Monday, November 30, 2009

Dexter, "Lost Boys": Correcting a mistake?

Spoilers for last night's "Dexter" coming up just as soon as I remind you that "Project Runway" is on...

Okay, here's my issue with "Lost Boys" (which is more of an issue with the series as a whole): in previous years, the show made it clear that Dexter didn't kill bad guys because he was worried about their victims, but because he had a need to kill, and Harry had drilled it into him that these were the only people he could/should kill. That he was saving other people's lives was a byproduct, but one that meant little or nothing to him. This point was made most explicitly in season two's "An Inconvenient Lie," when Dexter didn't really want to alter his killing timetable even if it meant he would stop the evil car salesman from claiming another victim. So seeing him so torn up about saving the little boy didn't ring true to me, even though part of Dexter's inner struggle was the realization that this killing would be his fault for having foiled Arthur's suicide attempt.

"An Inconvenient Lie" was also notable for giving Frank Lundy (RIP) a speech that tore to shreds any attempt by Dexter - or the audience - to justify his murders as some kind of social good, back in a time when the series viewed Dexter with a lot more moral ambiguity than it does now.

These days, the show is mainly interested in pitting Dexter against other killers so despicable that the audience won't have any compunction about seeing our man put them down. Every time the writers introduce the idea of Dexter killing outside The Code of Harry, they quickly dance away from the implications of that and distract Dexter and us with that season's big bad.

On the one hand, I don't want my TV characters to remain stagnant. So the idea of a Dexter who's growing - who's more aware that he has emotions, who can form attachments to people like Rita and her kids, who feels empathy for his target's victims - could, in theory, be really interesting. But in practice, it mainly feels like part of the ongoing attempt to make Dexter into a more palatable serial killer, so Showtime can justify keeping their biggest hit around for many more years to come.

So as good as Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow have been this year, I find it harder and harder to care about what's happening on the show - which is why I wanted to stop reviewing it in the first place.

Talk about it if you want, and maybe next week I'll just do an open discussion thread and save myself the aggravation.

What did everybody else think?


Eric Berg said...

This is precisely why I stopped watching mid-way through last season. I fell in love with the show for the moral ambiguity and the fascination of watching Dexter navigate through the alien (to him) world of normal people with their emotions and relationships. Having him slowly morphing into a non-psychopath just seems like a betrayal of the concept of the series.

Smizzle said...

I didn't realize I had a problem with Dexter's evolution until I read this post. Thanks?

Really though, I don't have a problem with his recent motivations, because I see this whole mini-arc as an exercise outside of his codified routine. I see it as more of him cleaning up and preventing the damage done by his investigation into Arthur - which was a seat-of-the-pants type of adventure for him.

Can't argue with his evolution into palatability though. I'd like to see him shift more toward the evil side in his motivations, rather than just throw out the phrase "dark passenger" every few episodes.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your point that the series has completely morphed into something new, and definitely not as ground-breaking as seasons one and two. However, I really enjoyed the last two episodes. John Lithgow and Michael C. Hall were great. It's almost like a spinoff: Dexter with a conscience transplant.

Anonymous said...

The pinocchio angle (Dexter trying to be a real boy) has worked for me, mainly because of Hall's performance. The realizations over time that he genuinely cares about people like Deb, Rita, the kids, feel real to me. I also feel they have done a good job dealing with the apparent contradictions - the conversations he has in his head with Harry, when he gets angry at him for saying he could never have it.

Last night, there were a couple moments that felt really genuine to me: 1) When the guy at the abducted kid's house said, "can you imagine walking past your kid's empty room" and Dexter realized that no, he couldn't imagine. 2) His epiphany that he uses his family as human shields, just like Arthur, and his feeling of guilt. 3) He is overcome with empathy for the boy and his family. And he wasn't expecting it.
Alan, you said you could be interested in a show where Dexter searches for real connections and emotions, but that this isn't doing it for you. Is it because you feel it is such a 180 from the original premise? Or a matter of execution? I do agree that, while I'm entertained immensely by this season, it lacks the depth and ambiguity that made the first 2 seasons so amazing.

I do feel like they need a game-changer at the end of the season. I'm optimistic it's heading in that direction: Deb may find out about Laura Moser (that CI showed up again last night to talk about Harry), the neighbor is moving in on Rita as she may be getting fed up with Dexter's lying and lack of presence. I know they have already been renewed for a 5th season, and I'm kind of hoping it becomes a everything-falls-apart-and-Dexter-can't-keep-it-together type theme. That kind of a return to moral ambiguity (or worse) would be welcome. It would make sense to me that just as he realizes he wants to have all this stuff, and he genuinely cares, he loses it all. And I just don't see how you could ever end this show with a happy ending.

belinda said...

Thinking back to "An Inconvenient Lie" (and season 2 in general), I'm really bummed that Lundy is dead. Because he is a likeable character (and not a killer), it was great to watch season 2 and be conflicted as to who to root for - Lundy or Dexter - at the time. Ah, good times.

I am bothered by them 'cute-ifying' Dexter (because what was most interesting about Dexter is that it was a show about a psychopath), but I'm not as bothered by this particular change. Don't parents always say that having children changes you? So, Dexter's shift to wanting to protect children (which, was also the reason why Dexter was drawn to Rita in the first place - Rita's kids, so I can kind of see that pattern even in the early days) on top of his innate want to kill.

And while his first and foremost want is the kill itself (and Harry's code leading it to be bad people instead of just any random guy), there's always an underlying sense of pride from Dexter that he does kill the bad guys (like that season 1 final montage thing with people thanking and cheering him on).

Alan Sepinwall said...

