what the hell is wrong with Dexter?

Watch out, there be spoilers ahead . Ok, caveate: I think Dexter has always been vastly over-rated. It’s one of those ’emperors-new-clothes’ deals – has a rep for being all sorts of things it isn’t, like great, edgy, dark. They’ve somehow created the aura of these things without ever having to actually deliver. But Dexter […]

Watch out, there be spoilers ahead .

Ok, caveate: I think Dexter has always been vastly over-rated. It’s one of those ’emperors-new-clothes’ deals – has a rep for being all sorts of things it isn’t, like great, edgy, dark. They’ve somehow created the aura of these things without ever having to actually deliver.

But Dexter has always shown potential. It has cast going for it, and a strong concept, and a great setting (it’s one of the few shows set in Miami that actually look like Miami, at least how I think Miami looks). The problem has always been that it doesn’t know what to do with what it has.

The core of the idea is simple; A serial killer who’s been trained as a vigilante, channeling his urge to kill. He’s Batman meets Son of Sam.

The theme of the show, when it started, was that of an alien, an outsider. Dexter’s attempt to fit in by hiding in plain sight, by pretending to normalcy. It’s classic werewolf/vampire territory, where the monster may hide in plain site, all the while knowing he’s a predator feeding on humanity. It’s rich, if somewhat staid, territory; and then angle they’ve put on it (serial killer as hero) is pretty original (we’ve seen the opposite many times; the heroic vigilante who’s really sort of a criminal; but here it’s flipped – it’s criminal killer directing his crimes at other worse criminals).

The trouble is, someone (someone at showtime, maybe, or the show runners Cerone and Phillips) decided that they need to make Dexter more likable. And that’s where the big pitfall is. Because they’re already there, thanks to Michael C Hall’s performance (he really just can’t be anything BUT likable, no matter how he’s presented, like Mickey Mouse in a Darth Vader costume).

In the first season, they managed it all pretty well. Dexter was a wry and funny narrator, and Hall played him brilliantly, completely inhabiting the awkwardness of a man faking ‘normal’, copying those around him for reactions. The surrounding cast helped (Jennifer Carpenter is fantastic as Dexter’s sister, for example, playing the other side of the confused and socially awkward coin). Sure, there were problems; mostly with plot, but we can blame the book for that ( Season 1 is lifted mostly from Darkly Dreaming Dexter), though there’s a glaring casting problem with Lauren Vélez as Maria LaGuerta (she can’t act her way out of a paper bag).

One of the best devices in season 1 was Rita (Julie Benz), who’s introduced as a pathetic, neurotic basket-case; a perfect ‘beard’ for dexter, because he doesn’t care about her at all, and she’s so damaged all she needs from him is that he seem to care about her (something Dexter learns to fake well enough to keep his cover). She’s sad and deeply dislikable, which is exactly what she needs to be (since Dexter is using her, and doesn’t care at all about her).

While season one’s the plot devices are weak and improbable, and the writing is uneven, on the whole it works. The effect is sort of light weight and melodramatic, but with enough real high points to make it all work.

This start to go wrong – very badly wrong – in season two.

One of the key points we’ve learned about Dexter is that he’s brilliant; almost super-human. Strong, quick, dangerous, with a monster’s mind behind the seemingly mild-mannered disguise. He doesn’t make mistakes; he’s only threatened when he meets a mind as dangerous as his own. Yet, Season 2 opens with Dexter ‘exposed’ by his (we see in season 2) really, really stupid way of hiding bodies (wrapped in fucking plastic bags, and dropped into shallow water on a reef – the worst sort of rookie mistake, and not something anyone with a clue would do, let alone a police forensic investigator). It’s the worst sort of cheap plotting move, and doesn’t follow at all with the character we’ve seen through season one.

