With its fifth episode, Dexter has made its way further up on my list of favorite shows. Although I’ve said this before, in its first two episodes, I was a bit concerned with the changes made to the book. Now, not only am I confident in the show’s reappropriation of the source material, but I think it is already a superior work. The characters have more depth and Dexter’s victims each week symbolically link to the particular episode’s theme in a far more literary and fulfilling manner than the book, which is pulp. Original and darkly funny pulp, but pulp nonetheless. There is a sophistication here, in the performances and the writing that far surpasses Jeff Lindsey’s novel. The only complete character in Darkly Dreaming Dexter is Dexter himself, and even he is a pretty stagnant protagonist, because almost by definition, he can’t grow. At first, I was worried that the series had missed the point of the character when it removed the “Dark Passenger.” A crucial concept in the novel, it is the manifestation and embodiment of all of Dexter’s darkest impulses. Whenever Dexter kills, he is “taken over” by the Dark Passenger, a malevolent force that occupies his body but which isn’t necessarily him. After becoming more used to the series’ interpretation of Dexter, however, I find the fact that Dexter has no such excuse about who is committing the actions–that is always fully him in control and understanding what he is doing, no matter how disturbing those actions are, to be much bolder than the novel. And in a paradoxical way, it allows for the concept to slowly seep in that perhaps Dexter isn’t as inhuman as he believes. The fact that he is the one who decides to kill or not to kill, that he is the one who find himself (sometimes disbelievingly) saving victims of other killers and recognizing his actions as his own allows for the possibility that one day he might be redeemed, in some manner.
Dexter is not a typical vigilante. His first impulse when he began torturing and killing was not to exact revenge on the helpless people his victims harmed in the past; he killed because it was–and still is–the only thing that truly brings him pleasure. In order to keep him from being a total monster, his adoptive father instilled in him a code, that he should only kill those who harm others, and what is interesting is that, slowly, this secondary consideration is becoming more and more important to him, even though he doesn’t fully understand it. But again, what sets him apart from “The Punisher” or that sort of character is that he is not a normal person, with a tragic past which irreparably damaged him, on a neverending quest for vengeance, willing to do the wrong thing to reach a positive end. No, Dexter was born damaged (or rather, his current state is his natural state); he kills because he likes it, pure and simple. Saving or avenging innocent people in the process is just gravy. Or, at least, it would be, and yet more and more, it seems like he might ever so subtly be becoming more normal than he would think. And this is an aspect I did not sense to such an extent in the book.
While Lindsey’s Dexter spends a great deal of time observing human nature and commenting on it, one doesn’t ever get the sense that he really wants to be like everyone else. In fact, it seems like he’s incapable of such a desire. Michael C. Hall’s Dexter, however, although he shares Lindsey’s version’s repulsion for the human race at times, is fascinated by them to a much further extent, and despite his own nature, wants to be understand them not only to better perfect his mask but because he is genuinely curious. A large part of him genuinely wants to be normal, a theme dealt with in a great deal of depth in this episode, which finally made me realize that this show understands Dexter better than his original author does! Or at least vastly improves on his character. I feel like I’m learning what makes him tick in a way the novel does not impart. Perhaps it is a case of an author having a great concept but not having the talent to use it to its full potential. Because here, Dexter is on the surface level, a monster, but even more interestingly, he is also a metaphor for every person. He thinks that he is unique in not understanding other people, in not knowing the right thing to say to his girlfriend, in not understanding how to read other people, when the fact is, if you eliminate the killer aspect, everyone has the same questions as Dexter, everyone feels as isolated, on some level, from other people, and no one can really understand anyone else’s actions or motivations. He doesn’t know it, but he actually has much more in common with the rest of humanity than he thinks.
I don’t want to spoil this episode for anyone. I will say that all of the plotlines are brilliantly handled, and each beautifully dovetails into the central theme. One which I particularly loved was a wonderful continuation of one of the last episode’s subplots. Also, the show continues to make great, insightful use of its flashback device and all of its tertiary characters, each of whom, like Dexter, are just trying to live in the world and figure it all out.
I must also make special mention of the Dexter/Rita relationship, which here is so multifaceted and absorbing, it makes Rita from the novel look like a stereotypically damaged female sock puppet of a character. I would give all credit to Michael C. Hall and Julie Benz, as I did in the show’s first two episodes, but now I credit the writers as well. They really know what they’re doing.
Although TV reviewers make such a declaration after seeing all the new pilots, I believe it always takes a number of episodes to be able to make such a statement as I am about to make with any confidence, but now I am fully ready to announce that…
Dexter is the best new show of the fall season.
And why aren’t you watching?