(which, was also the reason why Dexter was drawn to Rita in the first place - Rita's kids, so I can kind of see that pattern even in the early days)

I don't think that was the reason he was drawn to Rita. She was useful to him as a cover because the abuse by her husband had so totally shut her down that she wasn't interested in sex (which Dexter wasn't, either) or in any of the emotional stuff that comes from most relationships. She just needed some guy to be around her and treat her decently, and Dexter needed someone to keep him from looking like a weird loner.

If anything, Rita's transformation from who she was at the start of the series has been much more jarring than Dexter's. At least with Dexter, it's been slow and steady progress. Rita more or less got a personality transplant overnight.

Ted Kerwin said...

So I swore off of Dexter and than was laid up sick for two days and just watched it on demand. My wife is a huge fan, I think she was happier with me not watching, Lithgow is showing very good range with Arthur and there are still moments that interest me but this show lost its way and I don't see a graceful way out of it.

I would be happy if the Angel/Laguerta romance results in them both off the show next year. I also think the show would be great if they just put Dexter and Masouka in a new office ala CSI and introduced new lab people for Dexter to interact with. That way the cops and lab techs would not have a forced socialization that just drags down the show.

Bobman said...

Ed O.'s post pretty much echoes my feelings. Dexter's transformation has felt pretty organic to me. It's always been clear that while Dexter is a psychopath he isn't as much of a sociopath as he thinks he is; sure he has no compunction with killing, but his insistence that he has no feelings whatsoever has rang false (I believe deliberately) since day 1.

So while both he and Rita (and I agree, Alan, that Rita's transformation was far less elegant than even Dexter's) have changed significantly, it doesn't seem like anything other than a bit of therapy. Dexter is still a monster by societal standards - judge jury and executioner just doesn't fly in these times, "justified" or not - but he's come to at least accept that he can have feelings, mostly because of the strong attachment he has developed with his kids. Both he and Rita have used their lives as parents to at least start to heal the wounds of their pasts - Rita her past abuse, and Dexter his witnessing his mother's murder.

Again, they could have done it better, especially in the case of Rita, and I don't argue that it makes for a slightly less compelling show, but I honestly can't imagine how they could have kept the show even MARGINALLY interesting for this long had they not progressed the characters in this direction.

Anonymous said...

Dexter has always had a soft spot for kids. If I recall, that was established in the pilot. (Though in fairness, I may be thinking of the novel which states it explicitly.)

And he wants to save the boy for the same reason that Arthur wants to kill him. Dexter seems kids as innocent and doesn't want to harm them; and he knows his own youth was destroyed. That allows him to feel empathy, or as close as he does to empathy. (Arthur with a similar moment in his childhood, does the opposite.)

I don't think any of this is inconsistent. I'm no psychologist, but I sense that there are degrees of sociopathy. While Dexter is largely without emotion, he's had that soft spot for kids since the beginning, and I imagine that's what led to letting Arthur get away again.

And as far as what he said in Season 2? I think its less growth and more not understanding what he "feels." He clearly SEES himself as a monster, but he's not nearly as cold as he thinks he is. And this is consistent with his sociopathy. He has emotions, but he doesn't recognize them until he's forced to confront them. After seeing what Arthur did and how he uses his family to shield him, Dexter is forced to look at himself and only then does he GET what has been in his head all along. Emotions aren't helpful to a killer, and that's why he's been sloppy all season.

Overall, I think its been interesting character growth. The shades are more subtle than some people are giving the writers credit for, but probably because you've definitely got to step back and really see things through his eyes.

DinoMachino said...

I would have to say that looking at the show from a whole, seeing Dexter grow into something more resembling a human being is the natural progression for a show like this. If you look at why Dexter did not grow until the series began, it was because he had repressed the knowledge of his mother's murder. Once that came out into the open, Dexter started to develop emotionally little by little, so I have really liked seeing his development over the last few years. Plus, with this past episode, Dexter has always had a soft spot for kids, even if he didn't care about adult victims.

However, I agree that I would really like the writers not feel they have to cop out and just have Dexter go up against someone worse than him all the time. I would like to see some major plot lines revolve around people Dexter cares about finding out about him and how they come to grips with it. That would be very compelling.

Also, I think the way the writers have mismanaged Rita's character, who I felt was great in the first two seasons. Now she is being reduced to the role of nag and hypocrite. I guess it's hard to give other characters compelling story lines when you have a character like Dexter, whose stories make everyone else's look rather insignificant.

Anonymous said...

You are probably right about the (uninteresting) direction Dexter is heading, but there's still room for this to go the other way. Dexter was attracted to Trinity because it seemed that he could have it both ways. But Trinity manifestly is not both a good family man and an efficient serial killer (which is a big part of why I think it enrages Dexter so). If Trinity couldn't, then maybe Dexter can't either. There's also Doaks' point that the badness has to metastasize around Dexter... and the open question of what happens when Dexter sees that's true.

They've probably gone too far down the road with Dexter as family guy to get him to turn on the family and do harm to them directly. But Cody taking hits for covering for Dexter seems to foreshadow more badness coming to the family because of Dexter. (The obvious one would be for Trinity to go after Cody to replace Scott). Since Trinity is only still walking because Dexter wanted to learn how to have it both ways, Dexter would be complicit in Cody's death. There are ways Dexter could react to that which could further mine the inherent ambiguity to Dexter's character.

But I do fear that you are right and they are going to keep pushing Dexter as some kind of hero pitted against the real bad guys out there, and that is and would be very disappointing.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the camp that feels Dexter has organically changed.

Additionally, I don't think Rita's role has been reduced to "nag and hypocrite." If anything I think she serves to as a mirror for Dexter. They both have expectations, they both have unfulfilled desires, they both cover up their acts. Rita's just had less show time (thank god for that).

If they go breaking bad scenario I'm not sure the show will be around much longer.

