Darkly Revisiting Dexter

Dexter Morgan is the perfect anti-hero, taught by his cop father how to use his ‘dark passenger’ for good.

Dexter was filmed between 2006-2013 and back then I was a huge fan. Lately I prepared to re-watch some episodes and then probably set it aside. But now I want to watch on.

Warning: this blog post will contain spoilers

Season 1 deals with the Ice Truck Killer case. It is absolutely chilling and so darkly comic I laughed my way through. But first, I must confess that I have had Darkly Dreaming Dexter on my bookshelf for years and have yet to read it. It is the show I am talking about and hopefully writing this post will prompt me to read the Jeff Lindsay books. I understand that some of it is different. But let’s talk about what makes Dexter, the TV show, so amazing.

Dexter Morgan is the perfect anti-hero. He has witnessed an awful event that has shaped his life, leading to serial killer urges. He lives by the Code of Harry, implemented by his late father who was a cop and taught Dexter – who becomes a forensic analyst specialising in blood spatter for Miami Metro PD – how to use his ‘dark passenger’ for good. The perfect job and guise. What is not to love about that!

The lead, Michael C. Hall is amazing. One of my other favourite TV shows is Six Feet Under in which Hall plays David Fisher, a highly-strung, closeted undertaker. In Dexter he plays a laid back, nice guy, who has a very bad temper, obviously, but who also buys everyone’s trust with a big box of doughnuts. Hall has variety. He sings and performs on Broadway. (I just wish he had been allowed to keep his accent in Harlan Coben’s Safe (Netflix) but everyone is allowed an off day.)

Dexter is set in Miami where everyone is sweaty and the soundtrack is salsa fusion mixed with eerie stuff that sounds like a crying cat. Dexter Morgan is much tanner and hipper than David Fisher, even in his brown killing outfit, which itself is comical. The cinematography is highly saturated, a nod to the heat and the darkly dreaming, I suspect. The show has a colour palette reminiscent of Pedro Almodovar movies. The cast is diverse and memorable. The Lieutenant is female. In Dexter women do bad things, just as men do. There is both male and female nudity; the female nudity is addressed in the caustic dialogue of Dexter’s sister Deborah, who is a rounded character, both annoying and endearing.

Okay, the forensic analyst Vince Masuka is the only let down, all he offers is double entendre. But his role is small. I would like some more from Masuka however, when most of the characters do develop and change over time, especially Rita – Dexter’s love interest, who he initially likes because she is ‘safe’; Rita develops from ‘meek little thing’ to a thoroughly interesting character – and it is believable.

I, like many people, can’t help but watch slightly ‘older’ shows through the lens of what would be acceptable now, and Dexter’s not bad in that respect. In The Sopranos any misogyny comes from the toxic masculinity of the characters, but it also has strong women throughout.

True Detective’s misogyny is much more complicated. In the third season, which was stated to have its best portrayal of women yet, (Ha!) one grieving female character wails, ‘I have the soul of a whore’, while the other female character has so much sexual energy it is never absent from any scene she is in. So much male gaze shit I started watching through my fingers.
A pity, when the acting was so good, and credit where it’s due, TD succeeded in using the same actors for different time periods – which never works. It wasn’t enough, I switched off.

So, what did keep me watching Dexter right to the end of season 8, even through the bad years, through dubious plotlines and choices that didn’t seem to come from the Dexter I knew?

Last night I watched the second season finale; the demise of the Bay Harbour Butcher. Remember it? I thought I did, but it must be thirteen years since I saw it. The thing is that it was every bit as good. And I remembered that headbutt. What a scene! The Lila subplot I didn’t remember so well. But she was another great character.

I only intended to watch these two and another season then ditch the rest. Season three was a let-down for me. I didn’t buy the ‘partnership’, and I found Jimmy Smits wooden – sorry, Jimmy. The reward for hanging in there the first time was that the best season was yet to come. Season 4. The one with the Trinity Killer.

John Lithgow stars in that season. I loved him in Terms of Endearment, really sweet, plus he was a comic genius in Third Rock from the Sun. Then wow, in Dexter Lithgow could also ‘do’ terrifying.

Look, the flashbacks in Dexter are cringe-worthy, especially when it is Hall and Jennifer Carpenter (who plays Deborah Morgan) – two thirty-somethings – playing themselves as teenagers. It isn’t perfect, but season 4 has some of the most iconic moments in TV, right up there with the pool scene in The Sopranos, and the final scene in Six Feet Under … and the bed scene, and the campervan, and the prison visit, and others I don’t want to spoil.

Okay, I need to re-watch SFU too.

What I noticed last night watching the season 2 finale of Dexter was how beautifully they wrapped things up. Everything came full circle, even using the show opening where Dex pours black coffee, flosses his teeth like he’s going to tie up a dead body, and cuts a blood orange for his breakfast. All that imagery – it only works because of the humour. Anyway, Dexter does all those things again in s2 ep12 giving the impression that they didn’t know if it would come back for a third season.

Three may be one that they could have skipped, but maybe we had to endure Smits to be rewarded with Lithgow … I’ll watch it again and maybe next time I’ll be posting here saying I was wrong, and that 3 was a great season too. I do think 5 is often enough, though.
Six Feet Under had six and none a dud. The Sopranos had five, and the same.

The last three of Dexter we could have done without. There is something to be said for going out on top. Some shows are hard to take a first time. I’m glad to find that those first two seasons of Dexter have aged like matured steaks. To eat with no vegetables. And a couple of bottles of beer, of course.