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The Second Season

I should be finishing reading a novel I have to teach soon. Or perhaps I should be writing a proposal - or heck, an article for Fanboy Planet. Transcribe an interview…something! Instead, I find myself sucked into "just one more episode" of a show that I'd figured I'd get around to watching in a few years.

A few years apparently just smacked me upside the head. And here I am, completely hooked on Showtime's Dexter. The second season DVD set has just been released, and I cannot rest until I have finished it.

So that was last week. I have since finished it, and been able to get back to the business of my business. In three short days, this series has become a must-watch for me, though I admit that for fanboys, it's easier to devour in one big lump like this.

Based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, the television series has grown far beyond its literary roots. While Lindsay has continued writing about the character in further novels, apparently fans prefer the direction taken by show creator James Manos, Jr.

Both share an irresistible premise: a budding child psychopath gets trained by his policeman foster father and instilled with a code of behavior. The "Code of Harry" doesn't limit Dexter Morgan's urges, it just channels them into a slightly more pro-social path - still a psycho path, but Dexter must only kill those who have themselves taken lives and escaped justice. It's easier for him to identify those killers, because he works as a forensic scientist in the Miami police department -- a very dark and perverse Barry Allen.

For the second season, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) struggles with the question of whether or not he could just end the urge. Though he claims to have no real human feelings, the arc also traces his dawning realization that he still has connections and loyalties to people, including his girlfriend's children.

Several of his victims have been discovered, and the media labels the killer "The Bay Harbor Butcher," with the people of Miami arguing the same question Dexter asks himself - is he a good person doing bad things, or a bad person doing good?

Does it matter?

It goes so far as to have a local comic book artist try to create a superhero patterned after the unknown Butcher, called the Dark Defender. For comics fans, note that the artist is Tone Rodriguez, best known for drawing Citizen Pain in Violent Messiahs and the short-lived Snake Plissken comic book. Rodriguez also appears in a blink-or-you'll-miss-it (even if you know who he is) cameo as a killer.

Previously known as a repressed mortician on HBO's Six Feet Under, Hall has scored that rare ace. Not only was that preceding series brilliant, he's created a character just as compelling yet very different in Dexter Morgan. Ably assisted by a great ensemble, Hall makes Dexter so (almost) human and sympathetic, you can (almost) forget that he's also a monster. In fact, he's kind of funny. Which of course is the point.

Hall has excellent counterpoints in this season's guest stars. As a woman with a secret of her own, Hustle's Jaime Murray seduces viewers as easily as she does Dexter. Too bad she can't help with FBI Special Agent Lundy, played by the deceptively easy-going Keith Carradine. Though the veteran actor has a few recognizable quirks and tics from role to role, he's a quiet powerhouse and a genuine threat to Dexter - even as he brings Dexter in to help him investigate the Bay Harbor Butcher.

Though this series got a brief and somewhat expurgated run on CBS in the wake of last year's writer's strike, it belongs whole-heartedly to Showtime. And each disc reminds you of that fact, with an inescapable ad for the network's original programming. They might all be good shows, but they don't have much in common with each other, except perhaps for a theme of seediness.

Yet they try to cross-promote like crazy. You can use the DVDs to unlock online episodes of other Showtime series, and if you really want to watch the third season premiere of Dexter but don't subscribe to Showtime, you can get it on the first season DVD of The Brotherhood, which comes out five days after Season 3's premiere on September 28. (But if you want to subscribe, the DVD comes with a coupon…tempting, isn't it?)

The disc also takes you to online interviews with Hall and C. S. Lee, who plays Vince Masuka, Dexter's porn-obsessed friend in the crime lab. They're just fluff. The real meat is in the series itself, well worth the investment - and the addiction.

Dexter - The Complete Second Season

Derek McCaw

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