Dexter: Pilot episode reviewed
Review by Jack Foley
INDIELONDON singles out notable episodes from our favourite television series for stand-alone reviews. On this occasion we take a look at the pilot episode of ITV 1’s flagship US import Dexter.
What’s the story? Meet Dexter (Michael C Hall), a forensic expert in blood patterns who works with the Miami Police Department by day, who is also a serial killer, who kills people that the police can’t bring to justice by night. As Dexter introduces us to his dark, twisted world and those he cares about, he also finds himself intrigued by a new serial killer working the beat – one who drains the blood from his victims (all hookers) and leaves no clues at the scene.
What’s the verdict? Grim, morbid, bloody and yet utterly engrossing. Dexter will probably have the Daily Mail readership lamenting the sickening state of TV thanks to its “glorification” of vigilante-style violence and brutal death scenes. But if this first episode is anything to go by it’s a sly, clever and utterly engrossing new series that has the intelligence to match its more unsavoury elements.
Digging a little deeper: Picture the scene. A children’s choir has just finished performing to rapturous applause at a crowded Miami bandstand and its conductor – a sharp-suited, middle-aged family man – helps take the plaudits. Watching from the distance is a man telling the audience he has found what he is looking for – his latest victim.
When the family man gets into his car to drive home, the serial killer strikes – ensnaring his victim with a wire around his throat and instructing him to do whatever he states. Moments later, the family man has been exposed as a paedophile and murderer, whose child victims have been recovered by Dexter so that he can begin atoning for his crimes.
Seconds after that, the same man is stripped naked, bound with cellaphane and killed for Dexter’s perverse pleasure. A blood sample is then taken and stored as a collector’s item – a job well done, another sicko off the streets.
Within the first 10 minutes of ITV’s Dexter, viewers will either have switched off or sat back in open-mouthed disbelief. There is no middle ground.
The show is another in a long line of US imports (Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me) that seeks to tip-toe the line between good taste and bad. It ought to be objectionable viewing – tacky, voyeuristic and deeply unpleasant.
But then it’s car crash viewing – one that’s difficult to look away from and one that succeeds in raising some intriguing moral questions. Did the paedophile receive the treatment his crimes deserved? Is the law too soft, or ineffective? Is an eye for an eye ever right? And are we, as viewers, now getting the sort of television shows that we deserve – and which reflect the conflicted state of our society?
Elsewhere in this riveting pilot episode, Dexter (charismatically played by former Six Feet Under star Michael C Hall) showed himself to be an interesting anomaly. A sadist whose penchant for killing was discovered during his childhood and put to “good” use, rather than allowing it to develop unchecked.
He does have people he cares for… sort of. His sister (played by Jennifer Carpenter), for instance, is a close friend and confidant who continually seeks to use his intelligence to further her own career within the police department. While his love interest (Rambo‘s Julie Benz) is a mother of two and former rape victim who doesn’t have a taste for sex.
Every character appears damaged in some way – whether by past abuse or willful arrogance (as in the case of many of Dexter’s police colleagues). But it’s one of Dexter‘s perverse strengths that we already have more faith in a serial killer than we do in the disgruntled Miami police department. And there’s a nice vein of dark black humour running throughout (as witnessed by the morbid jokes).
The case that’s shaping up to be the main one to take us through this first series, meanwhile, looks set to be a corker. A serial killer is targeting hookers, draining them of blood and then methodically chopping up their bodies. Dexter is smitten – deeply admiring of his new adversaries’ technique.
But just as he seemed to be making headway in the case, the killer – dubbed Ice Truck Killer – turned the tables in expert fashion: first, by allowing Dexter to follow him, then throwing the decapitated head of his latest victim onto his car windscreen, and finally by leaving a message in his fridge.
Dexter accepted the challenge to play – so, too, should we….
What did you think?