TV Review: Dexter - The First Three Seasons.

I've been putting this off for a while, but I figured I might as well get around to it. Over the last couple months, I watched the entirety of the first three seasons of Showtime's hit series Dexter. I really didn't know what to expect going in. Like everybody else unacquainted with the show, I figured it was some serious, bloody, CSI-like drama about a serial killer. I couldn't have been more wrong.

While the show does have dramatic moments, it's much more of a dark comedy than anything. It's far more about the relationships Dexter has with everybody than about killing. For those of you who have no idea what I'm even talking about, Dexter is about, well, a guy named Dexter. He's a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department, which means he uses the blood at a crime scene to tell him how things went down, often helping out greatly in a case's outcome. Oh, and he's a serial killer. But not just any random serial killer. Brought up by his adoptive father Harry, a cop, Dexter was taught how to use his urges for good, as well as how not to get caught. He calls this the Code of Harry. In other words, he only kills other murderers, and he's very methodical about it.

But not having the normal emotions that would make him more human causes him to appear as an outsider at times, which means he needs to appear as human as possible. He has a girlfriend, Rita, who also has two kids from her previous husband, a guy with a drug problem that is currently in jail. He is close with his sister-by-adoption, the foul-mouthed Deb, who also works at the police station, though as a cop out to become a homicide detective. And then there are his other co-workers, including troubled detective Angel Bastista, perverted CSI Vince Masuka, Lieutenant Maria Laguerta, and her old partner Seargant James Doakes, the only person who suspects that Dexter might be more than he's letting on.

From this point on, there might be some mild spoilers (I try to be as vague as possible), but only because in talking about seasons 2 and 3, I'll obviously have to allude to information that happened in the season(s) preceding. Otherwise, I never really come out and say any of the major twists. If you don't want any kind of spoilers, you can hop on down to the "conclusion" section at the bottom of this post.

Season One

Season one obviously acts as an introduction to these characters. And you quickly get attached to Dexter and the other characters, including the meaner of the bunch (Doakes and Laguerta).

Every season does a bit of the same, but always does it in a fresh enough way that it stays exciting. For instance, every season has a main serial killer that it focuses on. It also has a second character that does some nasty things and has some kind of relationship with Dexter, and both of their stories collide at the end. Season one is the most different from that formula, though not by too much. There is a main serial killer--the Ice Truck Killer. But the 'second character' in this season is Dexter himself, which makes sense as the show has to build up Dexter first and foremost.

While Dexter is incredibly likeable as a person, he does have his darker side as a serial killer. And no matter how violent he can be to these other killers, you never want him to get caught. You're always on the edge of your seat, wondering how he's going to get out of tough situations.

As I said, this season focuses on the Ice Truck Killer, who actually has a secret connection to Dexter's past. And Dexter's past is shown quite frequently through the use of flashback, from his mysterious early memory of being a toddler in a pool of blood to his lessons with his father. Every episode is thematic, often tying in the flashbacks to the theme. Dexter's adoptive father Harry, played brilliantly by James Remar, knows what his son is becoming and teaches him how to not only hone his urges, but also teaches him methods on how not to get caught by police. And the relationship with his father and his father's code are really a central focus throughout not only this season, but the entire series (as it is ever tested, broken, and evolved).

But the show doesn't merely focus on Dexter and what happens with him. All of the other characters are fleshed out, as well. Angel Batista comes from a broken marriage, his wife having left him with their daughter. Deb really tries to come into her own, though unknowingly gets a bit of help from Dexter in the shadows. Rita grows from meek and damaged to strong and forward, much to Dexter's chagrin. He likes her because she's "as damaged as him," and also because she is troubled about sex due to her previous husband. But when she starts to grow and get over her fears, Dexter starts worrying that if they have sex, she'll see him for what he really is, since he has difficulty showing emotions in the easiest of times.

