*Warning: This review will contain spoilers from the previous seasons, although I will keep the review of this particular season spoiler free.
Ever since the beginning of Dexter's fifth season, I've seen fans of the series dropping like flies:
"Showtime needs to let Dexter run a natural course, instead of dragging it on for countless seasons just for the money." Thud. "Every season of the show is exactly the same - Dexter struggles with a void in his life and time and time again, a villain comes along that just happens to be dealing with the same issues. What a coinky-dink!" Plop. "The new villain doesn't hold a candle to John Lithgow's portrayal of Trinity!" Splat.
I'll concede that these complaints are true enough on the surface - The show does have a formulaic build in place for each season, and certain coincidences are enough to make the show not as believable as it should be. That being said, it's my belief that Showtime's program about a vigilante serial-killer has fallen victim to itself. The show started so strong and gained such a massive following, that the weight of expectation has begun to be a detriment to their enjoyment. Not that this is unique to Dexter, mind you. Many popular shows have succumbed to the same fate - LOST, The Sopranos, True Blood and House, just to name a few. I know talking about previous seasons of Dexter in this review is going to be considered bad form by most, especially in this case since Showtime was obviously milking the series for all it was worth, but I find it to be necessary when reviewing Dexter - The Sixth Season. Yes, necessary. Understanding what Dexter Morgan has gone through to this point is vital if we're to understand the importance of this season's overall theme, which is faith and religion. Some have considered the inclusion of this theme to be a clichéd gimmick, used merely for the sake of introducing us to Miami's latest duo of villains - The Doomsday Killers. I however, believe there's more to it than that.
Understanding Why Each Season Has Played Such a Vital Role...
It's interesting that so many people have tired of seeing Dexter deal with various voids in his life, while coincidentally finding someone that might be able to help him fill the empty spaces the 'dark passenger' helped to create. This concept has been around since the first season, after all:
Right from the get go, we learn that Dexter is adopted and has spent most of his life hiding his true self from everyone, especially his sister Debra. Low and behold, Dexter's biological brother comes along, harboring the same kind of passenger that he does. This leaves Dexter with an important choice, one that will forever haunt him one way or the other - He could kill Debra, fully embracing his inner-monster, or he could side against his brother, making the choice to leave the door open for a normal life. In season two, Dexter is tempted by a woman who lives wild and free with her dark passenger, but in the end, it turned out she was just plain nuts. Season three, Dexter becomes best friends with Miami's Assistant District Attorney, who also has a similar thirst for blood and justice. But, if you want something done right, it's worth doing yourself, because a friend like that is just too much of a liability. In season four, Dexter tracks down an accomplished serial killer that's found a way to balance his dark passenger with a 'normal' life, but looks are often deceiving. In season five, he finds another love interest, but this time it's with a level-headed woman that was born in blood just as he was, but that didn't work out either.
So, why the recap? Why the history lesson? Well, the whole point of Dexter thus far has been to analyze the struggle with his duality as both man and monster. He's always wanted to fit in with someone he can feel normal with while he otherwise pretends to be normal in every other facet of his life. Despite his dark passenger, Dexter recognizes there are some salvageable qualities to him as well, and this instilled some sense of hope. The first five seasons tell us that Dexter has tried to find that 'special someone' he could share his secret with (without having them end up on his table wrapped in plastic), but every possible avenue of companionship in this respect has been exhausted. He now knows that he can never have any kind of relationship with someone who also has a dark passenger, regardless if they were cuckoo or genuinely 'born in blood'. The 'normal' family he tried to have on the side has dissipated as well. What we're left with now is a man who has lost almost everything, and as a result, is now himself lost. All Dexter has left in the world is his adoptive sister Deb and his son, Harrison, and since he can't share his secret with either of them, Dexter knows he'll be alone for the rest of his life. He's come to the realization that he'll never be 'fixed', which allows him to fully embrace his inner monster, and more than that, he hopes his son doesn't grow up to be just like him. With all hope to find someone to feel 'normal' with gone, what's his place in this world? Why must he be one of the 'chosen ones', to be burdened with a dark passenger? Was he merely fooling himself that he can one day be more man than monster, or is there some other justification for it? Enter faith and religion...
Which Brings Us to the Sixth Season...
