Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Of Streaming Audio and Fighting Foo
There’s something to be said for audio streams. In the eighties, record labels promoted new album releases with lavish bios printed on heavy stock paper, replete with 8 X 10 glossies and fan lapel buttons. They even sent critics picture discs on occasion. Sometimes, we were even treated to margarita parties and backstage passes.. We loved all that attention, probably a little too much. All the perks and extras made us feel way too special, and diverted our attention away from the core reason any of us there were there in the first place—our devotion to music.

While I’m not knocking the excesses of the eighties (outside of the fact that I’m left with a buttload of promo nonsense, the significance of the moment escaping me 25 years later), I rather like the audio streams the labels often send me now. I know I’m in a bit of a minority among my contemporaries, but the notion that we need a physical object to remind us of the importance the music makes to us strikes me as daft.

Downloaded audio streams force us to focus purely on the music. That’s a good thing, I think. It divorces our opinion from extraneous factors like graphics, microscopic liner notes and lyric sheets, and allows us to concentrate purely on the music. The latest release from Foo Fighters, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, is a case in point. I had a graphic of the album art—a bomb presumably descending on a target, and the music—nothing else—no liner notes, no lyric sheet, nothing but the music. In other words, it came as a rock critic’s worst nightmare. It’s like flying blind in a snowstorm in the middle night—no press release reference points to guide me, no fan and pan feedback, nothing but the music and me, mano y mano.

Touted as a more “mature” effort, Echoes reunites Dave Grohl and company with Gil Norton, who produced 1988’s The Color and the Shape, arguably the Foos’ best album. In the decade since that album, the Foo Fighters, or at least, Grohl, managed to stay in the fringes of the spotlight. Even though his band was content to play stadiums and festivals, Grohl worked the talk show circuit to the point I could envision him as Letterman’s successor somewhere down the line. Musically, though, Foo Fighters were doing little beyond last year’s fizzled live acoustic album Skin and Bones.

I was really looking forward to Echoes. I was anticipating a triumphant return to rock and roll. Barring that, I was hoping for a reenergized band. I was expecting. . .something more/

I’ve listened to this album several times, hoping it would grow on me. I’ve scrambled the tracks, played it full blast through Skullcandy headphones, tried it out for ambience, tweaked the balance—in short, tried everything the streaming audio offered. No matter what I tried, it still came out the same—there was nothing here I haven’t heard before.

It’s not that it’s a bad album. Even at its worst, Echoes still rocks more than much of the schlock on the radio. But that’s also the problem with it. It sounds as if it were tailored to stand out in a classic rock radio format. There’s nothing adventurous here—it goes from stadium rock standard fare to acoustic romance to bar band crowd pleasers. Like most of Foo Fighters’ work, it plays to an audience torn between Cheap Trick and Nirvana, filling a low end niche in classic rock.

Echoes isn’t terrible. But it could have been better.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dexter, the Dark Defender
Dexter’s had a rough time of it lately. Most of Season Two thus far has focused on his inner turmoils—understandable, since his secret world is in danger of imploding at any moment. In four episodes, he’s had to deal with performance anxiety (unable to kill, or make love to Rita), the watery dumping grounds of his past prey being discovered, fess up to an addiction problem and deal with feelings he denied all through Season One. On top of all this, he has a bloodhound FBI agent (Keith Carradine) who may or may not be hot on his trail.

It’s enough to stress out even the most seasoned vigilante serial killer.

It’s also enough to make even the most dedicated follower of Dexter realize the Season One was a prelude to the essence of the series. No longer is Dexter the objective outsider ridding society of insidious forces who’ve slipped through the flaws of the justice system. This season, Dexter emerges fully realized, replete with the common baggage we all carry. His personal life has moved into a new sphere, and it’s not leaving much time for his dark hobby. After all, balancing a healthy relationship with a widowed mother against a predilection for vivisection requires fortitude.

In episode five, “The Dark Defender,” Dexter is conflicted on several fronts. Rita’s mom (Jo Beth Williams) is convinced Dexter, because he’s attending Addicts Anonymous meetings, is not the right man for her little girl. Rita reacts, as adult daughters with meddling moms often do, by telling mom to shape up or ship out. After all, Dexter is nothing like recently deceased Paul, who abused her incessantly. Dexter is the antithesis of her past relationships, a good influence on not only her, but the kids as well. That’s one way of looking at it, but since neither Rita nor Mom knows about Dexter’s moonlighting activities, it’s understandable.

