Dexter: Pilot

Dexter: "I think this is a friendly message, kind of like hey, wanna play? And yes. I want to play. I really, really do."

I didn't like this pilot when I first saw it, probably because I was revolted by the idea of a serial killer as a hero. But it was brilliant and different and there were things about it I liked, enough to try it a second time and to keep watching. I'm glad I did.

The inner Dexter

What I like most about this show is the narration. Nobody knows Dexter. He's a deep, dark secret to everyone but his late foster father, Harry, and even Harry didn't know everything. But we know Dexter. We follow him through his life, hearing exactly what he is thinking, and he is completely honest with us; in the final moment of the episode, Dexter looked right at us, dissolving the fourth wall. This is an intimate portrait of what could be the most alienated human being on the planet. Dexter is forever on the outside looking in, explaining himself to us, the audience, in an attempt to understand himself.

Dexter as vigilante

Most serial killers choose the easiest victims: children and women. In the opening scenes, Dexter captured and killed a choir master who had been murdering boys. Dexter told his victim vehemently that he could never, ever kill a child. This was clearly intended to make us identify with Dexter, because people who victimize children are utter scum. Who wouldn't want such an evil man, in a position of trust with children, to die a horrible death? Dexter's second victim raped and killed an innocent young mother, leaving her children devastated forever. I'll readily admit that there is a part of me, and in probably nearly everyone, that can't argue with an eye for an eye. Dexter's victims deserved what they got, and then some.

Dexter killed two people in this pilot episode, and I got the impression that only a few days had passed. How many people has Dexter killed? How many slides are in that wooden box in his air conditioner?

Dexter and Harry

The "code of Harry" was an interesting choice for a cop and a parent to make. Why did Harry do it? Was it just because he loved his adopted son, combined with anger at the system for sometimes letting the bad guys get away with it? Harry asked the teenaged Dexter if he remembered anything from "before." "What happened changed something inside you. It got into you too early." What happened to Dexter 'before'?

Dexter followed in Harry's footsteps (as did his sister Debra), and he's good at his job. Law enforcement satisfies Dexter's need to try and control the chaos around him. He doesn't hide his enthusiasm, doesn't pretend that the blood grosses him out. The scene in the white room with the blood spatter connected to red ribbons was like art work, and that was exactly how Dexter saw it. It is Dexter's job to catch people who are just like him. What does this say about how Dexter feels about himself?

Dexter and sex

Dexter told us that he fakes human interactions very well and doesn't understand sex. And yet, he apparently needs a girlfriend as cover in order to appear normal. He chose Rita because he thought she was, "in her own way, as damaged as me." Dexter sees himself as damaged. Do most sociopaths think of themselves as damaged?

Rita is so sweetly pretty, quiet and unassuming. Uninterested in sex because she was raped and abused by her crackhead ex-husband, she was so desperate to hang on to Dexter that she made an awkward (and unsuccessful) attempt at seducing him. He treats her well, he's good with her kids. He talks about Rita in such a warm way, and likes the fact that she's a good mom. Should we be shuddering at the thought of that sweet woman and her innocent kids so close to a serial killer all the time? Why aren't we?

When Dexter captured his victims, he told them, "You're mine now." That suggested that killing may be sexual for Dexter. When he was talking about the new killer in town, he inadvertently made sawing motions on Rita's leg (which she misinterpreted as a pass). Does Dexter want to kill Rita? Or did he just get excited and forget himself? Since we hear what Dexter thinks, I believe it's the latter.

Dexter has competition

There's a new serial killer in town with a bizarre modus operandi: draining, dismembering, wrapping and freezing his victims. Dropping the head on Dexter's car could have been the killer's reaction to anyone who was following him, but dismembered Barbie doll pieces tied up with red ribbons in Dexter's refrigerator was sort of massive. The killer must know what Dexter is. How could he possibly know? And why would he want to "play" with Dexter?

Characters:

-- Michael C. Hall is an outstanding actor, and Dexter Morgan is not an easy part to play: likable one minute, terrifying the next. I doubt that there's more than a handful of actors out there who could do justice to this part, so good casting, guys. I might not have even tried watching this series if they hadn't cast one of "my" actors from Six Feet Under.

-- They also cast one of my Buffy actors. Julie Benz is very effective as Rita. Even though she is playing a gentle and damaged victim, Benz can do evil as well as good; her eight-year continuing role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel, was as a vicious vampire named Darla.

-- Dexter's foster sister Debra is very likable, too: sweet and foul-mouthed at the same time. She's also an ambitious cop. Dexter was consistently gentle and generous with her, helping her with theories about the new killer. He said that if he had feelings at all, he'd want to have them for Debra.

-- Maria, Dexter's boss, was all but sexually harassing him. He just ignored her. Maria was a real bitch with Debra, too.

-- Angel is apparently a good cop and a nice guy.