Each season of the show deals with a specific concept or theme, and this particular outing is no different. Since Dexter has lost nearly everything and has been forced to accept that he'll never have a normal life, religion and faith end up being the obvious concepts to explore. At first, Dexter makes it abundantly clear that he doesn't have a relationship with God. He's a monster, obviously. How could he? But when a new serial-killing duo, The Doomsday Killers, begin to terrorize Miami with crimes inspired by the Book of Revelation, Dexter is forced to study religion so he can track them down and deliver his own brand of justice. In the process, he encounters Brother Sam, an ex-murderer who's turned a new leaf by finding God, and now acts as a shepherd for other ex-convicts by giving them work and guidance in his body shop. Dexter is inspired by Brother Sam, but knows there's no way to cleanse himself of the darkness inside. Instead, he begins to reevaluate his place amongst society, and starts to wonder if his dark passenger might actually be a gift from a higher calling.
This is why understanding everything that happened in previous seasons is so important. Dexter has been through enough to know that he has no choice but to embrace his dark passenger and remain as inconspicuous as possible. So, instead of religion acting as a guiding light to help him clean up his act, he begins to wonder if he was meant to be a vigilante. After all, it's not typical for a serial killer to abide by a code that says he should only vanquish those that have skirted the law, and with The Doomsday Killers hoping to fulfill a prophecy that would supposedly end the world, Dexter begins to believe he just might be some sort of avenging angel (as hinted by the season's promotional tag line, 'The Avenging Angel Returns').
Religion and faith is the best possible theme the sixth season could have followed. Make no mistake about it, everything has been building to this. If we look back to the first season, a young boy Dexter saved depicted him as a savior (Jesus, based on the sketch artist's drawing, actually). A local comic book artist was even inspired to turn the Bay Harbor Butcher into a hero called 'The Dark Defender'. There are many other subtle clues sprinkled throughout the series, but the point is this - The writers have always toyed with the idea that Dexter could one day come to terms with his dark passenger and actually consider himself to be some kind of hero. Of course, we know better, but Dexter? The misguiding light of faith has him beginning to believe he just might be an instrument of God, someone who was placed on this Earth to get rid of those who kill indiscriminately. The end result? Well, let's just say the once meticulous serial-killer we used to know is now as sloppy as ever. He becomes isolated, ignoring everyone including his sister Deb, who needs his support now more than ever. He almost offs the wrong guy for the Doomsday killings. He's taking more random personal leaves from work than ever, up to and including running out of town for a few days to tie up some loose ends. Needless to say, this all creates some of the most suspenseful and memorable moments in the series to date, culminating to the most nail-biting season finale thus far.
But despite how fantastic the story is this season, the writing has gotten as sloppy as Dexter's handiwork. For one, many of the twists this season are very predictable, as long as you're paying attention. Furthermore, the entire season spans a period of three weeks, and so much happens in that short period of time that much of what happens is simply absurd. For example, certain people meet for the first time, and by the time the season is over they've bonded as if they've known each other their entire lives. Last but not least, the writers have Dexter do some really, really stupid things. Stupid to the point of disbelief, even for a Dexter that's been making a lot of mistakes. There's one instance where Dexter records a video message on his phone and sends it to a target to instill fear... and nothing materializes from it. I mean, Dexter's entire existence depends on leaving no evidence behind at any of his crime scenes, yet he's sending communication to a mark that could be traced back to him? The writers were so concerned with providing us so many shocks, twists and turns this season, that they forgot to actually craft something with care and diligence. Here's hoping the seventh season doesn't suffer from such flubs.
That being said, I'll still take the sixth season of Dexter over its predecessor any day of the week. Not only is it quite clear Dexter is finally about to enter his end game, but the subplots this time around are infinitely superior to what we were treated to last year. Masuka hires a couple of interns who have a strange fascination with Dexter and the Ice Truck Killer, LaGuerta is promoted to Captain and puts a serious pinch on the homicide department, something sets Quinn off on a downward spiral, and Deb comes to a shocking realization that puts her many failed attempts at relationships into perspective. The sloppy writing may not make this a perfect season of Dexter, but the cleverly integrated themes, fantastic acting from Doomsday Killers Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks, as well as all the edge of your seat moments that will leave you saying "No way," with a jaw on the floor, more than make up for it. Flawed writing or not, this was an exhilarating season and I can't wait to see what happens next... and something tells me regardless of how you felt about the season as a whole, you'll still want to see what happens next, too.
