Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dexter, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight": Have you seen me?

Spoilers for "Dexter" season three, episode three coming up just as soon as I steal some milk...

For a guy who claims not to have any emotions, Dexter sure puts a lot of them on display in "The Lion Sleeps Tonight": frustration at Miguel Prado's intrusions into his world, fear of how a baby might change his life and, most strikingly, pure, unadulterated rage at the possibility that Nathan Marten might have done something to Astor. We've seen Dexter kill while feeling scared, or remorseful, but we've never seen him this angry before.

And yet, as scary as it should be to see Dexter creating his own killing code, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" felt like a continued effort on the part of the show to make Dexter more likable -- or, at least, more human. He has feelings! He's just a lion protecting his little cub! Serial killers: they're just like us!

Character growth is great in most series, but what I really appreciated about "Dexter" in the early days was how they let us understand Dexter without ever asking us to like him. It's the nature of series television that extreme characters tend to get softened over time, but the more "Dexter" does this, the closer it threatens to become to the the moral abomination its detractors call it. I don't want to be in a scenario where I'm cheering on Dexter to kill someone, you know? I always appreciated the way the show drew the line about how Dexter only kills bad guys: yes, he's arguably doing something for the societal good, but he's made it clear repeatedly that he's not doing it for the victims (or potential victims), but just to feed his own hunger.

And then there are scenes like Dexter being dragged along to Rita's prenatal yoga class. Sure, it's funny to hear Dexter fantasize about killing the instructor so he doesn't have to suffer through another minute of this, but that also feels like an attempt to make him into a cuddlier monster. Serial killers: they hate yoga just like us!

Ironically, the only scenes in the episode that felt reassuring were the ones that were the most uncomfortable: basically, any interaction between Dexter and Miguel Prado. Jimmy Smits is doing some really interesting work as a guy who might just be in mourning or might be as crazy in his own way as Dexter. Whenever he's around Dexter, I feel off-balance, which is the way "Dexter" at its best makes me feel.

Some other thoughts on "The Lion Sleeps Tonight":

• Even beside the yoga story, this was one of the more quip-tastic episodes they've done, between Masuka's assertion that "there's a lot more cannibalism in this country than any of you realize" or, after Vince claimed the cops had insulted him and his people, Angel speculating that Vince's people were "Little scientists, I guess."

• Boy, Forensics Quarterly has a much quicker turnaround time than any magazine I've ever heard of, particularly a quarterly one. All these episodes seem to be taking place within days of each other, yet last week Vince was still waiting to hear if his article was accepted and this week he has a stack of signed copies.

• So Freebo didn't kill Teegan, eh? Is there any chance that Dexter has another brother floating around Miami?

• Even with the introduction of Paul Buchman's sister-in-law as the defense lawyer, this Chickie Hynes subplot continues to be boring because it's all tell and no show.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

He's just a lion protecting his little cub! Serial killers: they're just like us!

I think I might have mentioned this here before, but it's been established that Dexter likes children (although he doesn't seem to know why), so his anger at Nathan Marten didn't surprise me. I didn't see it as a way to make Dexter "cuddlier," but as a natural response from the character.

I also think maybe you're being a little too hard on this season. While I thought the season started off flat, it picked up with the second ep and continues to grow more interesting with this ep. I doubt Dex has another brother (or even a sister) out there, but as I do agree with you that Smits' character is off-kilter, I'm beginning to wonder if he has anything to do with the killings. *Something* is very off about the guy, and I'm dying (no pun intended) to find out what it is.

Oh, and the "little scientists" line had me rolling. I love Angel.

Anonymous said...

No mention of the informant's song for Deb? "Skinny white bitch?" I LOVED that...seems she did too! LOL

Alan Sepinwall said...

No mention of the informant's song for Deb?

That song's title was originally going to be this post's subject line, but I realized it might not please my editors.

Anonymous said...

Dexter's attachment to both Rita and the kids has been growing since the first episode. His reaction to the sex offender made sense. I don't think it made him cuddly either because we don't find out WHAT he did to be in the registry do we? He might have just committed statutory rape. What's Dexter going to do, kill anyone that looks the wrong way at Rita and the kids? His taking out a potential threat to the kids and Rita was foreshadowed all the way back in season one when he framed Rita's ex.

Plus, the punchline of taking the milk was awesome.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if that accident on the set of Dexter last week didn't give away a major spoiler. I have feeling it did.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I wonder if that accident on the set of Dexter last week didn't give away a major spoiler. I have feeling it did.

It gave something away. Beyond that, I don't want anyone discussing that story.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I also think maybe you're being a little too hard on this season.

That very well may be. But this is the first time in the run of the show where I've had to actually make an effort to both watch it and to write about it. I can only react to it how I'm reacting to it.

Bobman said...

I got a bad feeling from the scene where Jimmy Smits gave Dexter that shirt - it feels like he might use it to set DEXTER up. Dexter now is in possession of a blood-stained piece of clothing from a dead person. Prado is anxious to get that case closed, and while openly supportive of Dexter seems to also be very suspicious of him (and considering the very odd and way too easily wrapped up scene at Freebo's house, rightfully so).

