Of all the books and of all the networks to adapt them, Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Showtime seemed the combination least likely to produce decent television. Darkly Dreaming Dexter is pretty rubbish, a piece of poorly written slasher fiction about a serial killer who improbably only kills other bad people. Showtime, in turn, was synonymous with nothing at all apart from not being HBO, the cable home of quality shows like The Wire.
Yet Dexter turned out to be one of the best shows of last year. Clever, well written, well directed, tense, unpredictable and with an incredible performance by Michael C Hall, it and other shows have now made HBO look like the also-rans and Showtime the home of quality, edgy TV.
So hopes were high for season two. Could the producers who had made this break-out hit strike again and maintain the quality after such a strong opening?
Initially, I was a little worried. The first two episodes of the second season were good, but not outstanding and the changes in format suggested that the second season could be something of a let-down.
Fortunately, it turned out to be even better.
The second season has, more or less, been an attempt to take all the foundations of the character of Dexter laid out in the book and the first season of the TV show and dump them in favour of something less outlandish and more convincing. Slowly, Dexter has been taken apart and put back together again as the results of his criminal activities have come to light and the FBI and Miami police try to find out who perpetrated them. Dexter, in turn, finds out that all the things he took to be true were pretty much lies and “Harry’s rules” have come under the spotlight and found wanting.
Apart from that faltering opening and the addition of Hustle‘s ever-irritating Jaime Murray, the producers haven’t put a foot wrong this season, cranking up the tension, misdirecting the viewer and changing ground-rules at a moment’s notice. In turn, Michael C Hall has made his performance even more convincing, with the final emergence of the true Dexter hugely disconcerting after two seasons of Dexter pretending to be genial and affable.
Fortunately, the finale was no disappointment either. Plot threads are brought to their natural conclusions and while you could argue those conclusions are convenient in terms of ensuring a third season, they aren’t without some hard sacrifices along the way.
There’s a touch of dodgy acting here and there; Julie Benz is severely underused for most of the season; and the final twist a little unconvincing and convenient. But the second season of Dexter, taken as a whole, really is brilliant.