I have a confession to make. I've been off TV for exactly one month as of today. This doesn't mean that I can't watch television at other people's houses or at work - but for the most part, I haven't had much opportunity to do that. And the televisions at my house are completely unplugged from any reception whatsoever. The only reprieve I get is Netflix, which sends me only one DVD at a time (I get roughly 6 movies per month). I've been doing great. Life is so much more productive, I'm out in the world more - it's been really good.
But two days ago I remembered something that I just couldn't shake. I hadn't seen the last season of Dexter yet. It's STILL not available on my Netflix list. And it was getting so that I just couldn't wait anymore.... Did I call up the cable company and order up the whole shebang, including Showtime On Demand so that I could catch up on my beloved show? No. (But I might have.) Instead, I dialed it up on iTunes and downloaded the entire season onto my computer. And then I watched it. All twelve episodes. In two six-hour sessions. I only got five hours of sleep each night. And I am SO glad I did it.
I really resisted this show at first. All I knew about it was this: Dexter is a show about a serial killer who kills other killers. And I knew that it was bloody - in a chop 'em up with a chainsaw, hack 'em up with an axe kind of way. I'm a lightweight. I get queasy at the sight of someone getting a flu shot. So I thought there was no way possible I could handle this show. But then about a year ago, I saw that the first three seasons of the show were available for instant download on Netflix - so I sucked it up and decided to see if I could take it. It turns out, I couldn't take my eyes OFF it.
Dexter, played by the incredible Michael C. Hall (formerly of Six Feet Under) is a loner. He has an awkward and inappropriate sister who works as a Miami cop, but nobody else in his life to speak of. He also works for the police department, in the homicide division as a crime lab technician - specifically, a blood spatter expert. And he has a secret. Blood spatter isn't just his job - it's his hobby, his passion, his fundamental drive. He kills people. He straps them down to a table with reams of tightly wrapped cellophane and hacks them to pieces. But Dexter isn't a bad guy. No, really.
It turns out that when Dexter was a small boy, he was adopted by Harry Morgan - also a Miami police officer. Harry saw evil tendencies in Dexter from a very young age - like ritual animal mutilation. In fact, he pegged him as a future serial killer. But Harry wanted to help Dexter, so he formulated a set of rules for Dexter to live by, called "the code." He is only to kill those people who deserve it (those who have killed innocent people), he must have proof, and the most important rule is to "never get caught." He taught him how to work his craft without leaving even a single cell of evidence behind. Harry never wanted Dexter to kill, but he saw it as an inevitability. So he decided to make it work for his son and society, instead of against them.
Dexter is able to use his job at the police department and his relationship with his police officer sister to get information on bad guys who the system can't get. But instead of collecting evidence to add to an investigation, he uses it for his own fortification. And then he hands down his own sentence those who meet his criteria - to a horrific death.
The kill scenes in Dexter are brutal, but artful. Drawing on the idea of Dexter's expertise, we see the kills in blood spatter. He wears a butcher's apron and plastic face shield like a welder's mask. We hear the whirr of the chain saw and see blood spray him - knowing what's happening without actually having to see it done. And when we do see his knife make contact with a victim's chest, it's done through the thick layer of saran wrap. So what we see is a disappearing blade, followed by a slowly spreading pool of red underneath the clear plastic layers.
One crucial thing Harry taught Dexter about being able to do what he does without getting caught is learning to blend in. But a big part of what is necessary to blend in within our society is having social connections. Dexter operates emotionally in a sort of Autistic manner. He sees social cues, but has no idea how to interpret them or respond appropriately. He has never been in love. He's never gotten close to anyone except his sister and father - and even they were at arm's length. He knew that his father understood who he was, but he also knew that it sickened him. And his sister is the straightest arrow in the police force. If she knew about Dexter, she would be devastated.
But she doesn't know. So when she decides to set Dexter up on a date with a woman she met on her patrol, Dexter realizes that he has to take her up on it - because that's what normal people do. Thus begins Dexter's move into a life of new connections, dating, relating - all the things he has no idea how to do. Will he be able to keep up the charade? If he lets people get too close, does he risk them finding out who he really is? It all becomes terribly troubling, and incredibly difficult to turn off.
This show is incredible, not simply because it has a good premise or good actors. It's because it has incredible writing. It's not often that I watch a show and say, "I wish I wrote this," but with Dexter, I always do. What fun they have with their audience. Bringing us into Dexter's inner sanctum, making us care for him against all odds, and then placing him in continually deeper and deeper danger of being caught. This show takes sharp turns and complete spins that you never see coming. And it does so over and over again.
From the killers who Dexter hunts, to the relationships he finds himself becoming enmeshed in - this show is nothing if not constantly surprising. I found myself calling my cousin (who had already watched the seasons before me) and making predictions after each and every episode - Who was the real killer? What was going to happen? - and then calling back the next time to revise everything I had previously said.
Fans of the show were worried earlier this year when they heard news that star, Michael C. Hall, had been diagnosed with cancer. But recently, his wife (who plays his sister on the show) has said in interviews that he is "fully recovered" from the cancer and the show is going back into production. Of course, we were worried for our actors and their family. But truth be told, we were worried for our good friend, Dexter, as well. Now, looking forward to a fifth season, life shines a bit brighter.
I love this show. It is simply the best show ever written. It is exciting, mysterious, dangerous, funny, bold, human - a genuine thriller within each and every new episode. If you are someone who loves to be challenged, loves to guess and re-guess the mysteries put out there in front of you, and loves to be proven wrong again and again - then this show will change your life.
It may play to the lowest common denominator in entertainment - savagery and death - but it does so through a "hero" the likes of which we've never seen before, and an absolutely intoxicating and addictive story pacing. It's hard to surprise people in this day and age, when what we expect are twists. But Dexter will surprise you. Again. And again. And again.