Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dexter, Season One

Following my own advice, I've been using the hiatus to catch up on some shows I've missed, and to finish off some DVD box sets that have been sitting around the house.

Last night, I plowed through the last three episodes of Dexter. Once I got to episode 10, "Seeing Red," there was really no question of stopping until I got to the end. I feel sorry for the folks who had to wait a week between these episodes. This is why I DVR and watch later, or wait for the DVD sets. I just lack patience these days to wait for next week.

In any case, this was some of the best-written TV I've ever seen. The characterizations were spectacular, and the use of voiceover nothing short of brilliant. And the acting was, across the board, nearly flawless. Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) has been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Dexter; Julie Benz (Angel, Taken) already won a Satellite Award for hers as Dexter's girlfriend Rita.

Yes, I liked it.

The plot was great, the story nicely convoluted and not too predictable. And I liked the fact that they had a single story unfolding through the twelve eps, and that we got a satisfying conclusion to that story, rather than way too much left hanging for next season. But what really makes this series work is the characterizations.

Within the first fifteen minutes, I understood Dexter. Really "got" who he was and why he was, and why I would want to spend time absorbing his story. By the end of the first episode, I was rooting for him. And the writers managed this with every character. Nobody on this show gets short shrift. I don't think there was a single character I didn't understand by the end of the season. And even when a character wasn't initially likable, they got moments that showed us enough of what motivated them to really get where they were coming from, and to sympathize, and often even to begin to like and respect them. LaGuerta struck me this way, as did Doakes.

In the hands of lesser writers, we'd be left wondering why not one, but two women fell so hard for serial killers. But the characterizations in this show made it all make sense. Deb was probably the one whose mistake would be hardest to explain. She's a strong, self-assured woman, a cop. How did Rudy manage to snow her so thoroughly? The answer is simple. Who does Deb look up to most in her life? Dexter. Of course she's going to fall for a man who has personality traits similar to his. The fact that she's modeling her ideal man after a sociopathic serial killer--well, that's just a bummer. As for Rita, the very qualities that have made it hard for Dexter to establish a relationship are exactly what allow her to thrive. He has no real emotional attachment, and so demands nothing of her. And his lack of demand allows her to find her own strength. At the same time, Dexter seems to change under her influence.

The finely constructed portrait of Dexter also gives us an ending where the conclusion isn't immediately obvious. In most shows, when Dexter is faced with the choice between his biological brother, the Ice Truck Killer, and his "fake" sister, the stalwart and talented detective, we would immediately know what his choice would be. But in this show, we hold our breath, waiting, because we know Dexter is capable of killing Deb. And if he'd made that choice, it would have made sense--maybe more sense than not killing her. But in the end, he saves her, and we see a Dexter who has made a choice that, while right in the world of normality, in many ways is against his basic nature. Is Dexter changing? Actually learning to feel? Maybe. And since this show's already been picked up for a second season, maybe we'll get a chance to find out.