Every hero needs a flaw. In the case of Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) it’s being a serial killer. Although, that’s not so much his flaw as what makes him a hero. Welcome to the world of Dexter, Showtime’s startling interpretation of Jeff Lindsay‘s Darkly Dreaming Dexter novel. On the face of it, a regular guy working in forensics at the Miami-Dade Police Department, specialising in blood spatter analysis, Dexter hides a grim secret from those close to him. He has a talent for murder – not the assassin’s talent or the slasher’s artful bloodlust but rather an addiction to the systemic elimination of bad elements from society. Because Dexter does not murder the innocent – he only kills bad guys. That’s my idea of a hero.
"Just like a true hero, Dexter must Clark Kent his way through the world unacknowledged."
And just like a true hero, Dexter must Clark Kent his way through the world unacknowledged. The product of a troubled childhood, Dexter’s foster father Harry Morgan took the infant Dexter under his care after finding him at the scene of the horrific butchering of his mother. Harry Morgan was a respected cop with good instincts. So when he discovered that Dexter had a "little something missing" psychologically (killing and dissecting the neighbour’s dog was a clue) he knows what needs to be done. To stop the boy from going down a road that ends in lethal injection or electric chair, Harry teaches him to use his inclinations for good, tracking down and killing the monsters who slip through the system’s fingers. It’s like Death Wish meets Quincy.
“He works with his policewoman sister Debra, a foul-mouthed feisty bag of bones with poor taste in haircuts and worse taste in men.”
Drunken hit-and-run drivers, black widows, serial killers – all of them meet their end at Dexter’s slice-and-dice emporium of pain. He keeps a sample of their blood on a slide as, like many serial killers, he likes to keep momentos of his victims. And the Miami underworld keeps him supplied with plenty of sick fucks who’d be better off dead for his hobby and plenty of gruesome blood spattered rooms for his professional life. Dexter is liked and respected at work though it has its complications. He works with his policewoman sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), a foul-mouthed feisty bag of bones with poor taste in haircuts and worse taste in men. Then there’s Sergeant Doakes, the no-nonsense head cracker of the precinct who is the only one in the Department who senses something is wrong with Dexter. He’s not afraid to say it out loud either though everyone dismisses it as a clash of personalities (hands up who has suspected a co-worker of being a serial killer?)
"As alone as any one man in this world can be, Dexter knows that, with foster father Harry long since dead, Ice Truck is the only one alive who understands him."
Season’s one is main focus is the pursuit of the Ice Truck Killer – a serial killer with a devilish ingenuity to his kills who appears to know Dexter intimately. As each of his murders send an enigmatic message to Dexter showing knowledge of his past, Dexter becomes increasingly obsessed with finding him. His relationship with Ice Truck Killer is almost erotic. As a corpse bearing some of ITK’s trademarked turns up he wonders "Dramatic, cryptic, playful. Could it be him…?". As alone as any one man in this world can be, Dexter knows that, with foster father Harry long since dead, Ice Truck is the only one alive who understands him.
“Voice-over can be a graveyard for clunky exposition but Dexter’s bleak insights into himself and the story are always relevant and often witty.”
And you’re constantly left wondering if he wants to discover him to stop him or to simply be understood. For Dexter is an emotionally dissociated individual. He starts a relationship with Rita (Julie Benz), a damaged domestic abuse victim, because she has as many intimacy issues as he. He can act like a normal human but he’s under no illusion about what he is – repeatedly referring to himself in the voice-over as a monster. Voice-over can be a graveyard for clunky exposition but not in this case – Dexter’s bleak insights into himself and the story are always relevant and often witty.
Dexter is one of those dark, intelligent shows you get from time to time that make you feel better about life by showing you bad things. It’s tricky to bring a literary sociopath to life but Michael C. Hall does a great job of portraying Dexter’s stunted emotional life and pathological need for control while still retaining an air of the guy you wouldn’t mind having as a neighbour. For his powers must only be used for good. The psychological cat-and-mouse with Ice Truck Killer is enthralling and while it sometimes slips into familiar serial-killer drama territory it’s a genuinely fresh take on the forensic thriller raising any number of complex moral dilemmas. Are we happy with the serial killer as boy-next-door? And will we ever see those meat knives we lent him again?
The best thing about it: The dark humour
The worst thing about it: Bit too much blood for my liking
The verdict on Dexter Season One: Killing shouldn’t be this much fun.
Marks out of 10: 8