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Dexter: Season 1 - Review

Michael C Hall is Dexter

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

YOU have to hand it to American TV, it keeps finding new ways to shock, entertain and keep you guessing.

Dexter, the latest import from Showtime [home to Californication and Weeds], follows the fortunes of a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department who just happens to be a serial killer by night.

Based on the Darkly Dreaming Dexter series of novels by Jeff Lindsay and adapted for the screen by Emmy award-winning writer James Manos, Jr (of The Sopranos and The Shield fame), Dexter is a dark, twisted but blackly comic police procedural that has to rate as one of the finest shows on television at the moment.

It also provides its star, Michael C Hall, with a role to, erm, die for – whilst proving conclusively that there is life (or death) after Six Feet Under.

Dexter almost inevitably caused controversy when it first aired in America because of the nature of its protagonist. Some critics campaigned for it not to be screened because it was fundamentally flawed from conception, in that it asked viewers to sympathise and even root for a serial killer.

But it’s this wonderfully twisted moral ambiguity that makes Dexter so compelling, as well as one of the most original shows on TV at the moment.

Yes, Dexter (Hall) is a killer: remorseless, driven and dedicated to the perfection of his craft. But his victims are all killers, paedophiles and rapists and he frequently reached the targets the law couldn’t reach.

Whether that is right or wrong is part of the richness of Manos’ screenplay. And just about everyone has fun trying to figure out how far Dexter will go before he oversteps the mark or makes a mistake.

Season 1 was predominantly taken up with the hunt for The Ice Truck Killer, an equally brilliant psychopath who killed prostitutes, drained them completely of their blood and dismembered them.

For Dexter, the case became one of obsession and admiration, particularly when it emerged that The Ice Truck Killer had been courting him as a silent adversary.

The cat-and-mouse psychological game that ensued was packed with ingenious twists and turns and culminated in a jaw-dropper of a revelation that was truly worth the wait.

But there was so much more to enjoy as well: not least getting to know the lead character as he struggled to keep his secrets safe and deal with emotions that were gradually awakened by the case.

His relationship with girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) and her children offered some of the most telling insights, given that she was a psychologically damaged woman whom Dexter initially used as “cover” despite his lack of feelings or interest in sex.

But as he began to open up, the re-emergence of her abusive ex-husband added some expert layering that tested Dexter’s patience to the limit. Would he snap and kill off the threat, or would that be a mis-step and too obvious? Would it break the code taught to him by his adopted father, a deceased former cop? To make matters more complicated, the ex-husband was a man struggling to atone for the sins of his past, who wanted nothing more than to be a good father.

Compelling, too, were the various relationships with his police colleagues – all of whom turned out to be richly layered characters.

Principal among them, of course, was his adopted sister Deborah (brilliantly played by Jennifer Carpenter), whose involvement in the Ice Truck Killer case helped bring the season to such an emotional climax, while the sceptical Sgt. Doakes (Erik King) provided a nice foil as he remained continually suspicious of Dexter’s lack of emotion.

Of the standout episodes from the first season, the pilot set the scene nicely (and in suitably gruesome fashion), while Shrink Wrap, in which Dexter suspects a psychiatrist of murder, set up a taut game of psychological cat-and-mouse between Dexter and another adversary that lay the foundations for some shocking secrets about the serial killer’s own past.

The final three episodes, meanwhile, offered a rollercoaster ride of emotions as the identity of the Ice Truck Killer was finally revealed and the stakes became increasingly higher for Dexter.

Come the clever finale and the possibilities it left open for the second season, viewers will be positively baying for more blood-spattered genius a la Dexter. It is, quite simply, a killer series that’s intelligent, funny, emotionally involving and utterly gripping. Don’t miss out!

Certificate: 18
Episodes: 12
UK DVD Release Date: May 19, 2008