That’s the least of Dexter’s problems, though. FBI agent Lundy appears to be getting closer to cracking the case of the “Bay Harbor Butcher,” as the press has dubbed the killer who dumped body parts in the ocean. The fact that Lundy is teaming with Deb may be a double-edged sword, however. She wants to find the killer as a way of vindicating herself from the Ice truck Killer, but her involvement in the case does afford Dexter wiggle room in throwing off the investigation.

Then there’s the matter of Dexter’s growing involvement with his AA sponsor, the mysterious, alluring Lila. And therein lays the thread that starts to tie this season into a coherent story on its own. Lila may be Dexter’s savior, or she may be the instrument of his destruction. In this episode, we find that one of the killers of Dexter’s mother is still alive, having ratted on his cohorts and entering a witness protection program. At Lila’s urging (as part of his steps to recovery), Dexter and Lila travel to Naples, FL to confront the killer. What results is Dexter not only confronting the demon, but wrestling with his own demons as well.

To add fuel to the increasingly complex Dexter opus are the side stories. There’s the matter of Doakes, who, despite his upright stance, is not above acting as judge, jury and executioner when situations so prevail. Then, there’s the always evolving machinations of Lt. Maria Guerta, who’s always plotting to further her career. Agent Lundy, despite his Zen-like manner, is hiding something about his past. Deb, understandably, is confronting her own traumas, and perhaps overcompensating to in her personal quest for redemption. In the thick of all this, only Rita and the kids seem innocent, and even that’s debatable.

As complicated as Dexter has become, it’s managed to maintain its razor-sharp sense of humor. When I first wrote about Dexter over a year ago, I said the “character of Dexter is much more aligned to pulp vigilantes like the Shadow than psychos like Ted Bundy.” It’s a point I think the show strived for from the outset. In “The Dark Defender,” it’s made abundantly clear. It’s a sidebar to the plot, but while investigating the murder of a would-be graphic novel author, Dexter discovers the victim was working on a new character called The Dark Defender, inspired by the exploits of the Bay Harbor Butcher.

While it doesn’t necessarily advance the plot, the Dark Defender sequence adds another layer to the already complicated psyche of Dexter. In his heart of hearts, Dexter has always seen himself as something of a superhero, disposing of, as he does, the trash left at the edge of the carpet. The Dark Defender character may become another intrinsic facet of Dexter’s psyche, a counterbalance to his Dark Passenger. Already, Showtime has added a serialized comic strip of the Dark Defender to its Dexter site. It’s rather nicely done, chronicling some of Dexter’s sprees from the point of view of his new alter ego.

is almost halfway through its second season run. How it will all play out is anybody’s guess, since it doesn’t follow the same plot patterns of the novels on which it’s based. One certainty is that however you think it will end, odds are you’re wrong. And that’s the beauty of Dexter. In a season of mostly dreary series, Dexter remains the most daring show on television.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bloodsucking Cinema : A Vampire Primer of Sorts
The vampire is perhaps the most enduring creature of the horror genre. Immortal, soulless, sexually ambiguous, unfettered by any social or moral codes, the vampire represents the dark edges of the collective consciousness. Bloodsucking Cinema, premiering on cable network Starz tonight, traces the origins and evolution of the vampire as a cinematic icon.

From the genre’s origins with the silent classic Nosferatu to contemporary-videogames-as-film like Bloodrayne, this special races through the sub-genres of the vampire movie. It doesn’t go into a great deal of depth, but it does have its entertaining moments. Cheech Marin provides a lot of those in his recounting of the physical horrors of the contact lenses he had to wear during From Dusk til Dawn (“like sticking staples in my eyeballs”).

Bloodsucking Cinema is full of those kind of anecdotes, with appearances by actors and directors of contemporary vampire movies offering little tidbits about the making of their particular films.Whether its Joel Schumacher droning on about how The Lost Boys reinvented the vampire movie, or Jon Landis gleefully explaining why his Innocent Blood was a uniquely sexual twist on the myth, the special has no shortage of auteurs promoting their past glories, real or imagined.

Where the special is at its best is in following the circuitous routes the vampire movie has taken through the decades. The German Expressionism of Nosferatu was the cornerstone of the genre, but it was Todd Browning’s 1931 Dracula that lay the foundation for all vampire movies to come. Oddly, that film also gave birth to the Mexican vampire offshoot of the genre, the influence of which is more pronounced in more recent films. Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk til Dawn and John Carpenter’s Vampires would most likely have never existed without the influence of the vampiro movies.

