A Bloody Good Time 06.27.13: Dexter Retrospective
Posted by Joseph Lee on 06.27.2013
Showtime's serial killer drama Dexter kicks off its final season tonight! 411's Joseph Lee takes a look at the series' seven-year run to date, including Dexter's biggest adversaries and more!
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.
In just thirteen weeks from this Sunday, it will all be over for America's favorite serial killer. Dexter enters its eighth and final season and whether or not you think the show peaked in season 4 or is still putting out quality episodes today, I think everyone's going to be at least curious as to what happens to Dexter Morgan on Sunday, September 22.
This week I've decided to say goodbye in my own way with a big retrospective on the series. I'll cover every aspect of the past seven seasons that I can, a ranking of the big bads. Needless to say, this article will contain some serious spoilers. So if for some reason you haven't seen the first seven seasons and plan to, you probably shouldn't read this. You've been warned.
The Showtime series began as a book series by Jeff Lindsay in 2004 with Darkly Dreaming Dexter. There have been six books already, with a seventh to come later this year. If you've ever read the books after watching the series, you'll know that right away in the first book the two mediums are completely different. Deb finds out Dexter is a serial killer right away, LaGuerta is killed in book one, etc. The two only get more divergent from there, especially considering how the "Dark Passenger" is explained.
I stopped reading the books after Dexter in the Dark, solely because of that explanation for the Passenger. I found it to be poor and it felt like Lindsay really wanted to make sure his books series was completely different from the TV series, so he made Dexter's urge to kill a supernatural one. The first book is decent, the second is not as good and Dexter in the Dark wasn't a good read besides. I think I just preferred the TV series overall. Perhaps, after some time has passed from the end of the show, I'll return to Lindsay's book series to see how he finishes it up.
Showtime acquired the rights and began work on a series, which began airing in 2006.
So let's get right into the show. The first season I didn't see when it aired. I rented it when some friends recommended it to me and proceeded to blow through it in an entire weekend in college with ease. In fact, it was more difficult to stop watching for things like sleep. I was hooked and managed to get Showtime solely because I wanted to see season two. Say what you will about the later seasons, but Michael C. Hall has never stopped being a charismatic leading actor and with the story revolving around him, it works tremendously. Once again, there are spoilers to come as I'm going to recap the series and give my thoughts. Turn back now if you don't want to be spoiled!
The first season is the one that follows the book the closest, but there are still changes. The series sees Dexter in the middle of a pretty good life. He's a blood spatter analyst for Miami Metro, he is dating Julie Benz (okay, her name is Rita) and gets to indulge his twisted fantasies at night by dispatching other killers and depraved criminals. The first season introduces the Ice Truck Killer, who ends up being Dexter's long lost brother Brian. After a failed attempt to get Dexter to kill Deb (Jennifer Carpenter, who just got better as the series went on), he dispatches his own brother and resumes life as normal.
Season two sees Rita suspect Dexter of something when he goes out late at night to kill people, but she's not sure what. Finally, she puts two and two together and realizes...he's a drug addict. Of course, he's not, but why would anyone automatically assume the person they're dating is a serial killer. This results in him meeting Lila, played by Jaime Murray. He's got his own problems, as police have found his bodies and have dubbed him the "Bay Harbor Butcher". Oh and Doakes has upped his suspicion after season one and is convinced that something is off about Dexter.
The second season was even better than the first. If the fourth season didn't turn out to be so great, then it would probably be the best of the entire series. Hall really made the character his own (although he had that accomplished in episode one) and both Murray and Erik King (Doakes) were good foils. The best part about the Doakes/Dexter relationship is that Doakes was in the right, and he was a cool character on top of that. It made things even more tense when Lila ended up killing him. You didn't want to see the character go but you knew he had to if Dexter was going to remain free. Their season two game of "cat and mouse" led to one of the coolest moments of the entire series.
Next came season three, which couldn't possibly hope to match season two but did an admirable job. This is thanks in part to Jimmy Smits arrival as Miguel Prado, who Dexter eventually takes on as a disciple, attempts to train to become a serial killer and fails miserably, making him forced to clean up his own mess. Meanwhile, he is preparing for a wedding with Rita and Miami Metro is busy hunting another serial killer who skins his victims.
Season three starts out really strong and continues that way until the finale, which I always felt was the weakest part. In my opinion, they got the endings to the major plot-lines switched. The season finale should have ended with the final Miguel/Dexter confrontation. The Skinner was a weak villain who was only getting in the way of the big finale, and yet he got upgraded to final battle in the end. The Skinner is such a lame villain that no one considers him the season three big bad, but he was treated like one in the end.
But that led to season four, which no matter who you ask will say it's the best of the entire show's run.
I'm going to talk about the Trinity Killer at length later, but John Lithgow just came in and owned this show from the word "go". The season is the series at its most suspenseful and dramatic, due to the performances of Hall and Lithgow as they play off of each other. Lithgow plays Arthur Mitchell, otherwise known as the Trinity Killer because he kills his victims in threes then disappears. Dexter finds out who he is pretty quickly, but opts not to kill him as he sees Mitchell living a proper home life and wants to find out how a monster can become normal.
This results in Dexter getting too close, causing Trinity to get suspicious. Trinity finds out who he is and then, in one of the best cliffhangers on a show I've ever seen, kills Rita, who was unfortunate enough to be home when he came looking for Dexter. Dexter can't get his revenge, because he's already killed Mitchell before finding Rita's corpse. It's a terrible way for her character to end as she was always completely innocent, and something that has hung over Dexter's head ever since.
Some say that the show peaked in season four. I happen to agree, but where I disagree is that the next two seasons were worthless. The big bads were certainly weaker, but this show has always been the exploration of Dexter as a person and what it means to be a monster and what it means to be human. Every new season gives Dexter some other aspect of his life to explore as he gradually tries to balance his need to kill with his desire to fit in.
