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There's something sad about a season as good as this - it's so intensely, edge-of-the-seat gripping, so blackly entertaining and captivating, you can feel each of the 12 episodes slipping away all too fast. In a truly brilliant show, this is the best story yet. I say "yet" - you get the distinct impression that this is the apex of Dexter, a perspective re-inforced by season 5, the show's weakest to date. Still, savour the brilliance of season 4 - what comes later is only disappointing because this is so, so good. Perfect protagonist, perfect villain. There's more to it than that, but this essential tussle at the season's core is what drives it on with such tension and dark panache.
If you're not familiar with Dexter, the show's premise may sound lop-sided, following as it does the efforts of a serial killer who not only works for the police, but is actually a pretty nice guy. A moral guy, at least - he has his sociopath moments. His victims are all wrong'uns of one kind or another, and he sees himself as a sort of avenging angel, bringing retribution to dregs of society. He's also guided by hallucinations of his late father and has a fairly troubled back-story, but to go into that would reveal more than is fair about the show.
Season Four opens with Dexter (Michael C. Hall, clinically pitch-perfect as always) playing happy families - married, de-facto dad to two children, actual dad to a newly-born third. Of course, he's also bumping off villains on the side whilst trying to maintain his crisp-and-clean veneer. This ongoing tension soon plays second-fiddle to the main thrust of the season, however, as John Lithgow's Trinity Killer appears on the scene. Season Two's CIA agent Frank Lundy (also would-be squeeze of Dexter's sister, Debra) returns, looking to track down the Trinity Killer, so-called for his murderous motif: three people killed each time, in the same three-part sequence each time.
There are two ways to play the serial-killer-villain plot; in Season One, the identity of the Ice Truck Killer was kept secret until the penultimate episode's big reveal. This time around, John Lithgow is shown to be Trinity from the first episode, and the audience are in on a secret that the characters are not. It's not just plot and mood that are being built this time round, but character; Trinity is gradually fleshed-out as the season develops, making for a quite brilliant escalation in tension and intrigue as the story rackets towards its finale.
As a show, Dexter has had some memorable antagonists, but Lithgow is something else as Trinity. An accomplished performer, he immediately finds his groove here, and seems to fill the role with such zeal and relish. What makes the character so brilliant is the inherent contrast - like Dexter, he's more than just a villain, he's ... well, I won't spoil it too much - but suffice to say, it's the flashing change from nice to nasty, from slick to sick that makes Trinity such a phenomenal villain, and such a scary son-of-a-whatsit.
With the rest of the cast on song as usual and an expertly-plotted storyline, this is about as good as television gets. Everything that makes Dexter so good is at its best here; the sharp cinematography, the smooth, slippery Cuban soundtrack and the titular protagonist's simmering inner turmoil. Caught between multiple worlds and multiple identities, something has to give - and does, in great style. The build-up's brilliant, and the pay-off's the kind of thing you're desperate to talk about. It's the kind of series that keeps you up all night, unable to resist just one more episode. Sandwiched between a so-so Season Three and a sub-par Season Five, this is Dexter at its dark, delicious best. Go savour.
Superb, superb, superb.
Just had to get that out. The wife and I finished watching the final four episodes of Dexter Season 4 at 3am last night, and I have to say I'm still catching my breath. After the slight dip in form of Season 3 I was wondering how Season 4 would hold up and it came with bells on. Brilliant acting, brilliant writing. Brilliant plot twists. Just great.
If you don't know, Dexter is a darkly comic US TV drama from Showtime. It stars Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, a blood splatter analysis for Miami Metro Police by day, and a serial killer by night. Unable to hold off his "dark passenger", Dexter at least controls him/her by killing only people who deserve to die.
Series one dealt with the Ice Truck Killer, who turned out be closer to Dexter than he would have liked. Season 2 had Sargeant Doakes hot on Dexter's trail as he was nearly ousted as the Bay Harbour Butcher. Season three had Miguel Prado trying to join up with Dexter in a kind of serial killer tag team. After the first two series, Season 3 was a little off the boil, good but not great. Season 4, however, is fully back on the horse in quite spectacular fashion.
FBI agent Frank Lundy turns up again, retired now but only the trail of someone he calls the Trinity Killer, who kills in threes, first a murdered girl in a bathtub, then a forced suicide, and finally a bludgeoning. The FBI don't believe him, but Debra Morgan (Dexter's sister) does and soon Dexter himself finds himself not just discovering the identity of Trinity but buddying up to him in a way no one would have expected. Trying to keep the rest of his colleagues off Trinity's tail while he lines up his own kill proves to be Dexter's biggest challenge so far.
The characters continue to develop excellently. Maria and Angel have relationship issues - this time with each other - while Debra is put through the ringer in a way that made me wonder how she manages to come out smiling and swearing. Jennifer Carpenter's acting is excellent in this series, and while Debra's swearing is at times over the top, her colourful profanities along with Vince Masuka (on top form as always) provide the light relief. Quinn is the only one who continues to irk me a little, seemingly unsure whether to play the role of good cop or bad cop, though in this series he has a lot more involvement than in Season 3. His new girlfriend, the manipulative journalist Christine Hill, is more involved than anyone realises at first, while Quinn begins to have issues with Dexter.
Dexter, for his part, is at his most confused. Juggling the assorted roles of forensic scientist, serial killer, husband, brother and new mate to Trinity, he is struggling under the pressure and barely manages to keep from being discovered. His character undergoes complete turmoil in this series, and after the dramatic final episode one can only wonder what will happen next. I did find Harry, seemingly popping up in his "ghost" role a little overpowering in this series. Barely a Dexter solo scene goes by without Harry popping up like a little advice monkey somewhere along the line, but still, its a very minor criticism.
The true star of this series though, is John Lithgow, who brings a Hollywood heavyweight level of class in the role of the serial killer Trinity. He is at turns terrifying psychopath, apparently doting father and scatty old man. He's a giant in every scene he's in (not just in size!).
Very recommended. If you haven't watched any of the series yet but enjoy well-written TV drama with good acting, I suggest you start. If you liked the first two seasons but didn't really enjoy season three, don't fear, Season 4 picks up the ball in spectacular style, and if you liked season 3 (I thought it was pretty good) then you will love this. I've heard season 5 dips again, so hopefully Season 6 (which starts airing on TV in November) will step things up again. Certainly, compared to most TV dramas that I've watched recently that tailed off after a good first season, Dexter's staying power is pretty impressive. Long may it continue.
Seasons 1,2,3,4 are all available on Amazon for not a lot. I just ordered the first two for my mother at a tenner each.
Probably not one for the kids - contains a lot of swearing, violence and a few nudity shots.
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