Bloodsucking Cinema touches on all the variations of the vampire movie—western, noir, comedy, superhero and so on, but never serves up any meat to its thesis. Still, as a primer to the vampire’s dark charms and enduring influence on the horror genre. It’s more promo-mentary than documentary, which is really what it was designed to be.
It’s the lead-in to Starz’ “Fear Fest,” a Halloween weekend marathon of horror titles.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Next. Please.
Speculative fiction writer Philip K. Dick was the mad genius of the genre, pioneering the concept of “inner space” as a storytelling device. The mind was his alien planet, and it was often more unsettling than the environs usually associated with science fiction. It’s no wonder that he’s become a cause celebre since his death in 1982, due in no small part to the success of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Based on Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it managed to more or less translate his challenges to rigid concepts of reality, and remains one of the greatest films of all time.

The good news is that Blade Runner introduced Dick’s works to a potentially wider audience. The bad news is that subsequent films based on his work usually have little to do with the source material. Next is a case in point. Purportedly based on Dick’s short story “The Golden Man,” Next is actually a poorly conceived action thriller that has absolutely nothing to do with Dick’s original story. That’s not entirely true—in both versions, the protagonist is named Cris, and in both versions, Cris has precognitive powers, but that’s it. Well, there is that mater of golden skin. In the story Cris has golden skin that gives him the ability to seduce others of the opposite sex, and in the movie, Cris (Nicholas Cage) wears a cheap yellow leather jacket, which may explain why Liz (Jessica Biel) is inexplicably drawn to him.

In Next, Nicholas Cage portrays Cris Johnson who, under the stage name of Frank Cadillac, uses his ability to see two minutes into the future (but only where it directly affects him) to do a low rent magic act and supplement his income with low stakes gambling. But he’s haunted by visions of a woman (Jessica Biel) who, for some unexplained reason enables him to see further into the future, but only where it concerns the two of them. So far, so good. Romantic tales have been structured around lesser premises. Still, it raises questions of plausibility.

Plausibility isn’t a major concern of this movie, however. A Russian nuclear device has gone missing, and the FBI has no other way to track it down except to abduct Cris and force him to use his abilities to recover the device before it falls into the wrong hands. The wrong hands in this case are a group of Eurotrash terrorists with no discernible motive or affiliation. It’s not the sort of plot that makes for analysis. In fact, it’s not the sort of plot that holds itself up for anything resembling logic. That would only get in the way of the action.
As an action flick, Next isn’t too bad, in a videogame sort of way. Actually, it’s structured much like a videogame, with every plot development serving to get the protagonist to the next level of play. As a result, romance falls by the wayside, along with international intrigue, lame attempts at social commentary and essentially everything else that has to do with life as we know it. As a trade-off, we’re treated to Rube Goldberg-style landslides, replete with water tanks, SUVs, boulders and sundry debris cascading upon the heroes. We also get an iron-jawed Julianne Moore in an embarrassing action figure performance as the single-minded FBI agent. We get exlosions, bad guys shot from sniper precipices—hell, we even get a nuclear explosion.

What we don’t get is logic, or even an apology for all the whys the movie never addresses. Instead, we find at the end that the entire “plot” of the movie was just another possible outcome. It’s a cheat to be sure, but not surprising. Considering Next went through at least three complete rewrites and various script doctors, it’s a wonder it made it to the screen at all.

As a standard DVD, Next is an alright purchase. The video quality is excellent and the Dolby 5.1 sound is separated seamlessly. The special features are pretty standard fare, consisting of behind the scenes promo films, a feature on the CGI SFX and a pointless interview with Jessica Biel.

There’s nothing really memorable about Next. Like Cris, we see it all coming long before it happens.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Viva Laughlin is Worth a Gamble
Let’s get this facetious comparison out of the way up front. Viva Laughlin is nothing like the ill-fated and poorly titled Cop Rock from a few years ago. Viva Laughlin brings a smile to my face. Cop Rock, even at its best two moments, only made me cringe.

That said, forget about all the “mystery drama with music” hype surrounding Viva Laughlin. To appreciate this series, you’re going to have to suspend disbelief just a wee bit and accept it as the lark it is.
Loosely adapted from the BBC series Viva Blackpool, Viva Laughlin chronicles the adventures of Ripley Holden (Lloyd Owen) and his quest to open a casino in Laughlin, Nevada. Things are going swimmingly until his business partner suddenly withdraws funding, forcing Holden to turn to his arch-rival Nicky Fontana (Hugh Jackman) for help. Matters are further complicated when Holden’s business partner turns up murdered, leaving him as a prime suspect. That Holden has some sort of past with the dead man’s widow, Bunny (Melanie Griffith) doesn’t help Holden.

