I’ve read many articles recently declaring that we have entered a new golden age of television. The massive number of channels has created many avenues for new, groundbreaking shows to be seen. In the days of only three broadcast networks, the options were very limited and shows that took chances were often summarily dismissed by audiences. With the advent of cable and satellite TV, there is so much airtime to fill that almost any show can find a network that will finance it (for awhile). The first place we started seeing these new shows was on the premium movie channels like HBO. The Sopranos proved that the market had changed and that shows that are free to explore their complex characters and themes without advertisers (or censors) can succeed. Soon we had Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc. Now the trend has spilled over into more basic cable channels like FX (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Shield) and AMC (Mad Men, Breaking Bad). These are shows that would never have made it to production on say NBC or CBS due to their offbeat themes and characters.
One of these shows that has been attracting a lot of critical attention is Showtime’s Dexter. After reading lots of positive press about it last fall, I decided to venture into the first season and see what the fuss was about. What I found was an extremely dark story that had a lot to say about our sinful nature and how we hide our sin from those who love us.
Disclaimer: Before I go any further, I want to caution my readers that this essay may contain minor spoilers regarding Dexter. So be advised if you plan to check out the show sometime. However, I feel I cannot in good conscience “recommend” this show to everyone. It contains disturbing violence, graphic sexual content and pervasive bad language that will surely affect viewers. Still, please remember that depiction does no equal approval. The storytellers are not condoning the actions of these characters, they are telling a story of sin that requires portrayal of sin. The more real it feels, the more affected we will be – and that’s the point.
Dexter Morgan, the show’s protagonist, is leading a double life: he is a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department by day, and a sociopathic serial killer by night. During the course of the first few episodes, we are invited inside the world and head of this black-hearted individual. We learn that he was raised by a foster father named Harry who realized early on that Dexter had a penchant for killing. Harry worked hard with Dexter, not to break him of his preoccupation, but to help him hide it well. He taught Dexter that he is only to kill when the victim is “deserving” of their sentence. When someone who is clearly guilty slips through the fingers of the law, Dexter stalks and murders him or her. Dexter considers his late step-father to be his hero and holds strictly to his “code” for conducting himself. Dexter has his own system of morality that includes violent vigilante justice. In spite of this code, Dexter does take a sick pleasure in his activities. This is not cold justice for its own sake, this is Dexter satisfying his craving for death in a way that he deems just. Dexter is not a Batman-like character no matter how much he wishes to be, and this is where the show really does well. As the show begins, the audience begins to wonder if we’re to see Dexter as a hero. Will each week bring a new hunt and climatic kill with some cover-up drama thrown in? Is that the gist of the show?
Come back tomorrow for Part 2!