Saturday, April 05, 2008

Dexter Season 2 - Deeply Disappointing Disbelief

Okay, so season one had me stoked for season two, and I wasted no time in tackling it. From all accounts and reviews from trusted friends and family, season two was much better than season one, and diverged greatly from the subsequent Dexter novels. I couldn't wait to see it.

Everything started off great. It was about a month after the conclusion of the first season, and happily, it looked like continuity was going to be very important to this show. Constant callbacks to things that happened in season one, while building and expanding. So far so good.

I was especially excited when what looked like the overarching plot for season two was revealed- the discovery of the bags of body parts Dexter has been dumping in the ocean all these years. The search was on for HIM. I even liked the addition of the new love interest, Lila. Everything was going great.

But then the seams started coming apart. The awkward love triangle with Rita and Lila, Dexter's 'drug addiction' (this was tolerable at the beginning, but got silly the farther it went along, until the entire subplot was dropped from the show), the chain of command battles with LaGuerta and her replacement.

Then the show turned into "24", with innumerable sequences and subplots concerning intercepting and deleting files, destroying evidence, sneaking into and out of the headquarters, and on and on. If you like all that stuff on "24", then you'll love this. It became a bit tiresome and a lot contrived and manipulative (just for the sake of stretching out some episodes).

But in spite of all this (and many more increasingly annoying things), I was still with the show. Still liking it a lot. In fact, episode 11, "Left Turn Ahead" was an incredibly well-written episode and more times than I remember in any TV show or movie, I found myself nodding with appreciation about a certain line of dialogue, or a plot point. Very very well done. Until the last five minutes.

The short version of the events is that based on his world collapsing around him and the police about to catch him and all of his loved ones being put in danger by his actions, Dexter seemed about to really make a change and give himself up. It was a beautiful climax to everything that had come before. I actually felt sorry for him, and proud of him at the same time. But then... at the last possible moment before he's about to reveal his secret to someone close to him, he gets a revelation and has a change of heart and basically reboots himself to full serial killer status, but without all of the 'rules' his mentor (his foster father, Harry) had given to him to control his bloody urges.

The season finale is just a big convoluted, ridiculous wrap-up to the season, hitting a lot of the same beats as season one's finale, only about 20% as successfully.

Where my profound disappointment comes from is that for a brief moment, this show had a chance to really go somewhere special. It was RIGHT THERE. It could have allowed the natural sequence of events to follow through and let Dexter turn himself in and face his consequences. It would have been a great ending to the show, or even a great beginning to a new chapter in his life.

But... no.

No, we get what EVERY other TV show does, and that's make sure that even though there may be significant events that happen in the show (fare thee well, Sgt. Doakes), in the end, everything has to stay the same. Dexter reset itself at the end of season two. Everything is as it was at the beginning of season one. Dexter's a serial killer who loves what he does and has no qualms about killing. He has a girlfriend. He works in a police department lab. No one knows his secret. And in season three, we're going to get another serial killer that ultimately will have some convenient connection to Dexter, or to a member of his family, or to someone he works for. There will be people that suspect him of being the killer. There will be lots of covering of trails and destroying of evidence. There will be more awkward moments as Dexter lies to Rita and Debra about what he was doing. And at the end of the season, there will be a tidy, exciting climax that wraps it all up and resets the show for season four.

Now, I never expected that Dexter would ACTUALLY turn himself in. Even as he was contemplating it and moving inexorably on that path, I knew the show creators would nip that in the bud. BUT... the lead-up to it was so well done, and such a logical continuation for the character that anything besides that inevitable ending where he turns himself in screamed out as being totally false to the character and to the story and to the themes of the show. I felt heartsick when the show lurched back to predictability with the last-minute change of heart (back to his murderous ways).


It's just left me in a really deep funk. Not because of the show or the characters, but because I'm wondering if it's just NOT POSSIBLE to create a TV show that sets up a concept and a world and characters, and stays TRUE to that story, following it through to its logical conclusion, regardless of ratings or popularity. Dexter would have been a MASTERPIECE as two six-to-eight episode seasons with a definite ending after season two. But instead, we got two ten-to-twelve episode seasons, with lots of useless filler and ultimately all for naught as we reset the show for what looks to be a prolonged series that rehashes the same ground over and over.

Two other almost-brilliant TV shows are in their home stretches, Lost and Battlestar Galactica, each have formally announced definitive endings to their series, but for both, it's ALMOST too little, too late. BSG tonight begins its final season, but this only after a disastrous season three last year. After an absolutely amazing first five episodes of the season, the show totally fell apart, with silly subplots and homages and finally, a massive retcon where four major characters were suddenly revealed to be Cylons (if you don't follow the show, just nod your head and know that what the creative team pulled in the second half of season three of BSG was a major betrayal of the storyline). BSG really really WANTS to be seen as a show that has been moving towards this conclusion since the beginning, but we know that it's really not the case. They are making this up as they go along and have abandoned numerous ideas and themes and subplots over the course of the show. Such is the problem of having to fill twenty or so episodes each season while at the same time having to indefinitely forestall actually getting to the obvious conclusion of where the show is going.

LOST faces a similar crisis of trying to make it look like everything was planned all along. It's not entirely successful in that, but I DO believe that they've known where the show was going since sometime early in season two, and it seems they've more or less stuck with that plan. The second half of last season and most of the episodes this season have been great, and you can really sense that the show is no longer treading water and is actually moving towards a definite goal.

The point of all this is that some shows can go on indefinitely and others are designed to have an ending. Lost, BSG, and now Dexter definitely have an ENDING. CSI, Law and Order, ER, and most sitcoms aren't under these restraints and CAN go on forever (as long as the ratings justify it). They don't have an ultimate climax that the shows are building towards.

I just want it to be that if a show IS one that has a definite ending, then figure that out ahead of time. Make it an EVENT, rather than something you (the network brass) hopes will be a lucrative franchise for years and years to come). Announce upfront that a series will only run for two seasons. Make every episode count. Bring a story to its logical conclusion.


So in conclusion, Dexter season two squandered what had the potential to be a masterpiece. As season three approaches, I've lost all interest in the show, and I've lost all hope that we'll get something that isn't more of the same. But... I'll have to at least give it a chance to see if it can prove me wrong...

1 comment:

Roger Williams said...


I completely agree with your assessment of season 2 wrap-up. I am late to the game, I just finished it the other night. MY thoughts were that perhaps the producers demanded a re-write. Dokes nor Lila should have died. Dokes and Lila would still be fugitives. Lila could have been forgotten, left in Paris - the postcard would show that Dexter did not forget. Dokes could have come back in Season 4. Too bad- I mnea how the hell did A) Dexter get to Paris, and B) Find Lila?

I will still watch season 3 with great anticipation.

Thanks for your words,