Blu-ray Review: DEXTER Season 5 - Best Series Yet!

Season 5 mixes together elements of the seasons which preceded it, as though saying goodbye to those familiar storylines and clearing the Dex (if you will) for next year!

There were those of us who thought it couldn€™t be done € There is no way, we reasoned, that they could possibly improve on Dexter Season 4. John Lithgow€™s florid, dramatic performance as Arthur Mitchell, The Trinity Killer, couldn€™t be topped. Could it? Well, the show€™s makers played very clever €“ they didn€™t try to top themselves - instead they took the show in a different direction and, astonishingly, season 5 of Dexter €“ available now on Blu-ray- is every bit the worthy successor. The show begins exactly where season 4 left off €“ with Dexter€™s discovery of his son sitting in a pool of blood just as he himself had as an infant. The ending of season 4 was inevitable but still, the fact that they actually went ahead and did it came like a hammer blow. It was brutal and merciless. And from frame one of season 5 they don€™t shy away from exploring every horrible moment of the aftershocks. The first episode is all about everyone reeling and trying to regain their composure € While Dexter retreats into the emotionless state he was in when we first met him in season 1. He reboots to factory settings and resumes life as the lonely predator. But, as the Buddhists say, you can€™t put the same foot in the same stream twice € And Dexter has changed. He no longer is lonely € He has a family to whom he genuinely does have emotional attachments. He doesn€™t understand them but he cannot deny them. This painful and emotional first episode is, as always with Dexter, undercut by a jet-black humour and so Dexter finds himself delivering the worst news anyone ever can €“ whilst wearing a Mickey Mouse hat! In essence, then, this is business as usual for the most visually sumptuous, effortlessly convoluted, snappily-written and gratuitously brutal show on TV! The prologue over with, we embark on the main story, which unfolds episode by episode like the chapters of a novel beginning when a single drop of blood leads Dex into a conspiracy which grows into his biggest, darkest, scariest challenge yet. Sub-plots there are, of course. Every year Debs has to have a new squeeze with whom to have a dysfunctional relationship and, this year, it€™s with her policing partner, Quinn, who secretly suspects Dexter of evil-doing. In this sense, he is playing the role vacated by Doakes in season 2 but, unlike Doakes, rather than pursuing Dexter himself, he hires disgraced ex-cop Stan Liddy €“ played by Robocop€™s Peter Weller! Really, as if having his ass handed to him by Jack Bauer some years ago wasn€™t enough, Robocop is now squaring up against Dexter. You know it won€™t end well for him! As always, Michael C. Hall€™s performance is flawless, mixing pathos and psycho-pathology, humour and humanity € Sometimes all at the same time! Meanwhile, Jennifer Carpenter is even more impressive than usual as Dex€™s sister, Debs; making the most of her chance to play the most dynamic, confused, emotionally complex female role she€™ll likely ever find €“ and the one with the most elaborate line in profanities since Clint Eastwood€™s cigar-chomping insultosaurus, Sgt Highway in Heartbreak Ridge. My favourites of her exclamations this year include €œShit on my face€ and €œFuck me in both ears€. Charming. And so the show continues to be a wonderfully adept and complex mix of psychological sophistication, nerve-shredding tension and wit. The quality of the writing and performances is intimidatingly high, as it has been throughout (with only the slightest drop-off in season 3). The inter-cutting of complementary and contradictory narratives with Dexter€™s internal monologue is astonishing writing €“ playwright quality writing! So, we have Dexter as lone predator as in season 1, we have a fellow cop who is on to him, as in season 2 € Surely we can€™t have a collaborator killer as in season 3? Oh, yes we can. With the arrival of Julia Stiles as Lumen, life takes a radical change of direction for Dexter € He finds a woman he simply can€™t lie to. No point. His love for Rita was such that he lied to her to protect her from the dangerous truth. But Lumen knows the truth and, after an understandable period of suspicion and doubt, Dexter actually finds it liberating to be able to be so open with someone who, unlike Jimmy Smit€™s District Attorney Prado, has good reason to want blood. She is his chance to make human contact with someone who actually understands the real him! The improbably-named Lumen shines an at-first unwelcome light into his world. He has always identified and empathised with victims, this is what has motivated him to be the agent of vigilante justice he has always been. He has taken revenge on behalf of those who couldn€™t or wouldn€™t do it themselves. Lumen is different € She wants and deserves her torturer€™s blood on her hands! All of this develops at a leisurely pace and yet, as I sat through these discs €“ watching the episodes for the second time €“ I was still completely unaware of the passage of time. There is no waste in this show, no apparent treading water. Even though The Big Bad doesn€™t appear until half way through the season, this just feels right. Every episode is so full and satisfying in and of itself, there€™s no niggling need to get on with things € You are quite happy for the show to develop at its own pace because you know it will be worth the wait! When Jonny Lee Miller€™sJordan Chase comes along, exuding easy, greasy smarm and you just know that this charming man is as evil as the day is long. But nothing the show has yet contained in 4 harrowing seasons prepared me for just how cold and brutal a character he is. He is far more dangerous that Lithgow was because he isn€™t insane € He€™s just having fun! And that fun €“ captured on video and watched repeatedly by the police, particularly Debs €“ is horrifying in the extreme. We never see the videos but, the brilliance of the writing and the performances lie in the use of sound. We hear girls being tortured and that €“ depending on your imagination €“ is far more disturbing than seeing it. The latter episodes, when Dex and Lumen focus their attentions solely on Chase, are seat-edge stuff, a real change of pace from the first half of the season and proof, if proof were still needed, that the team that put Dexter together are playing at the top of their game and rewarding lavishly the attention of their viewers. Season 5, then, mixes together elements of the seasons which preceded it, as though saying goodbye to those familiar storylines and clearing the Dex (if you will) for next year! Where the quality shines from every frame of the show, however, the same cannot be said of the DVD extras. Fans have grown accustomed, by now, to the special features on a Dexter Blu-ray release being thin on the ground. This is not the year that changes:

