Quick backstory: After having to sit through the Season six finale of Dexter yesterday, I figured that my brain needed a reward. I also figured that my reward should be Dexter-related.
Then I figured I could watch the Dexter pilot (one of my all-time favorite pilots, if you were curious… which I’m sure you weren’t) because that way I could keep blathering on about Dexter!
So anyway, on to the show. I’m a little afraid that this’ll just be page after page of me gushing over just how much I like the pilot, how many wonderful things it accomplishes and how dreamy all of the actors are (swoon), but I’ll try and avoid all that as best I can.
I’m not saying I’ll succeed.. But just know I tried.
So anyway, on to the show. For real this time.
We start off our intrepid pilot with Dexter on the prowl, going over all the basics through voiceover- Dexter’s a loner, he doesn’t understand people, doesn’t understand sex, he only wants to kill… you know, the usual. Now, voiceover is often somewhat of a cop-out (see later seasons of Dexter for plenty of examples), but it works here- Dexter lives his whole life in his head, so with voiceover Dex feels even more loner-y and we, the audience, feel like we’re deeper inside this serial killer’s mindset.
But the episode doesn’t really kick into high gear until the first actual kill, where we see a Dexter with an actual scary, horror-movie presence. He screams, he’s furious, he threatens to de-eyelid his intended victim, then finally hacks him apart with an electric saw. Gross, right? But for me, the far-and-away most important element here… is the music that comes the end of the scene (bet you weren’t expecting that one). Just as Dexter starts to cut, we hear the smooth latin jazz sounds of Beny More (famed Cuban jazz singer extroardinaire), and then blammo- we’re on an exposition-filled boat ride, witnessing some of our first fake-Dexter-interacting-with-people moments.
It’s that sudden switch that does it for me. It feels… funny. Funny in a good way. Almost playful. The one element of the first season that’s been long forgotten (okay, there are probably a lot of elements that have been long forgotten) is the mix between morbid humor and actual morbid scary gross stuff. Think of everything with Miami Metro Homicide- Dexter playing off the hostilities of Doakes, dodging the unsubtle-as-a-freight-train come-ons of LaGuerta, gleefully mapping out the blood sprays of crime scenes, giving out donuts from a box as empty as his heart- all this stuff is still murder-related in some way, but it’s lighter (and funnier) and gives the show a unique sense of style. Plus this stuff provides some great contrast for how horrifying things can get.
And boy is Dexter horrifying. After moving on from the murderous choir director (whose distraught wife pops up for a moment later on), we get the full-on scary goodness of Dexter and his next victim- a dumpy valet named Jamie Jaworski with penchant for making his own snuff films.
And it’s creepy. It’s so creepy. Dexter stalks Jaworski with hunger in his eyes. Breaks into his house. Rifles through his things. Tracks him down and hacks him apart with a meat cleaver after the briefest of conversations. Even though he’s only killing those who are already killers, this pilot paints Dexter in such a horrific light that it’s amazing (and a testament to the writers, directors, and Hall himself) that Dexter’s still such a sympathetic character.
And that’s especially true where the Ice Truck Killer story is concerned- were this any other show, a main character who investigates a series of bloodless killings and gets increasingly intrigued/obsessed/turned on by them would be gross and disgusting. And this is gross and disgusting. But at the end of the episode (and whoooooaaaaaa man is that ending great and also creepy) we’re still sympathizing with Dexter.
But I’ll get back to the ending later. First, I’d like to touch upon what is, by far, my top #1 pick for ‘Most Super-Terrific Thing About Early Dexter That I Miss So Very, Very Much.’ And the winner is…
Drum roll, please.
Wait for it.
Waaaaaaait for it.
Think about it. While it’s not the sole focus of the pilot, the Ice Truck Killer is THE major storyline of season one, but it’s also the only real storyline where Dexter (and by extension, us folks in the audience) don’t have a clue what’s going on and have to find out piece by piece who this killer is and what he’s doing. Halfway through the season we even get the reveal of who the killer is but we still have no idea why he’s actually killing, and the show builds up to that reveal so, so, so well.
And then we never get anything like that again. Season two? Dexter’s the killer- no mystery there. Season three? There’s the Skinner, but there’s absolutely no payoff there, so who cares. Season four? There’s the ‘why’ of ‘why is John Lithgow doing these awful things?’ but that’s nowhere near the full-fledged whodunit of the first season. Seasons five and six? Well, the less said about them, the better.
Which brings me back to the pilot’s ending (and my lack of transition will have to act as a transition). After a close run-in with the Ice Truck Killer and an even closer run-in with Rita, Dex returns home… only to find a tiny, chopped-up Barbie in his freezer. But rather than feel violated, Dexter sees it as a game. A game he very much wants to play. Roll credits.
For a show that thrives on gooey gory sick perverse serial killer stuff, there’s no better way to end the pilot then on that note. Not only does it up the ante on creepy, but there’s yet another reason to get hooked on the show (and the ITK storyline in particular)- not only does the audience wonder ‘who is he’ and ‘why is he killing people’ but now there’s the anticipation of ‘what the hell’s gonna go down between these two.’ And with that killer (hyuk) ending comes eleven more sweet wondrous episode of this sweet wondrous season of television. And then a couple pretty great seasons after that. And then a few more that are just… well…
(A few quick thoughts before I finish this thing up)
- Glad to see Rita as a well-drawn out, interesting human being and not a bubbly plastic housewife.
- I really loved that line about eating while driving. I don’t know why. I just really loved it.
- Also I will admit to there being some cheesiness with Doakes’ constant swearing and Debra’s constant bumbling awkwardness (and swearing), but I’ll gladly accept a little cheese if everything else is so terrific.
Whelp, that’s all folks! See ya next time.