Everyone’s friendly neighbourhood serial killer Dexter Morgan recently came to the end of his sixth season on FX in the UK, which is also now available on DVD. I’m going to try not to say too much about the latest season in detail because I don’t want to spoil it for those people who haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll sum up with: it’s probably the season of the show I’ve enjoyed most since the very first.
When the show initially started in 2006 I watched it with curiosity wondering how they were going to get away with having the main protagonist be a serial killer. Even in this day and age, that’s a tough moral sell! I was also interested in seeing the show because it starred Michael C. Hall, who for me was always the best (albeit sadly underused) part of Six Feet Under.
Hall’s casting was indeed pivotal to the success of the show, as was the rich vein of black humour running through that first season which explored Dexter’s serial killing origins and connected him with another murderous family member whose thoroughly evil nature made Dexter look very noble indeed – neatly ensuring that by the end of the first season we were firmly on Dexter’s side and the problem of acceptance was well and truly behind us.
The second season picked up where the first left off and continued in a logical manner the strands that had been left dangling. Perhaps as a result of this it suffered from that difficult “second album” problem of feeling both too familiar and too like a retread of the first; perhaps the whole Dexter concept had a very short one-series limited lifespan after all?
Then along came season 3 in which Dexter acquires – much to his surprise – a new best friend in the form of zealous DA Miguel Prado. What made this season so fantastic was the against-type playing of Jimmy Smits as Prado, and the genuine sense of the series going somewhere new and trying something different as Dexter himself edged toward marriage.
Perhaps the most acclaimed season of the show was the fourth, in which Dexter seeks a way to merge his serial killing tendency with the concept of a normal married family life and does so by coming across a role model in the form of Arthur Mitchell, family man and pillar of the community who just also happens to be the fabled Trinity Killer. The season guest-starred John Lithgow, rightly Emmy-winning for a captivating turn as Mitchell that left even Hall struggling to remain centre stage in his own show.
After such heights perhaps it was inevitable that season 5 would see a slump: it was rather bitty and lacked a central antagonist, instead working almost video game-like through a series of sub-bosses before finally facing off against the “big bad” in the last quarter. Dexter’s friendship/love interest with the abused Lumen (series guest star Julia Stiles) also felt forced, and a sub-plot involving Dexter’s Irish nanny Sonya petered out presumably when Tudors star Maria Doyle Kennedy was no longer available. In all it started to feel as though Dexter had run its course.
That’s why season 6 came as such a pleasant surprise. Unlike the previous year’s bitty, fragmented narrative, season 6 boasted a single serial killer case – the Doomsday Killer – and a single clear theme in the examination of the good and evil effects of religion. The good was represented by ex-con Brother Sam (Mos Def, one of the three big name guest stars this year) whom Dexter initially can’t accept is reformed and who is an early candidate for Dexter’s own ministrations. The bad is made up of the two people who comprise the Doomsday Killer and who corrupt scripture to their own twisted, murderous ways: Battlestar Galactica’s Edward James Olmos fantastic as always as Professor James Gellar, and Colin Hanks (Tom’s son) getting surely the best role of his career to date as young acolyte Travis, unable to break free of the senior man’s influence.
Through this scenario, Dexter is forced to examine his own attitudes toward religion: does his status as a serial killer exclude him from faith? Is there salvation for him? Or is he even doing God’s work already, as Brother Sam, Professor Geller and sidekick Travis all feel about their own very different lives?
A “shock reveal” toward the end of the season wasn’t nearly as much of a surprise to me as it was doubtless intended to be, but I felt happily smug about having guessed it early. There’s some great character development for Dexter’s sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) – I’m not sure I believe in the reality of her sudden promotion, but it really opened up a whole new world of story potential. Together with a nice sub-plot involving some stolen evidence that will clearly spill over into the set-up of season 7, and a jaw-dropping “how are they going to write their way out of that?” cliffhanger, season 6 was as accomplished, absorbing and satisfying a season as Dexter has had.
If you haven’t already tried out Dexter, I thoroughly commend the boxsets to your attention for the summer.