Dismembering the Dead: an Examination of Dexter (Season 2)

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The first season of Dexter had its ups and downs, but was an overall solid outing. It had a good cast, killer premise, and really solid main character. The second season picks up a couple weeks after the ending of the last one. Dexter has to act more normal while he’s being tailed by the lone skeptic in the department, his sister is living with him, and to add insult to injury Dexter’s getting performance anxiety just in time for his disposal site to be discovered discovered.

The best way to describe season two of Dexter is that it is a South Carolina road. Okay, maybe that is not the best because it is too specific to where I live, but it is apt. That is to say the ride is smooth, then bumpy and rough for no determinable reason, then back to smooth. It’s not perfect by any means, but it gets the job done and accomplishes what it set out to do even if it could use some work. 

The rockiness comes from a couple of different places. First, it is clear that when the writers brought in the new lieutenant to run the homicide division that they had no idea of what to do with her, so just made her act the most unprofessional causing her to be fired. This all happened so early on in the season that I forgot it occurred until recently. The same can be said about Rita’s mother. Yeah, so the writers decided to bring in Rita’s mom into the picture after ending the plotline with her ex-husband. Her main goal seemed only to be annoying and incredibly unreasonable to cause strife in Dexter and Rita’s relationship. She too is let go early and I forgot existed. The final problem is who Deb rebounds with for the back half of the season (jeez, what is with these writers not being able to give women really strong and independent arcs). That relationship I think more just creeps me out, but works out in the end to make Deb a better cop. I just don’t like it, which is different than the previous two because those were not executed well on top of being bad. This one is executed fine, it just did not sell me.

The bumpiest bits of the season actually started in a very interesting place: that is Dexter having to pretend to be a junkie in order to appease Rita and cover for his interference with Paul, Rita’s ex-husband. It unlocked a lot of interesting concepts, and gave him a minor reprieve as Doakes, the cop tailing him, sees him in an NA meeting and finds respect for him. This too gets shaky when Dexter gets his sponsor Lila, a mysterious, Biriths,  femme fetal figure. Its resolution, though not totally callable was easy to clock pretty early as to what her whole deal was. She also contributed to my biggest questions to if I actually liked this season. 

Lila is a corrupting influence. She causes Dexter to break his rules in the name of trying to figure out who he is, and what is true about his life. Before continuing I will say that his arc worked as intended. Dexter now has a better sense of who he is and what he would do but it came at a cost to me. If you recall from the first season I said I liked Dexter because he always tried to do what was right. He may have killed people who deserved it, but outside of that he honestly tried to be a good employee, brother, and boyfriend/father figure. I found that to be incredibly admirable and compelling. I found that aspect of his character so compelling that seeing him not be reasonable feels like a betrayal of who he was. This gets more complicated because the problems work themselves out in the end, but in the moment it felt none of it was working and needed to stop. 

I think the reason for the confusion is the additional adversaries Dexter has to deal with this season. Season one had a single criminal, the Ice Truck Killer. He tied in directly for the story the team was trying to tell in a tight, concise way. This season is messier. On top of having the FBI and Miami Metro PD on his tail, Dexter must deal with the fallout of Ice Truck Killer in his battle of wits with Sergeant Doakes and Lila once her full motives are fleshed out. It is a much messier narrative. The aim in both cases is pushing Dexter to be who they perceive him to be over who he truly is. The division arrives from the fact that we may not have known the final reveal of who the Ice Truck Killer is, but we at least knew the person and could see him scheming and manipulating. It would seem then that Doakes hunt to prove who Dexter is would be the closest equivalent. The problem, and it carries over to Lila, is that we the audience do not get enough about who Doakes is outside of being cut throat and kind of a loner. Similarly we only get bits and pieces about LIla. Her complusive and clingy personality comes out, but we don’t get more about her. Maybe that is enough for some people, but the Ice Truck Killer felt more fleshed out and better tied into that season’s theme by comparison.

Overall this season feels like a second season of a Netflix original series (it is not ironic considering Melissa Rosenberg and Scott Buck will both go on to helm a Marvel Netflix series to mixed results. Iron Fist as an example). Meaning that it was pretty clear they had a good sense of where the first season was going and what they wanted to do thematically with it. Meanwhile season two is less focused. It is not as over-complicated and dull as Jessica Jones season 2. The season, however, is not as even an experience as season one and not where I would have initially expected the season to go based on how season one felt closer to an episodic series with mild serial (killer) elements. 

Still very interested to see where season three will take Miami’s best boy. There are no major plot threads dangling to latch onto in the same way season two did. That could be a real help, but it could also be a major hindrance.

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