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Taking TV's Midseason Temperature: Some Shows Are Serving up Stunners
December 3, 2011  | By David Bianculli

This column will provide a link to, and add illustrated commentary for, my current TV review on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, in which I talk -- very specifically -- about the pivotal, exciting things that have just happened on such quality shows as Dexter, The Walking Dead, Homeland and American Horror Story.

if you're behind, or don't want to read details, then stop here. But if you're up to date on those shows, and are as excited by recent events as I am, keep reading (and start listening) for some illuminating images and additional raves...

Still with me? Good. I thought they'd never leave.

Here's a fun way to make this column a multimedia experience. Click HERE to go to my Thursday review of midseason TV show developments, press play, then listen to it as you peruse the annotated photos below.

The annotated photo above, by the way, is of AMC's The Walking Dead, the final shot of last Sunday's midseason finale. Photographed from overhead, it shows the aftermath of the climactic massacre at the zombie barn -- with a body count that includes more undead "walkers" killed (or rekilled) than human survivors left alive.

But in the order in which I discussed the shows in my Fresh Air report, here are some pictures you can't see on the radio, of:

Dexter, Showtime


How cool was that stunning shock ending to last week's Dexter? Very, literally cool -- since it ended with Michael C. Hall's Dexter discovering the long-chilled-out body of Edward James Olmos' Prof. Geller in the freezer.

"He's been dead all along," Dexter says in voiceover, realizing that Colin Hanks' Travis, the professor's protege, has been behind all the murders, accompanied and haunted by the spirit of Geller. This is a fascinating mirror counterpart to Dexter, who walks around talking to his own dead apparition -- the spirit of his dead adopted father. And, just a few episodes ago, that spirit was temporarily replaced by that of a darker one, the hallucinated image of Dexter's dead brother, whom Dexter himself had killed a few seasons back.

All of a sudden, with this twist, Dexter is part Sixth Sense, part Psycho -- and all entertaining, turning what threatened to be an off year into another very strong one.

The Walking Dead, AMC


Again, a sudden reveal of a plot twist turns what seemed like weakness into strength. On this series, the weekly hunt for young Sophia, who had run into the woods in the second-season premiere to escape a herd of walkers, had become both drawn out and sporadic, with no sense of either urgency or finality.

But in last week's midseason finale, the barn where the zombie walkers had been secretly held was opened, forcing a bloody showdown in which all the walkers -- neighbors and loved ones of the owners of the farm -- were shot in the head and put down. After all that carnage, there was still some noise from the barn, and one final walker eventually emerged into the sunlight.

It was young Sophia, in a shocking twist that was heartbreaking to witness -- for us, as well as for the characters who had no idea she'd been placed there, secretly, long ago by the farm's owner. Whatever happens when the show returns, it won't be pretty.

Homeland, Showtime


This superb drama series has kept us riveted all season by keeping us guessing as to whether Nick Brody, the former POW played by Damian Lewis, had indeed been turned by Al-Qaeda while imprisoned, and was returning as a double agent.

Claire Danes' CIA Agent Carrie, who had suspected Brody all along, recently learned it was another POW, Tom Walker, who has returned to American soil with a sniper rifle and a secret mission. But last week's show included a scene in which Brody, abducted and taken to a secret location, was put face to face, via two-way video monitoring, with his former captor -- and told that if he's given the chance to run for public office soon, he should accept.

So is Brody truly innocent, or is he some sort of Manchurian Candidate, a sneaky Plan B to Walker's more obvious Plan A? As viewers, we don't know -- but ignorance, in the hands of this show's sneaky writers, is bliss.

American Horror Story, FX


Two shockers were delivered in Wednesday's installment. One is that Connie Britton's Vivien, who is expecting twins, was diagnosed with the very rare medical condition of having her twins sired by different fathers. One is her husband Ben, played by Dylan McDermott -- and the other is, well, a spirit from beyond the grave.

Ben doesn't know that, so he suspects simple marital infidelity, rather than supernatural rape by an incubus. And when he visits Vivien in the hospital room where she's being restrained, he coldly informs her he "won't lift a finger" to have her released.

And just like that -- with Vivien doubting her own sanity, unable to escape her surroundings, having her own husband turn against her, and with a demonic entity gestating in her womb -- American Horror Story has turned into a different level of horror story.

Something more like Rosemary's Babies.


Dexter and Homeland are shown Sundays at 9 and 10 ET, respectively, on Showtime. American Horror Story is shown Wednesdays at 10 ET on FX. The Walking Dead returns with new episodes, Sunday nights at 9 ET, on Feb. 12, 2012.





Mark N said:

Dear David....Saw em all. For my money The Walking Dead was best kicker. Never saw it coming. And the last scene left me hanging on real good.
To be honest I was disappointed in the Dexter reveal. I really had that figured...It was there to be seen. It had been foreshadowed.
Homeland was a good get...although, you must admit we didn't believe for one minute that there was some conspiracy as regarded Brody was it was not over.
American Horror Story has been the most compelling for me. It really feels scary...something rare on TV. And last weeks plot twists had me way hooked.
As always, thanks for your recommendations. This post is good example of the result.

[Thanks a lot -- and I'm impressed you saw the Dexter twist coming. It caught me completely by surprise. - DB]

Comment posted on December 4, 2011 8:42 PM

Mark N said:

Thanks...I noticed the lack of contact by Prof. Geller with any other characters...like the restaurant and other settings. It made me think of the duality theme with Dex and it just made sense...I didn't make the jump and say HE'S A GHOST
but when they did the reveal it was like..."there you go...I felt that". Dexter is such a strong show...some great writing/acting but I'm wondering where this will go and for how long.
PS...I love your Beatles 0bsession...something we share as well.

Comment posted on December 5, 2011 10:29 AM

Adam L said:

Dexter started weak, got a bit stronger till 'Nebraska', then went back to weak with a limp reveal in 'Get Gellar'. I'm glad to hear the 8th season of Dexter is likely to be the last. Finally they can put this great horse in the ground instead of continuously trying to kick life back into it.

Comment posted on December 6, 2011 1:26 PM
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