Monthly Archives: November 2009

I'm thankful for Dexter

I’m thankful for Cody, which is ironic considering how grating he and Astor were in the first season.  The difference isn’t just the recasting, it’s how the kids are being used these days.  They’ve always represented the best parts of Dexter, but this season they seem to speaking less while saying more (I’m thinking of Astor’s “you can be dumb” comment).  Here Cody provides some much needed hope in an otherwise bleak look at Dexter’s life.

 Last week’s episode made me feel like Dexter’s “just like me” assessment of Trinity had become overblown, but this episode did a masterful job undermining the comparison before turning it on its head.  Until now, Dexter’s identified with Arthur as a family man and I’ve been anticipating the big reveal that this was an illusion, that Arthur maintained his happy home by being a master of deception.  The truth turns out to be far darker (and better) than my prediction.  Trinity maintains his public façade through terror, not deception, and as the abuse becomes more apparent and disturbing the comparisons with Dexter start to erode.  Neither he nor the audience can conceive of him treating Rita and the kids this way.  As the threat to the Mitchells grows Dexter even steps in as the protector, ditching his own family to serve as their shield.  Arthur’s a monster and Dexter’s a hero… until he’s not.

 The attack on Jonah was Arthur fully revealing his inner monster and Dexter’s immediate response was to reveal his own.  “I should’ve killed you when I had the chance!” is all the evidence we need that Dex is out of control here.  Add to that the gleam in Michael C. Hall’s eyes and you’ve got a creature every bit as frightening as Trinity was a moment earlier.  These two men are the same, in all the wrong ways, and it’s no wonder that realization has Dexter questioning everything he’s built for himself.  Can he really hope to give his family anything more than a life of fear and pain?

 Yes, he can, at least according to Cody.  The direct contrast with Arthur and Jonah didn’t really counter the monster parallels, but it did complicate them.  Dexter has yet to traumatize anyone he cares about, which means he still has every opportunity not to.  Being like Trinity is obviously not the solution, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one.

 Final Thoughts

So Christine’s the shooter… ok, I can buy it… and she’s Trinity’s daughter… huh?  The criteria of a good twist is making the viewers say “whoa!” not “huh?”  In that respect, this revelation fails.  I do not, however, think this is as absurd as many people on the internet do as it does fit with what we already know.  Two of them being related should’ve answered a few more questions than it did.  There could’ve been some hints that Trinity had an accomplice, or some earlier indication that Christine was the shooter.

How awesome the finger-break?  The abuse itself was gruesome, but Jonah deliberately not screaming was just fantastic and really sold why this family didn’t flee from Trinity long ago.  He’s got them so terrorized they won’t even cry out in pain.

Rita and Elliot were much better this week.  It was pointed out to me that they actually did flirt at the bbq, so chalk part of last week’s confusion up to me not paying attention.  Ready for it this week, I thought that story line went to just the right place with Rita getting scared off and fleeing (literally) back to Dexter’s arms.  This feels like a much more organic movement toward an affair.

I could rant about how much the Maria and Angel storyline sucks, but it’s not worth the time.

To err is human

This is one occasion where I find it difficult to refrain from criticising an episode for what it’s not. After last week’s “mistake” I was expecting to watch Dexter fall apart. Whatever we might think about his code, the one thing that separates him from the people on his table is the fact that he’s never taken an innocent life. The loss of that distinction needs more attention than it seemed to receive in this episode. It may be that this story is going to be drawn out over several episodes, but right now it looks as if this event has been lost in the focus on the Trinity storyline.

Putting aside my disappointment, this was still not the greatest episode of Dexter. The notion that Trinity might be just as desperate for a “real” connection as Dexter is certainly one worth exploring, but it seemed to get short-shrift in this case. The fact is that these two already have enough of a connection and anything further needs to add to an already intense dynamic. The revelations about Trinity’s family was enough to stand on its own without the additional “just like me”-isms. Trinity’s falling apart was the better example of the parallel, though not a perfect one. This kind of erratic behaviour was sort of what I was expecting from Dexter, and Lithgow makes a fine surrogate. We’re shown where a lack of coping skills could take a serial killer, though Dex is still just a little too controlled for us to really picture him on the ledge.

