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'Dexter' thrills, and wraps up dexterously
Awesome surprises await in the season finale of this intriguing crime series, which is too good to be limited to Showtime.
By Eric Deggans, Times TV/Media Critic
Published December 15, 2007
Michael C. Hall stars as cunning psychopath Dexter Morgan, a serial killer who works as a forensics expert with Miami police.
Dexter Second season finale is at 9 p.m. Sunday on Showtime. Grade: A+. Rating: TV-MA (mature audiences).
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I'll state it plainly: Showtime's Dexter is the best series on television. Period.
Forget the oversexed doctors at Grey's Anatomy, the tonsorially challenged Ugly Betty and the specialist with people issues on House. Dexter makes them all look positively pedestrian.
It's not just the amazing concept - a serial killer who works for the Miami police as a forensics expert, knocking off murderers. It's that the show's producers this season have had the courage to write themselves into the tightest of corners, giving darkly cunning psychopath Dexter Morgan no easy way out.
As we left our favorite killer last week, former Miami homicide Detective James Doakes had discovered Dexter was the Bay Harbor Butcher, a name dreamed up by the press for whoever had left 30 bags of body parts from various murderers below the water.
Strong enough to get the upper hand, Dexter locked Doakes in a deserted Everglades shed, offering the show's most vexing quandary yet for Sunday's second season finale. If he lets his former colleague go, his secret's blown. But he can't kill someone who hasn't murdered anyone.
The last episode offered some of the best acting in the series' history, as Michael C. Hall's Dexter and Erik King's Doakes bounced off each other in a string of emotional confrontations inside the shed. Before long, we realized the ugly truth: The only reason former military assassin Doakes suspected Dexter in the first place is because they are two sides of a single coin - killers who put their terrible skills to good social use.
"I lie to everyone I know - except my victims, right before I kill them," Dexter confessed to Doakes in last Sunday's episode. "It's hard to establish much of a rapport there."
Which leads to the main reason Dexter works so well. Producers have nailed the most distinctive thing about Cape Coral writer Jeff Lindsay's Dexter novels: the killer's darkly playful, slightly sardonic inner voice - a bizarrely detached Greek chorus that advances the action even while commenting on it.
"It's strange to have a deeply mutated version of yourself running around out there, screwing things up," Dexter notes in a short monologue Sunday. "I wonder if this is how parents feel?"
Jettisoning Lindsay's book-born plot lines midway through the first season, the show's producers also have managed the singular feat of crafting a series that transcends its source material.
On paper, characters such as Doakes and top homicide Lt. Maria LaGuerta have been killed or horribly maimed and Dexter's sister Debra learns his awful secret. But on television, writers have savored the stark dissonance between Dexter's neatly mannered cover life and the secret murders spurred by his dark compulsions.
That's why, when we saw Dexter kill a criminal we barely knew in front of an imprisoned Doakes earlier this season, the horror was particularly stark. We had been cheering Dexter on for nearly two seasons, drawn into rooting for a psychopath by his pleasant manner and unsavory victims.
Only through the horror reflected in Doakes' eyes could we rediscover what we should have kept in mind all along. Dexter is one sick puppy.
Sunday's finale puts a fine point on that analysis, forcing Dexter to resolve a constellation of thorny issues: ending his relationship with murderous former addiction sponsor Lila Tournay, avoiding the encroaching investigation by crack FBI agent Frank Lundy, rekindling his relationship with girlfriend Rita Bennett and dealing with Doakes.
Unfortunately, there's no way to comment on how any of this unfolds without spoiling some awesome surprises. So let's just say that Dexter's TV creators find a satisfying and unexpected way to resolve just about everything - even Deb's awkward romance with old school G-man Lundy.
It's a shame, with all this quality at hand, that Dexter is stuck on Showtime, a premium cable outlet quickly overshadowing higher-profile rival HBO with a string of ambitious new series such as David Duchovny's decadent Los Angeles comedy Californication, the Rhode Island crime drama Brotherhood and the pot-selling housewife comedy Weeds.
And even though anti-indecency advocates are livid, I can't wait to see CBS implement a tentative plan to snip the nudity, cursing and rare bits of gore in Dexter for rebroadcast on network television, providing new material as the Hollywood writers strike drags on.
At a time when we're drowning in purposefully mediocre programming and horrifying reality TV, Dexter's too good a secret to keep hidden for long.