Season five gives Dexter the emotion of grief to deal with, as well as the revelation that Rita wasn't merely a disguise to hide the fact he was a serial killer, but he really loved her. He comes to the realization that he can love someone and just in time he meets would-be victim Lumen. The two form a relationship as he makes her a proper disciple and helps her get revenge against a group of people who are killing women and hiding the bodies in barrels. The villain is weak, as it would be in the next three seasons, but that's not what this was about. This is about Dexter exploring real human emotions, like love, for the first time. In that regard, I thought five was a great season from a character perspective.
Of course they can't all be winners. Season six is more or less a dud outside of some unexpectedly great moments. The villain was the weakest, Dexter's growth as a character was more or less stunted by a season-long question of religion that went nowhere. Mos Def showed up for a while and provided a great performance, but he is killed off mid-season and we're left to focus on the hunt for the Doomsday Killer.
The season would be completely forgettable if not for the final moments of the finale, which sees Debra catch Dexter in the act finally (after discovering earlier on that she was in love with him..cue the nausea). It's the kind of twist that the show needed to stay alive, because the season as a whole wasn't that good. I think the reason it works is precisely because it comes out of nowhere. I don't believe they even hinted that Deb was onto Dexter, and so when she catches him it's the perfect way to get fans guessing as to how things will continue in season seven and how they will end.
Season seven was the most recent and it was something of a return to form. Dexter is back to exploring who he is, as he questions the Dark Passenger and his need to kill. He also finds a new love interest in Hannah, who is herself a serial killer, giving Dexter, in a twisted way, the perfect relationship. Meanwhile he is dealing with the fallout of his sister knowing his secret and what he should do about that. LaGuerta is also beginning to suspect the same thing Doakes did, which leads to more problems for Dexter.
This season also lets Carpenter shine as an actress and show how much she's grown. I don't buy the people who say she's not any good because I've seen The Exorcism of Emily Rose and thought she was great in that. She explores Deb's feelings for Dexter, romantic and otherwise, and makes her a better character than just Dexter's sister. Finding out Dexter was a serial killer was honestly the best thing for her character, as it gave her more depth. I can only imagine where the series goes from here, especially since it ended with Debra killing an innocent LaGuerta to protect her serial killer brother. Okay, nobody liked LaGuerta and we all wanted her killed off, but she was still innocent.
Okay, now let's rank the villains in order from worst to best. I think you'll already have an idea from my recap above.
#7: The Doomsday Killer, Travis Marshall - Yeah, he's the worst villain of the series by far. They try to make him a threat by having him abduct Harrison, but I think once it's revealed that Edward James Olmos is just a hallucination of Travis, his character arc really goes down hill. Colin Hanks tries hard but once thing he is not as menacing. It doesn't help that he sets up overly-elaborate kills reminiscent of Saw and is nothing more than a generic villain at the end of the day. Dexter killing him is almost an afterthought after the twist is revealed anyway.
#6: Jordan Chase and the Barrel Girl Killers - Chase is slightly higher than Travis because he has more to do with Dexter's character progression that season and he's a higher-profile victim of Dexter. The acts he and his friends do are very depraved and each one of them deserves what they get from Dexter and Lumen. However, like Travis they're just stock villains with no real development other than they're evil.
#5: Hannah McKay/Issac Sirko - It's really hard to tell which one is the true villain of season seven, as each get their own emphasis. I'd almost say Sirko is the red herring to set up Dexter's relationship with Hannah, because he is killed two-thirds of the way through the season. Season seven wasn't really about the villains, so these two go here by default. They're just not as interesting as the next four but they are actually developed so they're better than the other two.
#4: Lila West - Lila's a great foil for Dexter, and if not for the importance/acting of the next three she could be higher. She is a really demented character that almost takes everything away from him and she also opened up Dexter to the fact he does care about Rita and her kids. She also gets bonus points for being the one to kill Doakes, which someone had to do and Dexter wasn't sure he could.
#3: Miguel Prado - The true big bad of season three, because The Skinner was stupid and shouldn't even count. Smits was great in this role and Dexter's relationship with him was different than any other in the series. I think Prado had to get killed at some point, but I wonder how he could have continued if he was able to last another season, or showed up again later.
#2: Brian Moser, the Ice Truck Killer - Dexter's brother and the one that kicks the entire series off. You knew the show was going to be different when they didn't let him get away and his death ended up hurting Dexter a lot in season two. He also proves to be a threat to Dexter's family and shows him what a serial killer could be that doesn't follow Harry's rules.
#1: Arthur Mitchell, the Trinity Killer - John Lithgow is amazing in this role and he actually made me scared of him. Considering all I really knew him for before this was 3rd Rock from the Sun that takes talent. He deserved the Emmy that year and I'm glad he won it. His season hasn't been topped and it's going to take a lot of work if season eight can do it.
Speaking of season eight, what do you think will happen? How do you think Dexter's going to end his run? Personally, I don't see him getting away scot free. He really can't. He's a serial killer at the end of the day and something bad needs to happen to him at the show's end. Personally I just hope Debra gets out okay. Sure, she killed LaGuerta, but there's enough sympathy for situation that it's understandable. She was an emotional wreck at the time.
I think the show's going to end with Dexter dying to protect his sister and in a way finally become human. After all, what's a more human act than self-sacrifice? Debra will get her act together, rejoin the force and raise Harrison. The bigger question is if Dexter's crimes are ever revealed to the public. I think he can get killed off and have everything remain a secret, but I imagine that halfway through the season he's going to be outed and spend the rest on the run before the finale. That's my thoughts.
That's it for me. Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week, I will look at home invasion horror.
Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)
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