Dexter - The Sixth Season had a lot to live up to considering how pristine previous seasons looked on the format, and boy it doesn't disappoint. This is an impressive 1080p, AVC encoded presentation (1.78:1) that's even better than how the show looked during its initial broadcast. I would be surprised if I heard this Blu-ray set didn't completely capture the principle photography as was intended - Skin tones are dead on, any variation of crimson is displayed with bold intensity, colors are vivid yet lifelike most of the time, and intended contrasts are replicated flawlessly. Daytime scenes that take place outside appear to be overly bright and skin tones can look a little off as a result, but the show was filmed this way to convey to us the sweltering heat in Miami. Certain scenes in the dark seem to be bathed in more black than would be natural, but again, this is also a photographic trick that's used for tone and effect, and not an issue with the encode. And the detail? Absolutely immaculate. In close-up shots you can see individual fibers on clothing, every strand of hair and the image always retains a decent amount of depth and dimensionality. There's only the occasional shot that looks soft (due to the photography). Of course, all of the amazing work done during principal photography would mean nothing if this were a subpar encode, but have no fear. There's no edge enhancement, digital noise reduction (certain dark scenes will exhibit a bit of grain or noisiness that relates back to the source), banding, aliasing or digital artifacts. In short, the encode we've been treated to for Dexter - The Sixth Season is absolutely to die for.
There's always been a surprising amount of attention paid to detail in Dexter's sound design, and the sixth season is no different in that respect. This lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track has a quality to it that's almost cinematic. It's a dialogue driven show, for sure, and the voices are always crisp and clear, but it's everything else that continues to surprise me year after year. As always, Daniel Licht's score is haunting and always drives the suspense on-screen to heights that make my spine tingle. Rear speakers can be aggressive when the show calls for it (which isn't very often), but they're always active in a subtle way, providing an uncanny ambience that makes you feel like you're following Dexter every step of the way. When you're indoors, you'll feel like you're inside of a room, and when you're outdoors, you'll hear the openness of dialogue change and the environmental sounds will keep you fully immersed. Fans of the show will be satisfied, and for anyone experiencing the show on Blu for the first time, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Thanks, Paramount, for once again including the minimal amount of extras you provide on BD-Live, and only BD-Live. I can't imagine people being too happy about this over the years, so why hasn't this changed? Why can't we get the essential extras that actually relate to this show on disc? BD-Live is not going to be around forever, and in fact, certain studios have been dumping BD-Live because it's a pointless exercise that ruffles a few feathers. The extras exist on the DVD set after all, so why not include it for us on Blu, even if it means giving them to us in standard definition? It's not like there's a lot to offer - There's some Interviews with Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, Lauren Velez, C.S. Lee, Colin Hanks and Desmond Harrington, and we're also 'treated' to episodes of House of Lies, Californication and The Borgias. Whoopy-doo. Just for the record, I don't consider pimping other shows 'special features'. All I'll say is this - Showtime, get your act together. This is your flagship show, and if you want to know what people expect, just take a look at your competition - HBO provides us with a slew of extras with pretty much all of its series. The amount of extras included in recent releases such as Boardwalk Empire - The Complete First Season, Game of Thrones - The Complete First Season, and True Blood - The Complete Fourth Season should paint a pretty clear picture as to what I mean. Blu-ray is supposed to be the superior format, so don't make us feel like we have to buy a DVD set just to make sure we'll be able to watch the few worthwhile extras you provide 10 years from now.
Although this season doesn't sport the strongest writing, Dexter - The Sixth Season more than makes up for it with the punch it delivers. The subplots are far more interesting than they were last year, and there are certain events this time around that will top your list for most memorable scenes in the series. The most intriguing aspect for me though, is watching a new Dexter exploring new concepts that were previously foreign to him, all for the sake of figuring out how or where he's supposed to belong. His struggle up to this point has been between figuring out if he's a man or a monster, but season six reveals a Dexter who has fully embraced his monster and is now trying to justify it, to the point where faith and religion has him wondering if he might be some sort of avenging angel. After all is said and done, will this make Dexter a more confident and precise killer once again? Or is he being misguided, instead edging closer to damnation rather than salvation? Whatever the case, one thing's for sure - Finding out is going to be one hell of a ride, and the finale is something that you'll think and talk about for years to come, regardless of how you felt about the season overall. The disappointing part? The Blu-ray package itself. Although the A/V presentation is superb, the extras are severely lacking. There are some interviews you can see via BD-Live, and that's it. It seems this is par for the course for a season of Dexter though, and it's the show itself that really counts. Highly recommended.