Monday, November 29, 2010

TV on DVD: Dexter (Season One, Disc Two)

Episodes covered:  Love American Style, Return to Sender, Circle of Friends, Shrink Wrap

The rise of serialized storytelling in television in the past decade has found the medium realizing its artistic potential.  Gradual unfolding of complicated stories, development of detailed fictional universes, and actual evolution of characters are possible in a long-running TV series in a way that they simply aren't in other artistic forms.  The stakes are automatically higher in a serialized show than in a procedural one, because the events of any given episode will actually impact the way that the characters relate to each other. There is nothing better on a television show than the moments that pay off storylines or characters arcs that have been building for the past five episodes (or five seasons, as the case may be).

But the downside of serialization is that if the story isn't working, the audience is stuck with it, and the show can become a chore to watch.  Such is the case with the Ice Truck Killer storyline from season one of Dexter.  The middle third of the season does finally see some development in its master plot, in the sense that we finally learn the Ice Truck Killer's identity - Doctor Rudy (Christian Carmago), the seemingly nice guy dating Dexter's sister (a twist my wife saw coming a mile away).  But there is still no feeling of narrative momentum.  Every time the show seems like its going somewhere, it hurries back to preserving the status quo.  Dexter is observed committing an atypically hasty double-homicide at the end of "Love American Style," but the only witness proves unreliable in "Return to Sender."  Debra and Batista think they've caught the Ice Truck Killer in "Circle of Friends," but by the end of the episode we know that their suspect is merely a copycat.  In the same episode, Doakes nearly catches Dexter stalking the teenage hustler from disc one, but all it leads to is another "I'm on to you" speech. 

A big part of the problem is that, aside from Dexter himself, none of the characters are very well-drawn.  Its hard to get too attached to police officers who seem like they could've stepped out of any cop show, or a romantic interest that feels derivative of the worst indie romance movies, or the type of quirky serial killer that only exists in popular culture.  Dexter is always a step ahead of the detectives who are actually working the Ice Truck Killer case, so there's really no threat of any of them exposing Dexter as a sociopath.  The introduction of Rita's estranged abusive husband Paul (Mark Pellegrino) hasn't made her character any more interesting, since their relationship basically consists of him making vague threats and her looking scared.  While Doctor Rudy's backstory - his mother lost her limbs in a car accident when he was young, leading to his fascination with perfectly severed body parts - is intriguing in a comic book origin story kind of way, the story hasn't been explored in enough detail yet for it to be truly engrossing.  Eight episodes into a twelve episode season, there should be some sense that the Ice Truck Killer storyline is racing to a climax, but Dexter still hasn't gotten out of first gear.

Quick Thoughts

- Is it just me, or does Erik King, the actor who plays Doakes, look way too much like Mathew St. Patrick, the actor who played Michael C. Hall's boyfriend on Six Feet Under?

- Not nearly enough flashbacks in these episodes.  The lessons that Harry gives to young Dexter tend to be the best parts of this show.

- Though the Dexter/Rita romance isn't interesting, the scene in "Shrink Wrap" where they have sex for the first time is probably the highlight of the season so far, if only for Hall's hilarious facial expressions.

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