So we have our first big weak plot mistake; the smart guy acting stupid. Weak. We then add in a really stupid sub-plot where a fellow officer (Doakes, hugely over-played by Erik King) stalks Dexter; again, weak. Entertaining in a small dose, but an absolute slog as a season-long arc, because it depends on Dexter acting stupid.

We also see Dexter suddenly working to try to keep Rita, who is suddenly no longer pathetic, weak and damaged, but drably likable and sweet; which doesn’t work at all because they’ve just finshed making her kind of hateful. They try to make a complete character about=-face that makes no sense at all, AND blows out her reason for being there. Dexter tells stupid lies (drug addiction? Are you kidding me? What’s this, a ‘Friends’ episode?). They try to justify this by telling us Dexter actually cares about RIta rather than to be using her as a beard; another nonsensical switch.

Sure, there are some good points; Frank Lundy, wonderfully played by Keith Carradine, and Lila (Jaime Murray) , the most appealing character in the show for the first few episodes (though predictably, as soon as she’s revealed to be a sexual wildcat, she then has to also be revealed as a psycho, in standard TV type casting of sexual women as crazy, pathetic, or mean).

The ending features a really bad deus ex machina device, and leaves Dexter resolving to not kill anymore and to be a nice guy, which isn’t the least bit in character, and pretty much blows out the reason we’re here, to see the hero serial killer. When dexter doesn’t kill, he’s both out of character, and boring.

Season 3 fairs a bit better; Dexter actually has a decent opponent; Jimmy Smits as ADA Miguel Prado, who chews up scenes wonderfully, if improbably. But we’ve already gotten used to some improbability; like 24, if the show is well written and well paced (and well cast), we have to ignore little problems like logic. Unfortunately, to balance the far better villain, we get a really, really stupid plot device; Rita is now pregnant, and Dexter decides to marry her. Sure, this arc comes from the book, but they’ve thrown away most of the rest of the books by now; why keep this one, Particularly when the books are reputed to be terrible. They’ve already made Rita aan annoying (and inconsistent) character, why drag her along more, and shoe-horn dexter into scenes that don’t fit with his serial killer nature? Oh, and wait, he’s not not really killing. Why? I can only assume it’s the producers trying to make him likable (really, he may be a killer, and crazy, but look, he’s not really crazy and doesn’t really kill!)

Overall, the season works, but despite it’s failings; it’s clear the writers don’t really know who the characters are anymore, and it’s clear Dexter’s now a serial killer in name only; he’s now just a weird dude who talks to himself, and has a hobby of vigilanteism.

I had hopes that season two was the anomaly; that they’d started to get this show back on track. I was wrong.

Season four had promise; John Lithgow as another serial killer (wow, they’re thick on the ground in Dexter’s universe). Lithgow can do a lot to salvage bad material; he’s really, really good. And to his credit, he’s the only thing that works about season 4. He’s frightening, and completely convincing.

Unfortunately, that’s vastly offset by the fact that the show runners have clearly thrown out any character continuity, and have decided that filler is a crucial plot device.

What seems like two full thirds of each episode is dedicated to a dreadful and stupid plot line with LaGuerta (yes, she still has a job, but god knows why, it’s certainly not due to any acting ability whatsoever), and Angel Batista (David Zayas). Now, Zayas is an extremely appealing actor, but he’s acting opposite a waxy lump, and he’s given truly awful dialog. Worse (or almost as bad, it’s hard to decide), the plot between these two characters (an illicit affair between superior and underling) is full of bizarre ideas, like a threat of a perjury charge for a statement that had nothing to do with a court (wow, you’d think someone in the writer’s room would know what perjury means, or at least check a wikipedia to see). Everything these characters do is boring, stupid, illogical, and badly acted (because Velez’ terrible acting brings down that of everyone around her, she’s like a talent black hole).

Added to that, we get a truly pointless side plot about Rita kissing a neighbor (as if Dexter would care at all), and various other Rita nonsense. It seems like each episode it an hour and three quarters long, with only about 20 minutes of that featuring plot movement with Dexter and Lithgow’s Trinity character. The show DRAGS.

