Dexter: Born Free, Again

Dexter is one of those shows that I have been meaning to catch for the longest time. I finally finished the first season last night and, surprisingly, have a lot to say about it. This review contains spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the first season and want to, open at your own risk.

There just aren’t enough superlatives to use for this finale. Like some others, it took me a while to fully embrace this show. I struggled (a lot!) with rooting for a serial killer. I struggled with Maria’s flirty behavior because I found it hard to accept that a woman who was climbing the ranks in such a testosterone soaked world would behave like that. I struggled with the reality of Dexter and Rita being together for six months without even the subject of sex coming up. I will always struggle with people, like Deb and James, who swear every time they open their mouths.

Before I knew it, however, this group of people had endeared themselves to me and, as we do in life, I began to overlook their faults and the foibles that so bothered me. I realized that not only was I overlooking all the things that had so bothered me in the beginning, I was rooting for them. Except for James. He continues to bother me because I can’t figure out why he is so obsessed with Dexter. His behavior during the hunt for Deb was extreme, so I was beginning to think he had feelings for her and was taking out his fear on her brother. Then, we saw him at the end. Isn’t following a co-worker to his girlfriend’s house almost the definition of stalking?

In this finale, we saw a true evolution in all three of Dexter’s primary relationships. In the pilot, he tells us that he feels nothing and that he fakes his way through. While I am sure that there is an element of truth to that statement, he is certainly feeling now.

Dexter refers to Harry not telling him the truth about his biological family as a “betrayal.” That is a strong word, one that conjures up very deep feelings. Through the course of this series, we have watched Dexter go through a form of adolescence. He begins by hero-worshiping his father and he must learn that Harry, like all adults, is human and flawed. I loved Brian saying to Dexter that Harry doesn’t need to sit on his shoulder and that Harry’s code doesn’t necessarily have to be Dexter’s. Accepting some of what our parents taught us and rejecting some as well is a crucial part to becoming a fully formed adult.

Certainly the relationship that has truly entered into adulthood is Dexter’s relationship with Rita. Their courtship was truly adolescent, playing together and hanging out together, sometimes kissing, but never having sex. Once they crossed that threshold, each became a more mature person. Rita was able to stand up to Paul in ways she hadn’t been able to in the past and Dexter was able to open up to her in a very real way. The final scene where he tells her, with tears in his eyes, that he is not all right was moving. He is no longer faking what he feels around her.

Like many sibling relationships, Deb and Dexter are still negotiating the terms of their adulthood. From the beginning, it is obvious that they are fond of each other, but neither really understands the other all that well. Deb, to a certain degree, uses Dexter to get what she wants -- her promotion to homicide. Dexter does help her and Deb doesn’t let him down; she is quite good at her job. Once she is there, their relationship seems to take on a more adult tone and each appears more willing to see the other as someone other than his or her sibling.

This sibling relationship is a direct contrast to the other, Dexter’s relationship with his brother. Over the course of the series, we have had the secrets of Dexter’s past revealed to us as they are revealed to him. Each is more harrowing and upsetting than the last. It is no wonder that both boys are as damaged as they are, but the contrast is obvious. Dexter had Harry and the code; Brian had no one. Dexter kills only those who deserve it; Brian kills because he can.

The scene where the two of them stand over Deb and debate whether to kill her was harrowing. Brian is offering Dexter what he has wanted and what he has told us he has wanted for as long as we have been part of this story -- someone with whom Dexter can simply be himself. The temptation to give in, to relax, to be himself must have been enormous. In the crucial moment, however, all the growing that Dexter has done over the course of the series reveals itself and he chooses Deb. His choice is not just about the fact that killing her would go against Harry’s code; it is also because he is “fond” of her. The scene where Deb defends Dexter followed by the scene where she cries in Dexter’s arms brought tears to my eyes. These two are beginning to connect in a deeply emotional way.

The final scenes we watch with each of the two siblings is revealing. The first time I watched the episode, I thought it was Deb asleep in the bed and I loved the fact that Dexter was so open with her and even managed to stroke her hair. We learn later, of course, that he was talking to a doll. Dexter may have matured, but he’s not quite there yet.

