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Having never paid for the Showtime channel, my experience with Dexter depended almost entirely on review copies from Paramount. Seasons one and two were among the first TV shows on Blu-ray I was ever sent and I found myself hooked on the series, following those reviews. Though the second season was unquestionably weaker than the first (which stands as one of the tightest single seasons of a serialized television drama in history), I was compelled to purchase the third and fourth seasons on my own when review copies stopped showing up. The fourth season hit every appropriate beat at every appropriate moment and it ended on such a shattering, perfect moment that I couldn’t possibly imagine the series going on any further. The general consensus on the quality of season five didn’t compel me to spend more money. But then, just a week ago, Paramount sent me Dexter season six to review. No warning. So I scrambled and watched season five in preparation. For the most part the consensus and my assumptions were correct – season five was weaker even than the comparatively sluggish third season and season four made the ideal series capper. There are great moments throughout the season, and Michael C. Hall’s mournful, post-cancer performance is possibly the best in series history (he won the best lead actor Emmy--er, correction, Golden Globe), but the subplots were dull and the general storytelling was listless. A warning: I’m going to do my best to discuss each episode without spoiling every major plot point.

Dexter: Season Six
Season six gets off to a bit of a rough start with Those Kinds of Things. This episode follows the suit set by too many serialized shows and spends far too much time catching us up on what we missed over the last year through extremely clumsy, expositional dialogue. This dialogue tells us that Dexter has been steadily whittling away at the Miami serial killer population and his son, Harrison, has turned two. He’s also sharing larger apartment space with Angel Batista’s (David Zayas) younger sister, Jamie (Aimee Garcia), who watches Harrison on those nights that Dexter stalks other killers. Batista has divorced María LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez) and she herself has been promoted from lieutenant to captain via a blackmailing scheme at the expense of Deputy Chief Matthews (Geoff Pierson). Batista is temporarily named lieutenant and both he and LaGuerta hope the position will become permanent. Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) is still dating and living with her partner, Joey Quinn (Desmond Harrington). Later in the episode, Quinn’s awkward attempt to propose is interrupted when a Kevlar-clad, attempted spree-killer enters the restaurant and opens fire (a bit uncomfortable now, following the Aurora shooting). Debra almost single-handedly stops the perp and her exploits are captured on a cell phone by one of the restaurateurs.

Once all of the exposition is out of the way, the season’s story is finally allowed to properly start. The episode’s standalone component – that of Dexter attending his high school reunion only because he suspects an ex-classmate of murdering another ex-classmate, is quite entertaining. It’s nice to see the writers find a relatively organic way of bringing Dexter’s past into the avenger equation without retracing too many of the first season’s steps. This standalone plot also finds amusing places to place the spirit of Harry Morgan (James Remar) and ups the comedy quotient, which was an important element throughout the fifth season. Some of this comedy is a bit goofy, but I appreciate the effort. This first episode also introduces the season’s ongoing murderous adversaries, Travis Marshall (Colin Hanks) and Professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos). The introduction is wrapped in mystery, of course, but it also marks the first time that the ‘big bad’ has been introduced outside Dexter’s point of view. Their first murder is so grotesque it immediately grabs the audience’s attention and promises something occult, a brand of sensationalistic murder that hasn’t really been covered by the series already. This, along with a subplot where Dexter considering enrolling Harrison in a Catholic preschool despite his atheist mindset, sets the season’s theme – religion.

Once Upon a Time… starts with Debra’s restaurant exploits going viral on YouTube, along with Quinn finally proposing. She turns him down. The viral video event eventually ties into Batista’s and LaGuerta’s storylines when Deputy Chief Matthews uses it as an excuse to promote Debra to lieutenant. Following the sloppy and detached non-Dexter pieces of the previous season it’s nice to see supporting character threads tightened up so quickly in the season. Meanwhile, Miami Metro suspects an ex-con turned minister named Brother Sam (Mos Def) of the first episode’s clearly religiously motivated murder. Dexter stalks Brother Sam and discovers he’s not a killer, but a good man genuinely concerned with rehabilitating criminals. It’s a little weird in the context of the series to have a red herring the audience already knows didn’t commit the crime (usually we aren’t privy to much more of the mystery than Dexter is), but, thematically, this causes Dexter to continue questioning his aversion to religion, as God’s love appears to be holding Brother Sam’s ‘darkness’ at bay. This episode continues unraveling the mystery of the real murders and benefits from footage of Dexter being a good father.

