Saturday, December 01, 2007

Dexter's Dark Days
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There was a time—mostly during Season One—when Dexter could do no wrong. He was a Merry Prankster of Mayhem, deftly darting between the pastel hues of a cartoon Miami by day, and its opaquely sinister washes by night. Sure, he was a serial killer, but he only killed really bad people the law couldn’t, or wouldn’t, touch. He was an Everyman, just getting through the complications of work and love by day, while dispensing deadly judge, jury and executioner justice by night. It was all implied—you never saw him actually dismember anybody, but you knew retribution had been served, and that the next morning would be bathed in watercolor sunlight. Dexter was a dark avenger, a whimsical comic book kind of guy who would go out of his way to bring doughnuts to his friends, while not giving a second thought to chopping evildoers into fish food. It was that comical dichotomy that made him so endearing.

Season Two has been no such picnic for either Dexter or the viewer. Even though it opened with promising Dexter inner monologue, “I really need to. . .kill somebody,” much of the season has found him confronting his demons within and without, while attempting to maintain his unflappable fa├žade. Even before the first episode was over, treasure hunting divers inadvertently came across Dexter’s underwater dumping ground, prompting an FBI manhunt for the killer the press dubbed “the Bay Harbor Butcher.” It certainly doesn’t help that the Feds have assigned their superstar manhunter, Agent Lundy (Keith Carradine) to oversee the investigation. To complicate matters even more, Dexter’s adoptive sister, Deb, is in a May-December romantic relationship with the Zen-like Lundy.

On top of all that, Dexter’s blossoming relationship with Rita has apparently gone to hell, due in no small part to his dalliances with his Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, Lila (Jaime Murray). She’s a perfect counterpoint to Dexter—where he’s cautious, she’s reckless, where he attempts to hide his true self, she wears her persona like a badge. For all her superficialities, though, there’s something very dark about her, and her motives may be even more twisted than Dexter’s.

Then there’s Doakes. He’s been a foil for Dexter from Day One, He’s been steadfastly pursuing Dexter since this season’s first episode. The question that arises is, why? It’s been established that Doakes has his own dark past, some of it having to do with his military Special Ops past, and he’s not above eliminating bad guys without benefit of due process. Now that Dexter has him imprisoned, Doakes might be a source of clues to Dexter’s origins.

Agent Lundy may be the most dangerous of them all, however. He’s too studied for his act to be real. For all his Eastern philosophy, he’s a predator, lying in wait for his prey to make a fatal misstep. He’s more feline than mantis, constantly throwing Dexter off track. Does he really believe Doakes is the Bay Harbor Butcher, or is that a mere ploy to flush out Dexter? Does he actually care for Deb, or is his relationship with her a ploy to bring the killer to justice?

There are only three episodes left in this season of Dexter. Since Showtime has already announced a third season, Dexter will obviously find a way to elude all the potential traps laid before him. In the meantime, the writers have laid out a scenario that leaves the viewer bewildered at best. It’s an ingenious mystery that twists serpentine through the darkest corridors of Dexter’s mind. He’s no longer a Merry Prankster—he’s more akin to a trapped animal. He’s perverted his much vaunted Harry’s code to make not getting caught his prime directive.

How it will all play out is anybody’s guess. Dexter the TV series parallels Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter novels, but is by no means an adaptation. It’s safe to assume that somebody is not going to survive this season. I’m not going to even hazard a guess as to who dies.
The genius of Dexter is that it defies all guesses, and goes in totally unexpected tangents. Yeah, it’s twisted that we find ourselves empathizing with a character who’s gone beyond the sociopathic and teeters on the edge of all-out psychopathy. On the other hand, Dexter affords us a refuge from the realities of evil. It’s creepy to realize a monster slumbers in all of us, but it’s also liberating. If nothing else, Dexter shows it’s best to let sleeping monsters lie.

Dexter airs Sunday nights on Showtime, with repeats throughout the week. It is the best show on American television—bar none. It’s the only series I can think of that’s consistently compelling, and certainly the only series that keeps me guessing. If you have cable, but don’t have Showtime, you’re missing the only programs worth watching on a regular basis..