Bryn said...

This post particularly put me in mind of something I've often wondered: do TV critics watch too much TV to really appreciate it? Dexter isn't perfect, what show is? But it's still one of the best shows on TV, and it just sounds like you're nitpicking for the sake of it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ah, the "nitpicking" complaint. Yawn.

I will say this: Dexter would not make my list of the 10 best shows to air on TV in this calendar year, nor would it make a top 20, and I'm not sure it would make a top 30.

It's an entertaining show, at times a gripping one. But the thing about watching so much TV isn't that it makes you overly critical; it just makes you aware of how many great things are out there, and how many other things fall short of greatness.

Bryn said...

Who watches 30 shows except TV critics and the unemployed? My point stands, your perspective is skewed.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I repeat: yawn.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Alan on this one; this current incarnation of the show is almost a sitcom compared to the first season. What was so appealing about the first season was that Dexter felt nothing and that he had to do things that didn't make sense to him just to fit in (date Rita, maintain an interest in his sister, et cetera). Dexter and Rita have changed so much since Season 1 that they are unrecognizable.

What Alan doesn't mention in this post - but what he has talked about in the past - is the shelf life of the show. How many more seasons is Showtime going to milk out of this show where some bad serial killer comes in, Dexter plays cat and mouse for more than a few episodes, and ultimately dispatches him? Yawn. The writers save Dexter at the end of each season by killing anyone who knows who he really is or who can hold him accountable for who he really is.

The only way this show could breathe some life back into itself if for Dexter to be identified and have Miami Metro hunt him down. Seeing how he, and Deb, would cope with that would be interesting.

TheGamblurr said...

I'm neither a TV critic nor unemployed AND I have a life outside of my humble home; yet; I find time to watch 30+ shows regularly...strange?

Been a lurker a while, first time commenting.

Love the blog Alan, your's and the commenter's insights always enrich my viewing experiences, very happy to have totally stumbled onto the blog this past year and will be a faithful reader as long as you're here. Keep it up.

dez said...

I think the writers need to settle on a diagnosis for Dexter's condition and stick to it. If he's a true sociopath, he will never, ever develop feelings for anyone or thing because that's just not how a sociopath's brain functions (Dexter's bursts of anger and his code fit in, but his woobieness doesn't). If he's got some other psychological damage that is correctable (to a small degree), then they need to make that clear and go forward. But all this having it both ways crap has to stop.

One of the bad things about Dexter killing Biney so quickly was not learning from him how to fake emotions efficiently in order to blend in fully with society. Biney didn't have any problems getting Deb to fall in love with him and presumably fooling many others while going out and committing his crimes. Dexter finding out that Arthur hasn't blended in so well after all should have significant ramifications for Dex, but we probably won't get to see them because the writers will be too busy trying to create the next serial killer for Dex to hunt.

Having said that (heh), I did enjoy last night's ep, especially the tense hunt for Trinity & the kid. I also liked Masouka wanting to unburden the secret he's carrying because I like Masouka having feelings (frankly, I think he would be more hurt than anyone to find out the one guy he thinks is a real friend is actually a real fiend). Plus, Lithgow was amazing showing Arthur's insanity.

Seriously, though, this show needs an end date. I don't want to see Dex battling some other serial killer every freakin' season. I want to see Dexter deal with his Dark Passenger and the Code and the fake happy life he's tried to create. OTOH, I like Bautista and don't want him off the show, so what do I know? :-D

Smizzle said...

Why the fear of change? You have a problem with a fluid premise for a show? I totally agree that the moral ambiguity was unique and compelling for this show, but you have to accept that we are watching a person in a constant state of self-discovery.

Dexter isn't an actual robot, although he mostly acts like one, who is only wired one way. He was brainwashed by Harry to be a certain way, and we see that brainwashing wearing off through the visions of Harry - especially the ones where Dexter blatantly disobeys his advice.

In a related topic, I probably put Dexter in my top 10, and clearly in my top 20, of the year - and I watch most of the shows you'd put there. I think they handle suspense as well as any show on the air that doesn't involve some huge mysteries or scifi. I always get the feeling it could all crumble for Dexter and the show could end (even though I'm aware it won't) - what show tops them in edge-of-your-seat weekly viewing?

I'm not scared of an evolving Dexter, and I don't view it as a copout. I might not love the taming of Dexter that's going on, but I consider it sensible and plausible. It's not like the terms of his "condition" are written in stone or anything - he's a still an evolving person under there.

dickey simpkins said...

Count me in the camp that feels like Dexter has changed organically, but the surrounding elements have not kept up.

Like others have said, Dexter sees himself as a soulless monster, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's 100% fact. A natural inclination to save children when his own childhood was ruined makes sense.

The problem with the show's future lies on whether or not Deb is going to find out about the connection between Dexter and the Ice Truck Killer. If they continue to dance around it, then it appears the writers are content with milking the success and having the show pretty much be "Dexter vs Crazy Serial Killer played by great character actor." It will still be riveting television, but as for anything groundbreaking or thought-provoking, Season 2 is looking like its peak.

dickey simpkins said...

@Smizzle, the problem with the edge of your seat viewing is that Dexter had that in the first two seasons plus more.

Is it unfair to expect more out of a show like Dexter? It's like the Entourage problem. Do you just accept the show at face value and enjoy the ride, or constantly get annoyed by the straight line the show seems to be moving in. Dexter works because John Lithgow is one creepy dude, what happens if the villain next year is a dud?

Bobman said...

I think the writers need to settle on a diagnosis for Dexter's condition and stick to it. If he's a true sociopath, he will never, ever develop feelings for anyone or thing because that's just not how a sociopath's brain functions (Dexter's bursts of anger and his code fit in, but his woobieness doesn't). If he's got some other psychological damage that is correctable (to a small degree), then they need to make that clear and go forward. But all this having it both ways crap has to stop.

