The pilot episode, simply titled ‘Dexter’ is fantastic; a magnum opus of premiere writing. From the gripping, intense first scene – a dark, quick drive-through downtown Miami nightlife with Dexter’s (Michael C. Hall) chilling narrative, I found myself glued to the screen. The character of Dexter stands out on our screens. He is a complex, multi-faceted enigma of a character in an era where so many shows fall into the trap of one-sided heroes. Michael C. Hall’s performance is, from the off, nothing short of captivating.
For those of you unaware, Dexter deals with the story of the eponymous main character, a forensics blood spatter analysis expert for the Miami P.D. who leads a double life as a “good” serial killer; a man with blood lust, but who sticks by a set of strict principles to ensure he only kills those who “deserve it”. It’s a hard-hitting, somewhat disturbing concept. Dexter lives a double life, hiding his habit/compulsion from his colleagues in the Police, but also from his sister Debra (who also works for Miami PD) and his frigid, troubled girlfriend Rita. Sound simple? It would be, until a serial killer begins to challenge Dexter, targeting him personally for a twisted game of “Catch Me If You Can”.
The pilot succeeds in the traditional staggered introduction of all primary characters, yet done so with flair and guile. We are left in no doubt of a character’s personality right from their first line of dialogue, such is the skill of the show’s presentation. It’s a sign of good writing (full credit to James Manos, Jr.) and to the directing of Michael Cuesta. The introduction to foul-mouthed Agent Doakes is simultaneously fascinating, amusing and aggressive; words which indeed sum up the pilot as a whole.
Once more, the pilot succeeds in introducing all the plot lines for episodes to come. From the first Ice Truck killing, to the introduction of Dexter/Dad flashbacks, to the Rita/Dexter relationship, right down to the Debra/Dexter sibling bond, everything is dealt with. The 50 minute length from Showtime really helps fit all these storylines in, ensuring the episodes don’t feel rushed in the slightest, yet without dragging and also allowing for substantial plot development each week. And that’s another one of Dexter’s hooks: the season long story arc which complements the weekly case. It helps keep viewers interested, even if the week’s individual case is dull or boring (which, in fairness, it rarely is).
The true strength of Dexter? I have to say, for me, it’s the character himself, and the writing that accompanies him. Sure, the rest of the cast perform their roles admirably, sometimes brilliantly, but Dexter is different; a performance of sheer brilliance. The show is based on Jeff Lindsay’s book, Darkly Dreaming Dexter. The book features a first-person narrative from Dexter, and this is a concept carried into the television series. It’s essential, realistically, in allowing the viewer to understand his actions, and also to feel that they’re in some way justified. I don’t know if I harbour some twisted aspect of the soul, or whether it’s just magnificent writing, but to get the average viewer to connect with a psychopathic, double-life-leading serial killer; and not just connect, actually feel empathy for them, that shows something is working. Then again, maybe it’s just me. Maybe everyone else is terrified. I like him.
There’s a reason Dexter has become so critically acclaimed, and it doesn’t take long to work out why. The production is just so slick, and the writing so compelling that the overall result is an irresistible blend of suave heroism, psychotic murders and family troubles. It’s a crime show, certainly, but unlike anything else of television. All of this is made extremely clear in the pilot episode, and it doesn’t take long to get hooked. From scene one the strength of writing is evident. “Tonight’s the night, and it’s going to happen again, and again. It has to happen. Nice night,” Dexter muses as his silhouetted figure cruises through Miami. The use of light and contrast, as well as colour (crimson being a predominant theme in the show’s style) are noticeable instantly. It’s just magnificently produced.
If a show about a violent, addicted serial killer can get middle-aged, building society golfers hooked, the sky’s the limit. While this may seem like an overwhelmingly, almost biased review, I asked myself before concluding, what would I change? The answer? Nothing. Therefore, what’s to dislike?