Dexter is about to start up again and with it come the usual anxieties that precede the return of our favorite programs.
TV watching comes in four tiers. In the lowest tier reside those programs we would in no way ever watch. For me it is "reality" competitions. The second tier consists of shows we are slightly curious about and may view once and never again (Playboy Club, Pan Am). The third level are those programs that we more or less like, and we follow just to keep up with them, but only capture, say, 60% of our loyalty. They are more of a habit, and if we drop them we don't miss them until a character on Psych makes a jokey reference to them. Then there is the top tier, those three or five or six shows, depending on the time of year, that we cannot do without, the shows around which we arrange our schedule, those shows that we discuss endlessly with our friends the next day or anonymously on talkbacks if we have no friends.1
With the shows we really love, which tend to be the premium channel short-series such as The Wire or The Sopranos, we bring a level of scrutiny unheard of in the history of the medium, and with the advent of the internet, a means to publicize the fruits of that micro gaze. For example, Breaking Bad has a certain almost indescribable affect, a blend of anxiety and frustration, as if it were a Jane Austen novel, in addition to that essential "one step ahead of the viewer" quality that all good shows need. The 13-week format means that some series don't make sense until the whole sequence has aired. Season four of BB started out slow and revisited old settings and seemed to relegate Walter White to supporting character status. Still, the creators of the show have up until now earned the viewers' trusts, and now as the season steams through its final few episodes, everything is starting to make sense and the earlier longeurs now only add to the tension.
Dexter has managed to maintain its tone and consistency through numerous personal changes, beginning way back in the first episode of the first season, when James Manos, the show's creator, quit after the first episode over creative differences. Season five also began with a personal change, and the first few hours of the season found Dexter (Michael C. Hall) a passive and confused serial-killer-for-good. But that was simply the lead up to Dexter finding someone he could mentor (Julia Stiles).
After the first hour, season six of Dexter seems to be adopting the same pace, though slightly faster. It is now a year after the last season's events. Dexter is somehow living next door to Sgt. (soon to be Lt.) Angel Batista (David Zayas), whose sister now babysits baby Harrison. Dexter is also trying to place Harrison in a Catholic pre-school recommended by Angel. Meanwhile, Angel has divorced Lt. (now Captain) Maria LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) who has been promoted thanks to a little ruthless blackmail, and Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) and Joey (Desmond Harrington) are fighting, but really because he wants to ask her to marry him, in a restaurant scene reminiscent of a similar scene in the opening of Parks and Recreation season three. A teaser opening shows that Dexter is back in business, and his first "case" for the episode is a reunion where he targets a rival who may have murdered the only person nice to Dexter in high school. This season's twisty serial killer theme is the mentorship of Professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos, back in Florida) over Travis Marshall (Colin Hanks, son of). They seem to be religious fanatics, based on the evidence of the first episode, and this leads into what appears to be one of the season's two themes. Here the topic is religion and faith. Angel urges Dexter to send Harrison to a Catholic institution because, well, God exists. Dexter has no conception of such a conception. Meanwhile, the professor and his charge seem to be driven by a religious mania to exterminate random people in preparation for end times. There first victim is a road side fruit vendor whose guts they leave in a weighing scale (intestines fare no better in other first episodes of the season.2
The second theme is anonymity. The premise is brilliantly weaved into the narrative, credited to Louis Cioffi.3 Dexter makes it known to the viewer that he likes people not knowing who he is – but then he turns out to be something of a celebrity at the high school reunion because of recent events, such as the death of his wife and the high profile nature of his job. This momentarily puts him in the same league as his ex-quarterback nemesis.4 Meanwhile, his sister Debra looks as if she is going to go "viral." During a shoot-out in a restaurant, innocent bystanders are shown photographing her heroism on their cell phones.
Private faith and public standing. The serial killer this season looks to be a public man with a private passion for slaying unbelievers, while Dexter is a person whose anonymity is crucial for the success of his enterprise. Meanwhile, the killer's faith (whatever that turns out to be) and Dexter's lack of it look as if they are going to form the high flown eschatology of this phase of Dexter's career.
The sixth season of Dexter premieres on Sunday, 2 October 2011, on Showtime, and runs through January.
1. There is probably a fifth tier: those programs that we watch because everyone else in the world is watching them, such as Mad Men.
2. Except now I can't remember if the show was Castle, The Mentalist, CSI, or what.
3. The episode was directed by indie thriller specialist John Dahl.
4. For which he is rewarded with a blowjob
5. For more in depth analysis of the whose series, a good place to run is Dexter: Understanding Cutting Edge Television, edited by Douglas L. Howard (I. B. Tauris, 228 pages, $16, ISBN-13: 978-1848852655). Being published in 2011, it is slightly out of date, with its episode guide only to the first three seasons, but it features opening interviews with source novel author Jeff Lindsay and with Manos, as well as critical essays on themes that include the vigilante hero, psychoanalysis, politics, the unexpected German "obsession" with Dexter, the construction of the opening credits sequence, among other topics.