This isn't meant to be argumentative, but is there really no "degree" of sociopath? If you're a sociopath you are both totally devoid of human compassion AND incurable? My knowledge of psychology is admittedly limited but this seems VERY unlikely. Dexter's condition, whatever you want to classify it as, is obviously a response to a traumatic childhood event and has been spelled out as such. I can't imagine such a thing is incurable, or at least open to shades of gray.

As to the "nitpicking" commenter above, while tastes obviously vary, I think most people who actually bother to seek out good TV would agree that Dexter is nowhere near "one of the best things on television." I enjoy it and defend the storyline more than some (Alan in particular) but there are far too many really GOOD shows out there to consider Dexter anymore than an entertaining middle-of-the-road show.

SR said...

I'm in the "organic transformation" camp, and feel that this season as a whole has been an improvement over the last two. This season is all about fatherhood and father figures; I believe that Dexter's own struggles to be a better father has propelled an awareness that he does have real feelings.

Re: his psychology, at a panel a few years back the producers made it clear that his "condition" is not based on any real psychological diagnosis. He's a fictional construct, like Holmes' Moriarty; a show depicting the inner workings of a real serial killer or textbook sociopath would be a lot less fun to watch.

Having said that (TM Larry David), I agree that a lot of the rest of the show isn't keeping up with that evolution, and the office romance stuff is pointless filler.

Lastly, I'm surprised no one else mentioned Courtney Ford. After weeks of thinking she was merely cast for how she looked half-naked, I was surprised and impressed by how she nailed the more challenging, emotional sides of Christine she was asked to play this week. In an episode with so much great work from Lithgow and Hall (especially as Dexter's cool demeanor started to fray over the kidnap victim's fate), hats off to Ford for holding her own.

belinda said...

Huh, if Dexter is someone curable (as he seems to be able to evolve, if only a little at a time), then perhaps Harry was all wrong. By being so sure about his diagnosis of Dexter as a killer at a young age, he never gave Dexter the chance to NOT be a monster (by therapy/medical treatments/whatnots). Sure, he was very supportive and gave Dexter all he could to maintain a normal-ish life while doing good (killing bad guys), but I wonder if Dexter ever had a shot at normalcy if Harry wasn't so adamant about him not changing. (Of course, from what we've seen of the flashbacks, it does seem young Dexter was a bit off and Harry was right.)

As for Rita, I do think she was just a convenient cover for Dexter, but ultimately Dexter stayed with her (and married her) more because of the kids than Rita herself. He was always more protective of the kids than of Rita, even through the whole Paul and Lila thing (that when the kids are threatened, Dexter takes care of them) And when he proposed, he proposed to the entire family, not just to Rita - so Rita's kids always seemed on some level, more important than Rita in why Dexter chose to stay with this cover of his.

But yes! I can buy Dexter's change in attitude but less so for Rita. Rita's change into a naggy housewife was just strange. Then again, I think it could just be the show's tendency not to write well for a lot of its supporting cast (see LaGuerta, Angel, Quinn, etc).

Aw, where's the love for Alan? I don't agree with him (since I would put Dexter in a top 30 of the year) but I don't think he's nitpicking anymore than he does with any other show, good or bad.

And he's nice enough to at least post a open post sometimes so we could still comment on it.

Michael said...

I think many of you have become so comfortable with the character of Dexter and the brutal human slayings in which he partakes that you have become desensitized to the reality of who Dexter is.

Dexter hunts people down, knocks them out, ties them to a table, and stabs them to death and into pieces.

His underlying motivation is not a desire to do justice but an innate bloodlust and desire to kill that cannot be contained.

There is a serious disconnect between the family-man and empathetic hero we witness in the majority of this season and the sociopath that is Dexter.

How much empathy could a serial killer such as Dexter possibly have or ever attain?

Would the everyday person be able to actually kill and stab someone to pieces -- even if it was their greatest enemy?

Aside from when he kills people, is the new Dexter really that different from the everyday person? Aren't there plenty of introverted, socially-awkward people just like Dexter?

Dexter's ability to deal with his sister, wife, and kids is completely unrealistic given the Dexter of season 1.

The reason Dexter and sociopaths need a code is because they have no moral compass to guide their actions. The development of Dexter should have focused on revising his code to better adapt to society and his family -- not quickly transform him into something he is not and never will be (a loving father and empathetic friend).

Unknown said...

while tastes obviously vary, I think most people who actually bother to seek out good TV would agree that Dexter is nowhere near "one of the best things on television."

Perhaps. I don't know. I can say that, for me, it makes my top ten but, frankly, I don't know if there are ten shows that I would actually consider very good. It seems to me that to get to 20, you would have to start including a lot of reality shows and I find the vast majority of those to be entirely unwatchable. But hey, everybody's got different tastes.

With respect to Dexter's development, I agree with those who feel that it feels somewhat natural. But I also agree with SR's point at 4:27, that its problematic to think about it as some sort of a realistic portrayal of sociopathy. Its still a story and its a pretty common element of narrative that people can pretend to be something so long that they become what they are pretending to be. I think every undercover cop story ever told has that theme but it may not be a realistic understanding of human psychology after all.

Nathan said...

Alan said
I will say this: Dexter would not make my list of the 10 best shows to air on TV in this calendar year, nor would it make a top 20, and I'm not sure it would make a top 30.

Are there even enough shows you like to fill a top 10 list? It seems to me that recently you are hating every show except Mad Men, Chuck and maybe Lost. You have become jaded Alan. I though you were a huge fan of Dexter and House but now you seem to hate them with your guts. How does one go from loving one show to despising it so quickly like you have? Yes you are becoming jaded, maybe you need to take a couple weeks vacation to regroup and rediscover your love for tv

Anonymous said...

