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.