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Tuesday, July 31, 2012


If you've read my reviews of seasons three and five of the Showtime series "Dexter", you already know that it's one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  So it's no surprise that, for me, watching the 4-disc DVD set DEXTER: THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON is akin to opening the biggest, ribboniest package under the Christmas tree.

While Santa didn't sprinkle quite as much magic happy dust on this present as he usually does, the further adventures of everyone's favorite serial killer still generate a kind of hypnotic watchability that compels me to consume the entire season in one marathon viewing session.  As usual, the main story arc concerns Miami's Finest trying to track down the latest high-profile serial killer to terrorize the city while several side stories allow us to watch Dexter mete out final justice to other deserving killers who have somehow managed to escape formal punishment. 

Chief among these is Ronny Cox (ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL) as a crotchety old retiree named Walt whom Dexter (Michael C. Hall) discovers to be his first real role model, a multiple murderer from Oregon who was never caught but, while irritably doddering through his golden years in Miami, may have begun trying to recapture past glories in his chosen field.  Cox seems to be having a ball as the unrepentent old perv while he and Hall play off each other in some of the season's most darkly amusing moments. 

Another interesting side trip for Dex finds him attending his high school reunion to stalk the one-time star football player, suspected of killing his wife--one of the few people who were nice to geeky Dexter back in the old days--and making it look like a suicide.  Here, his always wryly amusing and insightful voiceover observations include this gem: "High school--a small world unto itself, combining all the warmest elements of a federal work camp with those of a third-world poultry farm.  It's a miracle I graduated without killing anyone."

Dexter is shocked to find that his improved looks, cool job (blood-splatter analyst for the Miami PD), and strong sympathy factor (his wife Rita having been murdered by season four's bad guy, John Lithgow) have finally made him popular, which hinders his murderous intentions to a deliciously comical degree.  In fact, some of his misadventures here, including trying to get a blood sample during a touch football game, are about as laugh-out-loud funny as this show gets.

While Dexter's difficult evolution as a human being has been mostly about him simply feeling anything resembling an emotion, he's now developing a strong fatherly affection for his toddler son Harrison while getting even closer to his stepsister Deb (Hall's real-life wife Jennifer Carpenter), a detective on the force.  Season six finds him finally exploring his spiritual side, or lack of one, as he questions the existence of God and the sincerity of one-time killer Brother Sam (Mos Def in a fine performance) who claims to have turned his life around.  The cynical Dexter's relationship with Brother Sam not only proves enlightening but also affords him the opportunity to punish yet another killer who has eluded his just reward. 

All of this serves as a backdrop for the season's main storyline, this time concerning the extremely bizarre murders committed by former college professor Dr. Gellar (Edward James Olmos) and his reluctant acolyte, Travis (Colin Hanks), who believe that their ritualistic acts of murder will set into motion God's final apocalyptic destruction of the human race.  While their characters are pretty interesting and their heinous deeds--in which their victims are used to create gruesome tableaux that will shock and horrify a sinful world--are suitably nightmarish, the "religious fanatic" angle seems a tad tired and overused by now. 

It's as though the show was stuck for a motive this season and simply went back to that old standy, the Book of Revelations, which has always been an endless source of material for writers to fall back on.  Not only that, but Gellar and Travis lurk around in an actual "theme" lair like Batman villains, with a creepy abandoned church serving as their convenient hideout.  Most of their strident rantings on sin and doomsday are the same old familiar stuff, written by writers whose main knowledge of religion seems to consist mainly of what they've seen in other movies about homicidal religious fanatics. 

Still, the storyline is involving enough and it gives the show an excuse for some wildly flamboyant visuals in addition to a chilling mid-season twist that had me doing a doubletake.  Dexter, of course, gets personally involved with the killers and finds himself secretly racing against his co-workers to capture them himself, thus satisfying his urge to kill within the strictures of late stepfather Harry's "rules" (former cop Harry, as played by James Remar, being the one to first recognize young Dexter's true nature and channel it in a more "constructive" direction). 

This places not only Dexter but those he's learning to love in grave danger before it's all over, resulting in some contrived but suspenseful situations (including the now-traditional "capturing of Dexter by the bad guy") that seem straight out of the old Saturday afternoon serials.

As always, Dexter's adventures are the main course but the series is laced with a variety of subplots, each of which holds its own.  The big dramatic threads this time include callow detective Deb being promoted to Lieutenant over Sgt. Angel Battista (David Zayas) as a result of political gamesmanship between former Lieutenant and now Captain Maria LaGuerta (Lauren VĂ©lez) and a Deputy Chief whom she blackmailed to get her promotion. 

In addition to ongoing friction between Deb and LaGuerta, LaGuerta and Battista, LaGuerta and the Deputy Chief, Deb and live-in lover Detective Quinn (Desmond Harrington), and Quinn and partner Battista (scorecards available in the lobby), there's also a subplot in which Deb suspects she's falling in love with Dex--surely one of the show's creepiest developments yet. 

The four-disc, 12-episode DVD set from Showtime, CBS DVD, and Paramount Home Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound (English 5.1 surround plus English, Spanish, and French 2.0 stereo) and closed-captions.  Extras include cast interviews and biographies, a photo gallery, and two sample episodes of the Showtime series "House of Lies."  (You can also "unlock additional bonus features on your PC via E-Bridge Technology", whatever the hell that is.) 

Additional note: all four discs begin with the same annoying Showtime promo, which can't be skipped or fast-forwarded through.  This would be bad enough, but the promo contains a HUGE spoiler for the season's shocking surprise ending.  So if you don't want to know about it in advance, avert your eyes!

DEXTER: THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON finds our contemplative serial killer wondering what he's going to pass onto his son as he grows older and more aware that Dad isn't quite normal.  I'm anxious to see how Dexter's spiritual and emotional evolution progresses in the next season, just as I am to see more deserving human monsters get what's coming to them at his hands.  But most of all, I can't wait to see what happens right after the blackout of this season's very last episode, one of those abrupt cliffhanger endings that's both awesome and incredibly frustrating. 

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