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Showtime's 'Dexter' Continues to Slay Me
September 24, 2010  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment

Sunday night is ridiculously rich for quality TV fans. AMC gives us Mad Men each week, with Breaking Bad waiting in the wings. HBO just ended True Blood, and started Boardwalk Empire. And Showtime, beginning this weekend, returns with another season of its brilliant Dexter. With options like this, who needs broadcast TV?...

Well, I do, so long as broadcast TV, this Sunday, is rolling out some potent season premieres of its own. At 9 p.m. ET, ABC's Desperate Housewives starts its seventh season. At the same time on Fox, The Simpsons begins its 22nd season. Amazing (and still hilarious). And at 7 p.m. ET on CBS, the granddaddy of prime-time series, the still-impressive 60 Minutes, begins its 43rd season.



But I digress. It's Dexter, starring Michael C. Hall as a crafty, conflicted serial killer who targets OTHER serial killers, I want to spend some time (and space) praising.

This is a show that delights in painting itself, and its protagonist, into impossible corners. Last season ended -- and I think it's ridiculous, once a show is out on DVD, to protect "spoilers," so here come some details -- with one of the most horrifying twist endings ever shown on television.

All season long, Dexter engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with another serial murderer -- the so-called Trinity Killer, played by John Lithgow, who won an Emmy for his efforts. Dexter almost killed him once, but didn't -- until the season finale, when the two killers confronted each other one last time, with Dexter emerging triumphant.

But not really. Because just before being captured and killed by Dexter, the Trinity Killer had claimed one last victim of his own: Dexter's loving wife Rita (Julie Benz), whom he killed and bled out, ritualistically, in her bathtub. Dexter found her body -- and also found their baby, crying, seated by the tub in a pool of her blood.

How horrible, but also how horribly poetic. Dexter was three when he was found, by his eventual foster-father cop, under similar circumstances. How will this next-generation trauma affect their child? And how, by visiting the sins of the father upon the son, will it affect Dexter?


Sunday's fifth season of Dexter picks up immediately where that grisly cliffhanger left off. It takes us through the police reports, the funeral plans and such -- giving us last looks at Benz's Rita, looking awful as a corpse at her own crime scene, and lovely in an open casket as her own funeral.

Except that the series isn't through yet, and gives us ADDITIONAL looks at her, courtesy of newly filmed flashbacks that are almost painfully poignant to watch.

(To hear one of them, and read and hear my review of Dexter for Friday's Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR, listen to the show Friday, or visit the website HERE after about 5 p.m. ET.)

I've seen the first three episodes of the new season, and at least twice, I was stunned and surprised, in a positive sense, by what I was seeing. And Hall, this season, gets to play new stages of grief and emotion: Just when he's learned how to feel, his feelings get crushed, and out of control. By the end of the third episode, he's got an entirely NEW problem on his hands, and I can't wait for more. Even though I'll have to.

But one element of the premiere is too good not to share, and demonstrates just how sly this show's writers and producers are.


Rita's two children from her former marriage are unaware of what happened to their mother because they were away, with their grandmother, at Walt Disney World. When they return, happy to see Dexter but wondering where their mother is, they lovingly put some Mickey Mouse ears on him -- and that's when he has to tell them the bad news.

That visual, like SO much about Dexter, is simply unforgettable.

And, so far as I'm concerned, unmissable.




Marlark said:

How much in keeping with today's complexities do we find our superheroes? The Dark Knight is riddled (sorry) with self-doubt as he channels his dark side in pursuit of vengeance in the name of justice. Here, too, Dexter applies his carefully crafted (and bequeathed) code of conduct to leverage his own inner evil in the guise of social justice.

Perhaps we see in these flawed humans our own faulted humanity: struggling to justify, or even harness, our lizard brain impulses within a facade of virtue. (It's okay to invade, they had WMDs.)

Are we too sophisticated for straight ahead goodness? Must our protagonists be a twisted blend of antagonists, as well, for us to stay tuned?

If entertainment, and storytelling demand conflict, then these post-modern characters confront it no matter where they turn.

And in the enigma that's Dexter, it's the fearful drumbeat of being unmasked that adds to the delightful fright.

We may be too cool for our own good, but damn it does make for great TV.

Welcome back, Dexter! I'm almost ashamed to have missed you so much.

Comment posted on September 24, 2010 11:37 AM

Dexter Season 5 @ DS said:

Usually, shows about mass-murders resonate with dark, distilled moments caught on camera. When the Dexter show is shot, it is being filmed in Miami, Florida and parts of California. Thus the audience sees a lot of vibrant scenes and their attention spans are held, because it's imagery that people don't usually see everyday.

Comment posted on September 25, 2010 3:43 PM

Paul said:

This has gotten me even more excited than before for the premiere; and I didn't think that was even possible.

Comment posted on September 25, 2010 11:52 PM
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