Alan is right of course. The writers have been making Dexter more likable by making him sympathize with victims. The whole reason Dexter kills people is because he NEEDS to kill.

But I started to get nervous way back in season 2.

In season 2 Dexter started dreaming about being a "Dark Defender". He liked the fact that he was protecting the innocent. So to be fair, the writers have been planning this evolution of character.

dez said...

If you're a sociopath you are both totally devoid of human compassion AND incurable? My knowledge of psychology is admittedly limited but this seems VERY unlikely.

I'm not an expert, but there are a lot of articles out there regarding sociopathy that are accessible to a lay reader and that's pretty much the conclusion. I can ask some friends of mine who are psychs what the current thoughts are on sociopathy and let you know what they say if you're interested. It's possible the stuff I read was outdated.

Re: his psychology, at a panel a few years back the producers made it clear that his "condition" is not based on any real psychological diagnosis. He's a fictional construct, like Holmes' Moriarty; a show depicting the inner workings of a real serial killer or textbook sociopath would be a lot less fun to watch.

The problem is that the writers change his psychology to fit their whims/storylines. I know they have deviated from the Dexter of the novels (who was a sociopath in at least the first two), but do they have to keep deviating from the Dexter they established in the first season?

And yes, I would watch a show about the inner workings of a real serial killer (God knows I've seen plenty of movies & mini-series depicting just that).

dez said...

In season 2 Dexter started dreaming about being a "Dark Defender". He liked the fact that he was protecting the innocent.

That was in self-aggrandizing way, though, not an empathetic, save-the-innocent way.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Are there even enough shows you like to fill a top 10 list?

As I'm going to be doing two Top 10 lists (one for new shows, one for returning series), you betcha.

And I've been complaining about foundational problems with Dexter going back to late in season two. It's not like I just flipped a switch or something. You can go back and read the old reviews to see for yourself.

hutch said...

As a therapist who has treated abused women I agree with Allan that Rita's transformation has been somewhat jarring. Yes, she has had a "personality transplant" and in so doing her character has lost dimension. The subtle nuances of Season One are gone. There have also been a number of interesting comments about Dexter's diagnosis. There are degrees of sociopathy. The writers implied in the first season that Dexter was a full-blown sociopath, not merely someone with features of antisocial personality disorder. In using this as a point of departure and subsequently watering down Dexter's character, I believe the show has suffered greatly. I watched it with real interest initially; however the absence of logic combined with the loss of authenticity in the storylines has been a real disappointment. The writers have to stop vacillating. Real sociopaths have no conscience and are not treatable. The British series "Wire in the Blood" captured this perfectly.

xyz said...

Reading the other comments... what is so wrong with having a Dexter vs. Crazy serial killer formula ever season? I mean pretty much every show follows a formula to some degree with the exception of a couple of shows like Lost. I'd be fine with 7-8 seasons of Dexter fighting a crazy killer every year as long as the killers are unique and interesting. Procedurals are infinitely more formulaic and repetitive than Dexter and no one seems to complain about them. Dexter is the show that I'm looking forward to the most every week. Some people put Dexter on a really high pedestal in season1/2. Dexter has always been a somewhat campy fun thriller... I don't think it ever aspired anything more than that, if you think about it, in Season 1 Dexter's brother is a ridiculous villain. He comes up with that super elaborate plan to achieve a very simple end goal, for no apparent reason. His plan almost makes him look a Batman cartoon villain. Dexter is the same show it was in season 1, it's just that some people made it out to be more than it actually was and now they are disappointing by it.

Mr. Pink said...

Alan, I feel like you are inconsistent in your gripes with Dexter.

You seem to dislike the formulaic path that the show is taking, where Dexter is pitted against a serial killer each season.

But then you give loads of praise to shows like White Collar that tightly follow the same formulas each episode.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad Alan brought the posts back so I can discuss it with other people. Don't battle with Alan's opinion on the show. Just share yours and argue light heartedly.

Anonymous said...

Also, it would be nice for them to have explored how fucked up Harry Morgran really was. They play ball around it but any one who trains their song to be a killer has issues. It was not just for Dexter, Harry was pleased that Dexter could kill the scumbag he couldn't catch. Additionally, we all know Harry was a major cheater. The show missed out on exploiting and exploring Harry as a character.

Alan Sepinwall said...

But then you give loads of praise to shows like White Collar that tightly follow the same formulas each episode.

Yes. That's exactly what I've done with "White Collar." You've nailed me. Well done!

LoopyChew said...

Count me in with the "Organically Developed Dexter" group. If you want examples of the Pinocchio syndrome, you can go as far back as Shrink Wrap, the Season One episode where he kills the psychiatrist. He's always had the emotions, but they were dammed; Biney simply got Dexter's fingers out of the hole.

I do acknowledge that the more recent seasons aren't nearly as gripping as the first two seasons, but I also think that more of the same would have been too difficult. While it could have been a perfect two-season series (had they changed the end of the second season, maybe, to make it more final), I'm also happy watching MCH playing Dexter. That I stomach the Angel/LaGuerta scenes is proof enough of that. (Chesty LaRue's scenes are also still annoying, but at least she's becoming a relevant character.)

suncore598 said...

