Thursday, December 9, 2010

'Dexter' Season Two (2007)

Starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter and Julie Benz
Developed by James Manos Jr.

While the first season of Showtime's "Dexter" seemed much like a sharpened scalpel blade, Season Two feels a bit more blunt and unwieldy.  Much of the first half of the season is spent dealing with fallout from Season One, while the second half starts to throw a bit too many things into the fire at once, making the season come off unfocused.  While the individual episodes are mostly still quite good, the overall package feels like a misstep. 

After Dexter (Michael C. Hall) has successfully dealt with the Ice Truck Killer, he tries to settle back into life as usual, with his girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) and sister Debra (Julie Benz) at his side.  Unfortunately, Dexter's solutions to some of his problems have had unforeseen consequences.  Rita discovers that it was Dexter who shot up her ex-husband with heroin in order to get him back behind bars, and she now believes that he, too, is addicted to heroin.  Forced to go along with the lie rather than tell her the truth, Dexter joins a local Narcotics Anonymous group where he meets Lilah (Jaime Murray) a former meth addict who becomes Dexter's sponsor.

At the same time, the suspicious Sergeant Doakes (Erik King) has been following Dexter.  Doakes is certain that Dexter is not what he seems, and is determined to prove it.  To make matters even worse, a number of bodies of Dexter's victims have been recovered from the ocean floor, and an FBI agent named Lundy (Keith Carradine) has been brought in to help the Miami PD investigate the killer dubbed "The Bay Harbor Butcher" - aka, Dexter Morgan.  So now Dexter must contend with all of his friends investigating his kills, Doakes on his trail at every turn, and his deteriorating relationship with Rita once Lilah starts putting the moves on him.

Throw in another storyline where Dexter begins to uncover hidden truths about his adoptive father Harry (James Remar), and it all begins to add up to a bit of overkill.  Season two piles on multiple adversaries and conflicting storylines for Dexter to deal with, and it nearly topples the entire show.  A couple of them ultimately go nowhere, and some of them nearly cause irreparable damage to the show's characters.

I didn't like Lila from the start.  Sure, she's rocking that British accent, but here's a character from head to toe that I just loathed - and not in that "you love to hate them" kind of way, either.  It takes far too long for the other characters to recognize the fact that she's just a crazed, psychotic she-bitch (other than Debra, whose stock rose significantly for me this season whenever she would start talking about or to Lila).  Much of the season finale is devoted to Dexter attempting to deal with Lila once and for all, but it's hard to care since I despised the character so much.  I was much more invested in the storyline with Doakes, which is dealt with in the first half of the episode. 

I wanted Dexter to kill her pretty much every time she showed up on screen.

Now, I do have to throw a wrinkle into all this hatred, however:  Someone mentioned to me that she loved seeing the passion with which Dexter fell for Lila.  When Dexter is with Rita, he just sort of goes through the motions of being in a relationship with her, but with Lila he is actually drawn to her rather than to Rita whom he sort of keeps around as a facade for his 'normal life.'  The show posits that this is because Lila and Dexter are alike in some fashion - while he's a psychopath, she is in fact, a sociopath who can only feel emotion because of others and a total disregard for right and wrong.  Ultimately, this is part of what makes Dexter outright despise her, but it is hard to ignore that there is a real attraction between them.

But in my mind, Lila and Rita represent the difference in Dexter between passion/sex and love/family.  Which one should Dexter ultimately choose if he's going to be living his life on a certain path, if he ever hopes to continue his work and maybe, just maybe, feel some measure of happiness?  Lila would never be more than a toxic influence on Dexter, no matter how hot the sex may get, the fact remains that she would ruin everything Dexter has worked hard to build according to Harry's Code.  ...and the fact that she tries to kill Rita's kids is never going to sit well with Dexter, who can't abide the killing of innocents. 

It's an interesting conundrum because Nicole does bring up a good point, that Dexter never shows such passion with Rita.  But isn't that kind of the point?  Rita's not there for him to throw up against the wall, but to provide some deeper comfort for Dexter.  The two do have a sex life, but one which is based less on empty carnal pleasure.  The thing is, even though he's a psychopath, Dexter does love Rita.  Perhaps it's because he faked loving her so long that now he actually has, who knows.  But there's a connection there, one that is deeper and healthier than whatever nastiness was going down with Lila. 

But I digress.  I have much warmer feelings for seeing Dexter as a loving family man than I do as a twisted sex-junkie.  Plus, Lila was a skank. 

But I suppose that all these conflicted feelings are really the sign that, while it may have teetered over an abyss, "Dexter" really is a great show.  Season Two has kind of a 'kitchen sink' feeling, with the writers just piling too much on until it all nearly crumbles, but it's still filled with great characters and plenty of intriguing twists and turns.  I'm totally ready to start digging into Season Three.