Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
Nothing Beats the First Season
Dexter is a Showtime original series that first aired in 2006. It is (loosely) based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the first in a series by Jeff Lindsay.
I followed this show faithfully for years and was crushed by how the final three seasons played out. Like most fans of the show, I hated the ending—not enough to send angry letters or write twenty-page essays about why. But I hated it.
After years of putting the show aside to cool my rage, I recently decided to watch the first season again for the first time in years, and I have to say . . .
The first season of Dexter is easily the best season in the whole eight-year run. It was very well written, with several memorable quotes; the characters had depth and motivation; and the show didn't rely on sex for ratings.
If they had ended things with the first season, it might have been perfect: Dexter finds out about his past, Dexter deals with his past, Dexter goes on living life as an anti-hero. The end.
I know a lot of people wouldn't agree with that. After all, we got some interesting things out of the later seasons. Still . . . I honestly wish the show had just stopped at the first season. The only good thing about the later seasons to me was Dexter's son . . . and that was ruined by the finale.
But let's just focus on season 1, shall we?
What's So Good About the First Season?
The first season served as an introduction to all the most important reoccurring characters.
We meet Angel Batista, a cop on the force, and Vince Masuka, the lead forensics specialist, two sleazebags who say disgusting things about women and then wonder why they are alone.
Angel in particular talks about tricking a woman into riding him by calling out another woman's name in bed. The woman then gets mad and tries to buck him off, and he keeps going because it makes the sex better . . . Wow. If a woman is trying to throw you off in bed and you keep going, you're a rapist.
Thankfully, Masuka isn't on Angel's level of disgusting. He's just a creep who says pervy things to women. So next to Angel, he looks pretty good, doesn't he?
Damn. The bar is low, ain't it?
I'm not saying I hate Angel and Masuka.
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Angel is sexist and completely blind to it -- thus the reason he is so baffled by his wife divorcing him for cheating. In other words, he is not being a complete bastard on purpose. He really needs some introspection and -- unfortunately -- never seems to get it, as I recall. But it also makes him a flawed and interesting character given the fact that he tries so hard to be good only to fail again and again.
As for Masuka, he was one of my favorite characters because he was an adorable perve. He said disgusting things but usually only toward women who he knew well, was friends with, and didn't mind his jokes (mainly Deb). A lot men don't respect those boundaries, but Masuka actually did.
It was also nice to see his completely sexualized view of women challenged in later seasons when he meets his daughter and has to come to terms with the fact that she might encounter men like him.
All in all, these were good characters. They were completely human and flawed and -- ironically enough -- actually made Dexter the serial killer look like a better man. If only Season 2 hadn't ruined that dynamic by making Dexter cheat on Rita in a pointless subplot that was more about gaining ratings with raunchy scenes than telling a story.
That's another thing I loved about the first season: the sex was there for a reason. The actors and actresses weren't exploited or treated like free porn. We didn't really see their bodies, just their faces as they went through the motions.
The point of the sex scenes in Season 1 were to tell a story -- not titillate the male audience by objectifying women. For instance, Deb's sex scene with Rudy was there to show how Rudy was manipulating her and how she was so desperate to fall in love. It was there to build tension because it was shown right before the audience was told who Rudy really was.
The other good example is the scene where Dexter finally sleeps with Rita. It was very beautiful how he opened up to her, and it was all a part of him -- this serial killer -- becoming a human being and learning to connect with other humans.
It was beautiful. It wasn't about gratuitous sex and ratings. And it was part of what made Season 1 so damn good.
Then there's Maria LaGuerta, the lieutenant (and later captain) of the force, who is a politician if I ever saw one.
Having thought about this years after the show's end, I now appreciate and understand LaGuerta on a better level. She's actually a good cop. The problem is that I was seeing her through Deb's eyes, and -- because she resents LaGuerta -- Deb sees her as an incompetent moron.
The truth is, LaGuerta is flawed because she allows herself to get in over her head playing the game. She always gets swept up in politics, but she could be such a good cop if she didn't. And many instances in Season 1 (as well as later seasons) made this clear to me.
In fact, LaGuerta was such a good cop that she almost exposed Dexter a few seasons before the show ended.
LaGuerta's resentment toward Deb -- but not her treatment of Deb -- is also understandable. Deb is pretty privileged in almost every way. I'm not just talking about race, either, though LaGuerta is shown to have to deal with anti-Cuban racism in the work place while Deb does not.
I am also talking about class. I'm talking about connections. Favoritism.