I think Rita's transformation was slow and steady like Dexter or Deb. Let me show you:

SEASON 1: Rita is still traumatized by what her ex-husband did to her and afraid of standing up for herself like when she let a "friend" of her ex-husband's take her car as payment for what Paul owed him. It isn't until the fourth episode that we see Rita beginning to grow a bit of a backbone. She finally has sex for the first time since the rapes late in the season. But she finds her newly regained strength challenged by the return of her ex-husband. Fortunately, She was able to fight him back when he tried to rape her again and with the help of Dexter, she was able to get him out of her life and the lives of her kids.
SEASON TWO: Rita is enjoying her freedom from Paul and her relationship with Dexter. But thoughts about Paul's possible innocence to the drug charge that sent him back to prison puts a bit of a wrinkle in her relationship with Dexter. Rita still harbors some trust issues because of Paul and though she got passed trust on a sexual level, she hasn't completely got through it on an emotional level. Rita tries to work through her relationship with Dexter by having him go to NA meetings after he told her that he is a drug addict. But with the return of her mother and Dexter's growing attraction to Lila, Rita finds herself at risk of losing what she has accomplished in her personal life since Paul. So Rita broke up with Dexter and eventually kicked her mother out of her life in hope of maintaining her strength and growing independence. But a part of her still missed Dexter and his presence in her life and the lives of her kids. So slowly over the final four episodes, Dexter and Rita get to the point of matching up things between them, this time their relationship a little stronger than before with Dexter acknowledging the fact that he actually loves Rita and the kids.

JanieJones said...

Ah, Alan, you beat me to it regarding your review of WC.

Dez is correct. The show needs an end date. I've enjoyed Dexter but not in the same capacity as S1 and S2.
A sociopath is a sociopath. I'm not going into a mini thesis regarding sociopaths. I suspend what I learned in grad/post grad when I view this show.
If Dexter (the show) followed the books, the show would not be palatable to most people because Dex is a major monster.
Think about it, Dexter is labeled as a lovable serial killer. There is no such thing.
However, Hall does bring a certain element that makes Dexter appear more human, at times. I've noticed this season, Dexter has not been as neat and tidy as usual. He looks beat up as I suppose anyone who had a new baby, 2 stepkids and wife would while maintaining work and his "secret" life. He is not watching his himself. Did anyone think last night, aren't there cameras in the parking garage, let alone where there is kid saturation via the mall/carnival atmosphere? What about using his own cell to call Arthur, unless he bought another.
I've enjoyed the past two episodes much more than the rest of the season. Lithgow has added a very creepy element.
Rita did not have much screen time last night and it was noticeable and more enjoyable. Her personality evolution has been less believable to me than anything else.
I felt bad for Vince. No one pays attention to him because he usually says uncouth things.

Dexter would rank in at the end of my top 25 for the year.

Dexter is not the kind of show, imho, that can last another 2 to 3 seasons. Although, that doesn't mean it will not happen.

suncore598 said...

SEASON THREE: Rita is hit by an unexpected development in her life: she's pregnant. She has no problem raising another child but fears Dexter's reaction to the pregnancy and how this will affect their recently rekindled relationship. Tired of waiting for Dexter's response, Rita gives him an ultimatum after standing up for her decision to keep the baby. When Dexter decides to be a father, Rita is happy but has qualms when Dexter propose they should get married on top of being parents. Rita is hesitant concerning her two last marriages (one of them we discover in the season finale) didn't end so well. Rita forgets her objections when Dexter gives him an outwardly heartfelt proposal which gives her hope that maybe her marriage to Dexter won't end in failure like the others. So Dexter and Rita make plans for their wedding. They hit some rocky bumps along the way but in the end, Rita finally has her happy wedding day, looking forward to a blissful future with Dexter.
SEASON FOUR: The reality of being married to Dexter finally hits Rita as she struggles to raise three kids mostly on her own with Dexter preoccupied with work and his extracurricular activities. Rita's struggles at home and Dexter continuing to tell her lies brings up her fears about being married again going wrong and some lingering trust issues left behind by the wake of Paul's abuse. So Rita has Dexter move out of the house for a bit for her to think things over and hires a therapist for them to go to in hope of making Dexter see what he's doing wrong in their marriage. But instead, Rita realizes that Dexter may not be the only one at fault here when the therapist points out that Rita knew the type of person Dexter was all this time and married him anyway and that her hope of marriage suddenly changing Dexter may not have been a reasonable one. Dexter also opened up to Rita without telling her the actual truth concerning his dark nature which touches Rita to the point of letting Dexter return to the home and giving their marriage a second shot. But Dexter continuing to keep working at long hours of the day and night still makes her feel lonely. Rita tries covering that loneliness up with denial in the face of Dexter but a part of her ends up seeking comfort in Elliot. In Elliot, Rita sees the Dexter she wanted to emerge after the wedding. A Dexter who spends more time at home with the kids than at work. A Dexter who she can feel completely at ease around without fear of being lied to. Elliot destroys the illusion when he kisses Rita. Elliot thought Rita wanted this thing between them to become more than simple friendship but, regardless of her keeping the illusion going, Rita still loved Dexter and wouldn't risk having an affair that would ruin their marriage and affect her kids who has been enough with Paul. So Rita quits spending time with Elliot after Thanksgiving. However, Elliot pointing out her loneliness still stays in her mind.

Sandy said...

The show has definitely fallen off from its beginning.

I think the showrunners are too starry-eyed over their golden goose of a show, and have drunk too much of their own "America's Favorite Serial Killer" Kool-Aid.

The problem is that they have made the show more palatable for mass consumption, and that's not where a show like this should head if it wants to hold onto what made it interesting.

As Alan said, Dexter is increasingly portrayed as a true hero in contrast to the Big Bads who are irredeemably evil by contrast.

He didn't start out as a cuddly family guy, and if that's where they intend to take him, they should end the show right there. Where's the interest in watching the guy who used to be a serial killer, but doesn't do that anymore?

wooshring said...

mn...its just a TV show

Anonymous said...

