There are so many ways that Dexter could have gone wrong. Just the thought of a television series about a sociopath serial killer is as seemingly ridiculous as one about a sociopath mob boss. The secret of Dexter and its success is that Dexter Morgan is inadvertently amusing, charming and disarming – all the things we expect a sociopath to be. More that that though Dexter is an interesting story as we watch a shell of a man maneuver through the minefield that are emotions and the subtle signals of normal communication which are almost completely lost on him. Dexter wants to maintain his freedom because he wants to keep on killing: Killing is the one thing which makes him feel complete.
If Dexter Morgan were uniquely a killer then there wouldn’t be much of a story to follow. Dexter is the policeman, prosecutor, judge and executioner of other serial killers. Dexter’s code, instilled in him by adoptive father who was a policeman, is that the guilty who are beyond the reach of the justice system are fair game, innocents are not. Oddly enough this doesn’t really put the viewer in Dexter’s corner but it does detract a little from the fact that he is a monster. Dexter is extremely self aware which seems a necessity as a survival skill and is important to the viewer as a narrative technique. We know what Dexter is thinking and what he is thinking about doing. We see Dexter’s thoughts in stark contrast to the thoughts and actions of those around him in the police department.
(Attention spoiler ahead – kind of)
If there is a single reason to enjoy the first season of Dexter it is that there is resolution to the major problems introduced in the series. The bad guy does get caught and the central aspect of Dexter’s life which is most confusing to him comes into sharp focus. Dexter is bold enough and brave enough to resolve the kind of central character issues which in lesser hands become part of an unrequited pursuit for seasons and that alone merits its watching.
Michael C. Hall is perfect as the emotionally disconnected Dexter. Some viewers will remember him from Six Feet Under where he played a somewhat emotionally detached undertaker. Hall’s ability to convey an almost childish fascination with those around him as well as a sincere fear of discovery gives the viewer someone to identify with even if we don’t like very much. Dexter’s monologues about masks, hiding our true identity, keeping secrets from those around us are universal themes they just take on a more intense meaning in the mind of a sociopath serial killer. Surrounding Dexter are his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) who though having grown up with Dexter seems completely oblivious of how he spends his spare time. Rita, Dexter’s emotionally damaged girlfriend and single mother, played by Julie Benz who can only see the surface of Dexter and is willing to take him at face value. The most dangerous person to Dexter is Sergeant James Doakes (Erik King) who is the only person in Dexter’s life who knows who what he is even though he cannot prove it.
This is a sharp and well directed television series. The production values, the acting, costuming and direction are fantastic and Dexter is well worth the look.