Dexter: Season Six
Smokey and the Bandit is one of the show’s better standalone episodes. When a prostitute is found dead with damage to her tooth, Dexter realizes the culprit may be a serial killer dubbed ‘The Tooth Fairy,’ who disappeared after a series of murders in the 1980s. Dexter’s hunch (along with a collection of serial killer newspaper clippings) leads him to one of Miami’s many retirement homes, where he meets Walter Kenney (Ronny Cox), a depressing mirror into his own future as an aging serial killer. The concept is so strong it would make a strong feature film, assuming you changed the character names. The serialized elements include the further adventures of our Doomsday killers (it dawns on me that I last saw Colin Hanks as a less tortured holy man on Mad Men) and further strife caused by Debra’s sudden rise to lieutenant. Here we are reminded why Batista remains the show’s most consistently lovable character and Quinn remains the most unnecessary. The episode ends with hints of Vince Masuka’s (C.S. Lee) new intern, Ryan Chambers (Brea Grant), possibly not being the charming pixie she appears to be.

A Horse of a Different Color starts the process of further tightening the season’s super-plot. Masuka/Chambers subplot deepens a bit, but otherwise, the thrust of the newly dubbed ‘Doomsday Killers’ storyline begins to take precedence, without getting lost in the supporting characters. Well, aside form Quinn and Batista, who get high on the job for no real thematic reason. Even Harrison’s appendicitis scare helps motivate the ongoing theme of religious awakening and cements Brother Sam as an important part of Dexter’s possible spiritual ‘enlightenment.’ The ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ murders are, flat out, the most bizarre killings in the series history. They help mark the seasons as going more straight horror, approaching gothic. The DDK (Doomsday Killers) murders sit atop a slippery slope to Saw-like, post-slasher gimmicks, but the writers manage to toe the line pretty well at this point. New cast member Mike Anderson (Billy Brown) is properly introduced as an upstanding, intellectual detective. There’s a touch of Morgan Freeman from Seven, thanks to his stoic reaction to religiously iconic themes, but the writers keep the ‘homage’ to a relative minimum.

In The Angel of Death, Miami Metro and Dexter officially follow the DDK murders in earnest. The details of their cases are a bit muddled, as they basically discover Geller’s identity without the writers effectively explaining how they arrived at the fact. Dexter also stumbles upon Travis Marshall’s identity a little too conveniently, though this does lead to a unique interaction between Dexter and his prey. Following Harrison’s recovery, Dexter and Brother Sam’s relationship traces the series’ ongoing ‘Dexter opens up to someone about his past’ trope, which is getting a bit old. It’s easy to guess how this relationship is going to end. Still, it is nice seeing Dexter open up to someone who isn’t another killer, a sociopath ex-drug addict, or a damaged, frail woman on a revenge tear. It also acts as a nice counter-balance to Geller’s brutal religious teachings (it is clear that his plan is, indeed, quite Seven-esque). Here the taut storytelling is, once again, sabotaged by Quinn. On the other hand, newbie Anderson is pulling his weight in a supporting role. Masuka hires yet another new intern, Louis Green (Josh Cooke), making it clear that rotating interns is the theme, not his relationship with Chambers.

Dexter: Season Six
By Just Let Go, the Brother Sam subplot is becoming the main plot. Moving away from the DDK case already seems like an iffy move, but his friendship with Sam takes Dexter to the place he ‘needs to be’ for the series to continue. The unexpected character appearance at the end of the episode is both exciting for what it means for Dexter and frustrating in its regressive qualities. Debra’s position begins to really isolate her and LaGuerta starts appearing out of nowhere, like a specter, just to say something disconcerting. On average this episode belongs more to her than Dexter, right up until the riveting final scene (notice I’m not revealing specific plot points here, spoilerphobes). Quinn and Angel’s adventures turn up some valuable information in Professor Carissa Porter (Mariana Klaveno), a person of interest with ties to Geller, but then the shame spiral continues when Quinn sleeps with her.