I know, I'm with you. Psycopaths don't show so much emotion. Are the writers actually watching the show that they create? Where is the code, and where is Dad's guidance? Dex should have stopped hunting Arther when he discovered that Arther didn't shoot Deb. BTW, casting John Lithgow was a great choice, his performance has been awesome!

Smizzle said...

Top 10 shows is a weird hurdle for a show like this, because it fills a different need than most of the quality shows on TV now. I can't stack it up against Modern Family or even Mad Men, because they do different things for me. Can't say one makes me laugh more than the other makes me tense. I think calling it a Top 2 or 3 Suspenseful Drama on television is an accurate and impressive category. It sits with shows like LOST, but excludes shows like Mad Men.

A show where I need to watch some Curb or some Californication after to cool down, means it took a lot out of me, which is a great thing.

What other shows "take a lot out of you" besides LOST and Dexter? Where you need to watch a comedy after. It's a good question because these kinds of shows are an event and get people excited to sit and watch. It's like movie television I guess. One of those shows you have to be ready to watch, like sometimes I just won't be ready to watch Lost yet. I'll need to prepare myself.

Occassionally this would include Rescue Me, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men (although it's not edge of your seat, more middle of your seat), but I can't think of anything that hits this mark consistently like Lost and Dexter. Who else delivers 45 minutes of wire-to-wire tension week after week in the climactic stretch of their season?

Unknown said...

As a relatively new veiwer of Dex (within the past year) his transformation from cold-blooded killer to misguided protector of children is particualarly jarring.

The first year or so it is made very clear - and with no apologies- Dexter is incapable of having the types of feelings he has now. It's a shame because Lithgow is so good in this.

Kimmy said...

Ever since The Shield, Sopranos, and ER ended, I have been on the HUNT for good shows. I was lucky enough for Ryan Hurst to be such a good actor in his movies and Medium, that I would check out Sons of Anarchy. Good move. It gave me back the Shield with the twist of FAMILY, as Gemma puts it.

When someone suggested Dexter, I was hesitant. Not sure if I believed murder is justified, even if it is the bad guys.

However I stuck it out. Sunday's episode was one of the best in the series to me. Lost Boys explained the Dark Passenger, and showed me where it all began. Preserving the innocence of a young boy.

Anonymous said...

For me, Dexter is kind of like House for me ((though I favor Dexter over House, since I've kind of ditched House for now) - a middling but on occasion really good show with a really really great main character and great actor.

So, like for awards, I think I'd still happy/ok with Hugh Laurie and Michael C Hall nominated in the best actor category, because they essentially ARE their resp. shows, but not at all (and a little mad)to see the shows nominated in the best drama category (like this year's batch of awards in favor of more deserving shows).

Timothy Holden said...

Don't hate on Alan. This was a stupid show from the beginning, but I LOVE IT.

The week of the Mad Men finale, I was more excited for Dexter and I can't really explain why.

I think I enjoy cringing at every Quinn scene, Batista scene, Deb swearing scene.... every coffee boy scene.

I watch because I want to see how they can make the coffee boy a serial killer, too.

I love this show.

Nick said...

Not even a top 30 show? This blog has become nothing more than a place for elitist trolls. Although I agree the beginning of this season was probably the worst out of any season thus far, the last two episodes have been quite good and generally loved everywhere else on the Internet but here.

Dexter has always had a soft spot for kids and the show has made it blatantly obvious from it's beginning. Dexter has displayed plenty of empathy since season 1 as well. I suggest you all go watch the end of Circle of Friends when he gives Jeremy Downs (the teenage killer) advice on how to channel his dark passenger. Later, he regrets giving him "fortune cookie" advice and goes back to try to help him out even more since he knows exactly what Jeremy's dealing with. The finale of Season 1 and his dream sequence as The Dark Defender also displays his desires to be appreciated as some kind of a hero. I'm starting to believe a lot of you people have forgotten much of what happened in Season 1.

Skitch said...

Something I've noticed that no one's touched upon (and please forgive me if they have as I scanned the responses and may have just missed it) is something that began last season and continues through this season:

Has anyone else become irritated by "ghost Harry"?

I think James Remar is an excellent actor and I highly enjoyed him in the flashback sequences during the first two seasons. However, I find it a bit unsettling that he's acting as some sort of spiritual advisor to Dexter, making the title character seem crazier than he is. It's almost like the unnecessary Arthur 2: On The Rocks.

As for the series as a whole, I thought the first two seasons were superb and even enjoyed the third season as it provided a great foil/friend in Smits' Miguel Prado. However, I could also see that the writing began to suffer a bit in terms of the supporting cast.

Perhaps it's just me, but since about halfway through season 3, everything has seem...forced...for the lack of a better word.

Audrey's Mom said...

Skitch, I agree. I appreciate the connection of Harry for Dexter but the orchestration of his appearances can be a bit much (literally).

I watch the show for the show value, and watch Dexter's humanization. Both aren't perfect, but both are reasonable. Considering the latter, I see this progression toward humanity as an end point for the show, and admire the context that encourage Dexter away from his darkness. After all, his evil nature is really not that at all - it was nurtured by a horrific experience. Why then, can't we believe that in adulthood, with responsibilities in the care toward others, he can lose his need to kill? Watching Dexter this season balance between holding onto his past (stuff in the storage shed, sneaking away from the camp, his occasional 'need' to kill) and realizing different instincts is OK. I like his guilt on killing the innocent photographer - in fact it's added to my emotional distance from Dexter, as though his other killings were all morally justified even if he thought they were.

There is still the element that he could be found out for his past (and present), which they continue to dangle into front of us (the kid Cody fought with) and Dexter's feelings about involving his family (Cody's fight). And we've become attached enough to Dexter to care what happens when and if that day comes. Worried that it might. Expecting that it will.

