July 09, 2011

Summer TV Countdown #14: Dexter

I probably have Dexter rated too low - blame it on how long it has been since I watched it. I got into the show a year or so ago thanks to all the Dexter fans over at Obstructed View. I enjoyed season five but have a reservation or two about the show. If I had to rank the Dexter seasons right now, I would probably go


Spoilers below, obviously.

The good things about this season:

Anything involving Dexter's main storyline. The I remember liking the first episode or two after Rita's death, and I love pretty much any interaction between Dexter and Astor. They eventually leave to live with their grandparents (while Harrison stays with Dexter), and there's a great episode later in the season when Astor returns. Michael C. Hall really carries the weight on this show.

On a similar note, Lumen was great. Julia Stiles really nailed her guest role - John Lithgow was probably the only major guest star that has been better over the course of the show. Despite how relatively formulaic the show has become in the past three seasons (Major Guest Star is introduced, gets Too Close To Dexter, leaves one way or another at the end of the season), one thing that speaks for the quality of the show and its guest stars is that they're compelling enough to share the load with Michael C. Hall in carrying the show. Jimmy Smits was not so good (hence the rankings above), but Lithgow and Stiles brought a lot to the table in their stints on the show.
At first when I looked back on the season I thought that it would have been better if the Lumen story arc occurred in season three, since this season did a far better job with the "Dexter teams up with someone" plot, but it works better this season in the context of Dexter getting over Rita's death.

The not so good things about this season:

While Lumen was a great character and I enjoyed the broader arc of her story, there was one weak link - Johnny Lee Miller (of Hackers fame!) as Jordan Chase, this season's big bad. What he and his crew did to Lumen and their other victims was terrible and I quite enjoyed seeing Lumen and Dexter hunt them down, Jordan himself was kind of meh. I mean, he was evil and deserved to die, but he didn't feel EVIL the way that the likes of Arthur Miller or even the ruthless Miguel Prado. Jordan was just more of an asshole. It feels weird to say that, since I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that sexual assault is bad and I have no sympathy for abusers like Jordan's group anymore than I do with criminals like Miguel or Arthur. But it was a different kind of season - killing him felt much more about closure for Lumen (and indirectly, Dexter) than about some epic confrontation to remove Evil from the world as we've seen in other seasons. Overall I liked the idea of her arc (and Stiles and Dexter did a great job), but it didn't feel executed well on the side of the villains. I'm not sure if it was acting, or writing, or both.

Everything not involving Dexter or Lumen. I'm generally pretty meh on all the sideplots on this show in general. I quite enjoy Deb, but any b-plot that involves anyone else in Miami Metro Homicide that does not involve Dexter is extremely blah. I like Batista's character but I'm not a fan with what the writers have given him to work with, especially his marriage to LaGuerta and all of the internal police department wrangling that those two deal with. Quinn had more to do this season and we got the bonus wrinkle that he knows Dexter is up to something, but every time I look at him I wonder if he's going to die in the next episode from anorexia and/or heroin addiction. I swear you can see his ribs through his back. The other big plot line this season was the hunt for the so-called Santa Muerte killer, which weirdly fizzled out midway through. I don't even remember if they caught the perps. I think there was a shootout at a public location at some point and LaGuerta rightly got in a lot of hot water over it. Overall my memory of it was that it felt poorly tacked on.

Going forward:

One of the biggest complaints about this show from the critics is that it hits the reset button too often and that the broad arc of the season is fairly predictable (as mentioned above, Major Guest Star is introduced, gets Too Close To Dexter, leaves one way or another at the end of the season). Except for season 5, for obvious reasons, pretty much every season has started with promos along the lines of "The old Dexter is back!!!!11!". But, given the premise of the show, I don't see how many ways there are for them to not hit the reset button without destroying the premise of the show, since once someone finds out about Dexter's secret he either has to kill them or get caught, and then it's show over. One way they could have changed things would have been to keep Lumen around past the season break. They might have even been able to keep her around even if she decided to stop with the killing. Maybe I'm just too optimistic about how that would work though.

I don't remember the guest stars that have been cast for season six, except for the always awesome Edward James Olmos. I don't really have the vibe that anyone is supposed to be the big bad that gets Too Close To Dexter. I expect we'll be getting a lot more of Dexter worrying if Harrison is evil, which is kind of meh. Dexter does have a sword hanging over him in Quinn, though Quinn does owe him one for fudging the blood work that fingered him for Liddy's murder. Still, just a few hints to Deb can ruin everything for Dexter. I don't know/remember if Dexter kept an insurance policy against Quinn.

One thing I am hoping for next season is that the plot action will be a little more spread out. The past few seasons have had a dud episode or two in the middle of the season that felt like filler to push us to the big plot points in the last few episodes. Dexter loves to set up all the pieces in the first 7 episodes or so before knocking them all down in spectacular fashion. Those last few episodes are great, but it pulls a lot out of energy out of the earlier episodes. Contrast it with Breaking Bad, where shit can Go Down at pretty much any moment, which does a better job of keeping its viewers on their toes.


mb21 said...

Good writeup, b. I've lost some interest in the show since season 4.

I saw your master list. I haven't heard of half of those shows.

I think there are 8 shows on tv that I currently watch: Shameless, The Borgias, Justified, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Two and A Half Men (probably won't watch it anymore since Sheen went bananas) and The Big Bang Theory. I'll watch Parenthood on occasion and really like it, but that's about it for show I regularly watch. I wasn't able to watch Boardwalk Empire when it aired, but I did watch it later and really liked it. If this season of Dexter doesn't start out very good, I might switch to that show.

My list of favorites is pretty simple: Breaking Bad far and away at the top followed by Shameless, Justified, The Borgias, and then the others in order, but not anywhere close to the top 4. I noticed Justified wasn't on your list. Have you watched it?

I don't have a lot of time for tv shows since I watch 150 baseball games each year. So put baseball at the top of all of it. I'd rather have baseball than any tv show I've ever seen even if it's the Iowa Cubs of Chicago.

Berselius said...

Breaking Bad should probably be higher on my list, it just suffers from the fact that it's been so long since I watched it when I wrote the list (laughing). Talking about it with you and Ryno the other day had me thinking about the show for the first time in months.

Haven't seen Justified, but it's on my list of shows to pick up at some point.