Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

Dexter: A Season Deferred

Posted by Mr. Feeny on November 17, 2009

Last month, I reviewed Season 3 of Dexter and took a decidedly different stance than most of the other critics I follow. While they thought Showtime’s hit drama about a “good” serial killer had jumped off the tracks, I saw its third season just as entertaining and compelling as its first two. The overarching conflict — can Dexter open himself up to others? — combined nicely with the practical dilemma — should Dexter train another killer? Add in Jimmy Smits’ excellent portrayal of Miguel Prado, and this was a fantastic season. Not as good as the first two, but it didn’t miss the mark by much. While other critics were calling for Dexter to be canceled, I insisted that it was still at its height.

I defended Dexter. I stuck my neck out for Dexter. And what do the writers do? They take a blade to my cheek and show the me the errors of my ways. Dexter has overstayed its welcome…just a season later than most others thought. The plots don’t make sense, motivations seem to have disappeared, and this year has the worst supporting storylines yet. Batista and Laguerta in love? Ugh. Quinn’s a dirty cop sleeping with a reporter? Who cares. Debra in pain because of a relationship…AGAIN. Tired. I just find myself bored with much of each episode.

An Emmy-worthy performance by Lithgow

The one saving grace this season is John Lithgow. Like Jimmy Smits, Lithgow’s character is compelling and heavily layered. All of the writers’ energy seems to be focused on the Trinity Killer’s storylines. Only here is the writing crisp, suspenseful and intriguing. SPOILER ALERT: For the first few episodes, I truly believed Trinity was a lone madman roaming the country finding victims. I was as shocked as Dexter when Lithgow turned out to be a stable family man. That possibility never even crossed my mind. So clearly, the writers still know how to do certain things well.

Then, they return to trying too hard. Throughout the series, if Dexter needed to learn something from one of his victims, it only took an episode. He’d study his victim’s behavior, maybe befriend them long enough to buy a minivan, perhaps ask an important question at their most vulnerable time on his table. But then, at the end of the episode, he’d kill them. No dragging it out. Whatever Dexter needed was just an episode arc. That’s how serials should work. Each episode needs to feel like something happened and something was resolved, even if just partially. That’s why I didn’t like the episodes I watched of The Wire. It seemed like every episode was just advancing that main story without achieving anything smaller.

But in this season, Dexter is taking much too long to kill Trinity. He feels like he has more to learn. But I don’t buy it. He never needed this much time to learn before. And what he supposedly needs isn’t that important. Balancing killing and family? Please. Dexter’s spent his life hiding his night job from everyone else in his life. Having a wife and kids makes it more difficult, but he doesn’t need an extended lesson from Trinity to figure it out. It seems like a lame attempt to drag out this season and get more screen time for Lithgow (not that I have a problem with that part of it). We’ve already seen Dexter confess his crimes to someone. Does he need to go through that experience again with Trinity? I get that Trinity could be a mentor of sorts. How to be a better serial killer. But any attempt at that seems contrived.

Enough talk. Kill him already!

I like that Dexter got married and had a kid. It’s a solid character progression and made sense based on what he’s been through for three seasons. It flowed. This season does not. After 8 months, Rita feels like they need counseling? Their marriage is that bad off because Dexter’s keeping a few secrets? Doesn’t make sense. Not a well-thought out decision. Just like having Dexter kill an innocent man. His research got sloppy, he took shortcuts, and rushed to get his brand of justice. But by ignoring the code, he killed someone who didn’t deserve it. At the end of that episode, Dexter seemed completely distraught. The one thing that had held him together was broken. This should have been a pivotal moment of the series.

Instead, Dexter practically shrugs it off and plans on killing Trinity. He blames that for distracting him and just moves on. The writers seem to have forgotten that Dexter has a passion for killing. All he’s ever wanted to do was kill. Harry created the code to make sure his kills were justified. This innocent murder should have sent Dexter spiraling. Turned him into an even eviler Dexter. Set off a chain of events. Or maybe, make him want to go cold turkey on killing. Either way. This is a BIG deal. And yet the writers brushed it off between episodes. All that followed was an examination of remorse. Using Trinity to look at it. Questioning whether he’s human. Same old, same old for what should have been a game-changing, series pinnacle event.

I’ll of course finish watching the season. But I don’t see any way the writers can fix this and make it compelling again. If killing an innocent person doesn’t change Dexter, then nothing will. And then there’s no real reason to watch every week. You don’t expect Monk to change. But Monk‘s funny. I expect some evolution in my drama characters. As we all should.

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