Extras:

Audio commentaries: None! As usual. Strangely, what special features there are, are on Disc 2. Odd. Anyway, as short as they are, they are rather good: Making of a Scene €“ 15.30 mins: This takes us through the process €“ from the initial discussions the Writers have, through the contributions of the DP and Director, to the various stages of editing. Making good TV is, as one person opines €œA collaborative art!€ Sounds of Splatter €“ 7.00 mins: I love documentaries about Foley Artists and how weirdly compelling their job is. This follows the process of creating the sound of a decapitation which involves cutting up various vegetables and squirting chocolate sauce from a water-pistol into a bucket among many other bizarre elements. Surely it would be easier to just cut someone€™s head off? Easier - but less fun! Dexter€™s Kill Room €“ 3.20 mins: Apparently held over from season 4 €“ this simply explains the designs of Dex€™s Kill Rooms. Interview with Ty Mattson €“ This fella is one of those fan graphic designers who create retro posters however, in this case, Showcase have authorised them and are selling them. To learn more visit sho.com/tymattson. Then, on Disc 4 there€™s a sudden afterthought. Picture Gallery (Woo!) and a feature called 20 Questions, which is simply a way of parcelling up various talking heads clips they hadn€™t already used €“ mostly about the end of last season and the beginning of this. The interface is sluggish and clumsy and I lost interest after question 8. So: Great show, great season, great presentation € Shame about the extras. Dexter Season 5 is out now on Blu-ray.
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John Ashbrook has been publishing half-assed opinions about films, TV shows et al for twenty years now. He's hosted radio shows, taught Film Studies, written books and magazine articles by the cartload and now composes his own film review blog The Cellulord is Watching ... (www.cellulord.co.uk). Of course, what he *really* wants to do is direct.