Dexter Season 1: Miami-Based Show is Full of Gore and Satisfaction
"Dexter" premiered on Showtime, October 1, 2006.
When the good folks over at Showtime’s advertising department decided to do their faux-Dexter profile for Rolling Stone (if you haven’t checked this out yet, it’s pretty cool) they had a lot of Miami-related websites to choose from when naming their favorite. But, for reasons quite obvious to anyone working at this site, they chose miamibeach411.com, specifically for our abundant collection of Miami true-crime stories. And after reading that I had a fictional serial killer among my fans, well, I felt obliged to reciprocate. So, though I am mildly embarrassed to say I had never seen an episode of “Dexter” before the Rolling Stone profile, I can now safely say I am as big a fan of his as he is of me.
CSI-MIAMI GONE HORRIBLY, HORRIBLY WRONG
For those who are not familiar with the show, (it airs on Showtime, so it reasons a few of you may not have seen it) “Dexter” follows the dual-existence of Miami crime scene investigator Dexter Morgan, who moonlights as a vigilante serial killer by night. His copious forensics knowledge and connections to the fictional Miami Metro Police Department (a nice hybrid of Metro Dade and Miami-Dade, complete with replica cars) keep him from getting caught, while his persona as a geeky blood-spatter expert keeps almost everyone from suspecting that he spends his nights taking lives.
In season one, we are introduced to Dexter, as he drives through South Beach waxing poetic about Miami and its abundance of nefarious individuals. Dexter, you see, is not your run-of-the-mill sociopath. No sir. He only kills people who deserve it, or more specifically people who kill other people. His first victim in the first season is a child molester/killer, the type of guy who, by killing, Dexter immediately becomes a sympathetic killer rather than a murderous monster. And that, folks, is the beauty of the show. It almost makes mass murder cool.
We also learn that Dexter was adopted at a very young age by Miami Metro officer Harry Morgan and his family after Harry found the boy at a gruesome crime scene. Harry discovered early on that Dexter had a deep-seeded desire to kill, and instead of punishing him for it he taught him to channel it for the greater good. He instilled in Dexter a code, “The Code of Harry” as Dexter refers to it, which governs who Dexter can kill, and how he must do it in order to never be caught. Though Dexter is not capable of any emotion, if he loved anyone it was most certainly his foster father.
We also meet Dexter’s sister, Deborah, who is Harry’s biological daughter. She is a vice cop with Miami Metro who desperately wants to break into homicide. Dexter also has a girlfriend, Rita, who is a recovering battered wife with a crackhead ex-husband in prison. She also has two children. Because of her horrible experiences with her ex, Rita is averse to any sort of sexual contact, which is fine with Dexter. Sex, he feels, leads women closer to finding out what kind of person he really is. And since he genuinely cares about Rita, he would never want her to discover that.
DEXTER FINDS A PLAYMATE
The running plotline of season one revolves around a Miami serial killer who drains his victims of their blood before chopping them up and leaving the bloodless, dismembered corpses for police to find. His victims, it is worth noting, are all hookers, a popular undercover disguise for Dexter’s sister. Dexter and his sister discover that the killer has been hiding his victims’ bodies in an ice truck prior to their placement, earning him the nickname “Ice Truck Killer.”
As the season goes on, the killer begins to stalk Dexter, leaving items in his apartment and staging crime scenes based on Dexter’s old family photographs. He even communicated with Dexter via Cragislist in one episode (what, he couldn’t use the MB411 forums?) The police arrest people, but Dexter knows killers, and these guys ain’t killers.
THE B-STORIES ARE JUST AS RIVETING AS THE CHARACTERS
Throughout the season we also follow the lives of many of the supporting characters. The hostile Sgt. Doakes, who is the only person who thinks Dexter may not be all he appears, is the target of a coke kingpin and, briefly, of the police as well. Angel, the loveable Cuban homicide detective, goes through a painful divorce. Deborah gets promoted to homicide detective and finds a new boyfriend in a prosthetics specialist. And we follow the politics of the MMPD and its role in the rise and fall of the loveable and hateable Lieutenant Maria Laguerta.
The season features a series of other notable plotlines, like the teenage killer who Dexter lets go after discovering the boy was raped by his first victim. Or the dismembered arena security guard (in an arena that is obviously the LA Sports Arena but passed off as the home of the Miami Blades) who is the Ice Truck Killer’s only surviving victim. Problem is he was blindfolded the whole time, so even once he regains consciousness he isn’t a whole lot of help.