Anonymous said...

I am enjoying Smits' oddball performance; his scenes with LaGuerta and with Ramon, overemphasizing how everything is just a-okay, were fun. But I actually liked the pregnancy stuff more. I can see what you're saying about making Dexter "cuddly", but to me the pregnancy storyline continues the show's exploration of the dissonance between who Dexter is and who he thinks he is. In this case Dexter thinks he's being a good dad, because on the way home he _both_ kills a potential threat to the family and picks up some milk for breakfast. Now yes, that's naturally going to come off as satirical egotistical, but no moreso than Dexter's Dark Avenger fantasies last season or the parade fantasy at the end of season one(?). I've always thought that one theme of the show is that Dexter sometimes believes his own hype. I personally don't find that this humanizes Dexter any more than similar behavior humanizes Vic Mackey on _The Shield_, but I can understand the opposing argument.


Anonymous said...

Dexter now is in possession of a blood-stained piece of clothing from a dead person.

I doubt he'll hang onto it for long. Certainly not long enough for Prado to pull a "gotcha," at least, though I could be very wrong.

The song for Deb and her reaction to it before she found out what the words meant was hilarious. She was sooo thrilled the CI (to whom she seems to be attracted) wrote a song just for her, heh heh. She definitely handled it well once she heard the translation, too.

I can only react to it how I'm reacting to it.

Well, you did ask the rest of us what we thought :-)

Anonymous said...

Last night it struck me how much Jennifer Carpenter's acting has improved since the first season. I was worried that Quinn was being set up as her next romantic mess, but hopefully we can have an entire season without Deb falling for the wrong guy, and just trying to be a better cop.

Anonymous said...

Watching this episode I was struck (again) that this show's DP - I looked it up, Romeo Tirone - is a beautiful genius of beauty. That scene under the bridge just knocked me out with awesome.

Susan said...

hopefully we can have an entire season without Deb falling for the wrong guy, and just trying to be a better cop.

Actually, I've felt the chemistry between Deb and the CI since the start, and I'm hopeful that it goes somewhere...

Jaydon said...

i think its fairly obvious they are setting him up to be overtly likable until he does something particularly heinous in the finale.

Anonymous said...

we know he isn't "cuddly", but this show has never been shy about Dexter making the world a better place

suggestion: Dexter has "put away" more guilty murderers than the rest of the homocide unit combined over the course of the first three seasons

in 3 paragraphs or less, prove to me that Dexter isn't in fact a good guy and great for the city of Miami

Anonymous said...

Dexter may be killing the "right" people, but he's still a murderer and there are laws against that sort of thing, even in Miami.

Anonymous said...

We can all agree that vigilante justice isn't a social cause we want to promote and there's a reason its illegal, but the question isn't whether Dexter is a murderer/lawbreaker...rather, have his actions left Miami a better place?

I think most people would consider the offing of most of the people he's offed as a social good, even if they disapprove of the methods.

Its the most literal question the series presents...whether a serial killer can be a good guy.

Anonymous said...

Re: the skinny mean bitch song

There is absolutely no chance a female cop in Florida doesn't know what "puta" means.

And I couldn't agree more with the stuff about Dexter having too many feelings, I was already saying that last season. He's supposed to be empty. The writers don't even seem to [i]try[/i] to portray that anymore. Whether or not his murders are a force for good isn't the point.

Anonymous said...

Another anonymous said...
There is absolutely no chance a female cop in Florida doesn't know what "puta" means.

Or any cop in NY.... right, Medavoy?

LoopyChew said...

I've always figured the idea behind the series beyond, and even during, Season One is that Dexter has to deal with the fact that he's gaining these emotions which threaten his otherwise pretty regular (as in constant, as opposed to socially normal) lifestyle.

It started out with Dexter being a machine, and ITK did his damnedest to shake him out of it. In this aspect, he succeeded. The past couple of seasons has been him trying to deny the existence of emotion in him, that all of it is pretend, in face of increasingly contradictory evidence.

The overwhelming difference between serial killers and people, despite the attempts to draw similarities, is that...well, they're serial killers. As someone else said, the whole question posed by the series is, can serial killers ever truly be the good guy?

More than anything, I'm interested in finding out how this series will end, when Dexter finally realizes that he has actually become the "real person" he's pretended to pretend to be throughout the series. Until then, I'll enjoy the ride.

Anonymous said...

I'd like it much better if the last season or two went as such a thing would most likely go in real life...that is, Dexter goes more and more off the rails until the "code" is completely twisted and he's barely human at all. Maybe goes out in a blaze of gunfire after taking an orphanage hostage.

Anonymous said...

I loved the moment after the kill, when Dexter gets a look of pure horror on his face...because he's forgotten to get milk.

To the idea that Nathan might "just" have committed statutory rape: non-pedophiliac statutory rapists do not strike up long conversations with little girls about Cheerios.