Thursday 30 December 2010

TV Review | Dexter (Season Five)

My problem with Dexter has never been with Dexter.

In his most prominent role before playing the eponymous anti-hero, Michael C. Hall was quietly commanding as Six Feet Under's put-upon brother, son and lover David Mitchell. Only with woeful rarity was he given the material with which to stand out from the powerhouse ensemble of that dark dramedy - most notably in a certain fourth-season episode those of you who've seen the show will recall all too well.

However, front and centre as Dexter Morgan, blood spatter analyst for the Miami metro division, sometime family man and erstwhile friendly neighbourhood serial killer, Hall has been a revelation. Suave, conflicted, charming, brooding, childlike and cold-blooded, his is a character unlike any other on television today - far less yesterday - and for five seasons now, he has lent Dexter an air of credibility and intelligence without which the series would as like as not be a laughing stock; if indeed it could exist without him.

A big if, that. For without Hall, what do we have here? Courtesy of Jeff Lindsay, from whose Darkly Dreaming Dexter the series initially spun off, count one neat premise: can a man "born in blood" and determined to die in similar circumstances... a man carrying a "dark passenger" addicted to the dealing of death... a man who lies, cheats and deceives those who care for him on a daily basis... can such a man be in any sense redeemed?

Certainly Hall works tirelessly at the task - and for whatever it's worth, you get the feeling the rest of the cast and crew do too. Sadly, the fact of the matter is, but a few of them are up to it. Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter's oblivious sister Deb makes the best of a bad lot; the butt end of some dire storylines in her time, Carpenter has nevertheless stood clear of the crowd. Charismatic, energetic and refreshingly direct, she wears her character like a second skin, so natural is her performance.

And there have been some stand-out supporting players. Last year, John Lithgow as the chilling Trinity killer set the bar tremendously high for future guest stars, and to precisely no-one's surprise, Julia Stiles - the reason for the season, if you will - doesn't even come close to reaching it. Her turn as gang-rape survivor and would-be protégé to our serial killing hero Lumen begins badly, ends abruptly, and is in the interim awkward, inconsistent and decidedly inappropriate on occasion.

Except for her sex, the plot thread she participates in is one we've been through  before... as is the relentless detective on Dexter's trail. Remember Doakes, from the first few seasons? Well this year, Quinn - Deb's on-again, off-again fuckbuddy - picks up where the ludicrous sergeant left off, roping in lamentably cartoonish guest star Peter Weller as a disgraced policeman looking to win back his place in the good books with one big bust.

And I'm thinking: again? Really?

After the surprise high of last season, then, not to speak of the shocking events of its finale, season five returns Dexter to its usual form, which is to say a woebegone case of could have been, would have been, should have been; and given the largely misspent dramatic potential inherent in the death of Trinity's final victim, it's harder to reconcile the series' quagmire of issues than usual. Instead of giving Dexter the time and the space to grieve, the showrunners have opted to crowd out his crisis with a retread of tired old narrative tracks. Add to that some obscenely obvious scriptwriting, a-typically awful performances from a supporting cast more suited to made-for-TV melodrama than the difficult themes Dexter means to address, an utter misfire in the form of Julia Stiles, and... well.

I take no pleasure in raking Dexter over the coals; truly, I don't. Somewhere therein there's a superb show clamouring to truly spread its wings - seasons one and four were (all things considered) a testament to that fact. Sadly, as a whole season five only serves to diminish the good that's come before... to back up startled from the bold steps the creators have taken in directions apparently come to nothing. So by all means, watch the wheels spin. Just don't expect them to take you anywhere of note - this year, at least.


  1. I agree that this season was very uneven and strained credibility even more so than usual. Seasons 1,4, and 2 were very stong seasons and 5 didn't quite live up to it. Not sure if it's better than 3 or not though. The whole "finding someone I can kill with" thing just doesn't work.

    And what happened to the car Dexter totalled at the camp in the finale? His DNA was going to be all over that sucker.

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