Tag Archives: actors and characters

“Dexter” the Final Season (8)

Dexter Morgan is and will remain one of the most interesting characters in fiction for me, joining Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley in all his sociopathic glory.  I continue to read Jeff Lindsay’s novels — a new one is out this fall, Dexter’s Final Cut — and had looked forward with anticipation to viewing the DVDs of the eighth season of the Showtime series Dexter.  I wrote about the seventh season here.

250px-Dexter_Season_8_promotional_poster

The first episode of the final season makes clear that we will be going through some sort of journey involving the relationship between Dexter and his sister, Debra.  She is wracked with guilt, self-medicating to the extreme, and working as a private investigator for Jake Elway.  Dexter seems untouched by the events in the last episode of the previous season.  His focus is on Harrison, now 4, and his job.  Meanwhile, a new serial killer has surfaced in Miami, labeled the Brain Surgeon for his gruesome MO — he cuts the top of the head off his victims, and carefully scoops out a specific part of the brain.  The Miami Metro team is going through change: Batista is now their CO, and he’s urging Quinn to take the sergeant’s exam.  Masuka learns that he’s a father.  Into the usual chaos strides Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), a neuropsychiatrist who’s offered to help on the Brain Surgeon case.  She shows a special interest in Dexter from the moment they meet.

As well she would.  It turns out that she’s as important to Dexter’s life as his father, Harry, had been.  She and Harry developed “The Code.”  She knows Dexter extremely well, and helps him repair his relationship with Debra, as well as assist on the Brain Surgeon case.  I have to admit, I kept waiting for her to reveal that she was also a psychopathic serial killer, but what developed was far more surprising.  It seems that Dexter had been developing empathy.  This surprises Vogel as much as it did me.  Could Dexter be redeemable?  Rehabilitated?

The first half of this season was highly entertaining and downright mesmerizing watching these accomplished actors reveal their characters’ struggles and desires.  I wish I could say the same about the second half, marked by the resolution of the Brain Surgeon case and the reappearance of Hannah, the blonde murderess who got away.  She chooses to get Dexter’s attention by drugging both him and Debra, then leaving Dexter by the side of a road in the middle of nowhere.  Lovely girl!  And then the Brain Surgeon strikes again…they’d gotten the wrong guy!  The real Brain Surgeon killer was still out there.

While Dexter hides Hannah from a U.S. Marshal hot on her case, pushed by Elway who sees a big reward if she’s caught, he’s also developing attachment to Vogel, seeing her as his “spiritual mother.”  She understands him.  Hannah understands him.  They both love him.  You know this is not going to end well.

I won’t reveal who the Brain Surgeon really is — only that he’s been around for nearly the entire season and he has a remarkable connection to Vogel…and Dexter.  The writers did themselves proud in this particular serial killer and his ruthlessness, giving a stark contrast to Dexter and showing just how much Dexter had changed.  Which he had.  In ways that surprise even him.  But, but, but….

The final three episodes were disappointing, to say the least.  There was a sense of rushing to finish, rushing to tie up all the loose ends (when that really wasn’t necessary), and dealing blows to characters that I thought were unnecessary and unfair.  The actors all carried through with it, however, and gave it the only plausibility that was possible.  One character’s resolution in particular made me yell at my TV in frustration.  But, but, but….

Dexter remains true to himself in the end.  I’d been watching this series as a writer studying characterization and how the actors do it.  I have to at least give the writers props for giving Dexter back to himself in the end, older, wiser, more experienced at being himself, and considerably more ironic.  Michael C. Hall brings him to life and makes that final episode, in the final minutes, more believable than it had the right to be.

Am I sad the series has ended?  I found myself missing the Dexter of the first 3 or 4 seasons, the vigilante serial killer and keen observer of human behavior who spent a lot of time mystified and trying to figure things out.  He was funny and horrifying.  Debra was his rock.  They were a team.  I’m sad that that ended….

Character: “Dexter” Season 7

The Dexter season 7 DVDs finally arrived, several months earlier than previous seasons had been released.  I was eager to see how the last scenes of season 6 would either change the direction of the characters and show or not.  I’m a huge fan of this show, and I love the character of Dexter Morgan.  It’s also an ensemble show, with other complicated characters who often create problems for Dexter with their subplots.  As a writer, I learn from the actors in how they create, establish and maintain their characters.  The actors on Dexter make it look effortless.   Here’s my take on season 6.

The final scenes of season 6 set up season 7.  Debra’s psychologist has led Debra into believing that she is in love with her brother (who was adopted).  She drives to the church where Dexter is doing more forensic work, per Deb’s orders.  He’s doing quite different work, however — that of his “Dark Passenger.”  Dexter has captured Travis Marshall, the serial killer of season 6, wrapped him in plastic on the altar of the abandoned church where Travis had operated.  Debra enters the church and sees Dexter at the altar holding a knife above a figure lying on the altar.  She witnesses him killing Travis.  Her gasp catches his attention, and he sees her.  End of season 6.

Credit: themadbutcher.deviantart.com

Credit: themadbutcher.deviantart.com

Wow.  Now what?  What will Debra do?  Will she arrest Dexter?  What will Dexter do?  What will he say?  Season 7 begins at the same moment where the previous season ended, but it continues into the reactions of the brother and sister.  Debra, with her service revolver aimed at Dexter, starts firing questions at him.  He’s clearly startled, a little flustered, seemingly making it up as he goes.  He plays on her belief in him and that she would not want to believe his truth, so he makes up a plausible reason for his actions and she believes him.  But she also questions, in her mind, what she saw with her own eyes, and begins to investigate her brother.  He has pulled her into his world by her willingness to help him cover up their presence at the abandoned church.  This is not a comfortable place for Debra, who’s now a lieutenant in the Miami Metro Police.

