Showtime Entertainment // 2007 // 636 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // May 18th, 2009
"Am I a good person doing bad things? Or a bad person doing good things?"
Showtime's sociopath darling returns for a second season, and we put Dexter: The Second Season (Blu-ray) under the blade for examination. Is it worth the extra cash for the pretty blue box? You bet your blood slides.
Recent events have left Dexter (Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under) feeling down in the dumps. His long-lost brother comes back into his life as the only one who might understand his particular need to murder the unjust, but events conspired to drive them apart -- mainly because Dexter had to kill him. His entire code of behavior has been shaken. Even worse, the police discover his large oceanic deposit of dead bodies off the coast of Miami. Dubbed the "Bay Harbor Butcher," Dexter now needs to stay one step ahead of the scythe and a team of talented FBI agents hunting his head.
Dexter: The Second Season (Blu-ray) contains all 12 episodes spread across three Blu-ray discs:
* "It's Alive!"
After killing his brother, the Ice Truck Killer last season, Dexter finds himself unexpectedly impotent, unable to kill again. To get his mojo back, he takes on a particularly large target, with unexpected results. Meanwhile, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) returns to work, but the trauma she experienced still haunts her. A treasure hunting team uncovers Dexter's buried treasure in the ocean.
* "Waiting To Exhale"
Dexter is still trying to get his game back, but the unexpected discovery of his stash of dead body parts for the world to see throws him for a loop, especially when the FBI send in high-profile agent Lundy (Keith Carradine, Deadwood) to investigate.
* "An Inconvenient Lie"
Rita (Julie Benz, Saw V) begins to suspect Dexter of midnight indiscretions, accusing him of being a drug addict. Dexter is almost relieved -- it's better than being found out as a murderer. To satiate Rita, he agrees to attend a twelve-step program for addiction recovery, but ends up taking away from the experience, especially after meeting fellow addict Lila (Jaime Murray, Hustle).
Lila agrees to be Dexter's sponsor for addiction, which puts Rita in a bind -- she's happy Dexter's getting the "help" he needs, but threatened by her beauty and vivacious nature. Dexter starts laying breadcrumbs of misdirection for Agent Lundy, hoping to throw the FBI off his trail.
* "The Dark Defender"
Dexter discovers the man who killed his mother is still alive. When he shares this information with Lila, she spurs him to take action against him as a means of recovery. Of course, Dexter's idea of "action" differs greatly from Lila's.
* "Dex, Lies and Videotape"
A copycat killer has started up in Miami, taking credit for the Bay Harbor killings, much to Dexter's ire. Meanwhile, Dexter and Lila draw closer, threatening to destroy his relationship with Rita.
* "That Night, A Forest Grew"
The Bay Harbor Butcher delivers a written manifesto to the FBI, sending Lundy and his team into action. Dexter is pleased at his attempt at misdirection, but Lila's increasing impulsive influence slowly begins to derail Dexter's methodical nature.
* "Morning Comes"
After a fire burns Lila's apartment down, Dexter finds himself more and more attached to Lila, which does not suit his eclectic lifestyle. Deciding that "recovery" isn't for him, he goes to visit the man who murdered his mother for a second time. Meanwhile, Deb and Lundy get closer to catching the Bay Harbor Butcher.
* "Resistance Is Futile"
Lila is not willing to let go of her relationship with Dexter without a fight. Lundy's manhunt for the Butcher begins to creep uncomfortably close to Dexter. Dexter's worse enemy finally puts two and two together.
* "There's Something About Harry"
Doakes tracks Dexter to his latest kill, and Dexter realizes the jig is up. But when Doakes reveals a secret about Harry (James Remar, Jericho), Dexter loses his nerve. The police begin to close the net around the Bay Harbor Butcher.
* "Left Turn Ahead"
Dexter fights for his life on all fronts, literally dodging bullets. Lila attempts to blackmail Dexter into loving her, but ends up stumbling on Dexter's darkest secret.
* "The British Invasion"
Lundy and the FBI solve the Bay Harbor Butcher case. Uh-oh.
Poor Dexter is assaulted on both fronts, internal and external in Dexter: The Second Season (Blu-ray). His massive murder spree is in danger of being revealed by an obsessive FBI investigator, his co-worker Doakes harasses him daily, and a dangerous woman drives a wedge into his relationship with his girlfriend. Perhaps more alarmingly, Dexter, a self-proclaimed sociopath who should be immune from emotional weakness, spends most of the season beside himself, wrestling with complex feelings of guilt and depression after the events of last season. His lust for killing becomes impotent, as if we needed the sexual metaphor to be made any clearer. Dexter kills as a release, but having the ritual disturbed by his memories of his father and his own self-doubt ruins the entire affair for him. His solution is to find release elsewhere -- right in the waiting arms of a femme fatale. It is interesting that the most tense and dramatic moments in this season of Dexter are not the FBI investigation tightening its noose around his neck, but in his newfound emotional embrace careening wildly out of control. The second-most dangerous thing that a methodical serial killer could do is to embrace emotion and impulsiveness. The first is to relax and get comfortable. Dexter does both, and pays for it.
