MOVIE: Dexter: Season One (2006)

A couple of years ago, I read Jeff Lindsay’s novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter, about a blood spatter expert who worked for the Miami police department by day and was a serial killer himself by night (a serial killer with a moral code, though, as Dex only kills other killers). Though I found the overall concept intriguing, I had a lot of problems with the novel — Lindsay isn’t much of a writer and I found the ending ridiculously predictable and unsatisfying. So, when I heard Showtime was turning the book into a TV series, I was interested but not exactly dying to see it (ha ha, dying to see a show about a killer, ha ha!) (sorry).

I finally got around to renting Season One about two weeks ago and just finished watching the final episode this week. And surprisingly enough, I really enjoyed it. I found the TV series far more engaging overall than the novel, and Dexter in particular seemed much more complex on TV than he was on paper. At times, TV Dex actually seemed a lot more “human” than he gave himself credit for, something I never really picked up on in the book version.

After watching the show for a few episodes, especially the scenes involving his girlfriend Rita’s children, I even started developing this elaborate theory that maybe Dex’s sociopathy was actually taught to him by his adoptive father Harry and not something inherent in his character after all. I’ll try to explain: Harry is a police officer who found Dexter at a crime scene when he was just a toddler and adopted him. When Dex was about 8 or 9, Harry discovered he had been killing small animals and decided that must mean he was a sociopath destined to become a serial killer. The only way to keep Dexter safe, then, was to teach him how to kill people efficiently and without leaving evidence behind, and then to instill in him a moral code that only allowed him to kill people who actually “deserved” to die. Harry also taught Dex how to act like a “normal” person and display appropriate emotions, but, to be honest, I really started to feel like TV Dex protested far too much about his lack of feelings. His ability to connect to people seemed all too authentic at times, and I soon began to see him more as a man acting the way he believed he was SUPPOSED to be acting (trusting and loving Harry as he did and thus wanting to be praised by him), instead of a man acting the way his true instincts were directing him to. This gave his character a bit more ambiguity and depth to me — is Dexter really a true sociopath? Or was he just raised to THINK he’s a sociopath by his inherently good, but seriously misguided, adoptive father?

Or, did Michael C. Hall just kind of blow it sometimes when he was supposed to act emotionless and instead let a few traces of true humanity fall in through the cracks of his dramatic facade? This is possible — in fact, it’s probably the most likely explanation. However, I really LIKE my theory of Dexter’s sociopathic ambiguity — it would be an interesting direction for the series to go in at some point, I think. And it also helps highlight the irony of the entire concept of a “moral” serial killer, as Dexter clearly experiences some degree of disgust over the crimes of his own victims, and yet never seems to recognize that he too is worthy of the same disgust, because he’s actually just as awful (if not more so, in some cases) than everyone he believes he’s doing the world a favor by putting down.

The show features some fairly explicit violence, if you haven’t guessed that already, so it’s not for the weak of constitution. However, it’s also quite sweet at times and there are a lot of moments of extremely well-timed comic relief mixed in as well (Masuka in particular regularly cracks me up). Fans of Michael C. Hall’s work on Six Feet Under should definitely give this a try — he’s truly wonderful in the title role. And I enjoyed a lot of the other characters and subplots as well. It’s not flawless, but it’s still very, very good and I’m really looking forward to watching Season Two when it hits DVD next summer (by the way, Netflix subscribers can watch the premiere episode of Season Two for free using Netflix’s “Watch Now” feature — it’s available on the site until October 28th — cool!).

So, in other words, watch the show, skip the paperback!

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: TV drama

Cast: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, David Zayas, James Remar, C. S. Lee

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5 Responses to “MOVIE: Dexter: Season One (2006)”

  1. Lorraine Says:

    I gave this show a try on Netflix and really enjoyed it. The supporting characters are rather weak but Michael C Hall is fantastic. Where was his Emmy nomination??!! His performance combined with the dry humor was why I enjoyed season 1. For me, the voiceover was a nice device to show the struggle between Dexter’s actions and his thoughts. It really made the show a “must see” for me.

  2. Mindy Says:

    Meg, I adore you, I really do. I don’t even OWN a television and you make me want to start downloading and watching these shows. Did I mention I hate violence and gore and your review made me want to watch Dexter?? Don’t worry, this isn’t a crazy stalker comment, I promise. My cousin/ex-roomie and I have been following your site for a couple of years now and we really appreciate your presentation style and fabulous sense of humor, and especially your literary background. When my brother moved out and took the big-screen with him, we returned to our bookish roots, so your book reviews and ability to relate shows and movies to their (often) book roots (!!!! really, how many reviewers do that with any panache??) are greatly appreciated and helpful.

  3. megwood Says:

    Thanks, Mindy! You just made my day!

  4. Cheryl Says:

    Dexter – ITYS! (I Told You So). And you will re-read your own comments with wonder and awe when you see the 2nd season.

    It’s the one show I have to watch live.

  5. khaosfire Says:

    I’ve only read an excerpt from the novel, and from what I’ve seen, his fractured view of the world is a lot more apparent on paper. When I watched the series, I found that Dexter’s character became a lot more emotional as the series progressed. Maybe you’re right in assuming that this is a mistake on the part of the actor, but I came to the same conclusion you did. The second season continues to question Harry’s code, motives, and judgement, after all. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for him to have made a (huge) mistake when raising Dexter.

    Either the character is being mishandled, or it’s inevitable for this twist to come to fruition. Really, this could only make things more interesting.

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