter, IMO. Bo-ring.

Jimmy Smits... huh? His interest in Dexter makes no sense to me, other than a stunt to give him more screentime.

Perhaps most egregious of all in this episode was Rita, who seemed stoned or blissed-out or just insane. I called the pregnancy at the beginning of the stirring-the-pudding scene, it was so obvious. Newsflash, writers: pregnancy doesn't make women crazy. Thank you.

Then of course there was the whole "Dad day" at school, with Dexter talking about blood spatter to what, 4th graders? Is he nuts?! No teacher would let him discuss that!

This confirms for me the fact that the writers and producers of this show not only don't know any women, they don't know any children, either. Every woman on the show is a joke, and the kids are a simulacrum of kids, what someone who doesn't know anything about kids think kids must be like.

I also thought Dexter's nonchalance about using a recently-raided drug house for a murder site was stupidly risky, but then again, so was breaking into Freebo's house when he wasn't sure the guy was alone. He's getting sloppy, and it's going to nail him. Or not, but at this point, I don't care enough to watch the entire season to find out. (My husband does, though, so I'll probably watch anyway...)

Anonymous said...

Newsflash, writers: pregnancy doesn't make women crazy.

That's right. They are always that way just naturally. See the post above for an example.