Though controversial among fans, Season Three once again demonstrates the writers’ tight control of the subject matter.
WARNING: The following contains Season 2 spoilers.
When last we left Dexter Morgan, not only had he narrowly escaped being exposed as the Bay Harbor Butcher (after his long-time dump site was discovered by divers), but he managed to set up the very officer that suspected him, Detective Sergeant Doakes, to take the fall. Dexter’s brief affair with the psychopathic Lila, his Narcotics Anonymous sponsor with a soul almost as dark as Dexter’s, intensified once she got wind of his nocturnal activities. Planning on framing Doakes, Dexter imprisons him in a remote cabin, only to have Lila find her way there using Dexter’s GPS. She walks in on a caged Doakes and kills him, thinking that she’d be helping to set Dexter free. Realizing that he never really knew just how dangerous Lila was, Dexter decides to make her the Butcher’s next victim. Lila discovers his plan, however, and traps him in her burning apartment while she goes after Dexter’s girlfriend Rita and her two children. Of course the ever-resourceful Dexter manages to save the day (eventually catching up with Lila in Paris to finish the job), and with the authorities satisfied that the Bay Harbor Butcher’s reign of terror has come to an end with the death of Doakes, Dexter is free to indulge his Dark Passenger once again.
Season 3 of Showtime’s Dexter begins with a slate clean enough for microchip-manufacturing for its titular character; thankfully, it’s a temporary situation. In the premiere episode, “Our Father”, Dexter (Michael C Hall) targets Freebo, a neighborhood drug dealer sidelining in murder. Walking in on a struggle between Freebo and a second man, Dexter startles the pair, allowing Freebo to escape while the unknown assailant lunges for Dexter – forcing Dexter’s hand (the one holding the knife) and breaking his foster father Harry (the great James Remar)’s cherished code of only murdering those who kill the innocent. Dexter’s problems intensify when his latest victim turns out to be the younger brother of Miami’s hotshot Assistant D.A. Miguel Prado (Season 3’s guest star, Jimmy Smits) who will stop at nothing to bring the killer to justice. Dexter remains hot on Freebo’s trail, which is noticed by Prado, forcing Dexter to feign a real, human interest in catching the youngest Prado’s killer to justify his interest. With Prado and Dexter both desperately searching for Freebo for decidedly different reasons, it’s only a matter of time (the second episode to be exact) before they’re fated to collide; Dexter gets to him first, and after dispatching him in the usual manner almost collides with Prado outside of the room containing Freebo’s still-warm body. Thinking that his run has finally come to an end, Dexter starts fumbling for an excuse, and just after managing to stammer out, “It..it was self defense,” Prado embraces him and tearfully says, “Thank you.”
Thus begins the wonderfully twisted relationship that forms the core of Dexter’s third season. The first half carefully builds the cautious relationship between Dexter and Prado, with Hall turning in fantastic work (as usual) while Dexter slowly and believably becomes enamored of having a friend with whom he can share his secrets, even as the spirit of his father warns him against violating one of the pillars of the all important code. These “chats” with Harry represent another major change over previous seasons, which had Dexter remembering Harry only via flashback. While this generally worked, it allowed the actors to share only a few brief scenes (in which Hall had to wear a pretty unconvincing teenage wig – c’mon guys, this would have been the ‘90s and I don’t think Dex was in The Beatles), and if the idea of a long-dead character discussing plot points with the living sounds like a writer’s get-out-of-jail-free card, it also allows longtime fans of the show to see Hall and Remar act together on a consistent basis.
This past season also gave Hall another great partner in Jimmy Smits, an actor too often find floundering in TV dreck who is capable of great things when given a chance (the few folks who saw John Schlesinger’s criminally unloved The Believers will remember his brilliant, tortured performance). Watching his believable navigation of Prado from an upstanding ADA to a serial killer in training is a rare treat. His scenes with Hall have a complex emotional agenda (Dexter actually gains humanity through their association, while Prado slowly loses his own), yet somehow they manage to play utterly naturally and crackle with chemistry.
While Dexter keeps busy with ADA Prado, there’s another serial killer loose in Miami, the Skinner, whose method is self explanatory, but whose past is tied into the Freebo-Prado case. Over at Miami Metro, the Skinner case is being headed up by newly minted Detective Sergeant Angel Batista (David Zayas), along with Dexter’s sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and the ribald forensics expert Masuka (C S Lee). Watching over all is Lt. Maria LaGuerta (Lauren Velez), whose budding friendship with crusading attorney Ellen Wolf places her in an awkward position with old flame Miguel Prado over the handling of the Skinner case. Dexter’s family life is also moving rapidly forward, as girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) discovers that there’s a little serial killer on the way – how will a man incapable of genuine human emotion handle the notion of fatherhood?
Dexter’s third season was somewhat controversial among the show’s fans, with many not cozying up to the supposed domesticating of their favorite serial killer. But for us, the season demonstrated once again just how tight a hold the writers and directors (a group that includes Ernest Dickerson and Keith Gordon) have on the show’s reigns. They’ve dangled the titular character over the precipice of human feeling for 36 episodes without violating his core sociopathic nature (and Dexter’s internal monologs remain the funniest deadpan comic dialog on television). It was inevitable that the show’s horizons would widen, lest it begin to repeat itself – in content if not form – and while some rejected the third season’s formula change-up, we found it necessary to Dexter’s longevity. And anyone not looking forward to seeing Dexter as a daddy in a few weeks is simply crazy.
Paramount’s Blu-Ray set (under the Showtime branding) offers all 12 episodes spread out evenly over 3 discs. Dexter is shot on location in Miami with digital cameras, making for bright, crisp daytime images and gorgeous nighttime photography without having to over-light the area. This provides the show with freedom to be more adventurous with their night shooting, while always allowing the Miami cityscape to play a large background role (much as it did with Michael Mann’s shot-on-digital Miami Vice in 2006); as with the previous seasons, the city itself is one of Dexter’s most vibrant characters. The striking 1080p Blu-Ray image accurately represents the show’s sumptuous visual palate. There is a slight layer of grain – particularly with the night shots – that some have commented on, but this is a direct result of the digital cameras and not an imperfection with the disc itself (and lets all be thankful that Paramount made no attempt to digitally ‘smooth out’ the image). The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is also unusually active for a television show.
Our only disappointment are in the lack of extras present on the set. Glancing at the back cover, one sees interviews, book excerpts, and bonus episodes of The United States of Tara and The Tudors, but the catch is that everything is available only through BD Live, requiring an internet connection and compatible player. We have no problem with studios offering a few extras in this manner to hype their service, but putting all extras online and none on the disc itself is a terrible notion, instantly leaving out a good chunk of purchasers who just don’t feel like connecting their player to the Internet and going through the laborious process of creating an account. For the purposes of these reviews, we have gone through those steps only to be unable to connect to the service half the time. We attempted twice to preview the supporting materials and were vexed each time.