Following the previous episode’s blast from the past cliffhanger, the second previous season-inspired plot point that kicks-off Nebraska feels a bit excessive. The focus of the DDK super-plot is, again, a bit lost, but this relative standalone episode acts as a companion piece to Smokey and the Bandit. I’m still torn on Dexter’s change in personal guide. The initial reveal in Just Let It Go is an exciting prospect for a fan – Dexter has lost some of his ambiguously evil edge over the last four seasons and is spending a lot of time killing clearly evil individuals – but, by this episode, this new development already feels like the writers are just marking time until the climax and that this is the best way to keep the title character a part of the equation. Fortunately, this sidetrack doesn’t last past this single episode, so the pause is brief. Thematically, this change in ‘dark passenger’ bookends the break in Geller and Marshall’s relationship and tempts the audience to assume certain things about the nature of that relationship. The smell of a plot twist wafts through the air.

Sin of Omission is directed by Ernest Dickerson, which puts it ever so slightly above the rest of the seasons episodes in terms of visual output. His presence also gives the knowing audience members a hint as to what to expect from the episode. Dickerson’s usual baroque and gothic qualities are limited by the series’ visual themes, but are still exploited for the sake of the episode’s important DDK elements. In terms of thematic elements, this episode sees Dexter becoming Marshall’s tentative mentor (the biggest new plot point) and Deb passive aggressively accepting mentorship from LaGuerta, whose endgame is coming into focus. Angel’s disapproval of his sister and Louis’ relationship plays like a sitcom stereotype and Quinn’s continuing fall from (relative) grace is a continuously massive bore. A better sidetrack is one where Dexter is ‘absolved of his sins’ by an Alzheimer’s-ridden priest. This scene is short, succinct, and thematically quite satisfying. Sin of Omission[I] may also be the first time we’ve actually seen the omnipresent donut man.

Dexter: Season Six
Sporting a particularly spoilery title, [I]Got Geller
is the episode where the big twist most of us saw coming is finally revealed (I can’t believe I managed to make it until the Blu-ray release without having this twist ruined for me, personally). Doing some lazy research, I discover that this twist wasn’t particularly well-received by fans. It is certainly predictable and gimmicky, but I’m not all that bothered because the twist, as it were, doesn’t entirely betray the previous storyline and makes just as much physical sense as any number of similar audience-shocker moments. The biggest problem with the reveal is that it marks much of the time spent with Travis during this (and the previous) episode as a waste, but it doesn’t compare to Quinn’s much bigger waste of pacing. Quinn’s rock bottom moment does produce a genuinely funny joke, but his dopey adventures with Batista continue to feel like the writers were desperately trying to keep the characters relevant. There’s simply too much at stake to waste time on them, and, sadly, it’s easier to care about newcomers Louis and Anderson at this point. The other major development this episode, that of Deb’s new shrink, Dr. Michelle Ross (Rya Kihlstedt), looks like another hackneyed premise, but it ends up really helping the character, who really needs to become a real adult. The psychiatric sequences also offer up some good meta-jokes at the series’ expense.

Ricochet Rabbit threatens to over-explain the previous episode’s twist, but gets away with quite a bit, thanks to Colin Hanks’ strong performance and the fact that his brand of insane killer is mostly new to the series ( Dexter almost always presents killers as fully aware of the evil of their actions). With the reveal out of the way, having cleared up the obvious comparisons between Marshall and Dexter, the writers are clear to explore the season’s religious themes on a level that relates more to Dexter’s personal philosophies. On the other hand, Dexter arguing with his father’s spirit about instilling possibly the wrong values in him is regressive and more or less already covered during the third and part of the fourth season. The more amicable ghost father/living son relationship was working much better following the events of Nebraska. On the better side of using ongoing series tropes, sending Batista anywhere without backup always leads to something bad, so the tension is appropriately ratcheted. Quinn’s terrible behavior finally leads us to something here, too, though it’s not really enough to justify an entire season of time-wasting.

Talk to the Hand is also directed by Dickerson, but is generally more of a thriller episode, relying more on his action and suspense skills. The scale of the threat demands the highest anxiety levels and Dickerson sets the tension so high that it’s almost overwhelming. Major characters have been threatened and even killed throughout the series, but the stakes haven’t ever been placed this high with this many major characters put in danger at once. Deb’s psychiatry sessions take a disturbing turn, leading somewhere I’m pretty sure very few fans want to go, but it makes perfect sense in the context of the show (not to mention Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter’s real lives). LaGuerta finally lays her cards on the table, though most of us already guessed where she was going, which offers her and Deb a chance to make-up before the season is out.

