Friday, 12 September 2008

Dexter season 1 (DVD 2007)

Dexter is the kind of empty amoral sociopath we can all relate to and we all root for and the very embodiment of the morally complex world we seek entertainment from. Gone are the strong silent types, gone are the matinee idols. We root for conflicted killers like The Joker, and Dexter. Dexter works for the Miami Police Department as a blood spatter analyst, visiting crime scenes and helping figure out what happened, using his cold calculating methodical mind, and his uncanny ability to see what killers see. He has a night-time hobby too: during his off hours, he tracks down some very, very bad people who for various reasons have eluded the proper authorities. Seems his adoptive father, a cop himself, taught the kid how to channel his dark side in a 'positive' direction and so, having captured these evil doers (including a child molester-murderer and a recidivist drunk driver with a trail of bodies in his wake), Dex dispatches them with clinical precision, thus making him a serial killer who snuffs serial killers.

High concept stuff indeed.

What could be a one episode trick spins out over a whole season as we watch the empty clinical Dexter maintain the veneer of a normal life, trying to keep his job and not get too excited by the blood he sees; keep a semblance of sibling affection with the only person he would care about if he could feel emotions, his foster sister, Debra, working as a spunky detective in the same department as him. And why is sergeant Doakes on his case so much? And why does he have to put up with schlubs like horn dog Masuka? And how does he carry on a pretend-friendship with Angel. All these issues make for an interesting series. All the while Dexter claims he is emotionless but he is masking a deep childhood trauma. How else would he be able to compartmentalise his feelings so much. His damaged girlfriend Rita, chosen so they don't have to be intimate and her kids who he lavishes such time and attention on are his pretend model family. With them he gets to pretend to be a normal family guy, when underneath, he's more damaged than they will ever know.

Through flashbacks we watch his father instill a moral code in Dexter, forcing him to exact his blood-thirst on those who deserve it.

And then another serial killer arrives, creating macabre works of work with his dead victims' bodies, inspiring and titillating Dexter. This is a man who feels and has an emotional range, he just doesn't understand it yet. Soon Dexter realises this new serial killer knows more about Dexter than he does... but why?

This is absolutely riveting stuff. It's a tough gig for Michael C Hall who has to maintain enough charisma and interest to carry the whole series but the supporting cast more than carry their own. The final reveal actually works and the way it plays out over 12 episodes is tense and dramatic, yet chocked full of gallows humour and emotive drama. Highly recommended.

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