Rita’s ex-husband also returns from prison and, in several satisfying scenes, is rejected and humiliated by his ex-wife. But I think everyone watching the show is rooting for Dexter to give this guy what he really deserves. And, eventually, he does.
The ongoing plotlines do back flips as the season goes on, but because the premise of the show is so withdrawn from reality, you really don’t seem to mind. The plot twists just add to the excitement and suspense.
I have also never seen a show that better develops its characters than this one. Every major character has a complex backstory that gives the audience great insight as to why the characters interact the way they do. Whether it’s the mysterious events that led Harry Morgan to adopt an infant Dexter, or Lt. Laguerta’s local hero status in the Cuban-American community, we aren’t left to guess the motivations of anyone in Dexter’s world. Even the Ice Truck Killer’s motivations become crystal clear (no pun intended) by the last couple of episodes, and they shed a great deal of light on other aspects of the season.
The show is also immensely satisfying in that the bad guys always get what’s coming to them. None of Dexter’s victims are in the least bit sympathetic and even the miserable characters that do not end up strapped to a table wrapped in plastic meet unfortunate fates. The good guys, or at least good guys as framed by the writers, seem to win in season one. And the show manages to have that sort of unrealistic result while maintaining an aura of nastiness that any pay cable show worth its salt needs to have.
DEXTER BUTCHERS MIAMI ACCURACY
“Dexter” is, for those not trained to notice Miami-accuracy in everything they watch, an outstanding show. But if the program has one weakness, it is that it does what most shows set in Miami do, and treat it like LA with humidity and Cubans instead of Mexicans. While the show does feature a decent number of Hispanic characters with jobs other than hotel maid or gardener, it still has far too many white people to be truly representative of this city’s demographics. Yes, we do find a few Cuban cops in the police station, but aside from them and the family of the aforementioned dismembered security guard, most of the Hispanic characters are hookers and drug dealers. And anyone familiar with Miami knows that while we do have a lot of Hispanics who do those jobs, we have even more doing the other ones.
Similarly, while we do see a few scenes that are unmistakably shot in South Beach, many of the beach and waterfront shots leave a Miamian going “Where the Hell is THAT supposed to be?” While they do not show cliffs in the background, like some LA-based Miami shows do, the beaches are also very obviously not in Miami. And, I’m going to guess, not even in South Florida. The residential neighborhoods also don’t look anything like those in Miami (apparently it’s Long Beach, Calif.), but that would be a pretty hard backlot set to construct. So I’ll give them that one.
The writers do their best with street names, but in one scene the Ice Truck Killer picks up one of his hooker victims on a street that looks a lot like Ocean Drive, but the police later refer to it as the intersection of Brickell Avenue and Coral Way. First of all, when was the last time you saw a street-walking hooker on Brickell? Unless they hide out in the construction lots or are squatting in the thousands of unsold condos, they’d need to be about five streets north a mile west to find any of those. And, contrary to what many think, Miami Beach is not Miami. So if you were going to pick a random intersection, one in the Beach might have been a better choice.
At one point in the season Dexter, his girlfriend, his sister, and her boyfriend make a trip to Dade City, which Dexter describes as “Just five hours up I-95.” Dade City, of course, is on the Western side of the state, which someone watching from that city might find a bit confusing.
One nice piece of authenticity, however, is the lack of Spanish subtitles. For instance, when some of the Hispanic police are talking to each other, or to witnesses, or to anyone else, and they are speaking Spanish, the audience doesn’t get an instant translation. This, I think, does do a nice job of capturing life in Dade County. I mean, some of these conversations go on for 2 or 3 minutes and your average English speaker has absolutely no idea what’s going on and feels left out of the plotline. That three minutes is pretty much every day for your average non-Spanish-speaking Miamian.
But the South Floridian inaccuracies are probably the only flaw with the show. And for the 296 million people in this country who don’t live down here, it’s not a flaw at all. So if you enjoy a little gruesome goriness, but love the satisfaction of the good guys winning and the bad guys losing, you will love “Dexter.” Miami is a nice backdrop for the macabre concept, and all in all I look forward to following the future stories of my new favorite reader.
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