Friday, August 1, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Dexter's Final Season Episode 1: A Beautiful Day

Previously on Dexter...”

You ever notice the “Previously On” videos on Dexter get progressively longer and longer through the seasons until they're like HALF the freaking episode?

Welcome! Today on A Ghoul Versus... we're going to be doing something different: reviewing an entire season on a television series. The series taking the stage is Showtime's Dexter, the critically acclaimed saga of the world's most charismatic serial killer who only targets other serial killers.

It's actually a lot funnier than it sounds.

Like so many critically acclaimed televisions shows it started off amazing and kept getting better each season, but then hits its peak and started going the other direction pretty quickly. I was thinking of actually reviewing the entire series because I absolutely LOVE the first four seasons, but then quickly changed my mind when I realized I'd have to watch the last three seasons again. I'll briefly summarize them in case you've never seen them before.

Season 1
In which we meet Dexter Morgan, full time blood spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department and part time serial killer for himself. You see, when he was a child he and his brother Brian witnessed their mother get chopped up with a chainsaw by drug dealers and then were locked in a shipping container with her body for two days before being discovered by the police.

Needless to say, this messed up both children a fair amount. The police officer who discovered the boys, Harry Morgan, adopts Dexter while Brian is taken in by a mental institution. Dex was young enough to forget the events of his childhood (including his brother), but the darkness from what he witnessed stayed inside him and he began to kill animals.

Harry, whom I never got the impression was very stable himself, decided the ONLY way to help his adopted son was to teach him to channel his homicidal tendencies onto those who deserved it: other killers. Yeah... like I said, Harry had some issues of his own. Harry taught Dex the “Code Of Harry”, which has two simple rules: never get caught and never kill an innocent.

Dex grew up and took a job in the police department, which gave him unlimited resources to find and kill guilty criminals til the cows come home. Dex's foul mouthed stepsister Debra also joined the Miami Metro, but she went in as an officer.  Harry passed away around this time, but continues to appear to Dex in the form of a hallucination and offer sage wisdom.  Dex tries to act as normal as possible which is difficult for him as he's emotionally dead inside, but he's able to fake his way through a life including having a girlfriend named Rita.

Most seasons follow the “Big Bad” formula, where one over-arcing villain is the focus of the entire run. The first season's villain is the Ice Truck Killer, who drains the blood out of people and dismembers their corpses. He is revealed to be Dex's long lost brother Brian, wanting Dex to join him in a murder spree of brotherly love. Dex carefully considers his offer, and then gives him a reasoned and eloquent KNIFE THROUGH THE THROAT.

If I had a dollar for ever business venture I undertook that ended this way...

About as perfect of a debut season as you could hope for, it quickly establishes the series pillars of strong acting, gripping and intense writing, and incredibly well timed humour for one of the darkest premises ever showed on television.

Season 2
Dex's dumping grounds for his victims is uncovered by divers, and the Miami Metro is now searching for the media dubbed “Bay Harbor Butcher”. FBI Special Agent Frank Lundy is brought in to run the manhunt, but Dex is successfully able to pin the killings on Sergeant James Doakes who is dangerously close to discovering the truth.

Dex ends up dating the psychopathic Lila after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend Rita over a series of misunderstandings. Lila ends up killing Doakes to protect Dex, but takes things a bit too far when she also tries to kill Rita's children Astor and Cody. Dex puts her down like the maniac she is, reuniting with Rita as he begins to realize he might actually have feelings for her.

There's also a bizarre subplot with Rita's mother that goes NOWHERE, the less said the better.

While a lot of people describe this season as the infamous “Sophomore Slump”, I've always enjoyed this season a lot. Dex was placed into a seemingly unwinnable situation, and for the life of me I couldn't see a clear path out. Any show that can surprise me and keep me guessing always gets high marks in my book.

Season 3
Dex gets a friend! Through the crazy chain of events that dominate his life, Dex ends up befriending Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado and introducing him to his vigilante lifestyle. Prado is played by Jimmy Smits, who turned in one of the greatest performances of ALL TIME and was absolutely robbed of the 2009 Emmy for Guest Actor by freaking Michael J. Fox.

Things sadly break down when Prado kills an innocent rival of his and an epic chess game between the two friends erupts. Dex ends up killing Prado and making it look like the season's Big Bad killer “The Skinner” did it. This season is also notable for Dex and Rita getting married as Rita has become pregnant, as well as introducing the newest detective to Miami Metro, Joey Quinn.

