Dexter: The Sixth Season (Blu-ray)

Can’t wait for the Boston-based spinoff, Dextah.

The title character of Showtime’s Dexter has seen and done it all over the last five seasons, stalking and taking out killers and bad guys of all shapes and sizes. Who will be the next to enter Dexter’s kill room? Oh, I don’t know, how about…God?

Life is good for Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under), who has settled into a comfortable daily routine as a police scientist, single father, and serial-killer-who-satisfies-his-murderous-desires-by-preying-on-other-killers. Dexter’s world is soon rocked, though, by two new faces. First is Brother Sam (Mos, formerly known as Mos Def, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), a reformed criminal who has turned his life around by devoting himself to his faith. Second is the Doomsday Killer, a mysterious figure murdering people in symbolic ways taken straight from the Book of Revelation.

Elsewhere, Dexter’s homicide detective sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter, Quarantine) is promoted to lieutenant over the more experienced Detective Batista (David Zayas, The Expendables). Detective Quinn spirals into a self-destructive route of drinking and partying over doing his job, Lt. LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) struggles with bureaucratic ups and downs of being promoted to police captain, and comic relief lab geek Masuka (C.S. Lee) puts up with a revolving door of interns under his wing.

The big deal about this season is that it introduces religion into Dexter’s world. This would seem incongruous, considering what Dexter gets up to when no one is watching, but the spiritual aspects of the season-long arc are not about Dexter seeing the light, but questioning the light.

Here’s the thing about Dexter: He has his life just as he likes it. He has his job, his son, his sister and his friends, and he has his killing bad guys on the side. In previous seasons, the villain is not necessarily the villain because he or she is a murderer, but because he or she threatens to disrupt or change Dexter’s way of life. Following the events of season five, however, Dexter has now reached the point where he starts to question his murderous impulses, what he calls his “dark passenger.” Although he states that he’s learned to live with his dark passenger, he is nonetheless drawn to Brother Sam, a former criminal who seems to have changed his ways. Dexter’s “friendship” with Brother Sam is secretly his study of the man, as Dexter tries to sort out how or if a person’s inner darkness can be replaced with light. Dexter’s question this time around isn’t whether he can free himself of the darkness—he’s accepted that the darkness will always be a part of him—but whether he can free another person from it.

All this is some interesting food for thought, but it’s all talky and introspective, and not very visual. Fortunately, we’ve got the Doomsday Killer on hand, offering the other half of the religious discussion by hacking up bodies and arranging them in gory tableaus (get used to that word, “tableau,” because you’ll be hearing it a lot this season). It’s all about apocalyptic visions and disturbing imagery from the Book of Revelation. Think somewhere between the Saw films and The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and you’ll get the idea. The Doomsday Killer doesn’t quite have the intensity of some of the show’s best villains of seasons past, but that’s only because the stakes are less personal this time around. The villain this time isn’t someone Dexter knows and is close to, but is instead a thematic villain, representing the darker side of Dexter’s questions, just as Brother Sam represents its light side.

It all sounds like heavy, dark stuff, and I suppose it is, but, fortunately, Dexter exists in just enough of a heightened reality that viewers can have some fun with it. The show’s gallows humor is one of its biggest selling points. Among Dexter’s wry observations of life around him, Deb’s abrasive attitude and vulgar language, and the various quirky “one-off” characters our heroes encounter along the way—not to mention the bright, colorful Miami setting—the show never gets too dark for its own good, despite the overall dark subject matter.

The Dexter writers have, at times, struggled with what to do with the show’s supporting cast, often coming up with subplots for the sake of subplots that distract from the main story. This time around, however, the supporting characters are all given something interesting to do, and all tied in one way or another with the season-long arc. Mostly, this has to do with Deb’s promotion to lieutenant, essentially making her the other characters’ boss. It’s great fun to get Deb out of her comfort zone and having to stand up for herself, and Jennifer Carpenter does some of her best work to date this season. Zayas continues to be likable as Batista, Desmond Harrington (Rescue Me) nicely depicts Quinn’s ongoing spiral of self-destructive behavoir, and C.S. Lee easily balances Masuka’s combination of brainy and goofy.

This season’s guest actors do good work as well. Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica) plays a wise mentor type, with Colin Hanks (Roswell) as his conflicted young student. Hanks plays his character broad and over the top, while Olmos plays his close to the chest, with a lot of subtlety. Their back and forth interactions lead to one of the season’s biggest shock moments. Dexter now has a nanny, Batista’s little sister (Aimee Garcia), who gets a minor subplot of her own, but mostly she’s here to take care of Dexter’s son while he’s off killing. A new detective, Anderson (Billy Brown, Cloverfield), joins Miami Metro, but little is revealed about him, as the writers are clearly setting his character up to be explored in future seasons.

What to make of Dexter’s voiceover? Every screenwriting class you’ve ever taken has instructed you to never use voiceover, and yet we can all think of those few examples where it’s been used well. In Dexter, there are numerous times in which the voiceover provides a clever observation or a witty turn of phrase, but at other times it seems unnecessary, as the look on the actor’s face says all that’s really needed to be said. Likewise, Dexter’s interior thought process is often illustrated by conversations with his late father (James Remar, Ben 10 Ultimate Alien). Again, sometimes these scenes between the two of them are powerful and gripping, but sometimes they’re just repeating what the audience already knows.

The picture quality on this 1.78:1/1080p three-disc Blu-ray is stellar, with an amazing level of detail to be seen, especially in the outdoor scenes, in which you can practically feel the Miami heat coming off of everyone’s sweaty faces. Audio is good as well, perfectly balanced in Dolby 5.1 Surround. All of the extras are available through BD-Live, including cast interviews and two episodes each of fellow Showtime series House of Lies, Californication, and The Borgias.

Dexter has been consistently good since day one, and this season is no exception. The focus on spirituality and belief might be a turn off for some hardcore fans, but the writers treat the subject in a purely Dexter-ish way, so that the show doesn’t lose any of what makes it so great.

The Verdict

Not guilty. And I’m not just saying that so I don’t end up in Dexter’s kill room next.

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