I’m almost tempted to resort to a bullet list of stupid devices; at one point Miami Metro police put up a city wide checkpoint to screen for DNA so they can find Trinity. Well, sure, nevermnind that it’s unconstitutional, AND that any evidence is not admissible in court. To pay for this, they free up several million dollars by “working the books”. Wow, I should get them to come work my books, I could spend that money on something that might actually be useful.

Dexter, in another smart-character-doing-idiotic-things device, decides he has to study trinity because trinity is so good at pretending to be a regular guy (never mind that dexter has already been transformed into a regular guy, the ‘monster’ thing was jettisoned last season). Dexter assumes a fake identity (using a real person’s name that’s easy to track), presents himself in public all over the place with Trinity, meets Trinty’s family, and leaves his DNA everywhere. Nothing here makes a shred of sense.

Once Dexter has gotten all cozy with Trinity, his sense of empathy and moral outrage (wait, what empathy and moral outrage? Wasn’t Dexter a complete sociopath with no empathy? Oh, right, he got better) forces him to decide he has to kill Trinity. Of course, he can’t just lead the police to Trinity; no, Dexter has to do it himself. What happens when the police start closing in? Well, sure, he does the sensible thing and INTERFERES WIT THE INVESTIGATION, insuring that Trinity won’t be caught. Nevermind Dexter’s code, which was that he should only kill the ones who got away; Dexter actually insures Trinity gets away. So now Dexter’s completely off character track; Code be fucking damned, evidently. Yet Dexter still spends a good half of his screen time with ghost-dad, who seems not to know the code anymore either. Dexter is n o longer a serial killer at all, what he’s become is a vigilante, and a not-very-good one.

Typically, one of the most interesting characters in the show, Joey Quinn, is under-used, despite being caught red handed stealing money at a crime scene. This character is as complicated and mysterious as anyone on the show, yet they never explore who the fuck he is and what motivates him. His only real value this season is that he’s screwing a reporter (Courtney Ford as Christine Hill), (and THAT is only really rewarding because miss Ford spends quite a number of scenes naked, and has fantastic little titties) before she becomes another lame plot device (There’s a spoiler there, but it’s neither interesting for useful, plot-wise).

The whole last third of the season is a loop; dexter almost gets trinity, but then for some reason (usually because dexter does something stupid or gets interrupted by having to play hubby/daddy for Rita), does’t; on this goes for twenty or thirty episodes (or so it feels). It finally ends up where it should have been several episodes earlier, with Dexter seal-a-mealing Trinity and than killing him, while also being really nice to him for no apparent reason. It’s an event that feels weeks overdue, and when it happens, only Lithgow’s acting makes it anything other than a letdown.

########## SPOILER BELOW ##########

And then we get the exceedingly obvious (and of course, improbable) twist ending. If you watch the show, you know what this is, and if you didn’t, well, tough shit if you ignored the spoiler warnings; Dexter comes home to pack and meet Rita in the Keys, only to find she’s just sent him a voice mail saying she’s a little late (note that the voice mail comes in RIGHT AS DEXTER IS STANDING THERE, which would be impossible). As dexter tries to call her back, you already know she’s dead.

And then we get a lovely scene re-creating DExter’s childhood blood-bath (which of course trinty didn’t know about, so it’s an ironic accident!), with Rita dead in the bath (which is filled with roughly five times the volume of blood a body actually contains), and baby Harrison sitting in a lurid blood puddle on the floor (looking more pissed than afraid).

The scene is supposed to have vast emotional impact; but the problem is, Rita’s the worst single character in a show full of train-wreck characters. She’s alternately annoying or boring. So her death has only one effect; possible reboot of the show without it’s dragging boat anchor of a plot device. This is a good thing, aesthetically (it looks cool), and plot wise.