Then there's the show for the show's sake. There are characters I don't like including Dexter's family and most in the squad. But except for season 3, the villains or adversaries (Lundy) are top notch and fun to watch. And I love Deb (and Jennifer Carpenter's performance). I think I blend my affection for Deb, Dexter, with my knowledge that Hall and Carpenter are a couple, as some kind of substitute for what Dexter's TV family doesn't offer.

And then there are the bang up, tense and exciting scenes (like the kid in the bag in the wet cement), and the plot twists that make it just fun TV.

Anonymous said...

I actualy thing this is by far the best season so far. There are still a ton of weakpoints in the substorylines but at least the Dexter stuff is less stale and more dramatic.

I always thought it was very sad that the did not make a biger deal out of dexters need to kill. The show treads it more like a strange hobbey... but he never ends up in a position were he just kills someone out of impulse... or at least thinks about it... just because he has not killed in a while.

vampy said...

In the first two seasons, I thought Dexter was a somewhat chilling character. Now, I never thought "he's a realistic serial killer," because if he was the show would be unwatchable. But he wasn't a good guy, he was a murderer who liked murdering people. (I described the show when it first started as being about a Homicidal Maniac who solved crimes to a coworker.)

I remember when he found out that Lila had killed Doakes and his immediate reaction wasn't gratitude that his lover had taken out his enemy but "oh, cool, I get to kill her now." (Imagine a similar situation on the Sopranos, where mob etiquette forced Tony to do something similar to the other Tony. "Tony Uncle June" wasn't enjoying himself in that case, he did it regretfully.)

I feel it's gotten hokey. I'm not scared of Dexter anymore. I don't feel he's a monster. He's got Spike-syndrome (see Buffy), the TV equivalent pro-wrestling's "heel-face" turn.

Mike F said...

This is a show with big flaws, but BIG can't argue that this show doesn't hit it out of the park with at least some of what it does.

At its best over the years, Dexter has delivered huge moments, really original thriller moments, and a handful of great characters/performances. Despite its flaws, that big-hitter ability is why I always look forward to watching this show.

For me, shows like this one, Entourage and True Blood are like good pulp fiction. These are all shows that Alan rips on and these are all shows that have proved to have staying power and strong followings. You know its not great literature, but you keep turning the page and generally enjoy the read.

Anyhow, I'd be glad to watch as many seasons of this show as possible, but I do hope the people that make the show take a good hard look at what's working and what isn't and try to tighten up the narrative and shed some of the riff-raff.

Anonymous said...

The only way that Dexter's progression towards being fully aware of how much he actually does care about his family pays off is is to have them ripped from him completely in the Season Finale. Either because Dexter is finally found out and arrested for it, or because he ends up being responsible for some horrific ill befalling his family.

In the first season, you didn't so much want Dexter to get away with it because you liked him as because you were still really curious about him. After the first season, you pretty much knew that the show wouldn't allow Dexter to be caught, but occasionally got a good game of cat and mouse when he was threatened with exposure. It's an idle threat right now, like when your 6 year old says she'll hate you forever because you didn't let her have that 3rd piece of cake. Both are about equally snoozeworthy.

So the only way that I see this track of making Dexter more invested in those around him pay off is to cruelly rip everyone he cares about away from him in some horrible, apparently irreversible way that was clearly his own fault.

I don't know if the show has the guts to do that when we know it has been renewed for another season.

Jill said...

Count me in the Pinocchio/organic camp. For all that Ghost Harry (who is actually just Dexter's thoughts made manifest) is annoying, too often replaces things like plot, and violates the "show don't tell" rule all over the place, his continued presence in the show continues to create the question in my mind: What kind of man adopts a child from a hideous experience, finds that he kill animals (the first was the neighbor's dog), and DOESN'T GET THIS KID SOME HELP??? We know that Harry "made" Dexter as a response to his own frustration with bad guys who went free -- and then was sickened by what he had made. But there is plenty more to do in terms of resolving Harry. I think Deb's pursuit of information is also going to cause a bit of a collision on that front.

And how awesome has Jennifer Carpenter been this season? She's always been better than she's been given credit for, but this season she's knocked it out of the park. How great was she in the interview scene with Courtney Ford? Deborah is also carrying steamer trunks of baggage from Harry.

Of course the logical plotline of this show would be a continuation of BOTH their journeys, but that would make it "In Treatment", so I'm not sure where they're going to take it. I don't see more than another season in this show; two at most.

3333/afa said...

This post has an extremely long thread of comments, so I haven't read each one thoroughly. Regardless, glancing through them, I didn't see this mentioned: the kidnapped boy, Scott, was just a BRUTAL actor. I know he's young and it might be a little inappropriate to criticize him too much, but that was the best option the "Dexter" casting people could find? At no point did he seem to act like a frightened kidnapped child would; instead, he was a bratty little punk whose range of emotions seemed to be between "smirking" and "not smirking."

SOA said...

Not all kids get frightened by that sort of thing, some of them just get annoyed and pissed off especially those with mental issues like autism, like I picture myself reacting like Scott did if some strange dude kidnapped me at that age.

Anyways you count me firmly in the "organic evolution" camp, i'm beginning to think Alan totally misunderstood Dexter as a character right from the beginning(and is too stubborn to admit to being wrong, Dexter caring about saving that kid totally makes sense, they planted the seeds for that back in season 1) and i'd definitely put Dexter in my top 20 shows, it's WAY better than that massively overrated crapfest LOST ever was, now there's a show that went off the rails with stupid crap that felt pointless(I.E. Sun randomly forgetting to speak English which ultimately serves no purpose, that one kid with supernatural powers that never gets brought up again)not to mention killing off the most interesting characters way too soon.