Jennifer Carpenter called her shot. During an interview with the actress for a piece on The Exorcism of Emily Rose, she talked about how stoked she was to have been cast in Dexter, opposite Michael C. Hall, how she thought the Showtime series had a chance to break some new narrative ground on the small screen, and definitely hang around several seasons. For a lot of up-and-coming actresses, these cheery sentiments are just part of the amiable self-sell — talking up the next project in case the one on the front burner doesn’t really come to a boil — but Carpenter seemed uniquely sincere in her sentiments regarding the series, which at that time was just getting off the ground.
With good reason, it turns out. Based on Jeff Lindsay novel’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, and developed for television by James Manos, Jr., Dexter has turned into a solid performer for Showtime — so much so that it was nabbed for reruns over the past year on CBS, a corporate bedfellow. The show’s first season introduced Dexter Morgan (Hall), a Miami forensics expert who moonlights as a serial slayer of other habitual murderers. Naturally, this line of work shades, strains and otherwise complicates Dexter’s relationships — including with his cop sister Deborah (Carpenter), his single-mom girlfriend Rita Bennett (Julie Benz), and department colleagues Sergeant James Doakes (Erik King) and Lieutenant Maria Maguerta (Lauren Velez).
After Dexter having survived an encounter with the Ice Truck Killer, who also terrorized Deborah, at the end of the previous season, the series’ sophomore effort opens with more unwanted attention being focused on his acts. The flashbacks to Dexter’s childhood, intermittently filling in the gaps of his psychological and emotional development, continue, though it’s also worth pointing out that a lot of the heavy lifting is done by Hall, who nicely walks the tightrope between outright monster and sympathetic moral equalizer. There’s a cerebal quality to Hall that greatly benefits this character, serving as counterpoint for some of his brash actions.
Over the dozen episodes of season two, Dexter also begins to doubt his murderous capabilities, or at least their shelf-life. Although still committed to carrying out his brand of twisted vigilante justice — a methodology learned from and channeled by his adopted father Harry (James Remar) — Dexter continues to be haunted by his tortured past, including the brutal murder of his mother. His difficulties multiply when evidence of his deadly after-hours activities begins to surface, and the FBI, in the form of Special Agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine), is brought in to investigate the city’s new serial killer, dubbed the Bay Harbor Butcher. Hard-charging Sergeant Doakes has suspicions as well, and mysterious ex-meth addict Lila (Jaime Murray), a rehab pal who forges a quick and seemingly deep bond with Dexter, only further complicates matters. With the noose of suspicion seemingly tightening around his neck, will Dexter be able to continue his serial-killing ways or will his dark, extreme ways finally be uncovered?
Spread out over four discs housed in two slimline cases in turn stored in a nice cardboard slipcover, Dexter: The Second Season comes presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby digital 2.0 stereo and Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound English language audio tracks, and a complementary Spanish language track in Dolby digital 2.0 mono. For better or worse, most of the set’s DVD bonus materials actually throw a spotlight on other Showtime shows. There are two episodes of the series Brotherhood, the first two episodes from the second season of The Tudors, and the pilot of Californication, starring David Duchovny. From a marketing standpoint, these are smart inclusions, and certainly worthy for the average television fan, who may not have premium pay-cable, and would want to dabble before purchasing an entire season on DVD. Unfortunately, their inclusion somewhat limits the amount of material related specifically to Dexter, which consists of a podcast interview with Hall. Some director audio commentaries or an interview with source material author Lindsay would be most welcome in the future. To purchase the set via Amazon, click here. B (Series) C+ (Disc)