Alas, this show is consistent only in it’s ability to disappoint and underwhelm. So I have absolutely no faith in the show runners ability to do something good here (my bet? We get my-three-sons dexter as the harried single dad; suddenly we have a sit-com setup where dear-old-dad thinks he’s a serial killer).

Ok, so I guess what the fans out there (and they are fucking legion) will say is, well just don’t watch it. BUt there’s the problem; I want to watch it. I just want it to be good. Dexter has one of the best, and most forgiving, ideas for any show out there right now. It’s really hard to go wrong with a serial killer-vigilante; it’s hard to go wrong with a wolf-amoung-the-sheep plot. You really have to do a pretty terrible job to fail a crop with that fertile soil. And the cast in generally strong; Hall, Carpenter, Carradine, Smits, Lithgow; these people are all really good actors, people who can go tie to tie with anyone on teevee.

It’s the richness of the ingredients that makes this so bitter; they have so much, and they turn in into such crap. It’s akin to what great chefs say about great ingredients; the chef’s job is simply to not ruin what he has, because its starts out so good. Dexter is like that; but the writers and show runners are akin to giving farm-fresh produce and kobe beef to Dennys. Everything comes out tasting like greasy hash.

I want this show to be good, because it could be. And I’m sick of [people acting like it’s there; we deserve better, and they’re capable of it. Shape the fuck up, Showtime.

0 thoughts on “what the hell is wrong with Dexter?”

  1. Mmmmm…there you are… ;o)
    Too bad I couldn’t read half of this since I’m behind a season but some great points in the stuff I did read…
    LOVE Deb (his sis)…she’s foul-mouthed, awkward and awesome. And Lila was very cool…’til they had to make her a nutter (well, an unacceptable nutter!) and off her. “Pardon my tits!” is just a great line…

  2. Just came across this….excellent stuff. With most shows I’d just stop watching, but there are a few things that keep me coming back – mostly people saying “oh its SO good this season”, which I won’t fall for again.

    Loved the 1st season, liked the 2nd, and downhill from there. Just way too much soap opera stuff in trying to branch out from niche/creepy show to Leading Hit.

  3. Dan, exactly. It’s like they’re trying to get away from everything that the show was built around.

    It’s profoundly depressing; no matter how bad it gets, people keep acting like it’s good.

    It’s not. Not at all. It’s no even good cheese anymore, it’s just badly done; poor work at every key point aside from a few key cast members.

    It’s savable; all they need is good writers and a producer who gets what was working and what isn’t. But I don’t expect that to happen when they can’t see that the wheels are off.

  4. Your the fucking man elvis. I have been googling for this type of review for the last 20 minutes. You have perfectly analyzed every horrible aspect of this show. Me and my girlfriend started watching Dexter on netflix about a month ago. She made it half way into season 2 and i managed to somehow keep my faith up until the the 2nd episode of the 3rd season.

    I haven’t watched it in a couple weeks now, and you have just convinced me to give up on it. This show frustrates me more then any other show I have had high expectations for. And its because of exactly what you said, THE POTENTIAL.

    Yes it’s a quirky and different approach, to have the main protagonist be a serial killer, but say the show is a hamburger (haha first metaphor that popped into my head) the writers made the biggest mistake ever in trying to have the serial killing aspect be the condiment of show and not the meat/bulk. I would think most people (myself included) are mislead into watching the because their friends (my case) or showtime advertises the show as the condiment.

    And who doesn’t become intrigued when they hear of a hot new drama that looks into the mind and inner workings of a serial killer, who is a CSI. Cable networks im sure were beyond intrigued with that description. The creators of the show probably didn’t even need a pilot, they just said “CSI SERIAL KILLER “, and network executives started to cum. Every Where. So much in fact, that no one really cared to ask, ” So what exactly is the main foundation of the show?”