-- Dexter brings donuts to work to make people like him. And they do. All except Doakes. Doakes called Dexter a psycho and weirdo to his face, but it didn't seem to faze Dexter a bit. Doakes probably senses that something is wrong with Dexter, but doesn't know what it is. I'd say it's unwise of Doakes to treat Dexter with such contempt.

Bits and (ew) pieces:

-- The new killer keeps body parts in a refrigerated truck. Dexter keeps his bloody slides in his air conditioner. An obvious parallel.

-- Miami. Flamingos, drinks with umbrellas in them, tropical beaches and pastel colors, crime and drugs. Dexter is like Miami. He's boyishly good-looking and appears to be such a nice guy on the surface, but there's violence and horror hidden beneath.

-- Dexter has a huge scar on his ribcage. Did one of his victims fight back a bit too hard?

-- Dexter's boat is named "Slice of Life." Ha, ha.

-- The dismembered Barbie doll had a mirror in one hand. It must mean something.

-- Many eating scenes: Dexter eats a lot. High metabolism? After all, he's an active man with a full time job, a social life, and a physically taxing secret calling.

-- Captain Matthews was a friend of Harry's.

-- At one point, Debra called Dexter a "sick bastard." She has no clue that Dexter really is a very sick bastard. The pointed double entendres are fun.

-- Young Dexter killed animals. Yes, I'm not a vegetarian, but I tend to think of animals as helpless innocents. Dexter didn't kill the dog in Jaworski's house. I can only hope that killing killers is a lot more satisfying than killing Fido down the block.

-- Speaking of not being a vegetarian, the images of people smashing crab claws with hammers and gutting fish was visual commentary on human beings as natural predators. Message received.

-- Dexter breaks and enters. But he does it to uncover criminals, not to steal things. Jaworski, his second victim, stole copper pipe and killed women. Dexter would apparently never kill innocent women or steal copper pipe.

Quotes:

Dexter: "Tonight's the night. And it's going to happen again, and again. Has to happen."

Dexter: "Children. I could never do that. Not like you. Never, ever kids."
Donovan: "Why?"
Dexter: "I have standards."

Dexter: "I'm a very neat monster." I thought it was fascinating that Dexter referred to himself as a monster. Don't sociopaths think of what they do as natural?

Dexter: "There's something strange and disarming about looking at a homicide scene in the daylight of Miami. It makes the most grotesque killings look staged, like you're in a new and daring section of Disneyworld. Dahmerland."

Sue: "See you at the next bloodbath?"
Dexter: "Never miss a party."

Records supervisor: "You keeping your fingernails clean?"
Dexter: "Never leave home without my rubber gloves."
This is the truth. Dexter tends to tell the truth, up to a point.

Dexter: "The only real question I have is why, in a building full of cops, all supposedly with a keen insight into the human soul, is Doakes the only one who gets the creeps from me?"

Dexter: "The problem with eating and driving, which I love to do, is not being able to employ the ten-two hand position on the wheel. It's a matter of public safety." Was he kidding? Partly. I think it does bother him. Dexter cares deeply about law and order. It's ingrained in his psyche, and forms the framework of his life.

Dexter: "All in all, it was a good night. One less amateur filmmaker polluting the internet."

Maria: "And you never saw the driver?"
Dexter: "Just high beams and a flying head."
Maria: "Then he must have already had the head with him in the front seat. Weird. Why would he keep it there?"
Dexter: "I don't know. So he could use a carpool lane?"

This pilot was brilliant and different and there was obviously a tremendous amount to write about, but I didn't like this series much at first. No rating this time,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love the narration as well, brilliant writing.
I find myself rooting for Dexter because he says he´s a monster but I don´t believe it, he has feelings for Rita and her kids.

ChrisB said...

A friend of mine who thinks this is the best series going, gave me Season One as a Christmas present. I watched the pilot this afternoon and I'm not sure. Like Billie, it unnerves me to root for a serial killer, especially one as prolific as Dexter.

I did like the scenes with him interacting with other people and I'm really glad the writers chose there to be at least one person who doesn't trust him. I especially like Debra and his relationship with her. It felt really fraternal and oddly loving to me.

I will watch some more as I am intrigued with Harry and the choices he made. What would anyone do if they realized their child was already killing things at such a young age? Interesting...

Billie Doux said...

Chris, if it helps any, the main focus of the series is on the story and the characters, not the violence. Although there is violence. Season one is absolutely excellent, if you can handle it.

sunbunny said...

ChrisB - I stopped watching the show after season three (I got bored, you'll see if/when you get there), but the first two seasons were awesome. If I can handle it, you can. :) I'm the biggest wuss on the planet.

Darth Rosie said...

sunbunny,
too bad you stopped after season 3 - i thought season 4 was absolutely amazing ... and brilliantly devastating.
billie, so blad you write dexter reviews. i wouldn't know what to do without your reviews.
cheers! darth rosie