Friday, December 18, 2009


Ever since Dexter Morgan first revealed what was hiding behind his air conditioner, Showtime’s horrific little drama has been a fascinating, exciting, and frustrating ride into the mind of a sociopathic serial killer trying to sate his bloodlust while forming a human connection that doesn’t end at the wrong end of a pointy knife. Like the first three that came before, Season 4 steadily inched us to the edge of our couches for a big bang finale, but not before testing our patience with some oddly awful choices. Here’s my quick breakdown review:

Michael C. Hall’s work continues to make Dexter’s journey a trip worth taking, especially when you compare his understated, empty shell of a man constantly fabricating false emotions to his heart-on-his-sleeve wearing David Fisher from the wonderful Six Feet Under. While the writing doesn’t always serve his talents, putting too much interior monologue into obvious words what Hall could do with his face, Kyle Butler, Rita’s Husband, Geeky Lab Guy, and the Dark Passenger are just a few of the completely believable, completely different personas portrayed by Dexter Morgan. Meanwhile, Jennifer Carpenter continues to give a woefully underrated one-of-a-kind performance as a brash and mouthy detective too intense and emotional for her own good. It takes courage to hone such a divisive character. Similarly, John Lithgow’s terrifying portrayal of a monster in a man’s skin has been one of the most unsettling characterizations put on the small screen. Never have good posture and polo shirts produced so many shivers.

Dexter’s Quest
The most daunting challenge for the writers of Dexter is how to make a sociopath a serialized (no pun intended) character worthy of 4+ seasons. The very nature of Dexter’s mind is that he won’t grow as a person, since such psychologically marked subjects are by nature unable to develop feelings or meaningful relationships. The fact that Dexter is slowly coming to terms with his psychosis--testing its limits by adopting a family while constantly seeking fellow men/women of the night who understand the darkness inside--continues to produce compelling and involving episodes week after week. 

Painfully Plotted Supporting Characters
There’s nothing wrong with surrounding your enigmatic lead with a diverse group of family and coworkers, but when your show is titled “Dexter” and you run out of time to explore his psyche, it’s time to seriously consider how minor characters are contributing to the show. Masuka’s twistedly great one-liners are fine and Deb’s anguish provides a refreshingly messed up emotional counterpoint to our lead’s sociopathic haze, but what did Maria Laguarda (one of the worst representations of females-in-power I’ve ever seen on television) and Angel Batista’s (played by a fine actor who deserves better) forbidden romance possibly offer Season 4? Aside from cutting Dexter’s storyline by 10 minutes each episode, that is. There’s a place for workplace romance. It’s called The Office.

And Painfully Underdeveloped Antagonists
Nobody will argue that John Lithgow was the MVP of this season, but who was Arthur Mitchell? During his quadruple slaying sprees, was Trinity fully lost in his psychotic fantasies or a completely aware man fully savoring his handiwork time and time again? And what exactly did he do to his family behind those four walls to lull them into 18+ years of absolute fear? Why did Christine obsess over his approval so to the point of suicide?

There were a lot of unanswered questions about Trinity, which I could normally accept in a show seen through his nemesis’ eyes. But the mere fact that I don’t know the extent of Mitchell’s psychosis is irksome, especially when I think back to how much time was wasted having Batista reassure his beloved every 45 minutes. Perhaps it was intentional, as our lack of insight into Trinity’s ways may mirror the impossibility of Dexter ever getting true vengeance next year. I’ll suspend judgment for now, but let’s face it: had Lithgow not been such a powerful force of carefully acted evil, would we be more concerned with the fact that his character was so poorly drawn?

The Inevitable End of the Annual Big Bad
As any middle aged character actor who found himself thrust into Tony Soprano’s war path learned, a new performer hired by the Dexter team must know his or her days are numbered. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s a certain formula to follow to satisfy a loyal audience that’s been waiting for our hero to catch his biggest fish. The problem is, once it bites, the fun is over.

I didn’t expect Arthur to survive the season, just as I knew Jimmy Smitts’ days were done the second he crossed our stalwart star. In the recent finale, the writers actually did a nice job of building a suspense as to Trinity’s fate: could he escape? Would Dexter give up? Were the risks too great? Of course, that didn’t happen, and I’m sure many a fan let our a relieved sigh at the drop of Arthur’s own hammer. For me, however, all the buildup fizzled into an odorless puff the second Lithgow found himself under superstrong seran wrapping. In hindsight, their final conversation probably plays better when you discover what Arthur wasn’t saying, but for those few minutes of our big villain’s end, I felt strangely empty.

AKA the burning ray of light to guide us and Miami’s favorite murderer into brand new territory. The final image of Season 4 will be blazing through our skulls for the show’s hiatus, leaving a pile of questions in its bloody waters: Will Dexter shut down? Will the Miami Metro start to question why one of their own has now had a brush with two major serial killers in four years? If Rita finds herself surrounded by a fuzzy afterlife glow, how will Harry Morgan deal with a fellow ghost of the subconscious honing in on his territory? Will Daddy D. now look at little Harrison and wonder if the infant’s already been shattered by his new blood baptism? How can Dexter possibly find the time to work, kill, AND attend PTA meetings when he’s already averaging less nightly sleep than Buddy the Elf?

So like every season before it, this past year of Dexter has brought us lows and highs, made us choke on popcorn in shock just five episodes after having no problem monitoring the kernels without bothering to pause the TV. While I’ve clearly had my issues with certain aspects of the show, I also have newfound faith the writers and showrunners are preparing to take our Dark Passenger and his overburdened chauffeur on a new path more than worthy of at least 12 more hours. I’d love to hear more thoughts on what you think worked and whimpered out for Mr. Morgan’s 2009 adventures, so fire away and aim for that car marked ‘Just Married’.

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