Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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TV O.D. : Dexter’s Ascension to Greatness

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 17, 2007

Still waiting for the introduction of Mandark as the series’ primary villain

It’s pretty exciting to witness a good show’s ascension to greatness. When the show’s producers finally seem to realize their product’s strengths and weaknesses, and actually do something about it, as the things you love about the show are brought even more to the forefront, and the things about the show that used to bug you seem to slowly fade away. So much of the time it’s the exact opposite that happens–a show’s promise is squandered by the producers coming to all the wrong conclusions about why people are or should want to be watching it–that when a show actually changes for the positive, it feels sort of special.

Because the first season of Dexter was, at best, a solid first season of a decent, highly above-average show. It was suspenseful, well-acted, and had the appropriate amount of dark humor. It followed a reasonably compelling arc for the majority of the season, and resolved it in a fairly satisfying manner. But the greatness wasn’t there, mostly for two reasons. The first was that the show was still too much in love with its own concept, too busy trying to sell Dexter the loveable serial killer as the show’s hook to really let his character develop, too full of wink-wink nudge-nudge moments that ended up making the show feel like a novelty, when really it was capable of something greater.

This season, though, the show’s revealed Dexter for what he really represents–a man trying to come to terms with himself, and to find acceptance in society. Though I cringed at first when Dexter entered rehab (his ex-paramour Rita was convinced he was a druggie, Dexter ambiguously conceded that he “had an addiction”) and double-cringed when his sponsor was some off-kilter and marginally hot British chick (gee, wonder where that’ll lead), both storylines really opened up Dexter’s character as emblamatic of a universal condition–the fear of true intimacy, of letting someone else, or of letting yourself, see you for who you truly are. In the first season, Dexter was either a monster or a superhero, in this season, he’s just a human being. It’s an impressive character tranformation, made even more so by Michael C. Hall’s consistently Emmy-worthy acting in the role.

And though I’ve bitched about the show’s supporting cast in pretty much everything I’ve ever written about the show, I’m starting to come around to it. Deb doesn’t seem nearly as annoying this season, Rita’s gone from simpering to heartbreaking in the space of the last two episodes, and Doakes’s constantly stake-raising rivalry with Dexter provides some of the show’s greatest thrills. And the two new additions–Lila, Dexter’s soulful but possibly unstable sponsor and new girlfriend, and Special Agent Lundy, the Dale Cooper-esque FBI agent brought in to track down the “Bay Harbor Butcher” (the papers’ pet name for Dex)–have given the show new life.

Nerve-snappingly tense and emotionally wrenching, Dexter is quickly becoming not only Showtime’s leading light, but one of the best shows on TV. As the season winds down to a close, the show’s gonna have to make some difficult decisions–whether Dex is going to try to live an honest life with Lila or a normal life with Lila, whether Dex is going to have to kill either Doakes or Agent Lundy, his first innocent, to keep himself out of harm’s way, whether Dex can live life on the level without relapsing into his addiction (hey, maybe he should try actual drugs sometime, they’re probably less messy at least), and whether he even wants to do so. But as difficult as these questions will be to answer, the show’s staggering improvement has given me reason enough to believe that it can actually handle them.

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3 Responses to “TV O.D. : Dexter’s Ascension to Greatness”

  1. […] Andrew Unterberger wrote an interesting post today on TV OD : Dexterâ??s Ascension to GreatnessHere’s a quick excerptAnd the two new additions–Lila, Dexter’s soulful but possibly unstable sponsor and new girlfriend, and Special Agent Lundy, the Dale Cooper-esque FBI agent brought in to track down the “Bay Harbor Butcher” (the papers’ pet name for … […]

  2. “But the greatness wasn’t there, mostly for two reasons.”

    So what’s the second?

  3. Andrew Unterberger said

    the supporting cast. I initially had some more specific reference in there, but I think I deleted it.

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