While there was a part of me that knew that Dexter would end up killing Brian, the actual moment I found heartbreaking. Brian is crying; Dexter is in emotional agony. Brian accepts his fate and doesn’t fight it. Dexter doesn’t do what he has done with his other victims which is to dismember them and hide them; he allows his brother a certain dignity in death.

The final scene is fascinating. With confetti showering down on him and the crowd cheering his name, Dexter is fantasizing about coming out, about being who he really is. Of course, that will never happen, but isn’t it lovely that Deb is walking with him and smiling at him as the scene fades to black.

NB: I have not yet started the second series, so please don't post spoilers if you choose to comment, and I hope you do!

Previously posted on ChrisB's Thoughts.


Billie Doux said...

What a terrific recap of the important things that happened in the first season, Chris! Season one really is like a comic book origin story, the genesis of Dexter and what made him what he is. It's captivating.

I'm not much for people who swear constantly, but Deb's potty mouth never turned me off because it's so obviously a defense mechanism. She's a bit damaged herself. And for some reason, I do like James Doakes. I think he reacts to Dexter the way he does because he has the strongest cop instincts of anyone in Miami Metro and can sense that something is seriously off about Dexter.

No spoilers, because you've only seen season one, but a season of Dexter tends to be like a book with twelve chapters. There are a couple of seasons that I didn't think were as strong, but the others I thought were excellent. (As Paul said, four is exceptional. And I'm very fond of season five.) Season eight is rumored to be the last, and it's airing this June (starting June 30) instead of in the fall. Here's hoping that if you get through all of it, you don't get spoiled!

Paul Kelly said...

Nice review, Chris. I think everyone who watches the show has to get over the mental hurdle of rooting for the bad guy. It seems so counter-intuitive. And then suddenly you're shouting at the telly for Dexter to kill someone; that's when you know you're over it.

When I'm recommending the show to friends I tell them to watch the first episode. There's no point in explaining the premise. When I first heard about the show I thought it sounded dreadful. Then I was sick in bed one night with flu, the remote was across the room (a fear inducing situation for a man), so, unwilling to move, I instead sat and watched. When Dexter broke the fourth wall at the end of the first episode I knew I was hooked.

Billie Doux said...

During the first season, people were writing to me, telling me to give Dexter a try, and I finally did -- reluctantly. I didn't like the first episode all that much, and didn't try a second. But people kept writing to me about it, and when there was a Showtime free preview and the entire first season was available, I gave it another try. The second time, I got to the fourth episode, and was blown away. I got to the eighth, and knew I had to write about it. I watched the entire first season over a weekend.

Paul Kelly said...

I think I had a few hangups with Michael C. Hall's casting, too. I loved him in Six Feet Under, but really couldn't see him as a serial killer. And then he killed someone. Now it's difficult to see him as anything other than a serial killer. Virtually every clip of him on youtube has the comment underneath "Look at Dexter pretending to be Michael C. Hall." But that's how convincing he is.

celticmarc said...

Well, well, well.

It seems like you had a Lostian revelation with this season. I loved both the first 2 seasons, started the 3rd but put it on the back burner...and then I jumped to the 7th one ! Shame on me. (eventually, I'll fill the gap) (eventually)

Eric King freaked the heck out of me : so therefore, magnificent performance from his part (yes, kudos to the rest of the cast, of course). So many intense and strong characters. And let's admit it : never a dull moment.

This is a brilliant show to get you out of your comfort zone : since when is it OK to root for a serial killer ?

This is also a brilliant TV show : Billie's and my own love for character development is very well served here. Plenty of strong moments, often some unexpected surprises, a lot of "wow" moments.

Chris, just with this essay, yes, you're giving me the envy to re watch that season. (darn ! it NEVER ends !)

celticmarc said...

Quoting you Billie : "I watched the entire first season over a weekend."

Glad to read I'm not the only "intense" TV watcher. When it is this good, it does not fall into the category of guilty pleasures.

It must be in the human genome this love of story telling....