Because Deb had a relatively easy life and because her father was friends with most everyone in the department, she has an unfair advantage over the other cops. As a result, she will never have to work hard, while someone like LaGuerta had to claw her way tooth and nail to the top of the department.
I think this is the reason why LaGuerta is so hard on Deb: she wants to force Deb to work for her promotions rather than skating by on head pats from higher ups who knew her dad. This is understandable, but LaGuerta's cruel treatment of Deb is not.
What's more, Deb only seems to validate LaGuerta's feelings when she later bypasses a direct order and runs to her father's old friend, thinking she'll get by on favoritism. It shows that Deb is perfectly willing to use her privileges instead of working hard and finding some clever way to get what she needs, and she is rightfully told off for it by Matthews, the deputy chief.
In other words, Deb is a spoiled little girl, completely unaware of her privilege but perfectly willing to use it to her advantage. LaGuerta's resentment of her is not irrational.
But again, she didn't have to be so mean to Deb, either. It's especially telling that Dexter has the same privileges, but LaGuerta is nice to him, always defending him from Doakes and even flirting with him.
So LaGuerta's actions and feelings toward Deb can be summed up as a result of a society that pushes racial discrimination (creating a situation where LaGuerta would have to work harder as a Cuban woman) and misogyny (creating an environment where women are pitted against each other).
Yes. Now that I'm older and understand these issues better, it's easier to see that LaGuerta is just human and flawed. When the show first came out, though, I hated her.
Doakes might be the most competent cop on the force, but he half-asses his work because he hates Dexter, hates talking to him, hates looking at him, and wants nothing to do with him.
Doakes is a black ops veteran, which is why he has an uncanny ability to sense mentally disturbed and dangerous people. This puts him on Dexter's trail early on, and because he's so rude to Dexter -- who we, the audience, are supposed to be rooting for -- we are supposed to feel annoyed by him.
I was annoyed by Doakes, but I also found him so hilarious ("Surprise, mother***ka!") that it was hard to hate him. Especially when the second season went more into his past.
Hilariously enough, Season 1 paints Doakes as a huge hypocrite. In one episode, Doakes chases down and outright kills a man, forsaking law and regulation to gun him down in cold blood. The audience has his sympathy because we later find out the man was a monster beyond belief who got away with having committed sickening crimes on Haiti.
What Doakes did in gunning down an unarmed man really isn't that different from what Dexter does. But Doakes can't see that. He only sees that Dexter is similar to the same men he used to hunt -- similar as in soulless -- and thus, he goes out of his way to antagonize and expose Dexter, to his own detriment in Season 2.
Rita might be the only truly pure person in the main cast. She's kind, she's a good mother, she respects other people, she's not deep into pettiness and revenge (like everyone else on the show), and she's very patient and forgiving with Dexter -- more forgiving than he really deserves in Season 2.
A lot of fans hated her for causing conflict by -- gasp! -- demanding to know what her boyfriend's big secret was and wishing for an honest, trusting relationship. The nerve!
But I really loved Rita (and it helps that she was played by Julie Benz of Buffy fame). I thought she brought a healthy amount of conflict to Dexter's life. Without her, he was just getting away with what he was doing way too easily. And I loved the conflict between him and Paul, Rita's abusive ex-husband.
Conflict isn't always bad, people. In fact, it's what makes any story interesting. Without challenge . . . there's no story. Had Rita not asked questions, she would have looked like a fool and it also would have been very unrealistic.
About as realistic as this show can get. Let's keep in mind that Dexter is a psychopath who actually learns to be human and give a crap about people -- that's not possible in real life.
Then last but not least, there's Dexter's foul-mouthed sister, Deb, who has been trapped in vice, working undercover as a street woman, by Laguerta, who hates her.
Most of the seasons explore who Deb is as a person, as she is basically the secondary protagonist. A few flashbacks, and it's painfully obvious that Deb is a foul-mouthed cop because she spent all her life struggling to win her father's attention and approval, but Henry always seemed preoccupied with Dexter.
Dexter in turn feels guilty about it because he knows Henry was only preoccupied with him to keep his serial killer status hidden. He is helpless to explain this to Deb, while at the same time wrestling with his self-loathing and guilt for having a father who was so repulsed by him that he threw up once when they were talking.
Yes. Deb was a very interesting character. She was so well written alongside Dexter in the first season that I really hate what they did to her in later seasons. Her crush on Dexter was ridiculous, and I hated that she dated that scumbag cop toward the end, while that informant was so good to her.
I guess it says volumes about her issues that she would keep picking the wrong man, though, doesn't it? In season one, she picked Dexter's brother, another serial killer.