Almost everything that happens between Debra and Dexter for the next 11 episodes originates in episode 1.  Once Debra figures out that Dexter is a serial killer, she embarks on a journey first to deny it, then to try to cure him, then to not want to know or be involved, and then finally to find herself caught between Dexter and the police.  Dexter’s journey is a different one.  He goes along with everything that Debra asks of him and tries, but his Dark Passenger will be satisfied.  He has opportunities to assess how his father, Harry, brought him up to abide by his “Code” to control Dexter’s dark impulses, and how other “serial” killers deal with their dark impulses.  The superb British actor Ray Stevenson plays a charming, elegant Ukrainian mob boss with an extremely personal and poignant secret that sends him after Dexter for revenge.  The death of a spree killer brings Dexter into contact with the young woman who, years before, had been the spree killer’s partner.  Once again Dexter thinks he’s found someone who truly understands him, and with whom he can truly be himself.

Season 7 has a high body count which doesn’t take into account the high level of emotional and psychological suspense in each episode.  Dexter and Debra struggle to make sense of their familial relationship, their jobs in light of Dexter’s extracurricular activities, and how they will move forward together and individually.  Subplots interfere at times with their struggle or give Dexter new opportunities to explore his Dark Passenger.  Dexter changes in a very, very scary way by the end, as does Debra, but it makes absolute sense considering what they’ve been through.  Other characters who embark on journeys in this season include Batista, who decides to retire; Quinn who once again allows the head between his legs to think for him; and LaGuerta, who brings back memories of Sgt. Doakes and could be the most dangerous threat to Dexter.  Harrison is now three, and we see Cody and Astor who come for a visit.  I think the writers and producers made the right decision not to have any one “villain” for this season.  It gives Dexter and Debra’s struggle the primacy it deserves.

This Showtime TV series is bloody, violent, at times unbelievably gruesome.  It blurs the line between good and evil, questioning our moral beliefs while showing another set of beliefs can create a new morality, very similar to Hannibal Lecter.  As character study, it is rich, deep, and multi-faceted — a research treasure trove for a writer……

Does Writer’s Block Exist?

In a word, yes. In it’s most extreme form, which I’ve experienced, everything the writer tries to write simply stops after the first few pages. If you foster your creativity, nurture it on a regular basis, however, writer’s block is less likely to be a problem. Ever.

Writer’s block can sneak up on a writer.  It arrives disguised as something else — a physical illness, a family crisis, a car accident — and makes it impossible to even think about writing words down to fill a blank page, much less narrative structure, story, developing characters.  Sometimes, life needs attending first.  Believe it or not, nurturing your life and your experiences will make you a better writer.  A humane writer. 

My experience with bad writer’s block occurred because of a trauma I’d survived.  The physical wounds had healed but not the emotional and psychological wounds.  My mind and heart let me know by not allowing me to write.  The problem was that I could not understand what was happening and was angry about the block.  It was two years — yes, years — before I figured it out.  During that time, I read voraciously.  I kept a journal, writing everyday in as much detail as I could to exercise my writing muscles and keep them limber.  Occasionally, I pulled out a writing project and tried to work on it, with no success.  I also learned patience with myself and my imagination during this time, something that was as difficult for me as feeling that I’d never write again.

How did I finally break the writer’s block?  I watched a movie.  I would also argue that I was ready to write again, and going to the movie, seeing a fine actor create and sustain a character through subtle gestures as well as costume and speech, proved to be the perfect messenger to tell me.  I saw Daniel Day-Lewis play Hawkeye in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans.  I had been doubtful Day-Lewis could truly pull it off.  I was as skeptical as a person can be and almost didn’t go, but a good friend persuaded me to give him a chance.

Hawkeye in action (photo: IMDb.com)

From the opening frames, it was clear that Day-Lewis had stepped aside to allow Hawkeye to animate him.  I was amazed.  I ended up seeing the movie five or six times in the theater — the first to get the story, and the following to study Day-Lewis and the other actors.  It was a lesson in creating and developing character.  The thing that still sticks in my mind years later is the way Day-Lewis used his body to convey Hawkeye’s personality — his walk, his hand gestures, his stance — this actor never relaxes. 

Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye (photo: Morgan Creek Productions)

Day-Lewis and the other actors sparked thoughts about the characters I had created — how had I defined them in the story?  How did they behave?  Did they have any idiosyncratic gestures?  How did they live in their bodies?  How did speech set each one apart?  I spent months on getting to know my characters, visualizing them, developing their backstories, listening to their voices as I interviewed them.  In the end, it was really this work that broke the writer’s block. 

Hindsight reveals truth.  Looking back much later, I realized the true cause of my bout of writer’s block.  It forced me to re-examine how I approach my life as well as my writing.  I certainly don’t need to be so hard on myself, just on the writing.

I’ve heard that a common cause of writer’s block is a writer’s unreasonably high expectations for himself and his writing, expecting to perform at an award-winning level even in a first draft.  The only cure for such a block is to lower expectations and write, write, write.  Perfection remains impossible to attain, no matter who you are.  Striving for excellence, however, is a noble goal as long as it’s done without taking oneself too seriously. 

So, just keep it human…..