    I was under the impression it was going to focus on the awesomely interesting aspects of a serial killer. The meticulous, genius, and psychopathic nature of this kind of “person”. I was ready to witness hour upon of hour Dexter living up to that. I wanted him to be sure of himself, always. No loose ends. This is his life, his takes pride in what he does. I mean, for god sake he’s a serial killer, the audience should be horrified with how fucked up and monstrous his pride is, but engrossed with how relatable and likable he is at the same time. (Some might say that is the Tarantino formula, but fuck, i have yet to see a series that captures that)

    Now I wasn’t aware that Dexter killed by a “code” until the first episode. I don’t want to sound like a creep, but that immediately made me raise an eyebrow. (there goes horrifying the audience aspect i was expecting). But i was still very excited and ready to be completely emerged into the world of Dexter.

    Instead i was thrown into a interchangeable sappy soap opera drama. Much like another shitty ass series (that somehow managed to keep my faith for almost the full first season) True Blood. In fact, i think it was around the same time last year that I was scratching my head just as i am now thinking “what the fuck is the hype”.

    And thats just it. Hype. Everything now at days is hyped up. SO much that people cannot realize when a show is crap. Their friends are hyping it, networks are hyping it, journalists are hyping it, viral videos are hyping it. Your average Joe doesn’t want to break it to the coworkers discussing last nights episode, that Dexter is just plain bad and doesn’t do it for him/her. He’s going to keep giving it a chance, maybe even ride it out the entire series. Ignoring the poor writing, poor acting, (practically supporting cast) and just plain frustrating elements. Enabling the creators to fluff every episode as much as they want. Numbing viewers down to believe this is good programming.

  5. Thanks Chris. You’re absolutely right about your condiment analogy.

    On True Blood, I agree it started out terrible. And like Dexter, it has a problem in being made based on a really bad book series. It has improved a bit; unlike Dexter, they seem to have recognized some of it’s early weak spots (particularly the writing). Still, it’s vastly over rated; people seem to have a weakness for sexy vampires that makes them unable to see overt crappiness (*cough*twilight*cough*). What True Blood has going for it, and the reason watch it, is sex. It’s absolutely chock full of sexy naked people fucking each other.

    True Blood is candy and knows it. Dexter, I think, is unaware that it was, and should be, nothing but candy. They’re trying to make it a relevant drama, and by doing so are rendering themselves artistically irrelevant. True Blood is aiming at a sort of pornographic southern gothic, and they’re generally getting it, with some big caveats.

  6. Well played, sir. Well played.

    I agree with just about everything you said except that part about Quinn being an asset to the show. I see him as a guy who will cause more trouble than he’s worth. If he’s dispatched, at least he’ll probably get Door-Prize Debra prior to his demise. The reason I don’t want to see him become a larger part is because it will probably be done foolishly and we’ll get stuck in yet another subplot that takes away from Dexter being Dexter.

    http://dexterwiki.sho.com/page/Dexter+Season+5+Suggestions

    I posted something similar amongst the so-called fans who claim they like the show and yet, in their ignorance, think it would be best for Dexter if he became normal. That would end the show and ruin my belief in a higher power.
    Please HAVE A LOOK. I think you’ll enjoy my ideas especially if you HATE LaGuerta, LaQuinta Hotel, whatever her stupid character is…

  7. In case you’re wondering how I found your site, someone posted a link to it on the dexter wiki.

    http://dexterwiki.sho.com/thread/3729719/-

    You are officially a topic pf discussion. Any real fan, who really wants the best for the show owes it to themselves to read your thoughts. You sir, are an asset to the good name of intelligence.

  8. Hey, whatever your name is with the previous three comments-

    My movable type install doesn’t like your yahoo OpenId entry (I’m investigating there to see if I can enable that to work). But thanks for the feedback.

    It’s pretty damned funny that one of them called me long-winded and one of them said I don’t like Dexter. I do indeed like it, I’m just pissed at the failure of the writers and producers to make good on the vast promise the show had to start. They’ve run it into a ditch.

    I was going to join the thread you mention but I don’t know that it’s worth the effort of creating a login there. *shrug*.