The show opens with the Ice Truck Killer's crimes coming to light. Apparently, there's a maniac out there freezing and chopping up street women. This maniac eventually gets in contact with Dexter, who has developed a professional admiration for him.
Dexter is so intrigued, in fact, that he isn't bothered when he realizes the Ice Truck Killer has been in his apartment and even leaves him a chopped up Barbie doll in the fridge. In fact, he closes the episode by saying he "wants to play."
Not long after the Ice Truck Killer gets in contact with Dexter, a new character appears on the show, a doctor named Rudy Cooper, who -- suspiciously enough -- creates customized prosthetics for people.
This is an immediate red flag. Any time a new character appears midway or toward the end of a story, they are almost always the bad guy. I remember telling myself that the show's writers surely wouldn't do this, that maybe they were tricking me into thinking that this new character was the Ice Truck Killer so that they could subvert my expectations later.
Nope. Dr. Cooper is not only the killer but is also Dexter's long lost brother, Brian Moser, who -- for whatever reason -- looks nothing like him. (To be fair, it's never clarified whether or not Brian and Dexter share the same father.)
I found everything about Brian to be utterly heartbreaking. He and Dexter were both forced to watch as their mother was butchered by criminals, then were left in the storage container with her body for two days. This was so traumatizing for each boy that the part of their brain that felt empathy and love shutdown so that they would not have to feel the pain of their mother's murder anymore.
It also made them both into serial killers. Both of them would forget how to feel empathy and would crave the same violence they witnessed as children.
Things were even worse for Brian, though. Because he was older, he was prone to more psychological damage (because he would have a harder time forgetting what had happened) and was sent away to live in an asylum, while Dexter was adopted by the Morgans.
Dexter never saw his father or his brother again, though his father once donated blood to him when he was injured and he sent the man a thank you card -- a card that his father kept the rest of his life.
The show then spends a few episodes making you feel pity for Brian so that the last and final episode really hits home.
Brian starts dating Deb as a way to get closer to Dexter. Surprisingly, he actually opens up to her a little, and it leaves you (and probably Deb) wondering if he didn't actually like her the tiniest bit. He tells her that he became a prosthetist because his mother lost her limbs when he was young and he wanted to put her back together.
Both Dexter and Brian are incredibly isolated by their condition. They can't really be close to anyone because of it, which is likely part of the reason why they both are as open as they can possibly be with Deb.
Deb is a kind and compassionate person who is so eager to love and so willing to listen. Both of them find it very easy to share their pain with her. But it's not enough. Sharing your pain with coded language isn't enough. What both brothers crave is to be completely honest, to be completely themselves with someone, and they can only do that with each other.
So Brian leads Dexter down a maze, leaving him clues that he hopes will trigger his memory. Along the way, he keeps appearing in Dexter's life, using Deb as his excuse.
Eventually, Dexter remembers Brian and is forced to make a choice between his brother and his adopted sister.
Brian reveals his fierce jealousy of Dexter's relationship with Deb when he kidnaps her, intent on having Dexter kill her. His jealousy is apparent in the way he's so unnecessarily cruel toward Deb. He sleeps with her, leads her on, proposes to her and pretends he wants to marry her. She's so happy and shining -- and then he kidnaps her, cruelly tying her up and throwing her in a trunk.
Deb is pained and humiliated by the entire ordeal the rest of her life, constantly chiding herself for allowing the Ice Truck Killer -- the same criminal she'd been searching for -- to seduce her. She becomes the laughingstock of the police force and -- on top of that -- has been so traumatized that she is afraid to love again. All her future boyfriends on the show are cops, and the one good one -- the one who's not a cop (and therefore viewed as untrustworthy by her) -- is dumped unceremoniously because she's so afraid of being used and abused again.
This season really made you feel for Deb about as much as you feel for Dexter.
Of course, Dexter chooses Deb. And though it's very, very hard to kill his own brother, he follows his Code -- his moral compass, which Brian has ridiculed the entire season -- and he kills his brother, who has proven too dangerous to let live.
The scene for me was very intense the first time I saw it. As Brian bled out, Dexter fell to his knees and cried, remembering his older brother "Biney," who used to always look after him.
As Dexter's brother dies, you can feel the isolation closing around him again. Brian was the only person alive who would have accepted him just the way he was, who would have loved him just the way he was . . . and now he's dead.
This season was very intense, dramatic, and well written, with wonderful character development, with plenty of wit and humor, and with dazzling bright sets that brilliantly showcase the heat and color that is Florida.
It will always be my favorite season.
The other seasons just don't compare.
© 2018 Lee