The season finale, This is the Way the World Ends, begins in an unexpected place, and takes on an unexpected tone. The usual sudden rush to the climax is put on hold for Dexter to be rescued from a watery grave, contemplate his place in the universe, and spend a little quality time with Harrison. This would seem to take the wind out of the sails, so to speak, but it really doesn’t. Instead, this quieted tone following the previous episode’s literally explosive climax resets the audience’s tempers and preps us for more nail-biting suspense. The apogee doesn’t quite live up to expectations, but what Dexter season finale ever has? Except season four, of course. At least this slight understatement isn’t a cop-out (no pun intended), like season two and five’s finales.  Does the expectations set by season four’s climax prep the audience for the possibility of horrible things happening to Dexter’s loved ones, or is it just a case of the writer repeating themselves? The coda brings about more uncomfortable Deb and Dexter stuff that sets the stage for the seventh and supposedly final season.

Dexter: Season Six

Video


Dexter is shot, at least recently, using Sony HD cameras that are optimized to create a film-like look (35mm is still used for the series’ patented super slow motion shots). This leads to some minor grit, but, for the most part, clarity is the word. Previous Dexter Blu-ray releases did have some issues with blocking effects on the most vibrant and warm hues. This release is much more consistent in terms of cleanliness, featuring only minor digital noise and occasional issues with detail loss in the darkest shots. Details are crisp and sharp throughout, including both close-up textures (Masuka’s loud shirts being a highlight) and the often complex set-pieces used for wide-shot. The show isn’t quite as neon and vibrant as it was the first few seasons and features more in the way of pure whites, but the series’ Miami sun-baked visual themes still mostly hold true, including an overall honeyed tone during most of the daylight sequences. The semi-gothic visual themes that follow the Doomsday Killers throughout lead to a lot of heavy black levels and these feature plenty of sharp edges without too much enhancement. The more stylish dark shots feature slick highlights that might’ve gone missing in standard definition as well. The city-life night shots often feature the same neon pops seen on previous seasons (contrasting green and purple elements are especially vibrant). Skin tones appear a bit too consistent at times, like three-strip Technicolor. This appears to be a stylistic choice, however, and is in keeping with the more consistent clothing hues. The separation of colour elements is very impressive, even when the colours in question aren’t in sharp focus. There are a few digital smoothing and ghosting effects throughout, though no interlacing or combing effects.

Dexter: Season Six

Audio


Paramount continues its habit of releasing Dexter in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 rather than DTS-HD MA 5.1. This collection also follows the basic suit set by previous seasons in terms of audio design. Dexter isn’t an action show or really a supernaturally-laced show, so it never features an excess of rich, layered sound effects, but it does regularly impress on a more natural level. Dialogue is clear and centered with few inconsistencies in volume. Even the perpetually whispered dialogue is usually discernable and Dexter’s deadpan narration stands apart without being shockingly loud. Ambient effects work quite well, especially when they cover the background of quieter, dialogue-based scenes. This ambience also subtly works through the stereo and surround channels, though not a whole lot of directional work is included here. Some of the bigger directionally-enhanced moments include a plague of locusts, the abstract sound of the sun rising and setting quickly to mark the passage of time, footsteps moving over Dexter’s head, and a big, fiery explosion. The more horror-centric murders this season lead series composer Daniel Licht to delve into more Bernard Herrman-esque, high string clichés than usual, but these tend to fit the on screen action quite well and even include some impressive stereo movement. The LFE support isn’t particularly vital, but some punchy bullet hits, the aforementioned explosion, and the music’s rhythm section features plenty of bounce.

Dexter: Season Six

Extras


Once again, Showtime and Paramount have chosen to include all the extra material via a BD-Live connection and, once again, it’s disappointing. It’s especially disappointing for me as my player is having issues with its on-line, storage, and none of these extras will work for me. For the record, however, those with working BD-Live storage can enjoy interviews with various members of the cast and crew, the first two episodes of House of Lies, the first two episodes of the fifth season of Californication, and the first two episodes of season two of The Borgias.

Dexter: Season Six

Overall


Dexter season six isn’t as good as the series’ first or fourth seasons, but it’s a lot cleaner and tighter than the sloppy fifth season. The performances continue to be top notch, the kills are more spectacular than ever, and there is a consistent season theme, placing it somewhere between the problematic second and third seasons. It also appears that the upcoming seventh and final season will feature a direct continuation of a number of new plot points brought up late in this season, which increases the likelihood of the producers sticking the landing, so to speak. This Blu-ray collection looks and sounds great, perhaps even better than the earlier collections, but extras are basically non-existent, consisting only of BD-Live links, which are mostly made up of previews of Showtime’s other shows.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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