For those of us who live in a non-cable world and are mostly content to do so, Netflix offers us the opportunity to binge watch programs after all the hype–or after the program has settle into a few seasons (or canceled and dumped into the VoD twilight zone that used to be associated by late-night re-runs). Here is where I found Showtime’s “Dexter,” everyone’s favorite serial killer.
I have a love for murder and have already been through all the 301 episodes “Law & Order” and the 295 “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” episodes.
The danger with all of these is stewing in the negativity of a constant barrage of homicides. With “Law & Order” we have “ripped from the headlines” cases, questions of law and ethics. “Dexter” has a code. “Dexter,” being on cable, has the freedom to include nudity–all female with an occasional male butt cleavage. We’ve come a long way since “Cagney & Lacey,” two overweight, normal-looking women dealing with dating and family issues. Even “Law & Order” showed a definite preference for models, but they were dressed up in suits. “Dexter” shows a healthy appreciation for casting women based on their breasts and flat stomaches.
Much of “Dexter” is actually filmed in Southern California–there was that eerie episode when I recognized a famous marine mural from a parking lot where I had just wandered through a few months ago for Long Beach Comic and Horror Con. So I can tell you not everyone in Southern California is bikini-worthy and I’ll have to assume the same for Miami where “Dexter” is supposed to take place.
We meet Dexter (Michael C. Hall) as a full-fledged serial killer, but he was thus shaped by horrific events beyond his control: As a precocious child, Dexter witnesses the messy dismemberment of his mother and is left alive, with his older brother, drenched in her pooling blood. He was at an age (3) when wetting his pants would have been uncomfortable and to spend hours in the wet, sticky, congealing muck that had been your mother pretty much defines post-traumatic stress disorder. His older brother, Brian, was also there, but judged by the rescuing police officer, Detective Harry Morgan (James Remar) as too damaged. Morgan adopts Dexter and raises him with his own biological daughter, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter as an adult). When the series starts, Harry and his wife are already dead.
Both Dexter and Debra are in law enforcement. Debra begins as an officer on vice squad, dressing up as a hooker, but hoping to get on to the homicide squad. Dexter is a blood spatter analyst. Dexter sees his adopted father Harry in his mind, often having dialogues with him about his behavior, his urge to kill and the Code of Harry–a means of deciding who should die. Dexter has forgotten about the actual murder of his mother; Harry told him both his parents died in an auto accident. Dexter also doesn’t remember his brother.
The series lasts eight seasons and sees Dexter finding love and attempting to prevent detection and facing serial murderers who are almost as clever as himself.
The real danger of Dexter is the mental damage control. As someone who rarely utters a four-lettered word besides “hell” and “damn” this Showtime series let’s the f-bombs explode frequently. I found that f-bombs came more easily to mind, particularly as Dexter’s adoptive sister uses it as her favorite word–she’s one of those women who works hard at being one of the guys and thus needs to swear better or badder than most men. I haven’t taken statistics, but if this show went on regular network TV, Debra would end up sounding like the roadrunner.
“Dexter” benefits greatly from the charm of Hall, even when he keeps his voice at an almost monotone, emotionally void level. He’s handsome. He’s fit and he lets his eyes and eyebrows do a lot of the work. He also faces some formidable women during the eight seasons: Julia Stiles as a damaged, rape victim seeking revenge and Yvonne Strawhovski (from “Chuck”) as a woman driving to murder as a means of survival. Dexter also comes up against male foes portrayed by Keith Carradine (Season 2), Jimmy Smits (Season 3), John Lithgow (Season 4), John Lee Miller (Season 5), Mos Def (Season 6), Edward James Olmos (Season 6) and Ray Stevenson (Season 7). Overall, I enjoyed the convoluted relationships and different twists on serial killers.
“Dexter” managed to mix a voyeuristic sexual atmosphere with intellectual considerations about law and justice. Compared to the 2000 movie “American Psycho,” there is more warmth.
“American Psycho” was more about a man driven by his narcissistic need to have even the best business card and be better than his fellow executives. The film had a darker, angry tone that veered into something like the Theatre of the Absurd with its horrific images of women hung on coat hangers and over-the-top butting of male egos. Our anti-hero, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) hasn’t suffered a childhood trauma as with Dexter. It’s his male ego rather than lust and anger rather than subconscious compulsion that makes him a serial killer. Roger Ebert applauded director Mary Harron’s interpretation.
The main character of the Showtime “Dexter” series, Dexter, believes himself unable to have normal feelings, but during the series he does feel lust and even love. He’s very protective feeling about his family. “Dexter” has a warmer style than “American Psycho” in terms of color palate and the relationship Dexter has with his sister and what becomes his family. The humor in the series is mainly supplied by C.S. Lee as the sex-obsessed lead forensics investigator Vincent Masuka with some help from David Zaya’s the good-natured, almost fatherly detective Angel Batista.
“Dexter” was so popular it was given a brief go on another network. CBS cut out the blood and the cursing to make it acceptable for the public airwaves, but that must have cut into the dialogue and rhythm considerably and reruns only aired for one season.
If you’re fascinated by murder, and not afraid of having the f-bomb pop up in your mind more frequently, then, this is a fun, intelligent series for adult audiences. The “Dexter” series’ finale left things open ended enough that one might imagine future serial killings somewhere other than Miami or even a son of Dexter series.
Now I need to wash those F-bomb laden rants out my mind with the soapy clean restraint of “Downton Abbey.” Sometimes we aren’t just what we eat, but what we watch.
- If you’re wonder how Dexter compares to real psychopaths, check out this article.
- What scientists say about other cinematic psychopaths.