  9. I’m not sure why my yahoo openID is being temperamental…
    Most of it (DEXTER WIKI) isn’t worth your time. There’s two cackling crows that got offended when I said Rita had it coming. Now they follow me from thread to thread insulting me and the rehashing my ideas as their own. They’ll say something like, “You’ve got that all wrong” and 4 posts down there’s a bastardization of one of my thoughts rewritten with their spin. I’m “teaching parrots to sing,” like that Primus song.
    I also said Rita was definitely lost for a moment with Elliot and of course the crows defended the action. I said it was guilt, not nobility, that led her to confess.
    They are ushering in this concept of a normal Dexter. I told them to watch ABC family if they want to feel all warm and fuzzy. Dexter is, or at least it was, for people who are in touch with their Id, and let it come to the surface for a breath of air, occasionally. I make no apologies for liking Dexter for all the right reasons. That’s the point of the show. It’s therapeutic for anyone living in the modern, impersonal world. I don’t want what few releases we have left to be reduced to bland oatmeal. It’s better to have them than snapping and running someone off the road on the way to the daily 9-5 dungeon.

  10. Heh. Fan forums are so fucking stupid most of the time, aren’t they?

    Apologists for whatever happens, nevermind that bad writers can ruin good shows.

    It’s amazing to me how much the entertainment industry under-values good writing (but then, I’m a writer, so I’m biased).

    Dexter was clever – the the extent that it was – because it embraced a lifestyle without judgement. Big Love does that (not taking an editorial point of view on the good or ill of the main characters lifestyle). Dexter needs to learn from that, and try to get the implicit judgment out and just tell a story well.

  11. If you ever want a copy of my book just ask and I’ll e-mail it to you with all inserts and front/back covers. I’ll add binding instructions so you can take it to Staples. They do good work.

    If you like it, just don’t give it away to the world. It’s about to published.

    You would think so-called fans would have a deeper understanding for what they’re watching. They have reading and viewing comprehension skills of a retarded sugar glider. Your blog was the first hint of someone who actually has an investment in the show and cares what the writers do next. It’s my optimistic hope that they led us down this domestication path in jest, and that we’re about to receive a huge payoff next season.
    Cody and Astor will likely disappear from sight either by the hand of Rita’s mother or Paul’s parents. It was kind of setup that way. Oh YEAH! That was something else they got offended by. I said Dexter would probably let them go because it would be logical for them to be brought up by blood relatives. He’s a man of logic. He depends on it. He doesn’t have an emotional database to draw from. If he is resistant, it would likely be part of his act. If people are fighting to make his life easier, I find it hard to believe he’d stand in their way. That is of course, unless Rita’s mother went after Harrison as well. She WAS led to believe Dexter was a recovering drug addict and now her daughter was found murdered in his home. That’s all she’d need to campaign against him and/or stir up legal problems for him.

  12. Does it strike you as odd that…

    Julie Benz was the secretary in As Good As It Gets who asks Jack Nicholson’s character how he writes women so well.
    His reply, “I think of a man… And I take away REASON and ACCOUNTABILITY.”

    …And with that she had all the tools she needed to play the role of RITA.

  13. I agree so much with you Elvis.
    A person who is a psycopath for almost 35 years suddenly becomes a husband who loves his wife, he marries and have kids? Oh come on writers, give me a break!
    The part with Lila which was pure sex was a lot more convincing and proper for a man like Dexter.
    3rd and 4rth seasons really got on my nerves.
    The series could make a good recovery after Rita’s death. Let’s hope the writers won’t give us any more family – husband- widower- single father poop and focus more on the killer.

  14. I gotta say, so far season five is a disaster. It’s got all the writing and poltting problems of season 4, plus, is almost completely boring. The only win so far is the girl dexter rescues (because she’s, you know, hot); but even so they’re getting nothing out of it (unless they make her a love interest).

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