'Dexter' Premiere: Big trouble with Little Chino

Michaelchall2_dexter_s2_240After a first season that stuck relatively closely to the key plotpoints from Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the second run of Showtime's finest show went off the reservation with Sunday (Sept. 30) night's premiere.

The new season of Dexter isn't based upon any Lindsay novel and if Monday's premiere is any indication, the show hasn't missed a beat in charting its own course. With HBO waiting on the final season of The Wire and with NBC's Friday Night Lights starting its second season with some uncharacteristically rocky episodes, it's entirely possible that Dexter is the best show on TV at this second.

[This recap is going to contain spoilers of both the Dexter season premiere and last year's finale, so you've been doubly warned.]

In the first season finale, Dexter (Michael C. Hall, whose Emmy snubbing remains criminal) made an uncharacteristic choice. He opted for nurture over nature, picking his adopted sister Deb over Rudy (Christian Camargo), both his biological brother and his psychological twin. Dexter's decision had unexpected consequences, as dispatching the Ice Truck Killer, getting rid of a man who was both his flesh-and-blood, but also his only true equal as a killer, left Dexter unable to perform, homicide-wise. It doesn't help that the new season finds Erik King's Doakes watching his every move, but even when Doakes isn't stalking him, Dexter can't stab straight or he can't properly drug his victims (how much sedative would it have taken to knock out Little Chino anyway?). He's also messing up crime scene evidence and even his bowling game (with the "Bowl Till You Bleed" team) is suffering. As if the metaphorical impotence isn't bad enough, Dexter's even having bedroom problems with poor, vulnerable Rita.

Juliebenz_dexter_s2_240Actually, Dexter's increased weakness has corresponded with some very different changes to the women in his life. Rita is increasingly assertive, much less of a doormat than she was last season, which has benefited Julie Benz's performance. She's excellent, as is Jennifer Carpenter, whose Deb hasn't responded quite so well to becoming engaged to a serial killer last season. She's become a bit of a paranoid shut-in and when she returns to the field, her decision-making probably isn't what it should be. This season, everybody has issues and the discovery of Dexter's off-shore dumping ground isn't going to solve things, though Deb imagines that the next killer is a path to redemption and the potential for discovery (and a new adversary next week with the arrival of Keith Carradine) actually gets Dexter's heart beating.

Until the very end, the premiere of Dexter was much more about laying the groundwork than about establishing the challenges and direction of the season, but that comes next week with an even better episode.

Some other thoughts on this week's episode:

  • The premiere was well-written by Daniel Cerone and at times beautifully directed by Tony Goldwyn, particularly the discovery of Dexter's under-water burial ground.
  • I honestly can't think of a single Emmy that made me happier than the win for the Dexter main title sequence, set to Rolfe Kent's opening theme. Even if I have screeners or I'm watching on DVR, I'll actually stick around for the Weeds, Dexter and Mad Men title sequences. It's an under-recognized art form.
  • There's so much that the Dexter creative team does fantastically, that I wish they were learning a bit better from the things that they don't do so well. My biggest problem with the whole series, frankly, is Dexter's voiceover, which seems perceptive and cleverly written compared to, say, the voiceover that plagues CBS' dismal Moonlight, but V.O. Dexter still speaks too heavily in blandly ironic cliches and he still offers too many self-evident platitudes that could have been illustrated differently, by the actions up on the screen, for example.
  • Also on the negative front, I feel like Mark Pellegrino's Paul could have been more interestingly dealt with  than his off-camera demise. Or maybe the writers just realized that they'd written themselves into a corner with that character and wanted to escape however they could. Did everybody recognize Pellegrino as the father who tried teaching his son about the realities of eating meat on Grey's Anatomy this week?

    What'd you think of the Dexter premiere and the direction the season appears to be heading?

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