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September 27, 2007 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | September 27, 2007 |

Almost a year ago to the day, I posted a review of the first season of “Dexter”, a review which gave the following summary of the show: “It’s about a Miami forensic investigator, played by Michael C. Hall (“Six Feet Under”), who spends his nights as a serial killer whose victims are other serial killers and bad, bad guys.” Looking back at the review, I was a little surprised to see that it was rather lukewarm. At the time, I thought the show had a great premise and tons of potential, but I worried about it finding and keeping a clear and cohesive tone. Being able to now look back at the first season as a whole, it’s safe to say that the show absolutely found that tone and managed to live up to its potential. In fact, “Dexter” manages to do what few shows are capable of, as it deftly walks the line between black comedy and camp, between the lighter side of things and the grisly stuff that comes along with, you know, serial killers. While Hall’s outstanding performance rightfully gets a lot of credit for what works with this show, equal credit is certainly due to everyone else involved, particularly the writers. Over the course of the first season, they gave us a very entertaining and engrossing season-long arc involving the mysterious Ice Truck Killer, who seemed to be playing a game of cat-and-mouse with our boy Dexter. But more than being about the chase to stop the Ice Truck Killer, or about the investigations of “normal” murders, “Dexter” was really a character study. And here, again, the writers provide such strong and rich material that it’s no wonder Michael C. Hall is able to knock it out of the park. As Dexter explored his relationship with his girlfriend, his sister and his past, Hall gave a richly layered performance that was an absolute thrill to watch. And unfortunately, such a performance is so rare these days that it really needs to be heralded.

All said, I think that “Dexter” wound up being one of my favorite shows last season, and so I’ve been a little itchy with anticipation for the second season, particular in light of the relatively unexciting batch of new network shows currently being thrown at us. Now if you still haven’t seen “Dexter,” I suggest you rectify this error and rent yourself some DVDs, just as soon as you’re done catching up with “Friday Night Lights.” And you should also skedaddle out of here, since I’m now going to turn to Season Two, which will necessarily be discussing the end of last season (but for those who are caught up, I’ll keep the Season Two spoilers to a minimum, which shouldn’t be too hard since I’ve only seen the first two episodes).

Right out of the gate, the first episode of Season Two delivers, with a wonderful bit of black comedy that exemplifies just how well the show has found and settled into its voice (I won’t spoil it for you by giving you the specifics, but trust me - it’s fun). As the show opens, we find that it’s about 38 days since the end of the first season, and if you can’t recall all the specifics of what happened at the end of last season (like the fact that Lt. Maria Laguerta — Lauren Velez, from “Oz” — isn’t running the show anymore), worry not, as the first episode gives us a very useful recap. In any event, this hasn’t been a good time for Dexter. Not so much because of the whole killing his brother business (though that’s still weighing on him, as much as something can weigh on a man who insists he doesn’t feel “normal” emotions), but because that pesky Sergeant Doakes is more suspicious than ever, and has been keeping a very close eye on Dexter. So Dexter’s been forced to act all normal and dull-like, trying to fit in, which means he hasn’t been able to scratch that murdering itch: “With Doakes tailing me, my life’s been all Jekyll and no Hyde.” Dexter’s sister Deb, meanwhile, is living with Dexter and isn’t quite over the whole “my boyfriend turned out to be a serial killer” incident, which is kind of understandable.

As with the first season, it looks like we’ll have a season long “mystery” coupled with more growth and development for Dexter and the other folks. The season’s main thread isn’t quite a whodunit like last season, because when a slew of bodies are found on the ocean floor, we already know that the media-dubbed Bay Harbor Butcher is our own Dexter. So, instead, the mystery is going to be about how Dexter can avoid being nabbed for all them bodies, particularly now that a ringer has been brought in, in the form of FBI Special Agent Frank Lundy (played wonderfully by Keith Carradine). Coupled with this will be the “mystery” of how Dexter can keep on killing and dumping bodies (as he’s basically compelled to do so), although he seems to quickly come up with a viable solution (he’s crafty!).

Meanwhile, we’re also going to continue to see the characters follow their own individual journeys, which is certainly a necessary element of a good drama and a strength of this show. Even the bit players are dealing with change, from Detective Angel Batista (“Oz’s” David Zayas), who’s dealing with the separation from his wife by latching onto an unnamed new philosophy which is clearly intended to be the horseshit that is The Secret, to the gal who took over running the police unit, who’s got a bit of a mess in her personal life. Dexter’s girlfriend, Rita (Julie Benz), meanwhile, started to grow some balls and independence last season, finally starting to truly break free of the abusive relationship she had with her husband and baby daddy, Paul. That looks to continue this season, although, as is unfortunately the case is in so many of these situations, there may be a little “two steps forward, one step back” that she’ll have to deal with. And actually, I hope that’s the case — while I didn’t like Benz all that much at first, I really warmed up to her performance as the first season rolled along, and I’m excited to see her get to hopefully do more this year. Dexter’s sister (Jennifer Carpenter) is, as I mentioned, still a mess — while it’s not clear where her story will take her, it will certainly take her somewhere as she continues to deal with the massive betrayal she suffered at the hands of Ice Truck Rudy. And while we’re talking about performances, it looks like Carpenter may have taken some acting classes during the show’s hiatus — while she was borderline atrocious last season, she’s actually mostly passable in the early episodes of this season.

But obviously, the biggest character focus will be on Dexter. If last season was about Dexter dealing with his past and what made him him, this season looks to be one where he’ll be trying to deal with humanity, both externally as well as within himself. Although he likes to repeat the fact that he lacks any emotion or empathy, it looks like there might actually be a little something-something buried deep within him. When you look at the various pressures facing Dexter as this season opens — living with his messed-up sister, dating his messed-up girlfriend, being stalked by a messed-up detective, trying to cover his messed-up tracks from the FBI and continue to kill — they’re certainly a recipe for a potential breakdown. Or breakthrough. I certainly have no way of predicting how this will all play out, but it’s clear that Dexter is going to have to come face to face with whatever bits of humanity may actually be hiding inside him, if for no other reason that it appears to be interfering a little with his favorite hobby. And the one thing I do know about this season is that Dexter will certainly continue killing. because as he tells us: “Blood. Sometimes it sets my teeth on edge. Other times, it helps me control the chaos.”

(Season Two of “Dexter” premieres on Showtime this Sunday night at 9 p.m.)

Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. While the need hasn’t arrived — yet — he has thought about how he’d dispose of a body. But he’s certainly not going to share that information here.

"There Might be a New Mass Murderer Out There, Way Worse Than the Ice Truck Killer"

"Dexter" (Season Two) / The TV Whore
Sept. 27, 2007

TV | September 27, 2007 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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