Dexter season 2 DVD review

TV's cuddliest serial killer returns for a second outing, and even if season 2 is patchy, it's compulsive...

Dexter

Season one of Dexter was a stunning debut, and set the pattern for the following two seasons, wherein great characters and plotting abrade against trite characters and plot-holes. The show veers dangerously off-course on a regular basis, only to have you enrapt again an episode later. Season two has nothing as great as the ice-truck killer, unfortunately, but enough new faces, ideas and thread resolutions to keep fans happy…

S2 finds our favourite philanthropic serial-killer in a quandary. Sgt. Doakes (the delightfully paranoid and wired Erik King) is more convinced than ever that Dexter (the glacial yet loveable Michael C. Hall) had something to do with the carnage caused by the ice-truck killer in the previous season, and now he’s stuck to our hero like cellophane. With this round-the-clock surveillance curtailing his need to kill, Dexter’s getting twitchy, and even his bowling is suffering. Finally his show of boring domesticity throws Doakes off the scent, and off he goes to exact revenge on a downtown witch-doctor whose death-spells work for rather more mundane reasons than he claims.

The plastic walls are up, the victim is bound, the knives are out, but…oh no! Our hero can’t do it. With no compassion for his intended victim, he’s still got a case of killer’s droop, and slinks away confused.

In the meantime all the grisly detritus of Dexter’s secret career has been found by the police out in the bay area dumping ground, and it’s all hands on deck as Dexter must join his colleagues in a new man-hunt – for himself.

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The ‘Bay Harbour butcher’ (as the media dubs Dexter) even develops a fan-base, when it slowly becomes clear that all of his victims were really worth killing, and Dexter has to contend with a fan who has turned his secret identity into a comic character.

Elsewhere Dexter’s adoring girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) begins to suspect her beloved of nefarious activities, prompting a full confession from Dexter…about his drug addiction. Well he had to say something, didn’t he?

Soon Dex is attending a hanky-wringing support group, and his gradual involvement with Brit looney Lila (Jaime Murray) through these meetings reminds me a bit of Edward Norton hooking up with Helen Bonham-Carter in Fight Club.

Back at work, it’s not quiet by comparison. Angel (David Zayas) is having an emotional epiphany and descends into Oprah-speak at a moment’s notice, while poor old Debs (Jennifer Carpenter) is having trouble re-adjusting to dating after her run-in with the ice-truck killer. Since her carnal urge is as strong as her brother’s murderous one, this isn’t something she can wait to solve itself.

Back in Dexter’s love-life, things are hotting up. Rita may have put her foot in it by putting her foot down with her boyfriend, as she realises when she sees Dex meeting up with his new ‘counsellor’, the evil but very sexy Lila. Is Lila just another diverting nut? Is she another killer-in-disguise? Or is she Dexter’s best-ever chance to find a woman who really understands him…?

If the series has an emotional heart under its pathological dissociation, all three runs so far have identified it as the desperate search of the ‘real’ Dexter for understanding. He maintains his cover with a pleasant if distracted character, a good job, a sweet girlfriend with two kids that like him, and an awful lot of scurrying about in the dark. But it’s a fake life, if a necessary one.

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What our Dex truly yearns for is someone who could see him in all his blood-stained glory and still love him. In series one, that possibility came up with his long-lost brother, in two with the sulphurous Lila, and three also pursues this theme. But that’s just the clockwork around which the show’s bizarre events entertain us, and I have no complaints. Just so long as Dex doesn’t get ‘cured’.

The question is, how nice can Dex become without becoming anodyne? S2 finds a lot of his imitation of goodness turning into real goodness, and the casual fan might fear, for this and many other reasons, that he’s losing his edge. This motif is not going to go away in S3 either, so Dexter fans will just have to live with it and delight in those moments when he gets all those pesky do-gooders out of the way and gets back to some honest murdering again.

It’s interesting to see the excellent character of Angel toying, in his own aggravating way, with a nervous breakdown; excellent also to see Keith Carradine enter the show with one of the series’ best police characters in the form of FBI beagle Special Agent Frank Lundy.

I’m afraid that Lauren Vélez still irritates me as Lt. Maria LaGuerta. Even when she’s being a bitch (very often), I find the character unconvincing and a sop to demographics. Vince Masuka continues a sterling job of comic relief as Dexter’s sex-maniac friend and colleague C.S. Lee, whilst Jennifer Carpenter (lovelorn sigh) maintains her edgy turn as Dexter’s hyperactive and profane sister/colleague.

Ultimately it’s Hall’s show, and his magnetism and fascinating restraint that keep us tuning back in (wouldn’t you like to see Dex helping out Monk one time?). It’s a fantastic character in the hands of a first-class actor who, I fear, may never escape association with the role. But what the hell, you could be associated with far worse things.

Beautiful as Jaime Murray is – and she is quite a beguiling draw for Dex fans who are not into Jennifer Carpenter – she drops more aitches than a palsied stenographer. She inserts aitches into sentences where there are no aitches, just so she can drop them; just so everyone understands that she is British. Arghhh! Stop it. To boot, her performance is carried by the superior work of Michael C. Hall, so it’s lucky that nearly all of her scenes involve him.

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S2 has plot holes and problems, and doesn’t live up to the great start made by the previous season. However, better is yet to come, and there are enough grisly laughs, great characters and bloodshed to carry even a mildly-interested viewer through. This is some of TV’s best black-comic drama, and there’s as much to love as to forgive.

Extras: I vigilantly started making detailed notes about the extras, but after the sixth item it was pretty clear that they are not special enough to be worth that kind of effort. Junket-style interviews (short), an appropriated FX special (superficial), a crap trivia game and no commentaries. There are a few other cobbled-together items, such as an image-gallery, victim IDs and – bemusingly – four episodes repeated from S2 with added fact-titles (could they not have just grafted those titles onto the episodes on the other discs?), but it’s mostly superficial list-fodder with little substance.

The only really good extra is a great (though short at just over 4 minutes) interview with Dexter‘s Brit composer Rolfe Kent, who talks about how the theme music was developed.

Show:

3 stars
(it was close to four, though. That’s reserved for season 3)Extras:
2 stars

Dexter season two is out in the UK today.

Rating:

3 out of 5