Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dexter Seasons 1-4 mini-reviews and a few updates

First up, I also want to offer up some thoughts on my new favorite show, Dexter. After just recently finishing all four seasons in order to catch up, I feel like I can write up a mini-review of each season. Beware, spoilers ahoy.

Season 1 was, at the time of first seeing it, awesome. Looking back, it's easily the weakest of the four. It really serves as a great setup season to introduce us to all the characters and whatnot. My main issue with the season was a lack of any real character development for our lovable serial killer Dexter, but mostly just flashbacks and backstory instead of true forward momentum. Also, the season suffered from having a truly compelling antagonist. I felt like the revelation of Brian being the Ice Truck Killer was anti-climactic and I saw it coming a mile away the minute he was introduced into the series. I mean, come on, the killer chops up his victims with surgical precision, and this guy is an amputee doctor? Lame. Honestly, Rita's abusive ex-husband Paul was a more compelling, scary, and dangerous antagonist. I preferred the Ice Truck Killer when he was unknown. There just didn't seem to be anything at stake really, and Dexter only appeared to have a passing fancy in everything going on. Quibbles aside, as I said before, it was a good setup season, but not incredibly strong in retrospect.

Season 2, blew SE1 out of the water. There was no real antagonist in this season other than obstacles in Dexter's way, but it all served the heart-pounding race-against time narrative of Dexter trying to elude capture by the FBI, who discovered the remains of all of his victims at the bottom of the sea, his dumping grounds. Keith Carradine was a superb guest star as FBI Agent Frank Lundy, the nation's top serial killer hunter. He offered up a great mix of levity and determination. Erik King was also great as James Doakes, the only member of Miami Metro to ever suspect anything of Dexter. His character kept getting more and more unlikeable as the show went on, and ultimately, his death was really the only resolution that would have worked. There was no redemption waiting for him, as his time in special forces military really clearly fucked him up and made him paranoid and unstable. His confrontation and interaction with Dexter in the last three or so episodes were pretty incredible, as it was very interesting to see two killers on opposite ends of the spectrum letting themselves act natural in front of one another. My main issue with this season came in two parts. First off, the focus of the season was exactly what I wanted, character development for Dexter. However, it at times came at the expense of some truly heart-pounding moments with the main narrative of the season, which was Dexter's eluding the FBI. This came in the form of one of the most uninteresting and despicable characters EVER, Lyla. I really didn't like her, trust her, or even have a slight interest in her from the start. As Deb says to Dexter, "Miss "Pardon my tits?! I'm sorry bro but she is gross. And pale. No one if fucking pale in Miami. She is OBVIOUSLY a vampire. A gross, English, titty, VAMPIRE." Sometimes, Deb just gets it right. The problem I had with the character was that while her manipulation of Dexter was a semi-interesting sub-plot, it was there at the expense of the main event. This, unfortunately, led to a somewhat anti-climactic season finale, where Doakes is murdered by Lylah in the first 15 minutes or so, and the rest of the episode kind of fizzles out in its focus on Lylah and Dexter's decision to kill her. However, like I said before, these are small qualms in the grand scheme of things, especially for such a knockout season.

Season 3, for me, is where the show really finally hit its stride and perfectly understood how to balance all these things out. This season has been called one of the weaker ones, but I might go so far as to call it one of the strongest efforts from the series creators and writers. This is largely due to the way, like I mentioned, the season really managed to balance drama, emotion, heart-racing plot, and some tremendous performances. Michael C. Hall continued to outdo himself as Dexter, with Julie Benz and Jennifer Carpenter offering up really strong supporting turns. However, the star of this season was Jimmy Smits by a long shot. His performance as Miguel Prado was nothing short of incredible. The progression of character development for both Dexter and Miguel was amazing. The way they played off one another was like watching Dexter become something of a mentor for Miguel, while Miguel inadvertently mentored Dexter on human relationships. Their chemistry was nothing short of fantastic. Sure, the plot was not as heart-pounding and intense as SE2, but the writing was infinitely better. Watching the relationship between these two men grow and then collapse was one of the most fascinating things I've seen on a TV show. Their confrontation on the roof of Miami Metro was the stuff of legends. My major qualm, as it was in the second season, was that they ended the main story an episode too early, with Dexter killing Miguel at the end of the episode BEFORE the actual finale, which made the whole finale kind of weak and anti-climactic. Though I have to admit, seeing Dexter and Rita finally get married was really sweet and almost brought a tear to my eye, because the final scene was done so beautifully.

