Words: Ced Yuen
'Dexter' Season 4 (UK Release: 29 Nov '10)
'Dexter' is a show that glorifies killing and asks you to sympathise with a murderer. It's a bold idea for a television show, because it divides the audience. You're either on board or you're not. For those who found the concept repulsive back in 2006 when the show came out, Season 4 won't do much to sway their opinion. Nor does it aim to - Showtime doesn't seem to care.
4 seasons into the show and nothing has been toned down for fear that people might complain. Free from the sort of studio/network intervention that 20th Century Fox are famous for, 'Dexter' has been allowed to mature. Those who have been following the story so far are in for a treat, because this is the most compelling and immersive season so far.
Brief recap: Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a police forensics analyst by day and a serial killer by night. He has an urge to kill, but he follows a strict code and only kills other killers. He is a psychopath, and has to fake 'regular' human emotions in order to appear ordinary and blend in with the people around him. Seasons 1-3 dealt with Dexter's search for the reasons behind his urge to kill, his efforts to hide his secret, and his doubt in the code that he has lived by. By the end of Season 3, all identity/moral crises are more or less resolved, and he gets married knowing that he is in control of his "Dark Passenger". All seems well.
As Season 4 begins, Dexter is going mad. He is now a husband and a father. He has had to move from his reclusive bachelor pad/hiding place into crowded suburbia. Instead of the peace and quiet that he needs to plan the death of his targets, he gets carpools and sleepless nights spent trying to get his baby to stop crying. His family life suffocates him and wreaks havoc on his work life, as well his serial killer life.
Then comes the discovery of a new villain, the Trinity Killer, so called because he always kills three people in a ritualistic pattern. Perversely, Dexter finds relief in tracking down this new threat, and gets dangerously close to the nastiest and most disturbing killer he has ever faced. Whereas Seasons 1-3 addressed different aspects of one serial killer's life, Season 4 is about two serial killers and the effects that their actions have on each other.
Initially, the tone is quite light-hearted - it is strangely endearing watching a serial killer try to juggle the responsibilities of family life. A typical montage showing Dexter meticulously planning for a kill instead shows him meticulously planning to get some sleep. This familiar blend of dark humour that has been a staple of the series to date, and never wears out its welcome. Unfortunately, these moments become rarer as the season goes on and the level of threat increases.
This season is marked by an overwhelming sense of dread that was not present in previous seasons. The reason for this is a change in the show's format – instead of following Dexter as he tries to track down faceless, nameless antagonists, the attention switches between the lives of Dexter and the Trinity Killer. This season focuses much more on the antagonist than previous seasons. The deeper characterisation results in a villain that is more unsettling and more threatening than his predecessors. Naturally, shocking and graphic violence adds to the horror, but with a villain this well-developed the violence is just a formality.
John Lithgow's depiction of the Trinity Killer won him a Golden Globe, and he absolutely deserved it. He dominates every one of his scenes with a chilling performance that makes him simultaneously repulsive and fascinating. His is a multi-dimensional villain, perfectly balanced between totally charming and totally despicable.
Michael C. Hall's return as Dexter also deserves praise (and his own Golden Globe) as he is much more layered in this season. Hall usually plays Dexter with a veneer of cool reserve, but this time there are cracks on the surface and Dexter seems genuinely overwhelmed, struggling to decide whether the concept of family is a blessing or a curse. Dexter is becoming less of a machine, and his struggle to deal with regular human connections is convincing. The two actors have great chemistry, and watching their characters feed off each other is nothing short of mesmerising.
The real star of this season is the writing. After a great character-delving Season 1, Dexter became relatively one-dimensional. The story was driven more by action and less by character. There were no real consequences, no real sense of danger, and the show was in danger of becoming dull. This is not the case with this Season 4. The morality of this season certainly adds depth. There are certainly consequences, and the sense of danger is palpable. Dexter juggles too many things and it is heartbreaking to watch as he starts to lose control. As the season progresses, the story evolves from a drama-thriller to a full-blown morality tale, ensuring that Season 4 is the most powerful and unsettling that 'Dexter' has ever been.
-Sit-down with Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow
-Commentary Episode 412 with John Lithgow and director Steve Shill
The two main actors, and the director of the finale, discuss the show and the experience of making Season 4. This is informative but by no means necessary.
-Blood, Guts and Body Parts: The Blood
-Blood, Guts and Body Parts: The Props
-Crushes, Smashes and Splashes
These are short documentaries showing how the visual tricks and special effects are achieved. Some will find this fascinating, while others will find that it distracts from the wonder of the spectacle.
The 'Dexter' Season 4 Boxset is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.