AKA the worst cop that ever lived.

My favourite season of the entire series, as the powerhouse role Smits turned in is just legendary. This season really forces you to examine the twisted morality of everything that's been going on thus far, and it's likely the answers you come up with are very, VERY uncomfortable.

Season 4
Consider by most to be the show's best season AND best villain, as we meet the Trinity Killer played by the dancing-hating John Lithgow. For his spectacular effort Lithgow did end up taking the Emmy for Guest Actor home with him, and deservedly so.

Dex, finding it very difficult to adjust to the married life AND his newborn son Harrison, attempts to strike up a friendship with Trinity after learning that his fellow killer has no problem balancing a family with his dark side. This proves to be a TRAGIC mistake as Trinity ends up killing Rita and leaving Harrison alone, soaked in a pool of her blood.

Still one of the cruelest endings to any story ever, this entire season was not unlike a modern day Shakespeare story only with a HELL of a lot more murders by hammer and Dex's fellow forensic worker Vince Masuka's mindblowingly awesome baller truck.


Season 5
Ugh. There's a meme I haven't used yet because she's yet to be in any movie I've reviewed so far, but here's a sneak peak:

She is THE WORST. Basically picture Rosie Huntington-Whiteley with less range, and you have Julia Stiles, but I'll talk about that in greater length when I talk about one of her movies. She played Lumen Pierce, a woman who was gang raped by a group of serial killers led by self-help guru Jordan Chase.

Dex rescues her from the attic of one of the killers, the two teaming up to take the rest of the sadistic monsters out. The season also tries to deal with Dex dealing with his guilt over Rita's murder, but nothing ever really clicks. That goes for the whole season, the only saving a grace is the subplot of Quinn suspecting Dex of killing his own wife and hiring his buddy Stan Liddy to investigate his theory. Liddy is played by Mr. Robocop himself, Peter Weller and he is AWESOME!

Season 6
Double ugh. While I still think Season 5 is the worst, Season 6 ain't much better. The Doomsday Killer is our Big Bad this time, and this is where you could break out the “Dexter Jumped The Shark” trope as the killer's trademark is lavishly extravagant murders carried out in the form of Biblical allusions which stick out SEVERELY in a series that has always been amazingly enough grounded in reality.

These should be screencaps from the latest Saw movie, not Dexter.

The standout of this season was a phenomenal performance by rapper/actor Mos Def, who stole every scene he was in with his portrayal of a former convict turned minister who actually had a positive influence on Dex. But maybe too positive, because ONCE AGAIN Dex tried to befriend the season's Big Bad and ONCE AGAIN paid dearly for it as Deb caught him in the act of murder. Oh, and speaking of Deb she realized she was IN LOVE with Dex. Like love LOVE. This season sucked.

Season 7
GAH! While this season was much better than the previous two seasons, it was still a TOTAL trainwreck. The overall storyline of the season is Deb trying to come to terms with learning her brother is a serial killer which is handled pretty well... at first. Then it goes all soap opera as Dex starts dating Hannah McKay, a fellow killer that Deb instantly hates and we have ourselves a Pseudo-Love Triangle! Stephenie Meyer would be so proud.

Although to be fair, it did yield my ALL TIME FAVOURITE Dexter quote: “I’m not gonna stop seeing Hannah just because she’s a murderer and my sister wants to kill her.”

The season's Big Bad is a Ukranian crime lord that actually turns out to be a red herring for the REAL Big Bad: LaGuerta. She's figured out Dex really was the Bay Harbor Butcher, but of course no one believes her so she takes matters into her own hands. Not the best of ideas, as DEB ends up killing her to protect her stepbrother even after everything they've been through.

That all brings us to Dexter: The Final Season. How are Dex and Deb going to deal with their murder of the captain of Miami Metro? Is this the year everything finally comes crashing down around Dex? Will we see Hannah again? Whatever happened to the other Santa Muerte killer that just vanished and was completely forgotten an episode later in season five?! Hopefully we get the answers to these questions, but as long as we get a DECENT conclusion to this epic series I'll be happy.

Sharpen your best killing knives, pull on your long sleeved green shirt and black cargo pants, and get ready for A Ghoul Versus Dexter's Final Season Episode 1: A Beautiful Day.

We begin six months after LaGuerta's death, as Dexter's life is back on track. Better than back on track actually, it's going great. He's coached his son Harrison's soccer team to a championship, gotten his bowling team back together, and even made a new naked lady friend!

