Idol Chatter

dexterpicforic.jpgEveryone’s favorite serial killer with a conscience, Dexter Morgan, returned to television last weekend with killer ratings, but the season three opener didn’t exactly slay me. If it sounds funny that a drama about a forensic blood spatter specialist-cum-serial killer should garner Showtime’s highest ratings ever, then you should take a closer look. Having to create and maintain a facade of normalcy to keep suspicion at arm’s-length, like a hunter’s camouflage, Dexter (‘Six Feet Under’s’ Michael C. Hall) reveals more about human nature than any episode of Dr. Phil ever could.
Yes, he kills people, but only people he can establish are truly guilty. People who fall within his “code.” And while the ambiguity about the moral correctness of his killing is a thought-provoking challenge, the real genius of the show is that Dexter is just like us. He makes us take a hard look at what it means to be a part of society, the games played in relationships, the mask of normality we wear.

Sure, he kills people, but he’s a murdering multi-tasker: holding down a job, being a good brother to his sister, a great boyfriend, a surrogate father to his girlfriend’s kids, helping his co-workers out of jams, while juggling this other life and trying to get a handle on who he is. And that’s what made watching Dexter so much fun: His fragility, his confusion, his uber-people pleasing persona that fed into his anxiety about his true identity.
But in this season’s opener we find an overly confident Dexter at the dentist, talking about what he did last summer. Oddly enough, it involved “meeting new people”–a murderous carnie , to be precise–and some boating–you get the idea. Sure, Dexter is now free and clear of being the Bay Harbor Butcher, but smug contentment doesn’t become Mr. Morgan. We like him precisely because of his vulnerabilities; his fumbling toward humanity. Give him emotional strength as well as physical strength and he becomes a frightening killing machine.
So, I was very pleased when confusion was added back to the mix when Dexter killed a man spontaneously; someone he hadn’t scouted out, a man who could be innocent. Things got even stickier when Dexter discovers the man just happens to be the brother of Assistant District Attorney, Miguel Prado, played by Jimmy Smits. Unfortunately, the karma-coming-back to-bite-Dexter storyline didn’t last long as it was soon established that maybe the D.A.’s brother wasn’t at the drug dealer’s house to confront him, but rather to pay–or to rob–him. But it allowed Dexter to meet Prado who now offers a metaphysical challenge and camaraderie to Dexter we haven’t seen before.
At the end of last season, having evaded capture as the Bay Harbor Butcher, Dexter had decided that if higher power did exist it seemed to want him to keep doing what he was doing. In Sunday’s episode, he and Prado discussed the existence of the soul: Dexter on the side of not wanting one and Prado looking for permanence. And yet, Dexter attended Prado’s brother’s viewing instead of going to a decidedly secular memorial drink to remember his own father’s death.
Perhaps Dexter is developing a deeper curiosity about religion; finally viscerally understanding, not just play-acting, that religious ritual can help people move on, something he and his sister have had a hard time doing following the death of their father so many years ago. And with Dexter’s girlfriend Rita’s pregnancy, he’s bound to be grappling with life’s larger spiritual questions in the way we all do. The show has often dipped its toe in the baptismal font on religion, with Dexter pondering Christ’s wound at Rita’s ex-husband’s funeral and asking for a miracle that was granted in the form of Lila’s pyromania, but here’s hoping that Dexter’s pre-killing ritual, as he calls it, isn’t the only ritual in this season since there’s nothing better than a doubting Dexter.
“Dexter” airs Sundays on Showtime at 10:00 p.m.
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