While Dexter's escape from the long arm of the law is rarely in doubt (wouldn't be much of a show if he landed in jail) his emotional chaos is masterful drama. Dexter struggles with his choices and his entire ethos as a man, a romantic partner, a father figure, and a serial killer, and amazed are we to see how often the four interject. His newfound emotional development is stunted, gnarled and unexpected; it adds an unexpected twist into an already twisty show. The addition of Lila into Dexter's life is the catalyst to his newfound craziness. Played by the beautiful Jaime Murray, her performance is not quite on par with Michael C. Hall's mastery of Dexter, but she holds her own for the most part -- usually by taking off her top. I have no complaints about this. Ahem. Keith Carradine also joins the cast as the plucky FBI agent sent to capture the Bay Harbor Butcher, but his performance is so-so. He's a nice twist, but lacks the potency of Dexter's emotional decline -- and don't even get me started about matching him up with Deb. A more ridiculous plot line, I can't imagine.
All in all, a strong season; not quite up to par with the first, but that's asking a lot, especially for a show's sophomore debut. What amazes me most about Dexter is how seemingly ridiculous plot developments -- FBI agents swarming Miami, stalking co-workers, psychopathic girlfriends, and a complete lack of conclusive evidence to link the serial killer to his crimes -- all manage to cumulate in something surprisingly viable and fresh. There's only so many times that we can watch a serial killer constantly get away with his misdeeds, and to their credit, the creators of Dexter realized this early; hence the emotional misadventures.
Despite all the absurd events going on in Season Two, and the preposterous finale, Dexter remains a delight from start to finish. As the pressure builds on Dexter, the show completely leaves the realm of probability and goes into crazy land, but if you can suspend your disbelief just enough, it is arguably one of the most entertaining cable show finales in recent memory. Everyone gets their just deserts. It's delicious.
As for the Blu-ray performance, the 1080p transfer is very impressive. I spent a good fifteen minutes switching back and forth between the Blu-ray version and the standard definition version of Dexter, marveling at the fidelity and detail improvement. You can pick up impressive details in skin details, the thin painting of sweat on faces in the sticky Miami heat, individual hair follicles, and errant hairs. As with previous seasons of Dexter, contrast levels are ratcheted up to almost unnatural levels, giving Miami surreal, neon palates and white levels that border on overexposed. Flesh tones are warm, almost orange-tinted. Black levels are solid, but less impressive than I expected; the ultra-high contrast and saturated color levels do funky things to the tone of the black levels, making them more purple and gray than true black. Still, this is good as the show can look -- fans of Dexter: The First Season (Blu-ray) will know what to expect here.
Audio comes in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and it delivers a solid performance, with crystal-clear detail and clear dialogue. The fidelity and detail are impressive, and a noticeable improvement over the standard DVD tracks of the previous season. Bass response is solid and balanced, but rear channel activity is disappointingly vague and erratic. When Dexter patrols the steamy Miami streets at night, the rear channels kick in, but they are largely absent throughout the presentation. The score is lilting and lively, perfectly matching the macabre drama.
Extras are slim and gimmicky; a "Tools of the Trade" video game allows viewers the option to arrange killing tools into Dexter's bag, and BD-Live enabled players have access to two episodes of The United States of Tara, podcasts and short video clips for download, but these are not contained on the actual disc, so anyone without internet access to their Blu-ray player are out of luck. The lack of supplements is the only standout sore spot in this otherwise excellent presentation.
Season Two is where Dexter loses the plot, literally, but not necessarily in a bad way. The first season mirrored the events laid out in author Jeff Lindsay's novels, but from this point on, the show streaks off into original content, looking to establish its own identity. The results are good, certainly better than many fans expected it to be, but not quite perfection. There's a sizable amount of filler here; Deb's romance, virtually everything involve Lt. Laguerta that feels cumbersome, and some of Dexter's decision-making feels a bit tweaky, especially with Lila around.
An impressive sophomore season, Dexter ventures bravely to find its own unique identity, eschewing the literary roots that sprung its birth. While its long-term worth is still in question, Dexter is as good as cable dramas get: dark, twisted, sexy, and unsettling. It dances that fine line between madness and brilliance, anthromorphizing nonexistent emotions in a sociopath serial killer for audience sympathy. Or do they exist after all? Dexter is a puzzle, and audiences love unlocking his deep dark secrets.
If you have the technical capabilities for it, the Blu-ray edition is absolutely the way to go here. The supplemental features take a hit, but the stylish cinematography is so improved by the fidelity more than compensates.
Not guilty, but the Bay Harbor Butcher remains at large.
Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 636 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Video Game
* Official Site