He and Harrison attend the dedication of a memorial bench to LaGuerta, presided over by Deputy Chief Tom Matthews and the recently reinstated Lieutenant Angel Batista. Deb is conspicuous by her absence as she's quit the force in the wake of LaGuerta's death and turned into a cokehead with a sleezebag boyfriend, not speaking to Dex in over two months.

Worried since he hasn't heard from her in forever despite her warning to leave her alone, Dex tries to track her down. He goes to her job where she works as a private investigator at Elway Investigations, but finds they haven't heard from her in two weeks. Her last case was trying to apprehend a guy who robbed a high end jewelry store, who just happens to be her current boyfriend Andrew Briggs.

Dex gets called in to work where a body was found in a park with the back of his head cut off, part of his brain scooped out with a melon baller. That's not normal! Dex heads back to his office to continue his pursuit of Deb, tracing her credit card records to a local grocery store. He stalks the place until he sees Deb and Briggs enter, confronting her. She wants nothing to do with her adopted brother, explaining why with this EPIC line:

You made me compromise everything about myself that I care about. And I HATE you for it. I shot the wrong person in that trailer.”

Dex drives away, talking to his hallucination of his dead father Harry about what Deb said. Dex thinks she's just delusional and doesn't mean what she said, his... hallucination trying to TALK SENSE into him. Damn, you KNOW you're fucked up when the voices in your head are the sane ones.

We go to Batista's apartment, where we see Quinn and Jamie are having a secret relationship. Good ol' Quinn, ever the eternal fuck up. That's going to go SO WELL when Batista finds out. The next day at work Matthews introduces Dr. Evelyn Vogel, played by famed actress Charlotte Rampling who has been in the game for nearly fifty years. She's a world famous profiler whom Matthews has invited to help with the investigation into the latest murder, as she believes the effort put into the ritual indicates an experienced serial killer.  She notes the part of the brain was the anterior insular cortex, which controls how the mind controls empathy and now I hope they call the guy the Cortex Killer. 
Vogel meets with Dex at the morgue, where she is more interested in discussing the Bay Harbor Butcher than the latest murder in a FANTASTIC bit of acting. Dex later bumps into Quinn, who was researching Briggs for Deb. Quinn tells him the store Briggs robbed was owned by a mobster, and the only person willing to buy his stolen goods is a man named El Sapo.

Jamie drops off Harrison with Dex while he looks up El Sapo, discovering he's not a fence but a hitman. Panicking, he takes Harrison with him to the motel Deb is staying at and HOT DAMN Dex has lost it. Bringing your son to a possible mob shootout, probably not going to win you any Father of the Year awards anytime soon.

Except maybe from this guy.

Leaving Harrison asleep in the car, Dex starts looking through windows until he finds the room Deb and Briggs are staying in. When he sees Briggs go into the bathroom Dex knocks on the door to try to get Deb to leave with him, but she won't hear any of it and yells at him to go away.

Briggs comes out, Dex attacking him and stabbing him to death with a nearby knife, which is probably going to fuck up his relationship with Deb all that much more. Deb rolls with it pretty good, saying this is all part of the hell that she deserves. She tells Dex her entire life she thought she needed him to survive, but really it's been the other way around.

Deb calls the cops to report the homicide, telling Dex he should leave. Just because this night is already awesome, Dex goes outside to see his SUV is open and Harrison missing. Dex luckily finds him not far away, but as he picks up his son he looks at his bloodstained hands and reflects on the goddamned mess his life has become. Not too far away we see El Sapo watching the entire scene unfold.

The next day he sits on LaGuerta's memorial bench mulling things over when Vogel comes up to him, handing him a file and walking away. Inside he finds disturbing pictures he drew as a child, running after Vogel and grabbing her by the arm. She calmly informs him that he can't kill her because she “doesn't fit Harry's code”.

Cue the credits.

That was about as weak of a premier as you can imagine, as the big reveal was yet ANOTHER person that knows Dex's secret. That's not even that exclusive of a club anymore, as every season it seems more and more people find out the truth about him.

I do like the implication that Dex is getting crazier over Deb trying to cut him out of his life, but somehow I get the impression it's really not going to go anywhere like it has in the past. Deb, who always has been a pretty one note character, was once again saved by Jennifer Carpenter acting the living hell out of her lines. I REALLY bought her as a person that is THIS close to falling off the edge of sanity once and for all.

Definitely one of the weaker episodes of the entire series, hopefully this is all set up for a masterful final end game but it certainly is a discouraging start.