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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

DEXTER: THE THIRD SEASON -- DVD review by porfle

At first, I was less than captivated by the concept of a TV show whose main character was a serial killer we were supposed to root for. The pictures of star Michael C. Hall as a sweetly-smiling Dexter with a blood-splattered face didn't help. So I wasn't too excited about watching DEXTER: THE THIRD SEASON, a four-disc set containing 12 episodes, up until about halfway through the first episode when it eventually occurred to me that this is one of the most wickedly brilliant and thoroughly entertaining TV shows I've ever seen.

Based on the main character of author Jeff Lindsay's novel "Darkly Dreaming Dexter", Dexter Morgan (Hall) is a blood-splatter analyst for the Miami police department, working closely alongside a group of homicide detectives that includes his own stepsister Debra (Hall's real-life wife Jennifer Carpenter). His own mother having been brutally murdered by a serial killer before his eyes, three-year-old Dexter was adopted by the first cop on the scene, Harry Morgan (James Remar), who recognized the boy's murderous tendencies early on and channeled them into more constructive purposes by teaching him "The Code of Harry." This set of rules allows Dexter to indulge his addiction to killing while choosing as his victims only those who are themselves killers who have eluded justice.

And yes, we do root for him. In season three, Dexter tracks down several scum-of-the-earth killers who have evaded the law, carefully researching their cases to make sure they're deserving of punishment. Then he usually overpowers them with a hypo before treating them to a night in his plastic-draped kill room, where he shows them pictures of their victims before plunging a knife into their chests. I figure if Dexter is driven to do this, then it might as well be hit men, murderous Aryan supremists, other serial killers, etc., right?

Thankfully, though, the show isn't just a kill-of-the-week thing. The twelve episodes in this set comprise a story arc that kept me watching one after another until I'd gone through them all in no time. One of the main storylines is Dexter's potentially doomed attempt to become a more "normal" person, at least outwardly, by marrying his girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) and being a stepdad to her two kids. Rita's pregnant, giving Dexter a lot to ponder as his impending fatherhood grows nearer. And his increasing commitment to her means less privacy and less time to take care of his personal business, which may become a problem.

Other interesting subplots include stepsister Debra's attempts to earn her detective shield while dealing with an enigmatic new partner, Quinn (Desmond Harrington), who's being investigated by Internal Affairs, and an unexpected attraction to one of their confidential informants, a jazz musician named Anton (David Ramsey), which leads to an ill-advised affair. Likable lug Detective Batista (David Zayas) bites off more than he can chew when he seeks the services of a prostitute out of loneliness and she turns out to be an undercover cop. Oops! Although the series has a rich vein of dry gallows humor running through it (Dexter's mental voiceovers are often hilarious), a more standard "comedy relief" is provided by nerdy Asian lab tech Vince Masuka (C.S. Lee), who will finally start to rebel against his status as the butt of everyone's jokes.

All of which is great, but is nothing compared to the subplot that becomes the driving force of this entire season. Jimmy Smits guest-stars as assistant district attorney Miguel Prado, an old romantic flame of Dexter's commanding officer Lt. Maria LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez) and a passionate crusader for justice who is currently intent on finding the man who murdered his brother Oscar. All signs point to a missing drug dealer named Freebo, but what Prado doesn't know is that Dexter himself killed Oscar in self-defense. Also seeking Freebo for other reasons is a brutal serial killer known as "The Skinner" because he partially skins his victims. (He'll eventually set his sights on Dexter.)

When Miguel Prado and Dexter begin to form an unlikely friendship based on mutual convictions, Dexter's secret is eventually revealed. What happens after that is some of the most riveting television I've ever seen, as the highly volatile Prado takes Dexter's crusade way beyond "The Code of Harry" and into even more dangerous territory which includes settling personal scores and eliminating anyone who stands in his way. We know a confrontation between Dexter and Prado is imminent, and it doesn't disappoint. As Miguel Prado, Jimmy Smits does a brilliant job--it's definitely some of the best work he's ever done and he has a field day in the role.

The writing on this show is consistently scintillating and the direction by the likes of John Dahl (RED ROCK WEST, THE LAST SEDUCTION) and Keith Gordon is spot-on, with no Shaky-Cam or other distracting tricks for added "realism." There's little or no filler, so each subplot is intriguing enough to maintain our interest as we switch from one to the other. One thing I really like about this set is that it doesn't have one of those abrupt, annoying end-of-season cliffhangers--while the future is still uncertain for Dexter and the other characters, most of season three's individual storylines are resolved in a satisfying manner.

The four discs come in two slimline cases with a cardboard box cover. Image is 16.9 and audio is English 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital surround with Spanish subtitles and closed-captioning. Bonus features include the first two episodes of Showtime's "The United States of Tara" starring Toni Collette, "Dexter" cast and crew biographies, and a photo gallery. We're also invited to "unlock additional bonus features on your PC via Ebridge technology" in order to enjoy cast interviews, the first two episodes of "The Tudors: Season 3", "Dexter By Design" book excerpts, and more.

DEXTER: THE THIRD SEASON is one of those fortunate cases in which I had little or no initial interest in watching a show and ended up not only extremely impressed, but also a devoted fan. I don't know if the first two seasons were better, as some say (I hope to judge that for myself as soon as possible), but in any case this is just downright great television.

Buy it at
Dexter: The Complete Third Season
Dexter: The Complete Third Season [Blu-ray]

Fifth Season Review

Sixth Season Review

Pilot Episode Review


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you liked season 3, you will LOVE season one, the best of the three Dexter seasons so far.

In fact, I'd recommend to everyone that they watch the episodes in order, starting with Season One, since the show's mysteries unfold in order, and watching them any other way is bound to spoil many of the plot twists.

Great show, if you can handle the gruesome subject matter.