Dexter’s neighbour, what’s-his-name, has shown up too late in the season. To be honest, this was the first time I thought that the Morgan marriage was actually in jeopardy; there certainly are men out there who can give Rita and the kids what they need without all the deception and emotional detachment. The problem is that Eliot (that’s it!) has arrived late to the party. The scene with him and Rita would’ve worked much better if we had at least seen the two of them flirting at the bbq (or something similar). At this point it feels like a new strain on Dexter’s marriage just as he’d gotten a handle on the last one. I really hope this story-line feels less disjointed when watched on DVD.

Final Thoughts

Please not Anton, please not Anton… If memory serves he’s much taller than Masuka, so I’m hoping that someone far more interesting ends up being the shooter. Possibly one of the CIs she’s talked to? But why?

What’s next for Trinity? I’m hoping this is the last suicide attempt, but if he’s truly decided to end his cycle, what now? Quiet suburban life or killing outside his code?

Isn’t that what life is, a risk?

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Whoa… It had to happen eventually, Dexter killing an innocent man is such an obvious story to tackle that the series had to deal with it at some point, but I never expected it to happen at this point in this season. I suppose things can never be too intense, and I was wondering just how they could regain the momentum brought by Trinity’s kill cycle in time for the finale, but it’s still an unexpected turn. Just how this will fit into the season as a whole is pure speculation at this point, but I see it as yet another reason that Dexter needs to quit, although he’s likely to go to Trinity for more answers before coming to that conclusion.

Fallout from this episode is certainly worth a lot more thought, but this post is about the episode itself. To be honest, the twist is rather obvious in retrospect. I thought Dexter’s investigation was a little sloppy (since when doesn’t he check the alibi?) but, given the point in the season-arc, I chalked it up to sloppy writing. Writers, I apologize. Dexter’s worst mistake is wonderfully contrasted with his bonding with Cody. Yes, he still misses the point of the ghost story, but is genuinely appreciative of the time spent with his son… until he isn’t. Leaving Cody in the middle of the night has to be the most straightforward act of bad parenting Dexter’s ever committed. It’s only fitting that it lead to tragedy. Props again to the writers for not going the obvious route and just having Cody awake to find Dexter gone.

Getting back to the main story, the scenes between Dex and Trinity remain a delight to watch. Killing the deer brought back memories of the first season, only there Dexter’s father-figure was the stone-faced enabler as opposed to the squeamish wimp. It’s not that I think killing an animal is easy, just that it should be for an alleged badass like Trinity. But here he’s portrayed as cringing and ineffectual. Is he so committed to the role Arthur Mitchell that he won’t even indulge in a little mercy-killing? I think it’s much more likely that he really is incapable of killing outside of his ritual and that death outside of it holds no appeal for him.

Final thoughts

Is Quinn becoming the new Doakes? I’m happy the character has something to do besides hot chicks, but does Dex really need a new nemesis? The last one was only interesting after he was locked in a cage.

What’s with the mixed messages from Harry’s CIs? Didn’t the last one interviewed indicate that he wasn’t a player?

Killing an innocent came at the perfect time for Deb’s investigation of Harry. There’s no way Dexter leaves that photo in a drawer for her to find… unless he’s too distracted by guilt.

My Family Saved Me

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After last week’s intensity, this episode felt like a step back, albeit a necessary one.  Neither Dexter nor Trinity kill anyone, Deb’swalls are back up, Rita’s still trying to “make it work” and the supporting cast romance continued its snoozathon.  But a slow hour of Dexter is still better than 99% of what’s on television and this one did give us some essential developments.

Let’s start with the obvious, Trinity.  I don’t think anyone doubted that Lithgow could successfully pull a 180 with his performance, but it was still delightful to watch the most prolific serial killer in history become Arthur Mitchell, church-going family man.  The characterization is so strong that it’s almost enough to make us forget what a twisted monster Trinity actually is, it certainly seemed to work on Dexter.  While he’s committed to killing Arthur, he quickly moved from wanting to plagiarize a few of his camouflage techniques to outright admiration of the man’s achievements.  Of course, Trinity’s not someone Dexter ought to admire, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute.

