Dexter, based on a series of books by Jeff Lindsay, follows the exploits of the title character, played by Michael C Hall, as he attempts to balance a complex life as a father, brother, forensic scientist and avenging angel serial killer. Dexter can now be classed as a ‘long-running’ drama and since its second series has abandoned the books as a main source of plot. With its sixth season it enters a tricky period, close to the end of its natural life, but still successful enough for Showtime, the producers of the drama, to continue to make more series (it’s been renewed for two more years) and to fork out enough to tempt star Michael C Hall to continue in the role.
Since the third, or perhaps fourth, season, Dexter has created a pleasing formula: a ‘monster’ of the week, with an arc storyline often featuring a serial killer played by a notable actor. Usually, this actor is playing against type: Jimmy ‘The West Wing’ Smits, John ‘Third Rock from the Sun’ Lithgow and Jonny ‘Doctor Who: Kinda’ Lee Miller (I’m sure he’s in something more famous but I can’t think of it at the moment) have all let their hair down, hammed up their performances and gone bad. In season six we find Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks, Olmos from Battlestar Galactica and Hanks from Tom Hanks’ loins, playing a pair of religious nutters, one a dominating academic the other a nervy, naive protégée, who spreads the word across sleazy, sweaty Miami with a sequence of inventively symbolic, but bloody, murders.
After a slow start, the season hits its stride. The end of episode three, ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ (the episode titles are always either punning or witty), is a spectacular moment of morbid art, characteristic of the series, that easily makes up for its seemingly leisurely narrative set-up. Following this the grand guignol spectacle of the crimes increases steadily if a little unbelievably. This theatricality is confirmed by a particularly inventive murder in which an academic is found dead on stage and the main characters, whilst examining him, trigger a booby-trap and are dowsed by bucket-loads of the unfortunate man’s entrails. For me, a highlight.
The series is riddled with allusions to religion. Each season of Dexter has a recurrent theme like this that drives the arc storyline and feeds more subtly into the individual episode plots. In the past it has been Dexter’s role as a husband or as a father, his desire to lead a ‘normal’ life despite his propensity toward violent murder or revelations about his childhood. In season six, however, the theme of religion is, initially at least, plugged into the storylines a little heavy-handedly. The overall narrative of Olmos and Hanks’ cultish killings is well crafted but the sudden appearance of religion everywhere Dexter turns is a bit unlikely, even in the heightened Dexter universe. Having said that, as the season progresses the writers become more subtle interweaving the religious elements with a wider dissection of the main character’s struggles with his ‘dark passenger’.
As always with Dexter, the acting is heightened but believable. Michael C Hall is the centre of the cast, but it is Jennifer Carpenter who really impresses with her mixture of innocence and potty-mouthed sensuality. The villains are also well played, Olmos is sinister and remote while Hanks somehow manages to be simultaneously nervy and ice-cold. The supporting cast are also excellent, their respective subplots all orbit these main characters but all have a part to play in shaping the arc storyline. Notably, Brother Sam, played believably by Mos Def, acts as an ‘anti-Dexter’, an ex-killer with a similar dark passenger, but one that is kept in check by his faith.
Unfortunately the review copy I received missed the final, crucial episodes leaving me a little like Tony Hancock in ‘The Missing Page’, scrabbling the internet and the library to find a box-set before realising the significance of the term ‘advance copy’. This was doubly tantalising as the third disc ends with a twist worthy of M Night Shyamalan, however it is a testament to the quality of the season that I now fully intend to buy the set when it is released.