Meanwhile, Holden’s home life is a bit thorny. His wife Natalie (Madchen Amick) craves a more stable life and a bit more attention. His daughter Cheyenne, all of eighteen, is dating her 42-year old college professor. Son Jack wants to help his father fulfill his dream, even at personal cost. Throw in the obligatory handsome detective (Eric Winter) investigating the murder, and who finds himself attracted to Natalie, add Fontana’s slithery point man Marcus (DB Woodside) and you have all the necessary ingredients for an old-fashioned potboiler.

Admittedly, all of this has been done before, and it’s not the stuff of compelling drama. But that’s not the goal of Viva Laughlin. What the producers (one of whom is Jackman) are doing here is utilizing the time-worn plot devices of basic noir, turning them inside out and sending them to us with a nod and a wink to musical comedy. That’s not to say the series is a musical by any means, but the characters do, at key plot points, tend to sing along, karaoke style, with the background soundtrack. Ripley has a fondness for “Viva Las Vegas” as he makes his financing rounds. The Fontana character is introduced to the strains of “Sympathy for the Devil.”

As strange as it sounds, it’s these little musical moments that make the pilot work. Sure, they border on the hokey, unless, that is, you view them as the absent-minded wanderings of the characters’ thoughts as they go about their business. The musical numbers represent the fantasial workings of the mind when viewed in that context, and actually serve to drive the otherwise thin storyline.

Whether American audiences are willing to accept a series that veers from conventional storytelling to take stylistic risks remains to be seen. Already, some circles are dismissing Viva Laughlin as the worst of the new seasons’ crop. (Those people have not attempted to sit through an episode of Cave Men.) Whether Viva Laughlin can integrate music into the storyline without it becoming forced or stale also remains to be seen.

Either way, Viva Laughlin (airing tonight on CBS, 10 PM, ET/PT, before beginning its regular run Sunday) is worth a look. It’s a fun pilot, painted in comic book colors that call up the winner takes it spirit of Nevada.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Language Bernie Worrell Made
“Genius” is one of the most overused terms on the planet. It’s one of those superlatives writers fall back on to pad faulty arguments about everything and everyone from the latest household cleanser to the newest album by rock stars past their prime. Swifters might be a clever tool for apartment dwellers, but they’re hardly ingenious. A tasty riff on a pop song might move you momentarily, but it’s unlikely to alter the course of civilization, “You Really Got Me” notwithstanding.

Real genius is a little more elusive. It’s made up of moments so inspired, so indefinable, that it’s almost imperceptible at its birth. That’s why it takes us years, decades, even centuries to recognize true genius. Genius is something stentorian, lurking everywhere, a parasite from beyond infecting only a few along the way. So subtle is its presence that those inflicted with it are blissfully unaware of it coursing through their being.

Bernie Worrell is one of those beings. At first glance, he’s an unassuming man in his early sixties, the sort of guy you’d hardly give more than a cordial nod were you to pass him on the street. But you’d notice a certain aura about him, as if you’d known him from somewhere.

And you’d be right. His name may have escaped you, but if you’ve turned on a radio in the last thirty years, you’re familiar with him. A founding member of George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic, the man who was instrumental in transforming Talking Heads from an uptight white quartet to a world-class funk ensemble, Bernie Worrell is the invisible genius behind modern music.

Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth documents Worrell’s significance in shaping modern pop music. A classically trained child prodigy, Worrell wrote his first concerto at age eight. He had been studying Mozart, Ravel and Bach since the age of four, joined the Washington Symphony Orchestra by the time he was ten and studied at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. He was primed for a career as a classical pianist.

Genius, as it is wont to do with those it inflicts, sent Worrell on a different path, urging him to take the piano to a different sphere, to invent a new language for the keyboard. He found his voice in the clavinet and minimoog, and began laying down the rudiments of the new language in the early days of Parliament-Funkadelic with songs like “Flashlight,” and introduced it full-blown to mainstream audiences with Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.” He’s since become one of the most sampled musicians in hip-hop, and is credited in some circles as being responsible for Dr. Dre’s sound. He’s worked with some of the most prominent musicians in pop music, and has shaped almost every electronic sound heard in pop music over the past four decades.