Overall, the first season is really strong, getting you attached to all of these characters and their lives. It has some pretty decent suspense (not nearly as much as the second season, though), and answers all important questions while leaving things open enough to continue on with the show. Some damaged characters grow stronger (Rita), while stronger characters grow damaged (Deb). And it leaves it open with some good cliffhangers for the next season.

Season Two

Season two starts with everything falling apart around Dexter. Deb is an emotional basketcase because of what happened to her the previous season, and she's now living with Dexter. Rita breaks up with Dexter because she thinks he's a drug addict like her previous husband (which he goes along with, as it's better than telling her he's a serial killer). James Doakes is stalking him everywhere, trying to figure out his secrets and his connection to the Ice Truck Killer. Dexter is having trouble killing when he's not being stalked due to the emotional destruction that came with the previous season. And on top of all that, his underwater graveyard of mutilated bodies is found by divers, starting a new case for a massive serial killer dubbed the Bay Harbor Butcher. So he has to always keep one step ahead of the police, as well as Special Agent Lundy (Keith Carradine), an genius and expert brought in to take charge of the case.

Of course, this time around the main serial killer is Dexter himself, and he has to do everything he can to keep calm and get rid of any and all evidence that can lead people to him. And not all of that is easy with Doakes constantly on his tail. And his emotions run crazy as he can no longer fall back on Rita unless he goes to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and gets a sponsor.

Which he does, though that turns bad. Enter the 'second character that does bad things' for the season. She's a British bombshell named Lila, and not only is she his new sponsor (bringing a jealous streak into Rita), but she really gets Dexter. She's like his therapist, and he can go to her any time he feels the need to kill to try and get over this addiction (though, of course, she doesn't know he's a killer... but their metaphors for internal struggle work for both drugs and murder).

Everything in this season goes from bad to worse, but in a good way. Dexter just can never seem to catch a break. Everything he does blows up in his face. And then he starts to realize that maybe Lila wasn't the best person to get into a relationship with. The suspense is incredible this season. I would literally be sitting up, grasping my pillow to my chest, eyes wide and glued to the television, never knowing what was going to happen next.

But the relationships between characters are still center in the story. Deb grows a relationship with Lundy, who is a really fun character. The fierce love triangle between Rita/Dexter/Lila is intense. The relationship between ex partners Laguerta and Doakes peaks, with Laguerta constantly trying to keep Doakes above water, while Laguerta does what's necessary to regain her Lieutenant position that was lost at the end of the previous season. Angel's love/family life is still mentioned here and there. Vince Masuka is still typically the joker of the lot.

But the best relationship of the season was that of Dexter and Doakes, especially within the last 5 or so episodes. You see a whole other side of Doakes, and you really have no idea what's going to happen next between them. You know something has to happen to either Dexter or Doakes, and you really don't want anything bad to happen to either one. It's a major internal confliction. But as the show is, indeed, called Dexter, you're always relatively sure which one is gonna come out on top. You're just never sure how.

Dexter's Code of Harry is also questioned as Dexter learns more information about his adoptive father that really makes him wonder how important the code actually is. It's really interesting how they build on the character of Harry, even though he's dead and never physically seen in the present.

Overall, season two is incredibly suspenseful, head-pounding, and full of OMG! moments. It builds on season one with the depth of its characters and the depth of its story. Though it never forgets the characters like some other shows on television do. It gives equal time to both character and plot. But it's a much heavier, and maybe even darker season than the first or even third. But great all around.

Season Three

Season three changes some things around. It is seen by many fans as the first slump in the series (and all series' have a slump at some point), though while I can see where some of their comments are coming from, I overall disagree. After the incredibly dark and heavy second season, the third season lightens up a bit and focuses on the future.

The Code of Harry is pretty central in this season's plot, as it begins as Dexter gets into a self-defense position and kills somebody he didn't research first. Therefore, he didn't know if the guy he killed deserved it or not. But it turns out that the victim is the little brother of Assistant Defense Attorney Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits). Think of him kind of like Harvey Dent. He's very popular, but also quite controversial in some of his methods.