As I indicated, the rest of the cast felt somewhat stagnant this episode, but at least there seems to be some direction plot-wise.  Deb gets her emotions back under control and proves capable enough to connect Trinity to Lundy’s death.  There’s also a convenient phone call to get her back on Laura Moser’s trail.  Angel and Laguerta may have ended their relationship, or at least moved on to more interesting territory.  And Rita pulls Dexter into couples therapy and seems to accept his need for space.  I wouldn’t call any of these developments forced, but it did all feel like housekeeping for the arcs; events that needed to happen but weren’t terribly interesting to watch.  It would’ve been nice if they’d been spread out a little more, but then I suppose last week’s awesomeness would’ve been diluted.

The saving grace for this episode was Trinity getting into the bathtub with his wife.  The reconstruction of the bath-tub bleed-out was chilling and reminded us that as well adjusted as Arthur Mitchell seems, he’s still the same monster from episode one.  It’s for this reason that Dexter cannot follow his advice.  Mitchell shares his dark passenger with the world, and so is able to be a monster and a husband/father.  Dexter keeps his monster in the shadows, and so moves closer to not being one.  The bathtub scene would be analogous to Dex and Rita exploring some bondage fun.  It’s a thoroughly twisted notion and not the kind of thing we, the audience, want to see Dexter doing.  As much as Trinity seems to have all the answers, becoming like him would involve Dexter sacrificing what humanity he has.

Final Thoughts

I think this episode firmly placed the season in the Dexter mould.  He’s met someone that seems to be offering the acceptance and belonging that he really wants, but is really just an enabler for the Dark Passenger that will need to be dealt with.  We’ve seen it before, but I’m having too much fun to care.

I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a follow up for Dex and Deb after last week.  I wasn’t expecting the floodgates to stay open, but an acknowledgment of what they shared would be appreciated.

What does Quinn add to the series?

Film Review: Paranormal Activity

In spite of what the hype machine might want you to believe, this is not the scariest movie ever, it’s not even in the top ten.  What it does do better than almost any film I’ve seen is create a frightening atmosphere.  Big scares are few and few between but this film elicits sustained, and often intense, tension for nearly all of its 86 minutes.  In this respect, it far outstrips the seemingly bottomless well of torture porn that modern horror films have become and proves itself more sophisticated than most of its big budget counter-parts.

The plot revolves around a young couple being haunted by a demonic presence in their new home.  Things are shot in the faux-amateur video style of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, though far more effectively than either of those films.  The supernatural events are, for the most part, so grounded and plausible that the “found footage” conceit doesn’t feel like a gimmick.  This move is, literally, about things that go bump in the night and just how terrifying that can be.  We’ve been afraid of strange noises, shadows, etc. at some point in our lives and Paranormal Activity plays on those fears expertly.  Things escalate so slowly that by the time the supernatural gloves really come off we’re ready to buy into it.

As good as the premise and its execution are, this film is hurt by some poor characters.  Poor decision making is a hallmark of modern horror, but the boyfriend (Micha Sloat) is stupid enough to undermine the realism of the rest of the movie.  Katie Featherston is fine as the girlfriend, growing progressively more stressed and haggard as events unfold, but there’s really not enough to her character to explain why she puts up with her boyfriend’s idiocy.   Combine this with an utterly flat supporting cast and you’ll find yourself eagerly awaiting the next night vision shot of their bedroom when you’ll find yourself jumping at a creaky door and some flickering lights.

Overall, this is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in recent years and the box office returns (especially compared to Saw VI) are an encouraging sign that audiences may finally have grown out of the torture-loving phase and are ready for some real scares.

Who should see it: Fans of Blair Witch and Cloverfield, anyone who’s tired of the “things jumping out at you” scare tactics

Who shouldn’t see it: Anyone who thinks the Saw films aren’t utter shit,  those without enough of an attention span to appreciate 86 minutes of suspense with a chase or a fight scene.