So Dexter puts down his scalpel for the Summer and we are left reeling after another typically tense, nerve wracking season. Since the second series dealt with Dexter himself being hunted, viewers might have worried the show would have peaked. After seeing our titular serial killer in the cross hairs, a return to just another mystery antagonist might have seemed decidedly old hat.
The writers are wise enough to know that Dexter’s internal struggle is what’s gripping and while the cases are interesting and entertaining; if they don’t directly comment on our anti-hero our minds may wander. Enter Jimmy Smits and his force of nature performance as Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado, Dexter’s first true friend and surprise confidante, to shake up the formula. The Doakes character of the first two years provided a healthy conflict, here was someone who saw past the Boy Scout veneer of Dexter but the loss of that character last season could have wounded the dynamic of the show. Thankfully Smits inherits this mantle and while their relationship is different flashes of the same battle can be seen throughout. There is an initial shaky start when establishing this necessary if slightly improbable friendship between a lowly forensics specialist and a high profile DA.
The writers struggle to convince us the viewers that someone as obsessively secretive as Dexter could let someone new into his world. Death has always been Dexter’s way of life so it is fitting that an initial murder (Dexter kills Miguel’s brother in self defence) first brings them together and a second more justified (I.e. adhering to Dexter’s code) locks the two characters together.
Miguel finds out that Dexter has killed a drug dealer named Freebo who Miguel assumes was his brother’s killer and surprisingly he sees the justice in Dexter’s extra curricular activities. This gives the show a brand new colour as we’ve grown so accustomed to Dexter the lone dark defender so adding a sidekick, a slightly unstable one at that is fantastic fodder.
There is a background mystery involving yet another serial Killer “the Skinner” who is also looking for Freebo. This is the procedural dressing that gives the side characters something to investigate and while it does take a while to properly dovetail with the main story arc, when it does it is wonderful. This is essentially a two header however between Smits Miguel and Halls Dexter and their shifting, constantly evolving dynamic is a master class of good Television. In particular the scenes they share in later episodes crackle with an undeniable chemistry.
Shows like Prison Break and 24 pride themselves on twists and turns but Dexter is one of a select few of shows that genuinely surprises me and while the end destination is never entirely in doubt it does challenge the viewer by placing characters in very awkward situations. Every time I think they’ve written themselves into a corner there’s a swerve left and the whole nature of the show can be uprooted. In a good way, though I promise! There is a danger that too many close scrapes for Dex and the tension will be removed, a network crying a type of “serial killer wolf” but for the time being it works. I always think the show is at its best when Dexter is under pressure and racing against the clock. This season however gives us both sides of the character, the desperate self interested “hero” and that of the master manipulator.
As much as I enjoyed it the show isn’t perfect and it has the same niggles which has plagued it from the beginning. Hall is almost too good, commanding the screen when he’s focused on. The other characters however still suffer in comparison. Rita, Dexter’s love interest who has what should be a good meaty story this year quickly becomes a dull, whiny example of every pregnancy/marriage cliche under the Sun. In a show that is so self aware it’s surprising they couldn’t have found a way to have made her arc more compelling this year. Julie Benz deserves better. Similarly for Dexter’s sister Deb it’s another case of “what type of unhealthy relationship will Deb get into this year?” and this season duly serves up another inappropriate suitor for her feelings, in the form of a police informant no less. Deb’s penchant for cursing every second syllable continues and doubtlessly the writers are happy with what they can get away with being on Showtime but here is one character trait that has gotten quite grating and Jennifer Carpenter feels more real in the moments when she’s channeling Debs emotions more than her overplayed tomboy act.
It also shares another problem with past seasons, the all too convenient last episode. Dexter’s finales, while never bad do suffer from a feeling of slight anti-climax. It’s almost as if the writers pour everything into the penultimate each year and the last episode is relegated to house tidying for the next season. It’s a shame as a season this good shouldn’t be spoiled by the lingering aftertaste of disappointment. Next year the last episode can’t cop out or be too clean cut, it should go for the audience’s jugular or at the very least its cheek. It should be like Dexter himself and draw some blood.
4 and half out of 5 for this Dexter Season 3 Review