Strangely enough, though, Miguel and Dexter form a friendship... Dexter's first real friend. And, obviously, Miguel is this season's 'second person who does bad things'. Because as it turns out, Miguel is a lot more similar to Dexter than Dexter even realizes at first. Though as their friendship continues, the Code of Harry is pushed to its limits, especially as Dexter continues to question his father. And the funnest part of the season is the 'battle of wits' between Dexter and Miguel that comes in later in the season.

One of the biggest changes made in this season is in regards to Harry. In the past two seasons, Harry has been the giver of advice in the past, brought in with flashbacks. But this season has removed the flashbacks completely. Instead, it toys with Dexter's sanity as Harry shows up in hallucinatory fantasies acting somewhat as a corporeal conscience, where the two characters talk to each other about what to do or not to do. And often with Dexter ignoring him.

Though the biggest complaint of the season, and the one I do agree with to an extent, is the 'main serial killer' of the season, The Skinner. Whereas the previous main serial killers have been the forefront of the plot, The Skinner seems to take a backseat to the relationship between Miguel and Dexter. It feels more as if The Skinner plot, at least until the climactic episodes, is just something that's going on in the background.

But this is also where I disagree with the complaints. When you look at the season as a whole, the formula was mostly dropped, wherein there is a difference between the main bad guy and the secondary character. In this instance, Miguel Prado basically acts as both, which really adds to the dichotomoy of Dexter with and without the Code of Harry. But as they did include The Skinner, I agree that they could have added a bit more depth to him, as he really wasn't that exciting (again, until the climactic episodes).

Again, though, like the previous seasons, the relationships are vital. I've already mentioned the relationship between Miguel and Dexter. But the one between Dexter and Rita is at an all time high (and low) as we soon discover that Rita is pregnant. And of course, Dexter has to deal with questions like "What if the kid turns out like me?", "Do I marry Rita?", and "Does this mean I have to leave the sanctity of my apartment?"

The show also amps up the screen time for both Angel and Vince Masuka, giving them bigger side stories. Angel shows his troubled side, but also moves on with a new girlfriend. Vince Masuka is finally shown as more than a jester, realizing that people might dislike him and wants their respect as friends.

But there's also a new character in town, too. A detective named Quinn, whose past is pretty sketchy, and who gets on Deb's nerves quite often. Though if anything could have been worked on a bit this season, it would be the whole Quinn thing. Nothing is ever explained with any finality, and the whole subplot against him just kind of disappears at one point and is never mentioned again. Regardless, he's a good character.

Then there's Deb. I'm hoping because of how season three ended that season four won't introduce another love interest. It seems that every season Deb gets a new love interest, only for him to leave in one way or another by the end. Though I liked the one this season, I'm hoping he'll be the last new guy, at least for a while.

Overall, season three isn't nearly as suspenseful as season two, but it's still good (and had one of the saddest episodes ever... the 'easy as pie' episode for those who have seen it). Though it really leads you to a place that makes you wonder where they're going to go with it in season four. I seriously hope they do something with Rita, because that woman is starting to get a bit on the annoying side. She was a great character to start with, and I know she had come from this damaged marriage, but they're taking her character in such directions that make me wish they'd focus more on one of the other characters.


As a show, Dexter is brilliant. It has a great cast of characters, superb acting, and amazing writing. It's funny, sad, suspenseful, and dramatic all at the right moments. For those of you worried about the blood factor, it's really not that bad. In fact, with only a few notable exceptions, CSI is probably more gruesome than Dexter is. And if you're wondering how a serial killer can be fun, likeable, and even lighthearted, this show gives a prime example.

It's all about the characters and how they deal with their everyday lives while mixing in a bit of serial killer action (either hunting one or being one). It quickly became one of my favorite shows on television, and I highly recommend it to fans of dark comedy and/or serial killer stories. And they couldn't have casted anybody better for Dexter than Six Feet Under's Michael C. Hall.

Long story short? Brilliant show.

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