For all his contributions, though, Worrell lives in relative obscurity, a situation with which he doesn’t seem completely uncomfortable. For Worrell, it’s all about the sounds he makes, ever-shifting, always evolving. It’s as if he’s beyond words, articulating instead through the voice of his music. It’s left to those who know and love him to speak on his behalf in Stranger

At 39 minutes, Stranger is more a tribute to Bernie Worrell than anything else. While it does include some vintage P-Funk and Talking Heads footage, it could hardly be categorized as a concert film. And since it takes a soundbite approach to telling its story, it can’t really be classified as a documentary, either. Yet, it emerges as a story, sometimes upbeat, sometimes bittersweet that needs to be told.

Featuring shotgun-style interviews with Talking Heads David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, P-Funk maestros George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes and producer Bill Laswell, among others, a portrait of Bernie Worrell takes shape, nebulous though it is. We begin to see him as a man less concerned with notoriety and fortune than with the mere joy inherent in creation. He is yet another artist who, despite his undeniable influence, has reaped few of the monetary rewards his contemporaries have seen.

If there’s a downside to Stranger, it’s that many of the interviewees worry overmuch that he will die in obscurity, like a nineteenth century impressionist, unrecognized until years after his demise. There’s not much danger of that, though. Bonus material on the DVD, particularly clips from Worrell’s Improviczario sessions illustrate he is as vibrant and innovative as he ever was.

For director Philip Di Fiore, Stranger was obviously a labor of love. Wisely choosing to let musicians who have worked with Worrell through the years propel the story, he’s managed to create a portrait of a man who is too reticent to talk about himself. For those of us who have admired Worrell through his music over the years, it’s an emotional experience. For Worrell and the demon genius—well, they’re busy working on new lexicons. Genius will do that to a guy.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

We Are All Dexter

Now that I’ve had a chance to sample quite a bit of the Fall Season, I have to admit it’s a better than average crop. Crime dramas particularly are breaking away from procedural formula, if only in baby steps. NBC’s Life, ABC’s Pushing Daisies and even CBS’s Moonlight put new wrinkles in the tried and true face of the detective show. Of course, cable paved the way for the new wave of cops, with programs like Monk and The Shield.

As good as these series are, none of them compare with Showtime’s Dexter in terms of chutzpah and originality. The notion of a serial killer who only targets murderers beyond the reach of the law was something unheard of in broadcast television. The fact that he works as a blood splatter expert in the Miami Dade Police Department’s Forensics Division made it all the more enticing. That it was injected with dark humor and compelling characterizations made it irresistible in its first season.

Season Two had a lot of weight to carry if it was to have any chance of not falling into a sophomore rut. In my review of the new season’s first episode, I wasn’t totally convinced the second season was going to be able to maintain the audacity of the first season. Dexter (Michael C. Hall), still in a fugue over having to put his brother down in order to save his adopted sister, looked as if he had lost his mojo. He spared one target and let another one escape. On top of that, his underwater burial ground was discovered. Things didn’t look good for Dexter.

My fears were groundless.

Advance screeners of the first four episodes prove that, if anything, Dexter is even better this go round. Motivations that were only hinted at in the first season are exploited to more fully realized plot devices that carry us more into the universe of Dexter himself, but the worlds of those who surround him. His girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) has evolved from her battered past to emerge as a confident woman who’s resolved to control her life. His sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) is struggling with her own demons, wrestling with her ordeal with the Ice Truck Killer while maintaining her day to day duties on the police force. Doakes (Erik King) has his own agendas as he tails Dexter relentlessly, even as he conceals his own dark past. Lt. Guerta (Lauren Velez) continues to work both sides of the political fence to her own ambitions. Angel Batista (David Zayas) butchers Zen philosophy and Masuka (C. S. Lee) takes misogyny to new levels. Batista and Masuka, played for laughs, may prove to be Dexter’s greatest threat as he weaves through the machinations of bureaucracy and relationships to quell the thirst of his “dark passenger.” His Dark Passenger, of course, is the need that forces him to kill. All Rita knows is he has an addiction (thinking it’s drugs) and forces him to enroll in a treatment program.

Two new characters, Agent Lundy (Keith Carradine) and Lila (Jaime Murray), are poised to complicate Dexter’s life even more. Agent Lundy is the FBI’s top manhunter, sent to Miami after Dexter’s underwater dumping ground was discovered, to ferret out the identity of the killer, dubbed by the press as the “Bay Harbor Butcher.” Lila is Dexter’s NA sponsor, and appears to be in some ways as dark, if not darker, than Dexter himself.
As complicated as all this is, none of it deters Dexter from issuing his own personal brand of justice, as per Harry’s Code. Dexter has matured, but he hasn’t mellowed. He trades in his Taurus for a minivan for purely practical reasons—his relationship with Rita and the kids has grown deeper and he’s thinking in terms of family. Of course, the abundant cargo space and tinted rear side windows also serve his other purposes well.