Season 4 was by far the best season yet. This is largely due to the stakes being raised to an unbearable level. Lives were on the line every step of the way, with a new serial killer on the loose. Trinity is easily Dexter's most dangerous and ruthless adversary, played with perfect creepiness by John Lithgow, who played against type, getting away from his usual good guy comedienne persona and really digging deep into the character of Arthur. Keith Carradine's return as Frank Lundy was awesome as it was in SE2, but tragically cut short. What this season did so masterfully was mix some amazing character development for Dexter and an unbearably intense main plot. Fortunately, there were no side-plots to needlessly distract us, which has been one of the show's weaknesses in the past, pointless ventures into la-la land. One of the most incredibly intense episodes was the Thanksgiving episode, where Arthur shows his true colors, and turns out not to be putting on such a great mask at home, but is a horrfying monster both in private and at home. When everything spun out of control at the dinner scene, my palms were sweating and I was on the edge of my seat. Watching Lithgow go apeshit on his family in such a Hannibal Lecter way was truly terrifying. But one of the most incredible moments came when Dexter dragged Arthur into the kitchen by his neck to get Arthur away from strangling his own teenage son to death, and then pounced on him like a fucking beast and snarled at him "I knew I should have fucking killed you when I had the chance!!!!" The look of terror on Arthur's eyes was only made more intense because for a moment there, you could see this monster of a man suddenly fearing for his life at the hands of another predator. Every episode following this was more intense than the last. Lithgow was truly terrifying and scared the shit out of me in every scene he was in. That made it only more satisfying to see Dexter finally kill him in the end, though in a weird way, I was hoping for a more grisly and brutal end for Arthur. Especially in light of the final scene of the last episode, where we learn that Arthur effectively ruined the lives of Dexter, his son Harrison, and his step-children by murdering Rita in cold blood. When I saw that, I wanted Dexter to go back, find Arthurs remains, and kill him again, then desecrate what was left of him. Arthur truly was a monster on a level beyond anything we've seen on the show. I still think that the best guest star performance of the show was Jimmy Smits in SE3, but Lithgow's portrayal of Trinity was the stuff of nightmares. I can't wait to see what happens this September when SE5 premieres.

A few quick sidenotes as well. First, I want to direct everyone to, a site in its beta phase that is compiling a database of, you guessed it, film clips. No more fruitless searches through youtube for perfect clips!

Secondly, here's an oldie but a goodie, thanks to Anne Thompson. This is such a great interview, chock full of awesome info about the making of Avatar. Admittedly, this kind of stuff is like porn for cinematography, and VFX geeks like me, but I encourage everyone to check it out, it's really fascinating.


Anonymous said...

I agree with most everything here (Smits stealing Season 3, the intensity of the last episodes of Season 4, and Season 2 being super heart-pounding) except for the part where you rule Season 1 the worst, and Season 3 the strongest effort. That's a joke, right? Right. You forgot the tiny part about Dexter killing his brother - easily the most heartbreaking, emotional, game-changers short of the end of Season 4. Did we forget the whole brother reveal? How every clue and particle that was given to us throughout the season was paid off so spectacularly? Dexter's realization when he arrives at his childhood home is easily in my top 3 scenes of the entire series. Season 1 - "Seeing Red," "Shrink Wrap"? Name an episode in Season 3 that even holds a candle, no, a wet match, to those episodes. Scenes in Season 3 are definitely in a "tops" category, like Miguel/Dexter on the roof - and that's all I remember from that season: scenes. Season 3 was formulaic at best. Definitely saved by Smits, and Miguel's relationship with Dexter (and the best one-liners by Deb, but I digress).
And Season 4 - no side plots? Neighborhood watch? Rita's incessant moaning and marriage counseling? Angel and Maria?! THOSE are side-plots. I'm not sure which "side plots" you're (apparently) referring to in 1-3 when you say Season 4 was free of them.

I'm sure I'll think of something else, but for now -
/passionate Dexter rant

Anonymous said...

"There just didn't seem to be anything at stake really"

I mean, except for the part where he could be accepted (by his BROTHER) for who he was, WHAT HE REALLY IS - yeah, nothing at stake. Dexter's never been searching for human connection. *headdesk*

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Deb's life. Kthxbai.

Kevin K. said...

I just thought Season 1 was the weakest because of the way they handled the revelations and such. There was no time to really let it sink in that Brian was Dexter's long lost brother, and thus, the ending was not that emotionally affecting to me. I just didn't really dig into season 1 that much personally. I want to clarify that which I still think SE1 was the weakest, I said that SE3 was one of the strongest, not THE strongest (that belongs to SE4 for me). I had forgotten about the Maria-Angel subplot, so I guess there were subplots in SE4. But I still think it was the best season yet.

Kevin K. said...

I understand where you're coming from, and I see the passion behind it, but I just didn't think SE1 was anywhere near as compelling as the rest of the seasons. Like I said, a really strong set-up season, but I wasn't emotionally affected at all.

Anonymous said...

I think the timing of the reveal was perfect. It wasn't in the episode before (like S3's super-anti-climactic finale), it wasn't in the last 1 minute (S4 finale (which was fine, IMO)), and it wasn't too early in the episode (like Season 2's "fizzle" out). The season finale was packed, but it never felt like a bum rush. They did the right thing building the tension in the episode before (kidnapping Deb, etc) and going balls-out in a timely fashion in the finale.

Kevin K. said...

I agree that SE3's finale was anti-climactic, as I pointed out, because they killed Miguel one episode too early. Why they did that is beyond me.

elizagolightly said...

Because it was the OBVIOUS climax. I liked that they killed Miguel early and actually had the climax be his wedding. I think that made the episode interesting because the entire time we were expecting something to go wrong and for the first time, nothing does. It's a SEEMINGLY perfect ending. I liked it. It was different than the other endings.

To me, the 2nd season was the best. I was NUTS the entire time. Though, I think the 3rd is the best as far as quality goes. The 2nd is just my personal favorite. And I agree that the first season was the weakest. The whole brother thing came out of no where for me, and I would have liked it better if the main bad guy hadn't been SO personally linked to Dexter. I didn't think the ending was heart-breaking, really. I get why it was supposed to be, but it didn't get me.


Kevin K. said... and search Dexter

Anonymous said...

Finale of Season 3 - something definitely went wrong. He got kidnapped by the lamest villain ever, fucking George King. But no one gave a shit because the star of the Season, Miguel, was already dead. Fail-nale.

Kevin K. said...

This is the most comments any thread on here has gotten. Keep it up

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