Unlike last season, Season Two delves into the repercussions of the past. We see Dexter’s prey had families, too, and can’t help but see them as victims in their own right, if only for a moment. His targets were murderers to be sure, and were hardly sympathetic. Still, their disappearances, more than their deaths, caused pain to those they left behind. Since we see all this from Dexter’s point of view, we feel a momentary twinge of guilt.

It doesn’t last long at all.

A huge part of the genius of Dexter is that it forces us to look at ourselves. Intellectually we know that one does not dismember people and dump them in the ocean, regardless of their crimes. Emotionally, however, we see murderers go unpunished, sometimes even thrive after the fact. While very few of us would go to the extremes that Dexter employs, even fewer of us can deny the catharsis we feel when Dexter does his dastardly deeds. It’s escapism at its very best.

Bottom line, we’re all Dexter.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Dexter's Back. He's not Having a Good Day.
The first season of Dexter introduced us to a series unlike anything ever done before. It was dark in a smug sort of way, almost always witty and, let’s face it—funny. Dexter was like a fratboy prankster, inviting us along as he pulled his latest prank. Of course, his pranks inevitably ended up with some deserving soul being dismembered, but that was okay. After all, every one of his victims were vicious killers in their own right, and we felt a certain glee when Dexter sent them to their just rewards. In that first season, grisly details were implied about Dexter’s inclinations, but never explored for what they really were.

The subplots helped make Dexter work in the first season. The failed machinations of Lt. Guerta, the almost paranoiac obsessions of Sgt. Doakes, the familial bonds and the precarious relationships all meshed to make Dexter fascinating and engaging. Above all else, it tapped into our primordial retribution instinct and kept it all light and airy. It wasn’t until its final episodes that the first season of Dexter looked at the consequences of such escapades.

“It’s Alive” opens Season Two, and takes place five and a half weeks after Dexter had to “put down” his long-lost brother Rudy aka the Ice Truck Killer. It’s a trying time for Dexter. Doakes, convinced that Dexter is not the carefree blood splatter expert he appears to be, is shadowing him constantly. To throw Doakes off, Dexter has resorted to filling his nights bowling with some of the guys from the force, whose shirts ironically enough, are emblazoned with the motto “Bowl ‘til You Bleed.”

When he finally does get a chance to pursue his more morbid hobby (this time with a blind voodoo priest whose poisoned at least three people), he freezes, and eventually lets the priest live. Clearly, Dexter is having performance issues. And it’s not just a sudden aversion to killing. He’s blocked, and he has no idea why. When a naked Rita attempts to seduce him with quickie sex, he can’t perform in that arena either.

It could be in part due to sis Deb, recovering from the horror of dating Rudy, rooming with him now. Or perhaps he’s been unable to find a worthy challenge after dispensing with Rudy. If that’s the case, he finds a worthy opponent in Little Chino, a mountain of a man who’s a gang enforcer that appears to be untouchable—witnesses to his murders have a habit of disappearing. When Dexter gets his chance to rid the world of Little Chino, things go terribly awry.

Part of it may have to do with his blossoming relationship with Rita. Besides his intimacy issues, there’s the matter of his setting her ex-, Paul up for life in prison. That issue is resolved in this episode, but it only serves to set the stage for troubles down the line for Dexter and Rita.

To compound Dexter’s problems, sea-diving treasure hunters working off the coast of Florida inadvertently discover Dexter’s “burial ground” in the undersea ravine. Thirty bags (and counting) of dismembered bodies in heavy duty plastic bags tend to make the news, after all. Deb sees the discovery as a way for her to find some closure, and reinvent herself as a detective. Dexter, on the other hand, feels a weight dragging him deeper into an abyss from which there may be no escape.

If “It’s Alive” is any indication, Dexter’s second season looks to delve deeper into the psyches of its characters. It certainly sets up a number of plot complexities, some spilling over from the first season, and new devices that offer a myriad of new developments. This being Dexter, expect the unexpected. To get caught up to the ceremonies, view this episode here. New episodes air on Showtime Sundays @ 10PM EST/PT.

Expect a rollercoaster ride.