'Dexter': He'd Kill to Solve This Case

Michael C. Hall in his latest undertaking, Showtime's
Michael C. Hall in his latest undertaking, Showtime's "Dexter," in which he plays a psychopathic investigator all too willing to fight fire with fire. (By Dan Littlejohn)
By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 30, 2006

In movies and on television, the serial killer's been done to death.

We're all familiar with the telltale signs: the dug-out pit in the basement; the keeps-to-himself profile; and the shifty five o'clock shadow.

Meet Dexter Morgan, a new breed of psychopath.

Michael C. Hall is the star of "Dexter," a fascinating new Sunday night Showtime series about a Miami lawman who moonlights as brutal serial killer, using the same barbarous tactics of those he is trying to catch. But this avenger is one who only choppity-chops the bad guys who have either outsmarted the legal system or are guilty but haven't been caught.

Far-fetched, perhaps, but the concept works, thanks to Hall's riveting, underplayed performance as a guy who's well-liked despite caring about people "as much as I care about lawn furniture." That emotional detachment makes him a heckuva blood-splatter expert (his official job title), but it also suits his brutal hobby.

As Dexter, Hall successfully sheds the image of uptight, repressed funeral-home owner David Fisher from the now-departed HBO series "Six Feet Under." (What is it with this guy and death?) But, at the same time, Hall actually incorporates some of the characteristics of Fisher into his portrayal of Dexter.

"I'm a very neat monster," Dexter says, fittingly describing himself in a monotone narration used effectively throughout the series.

After dispatching his victims -- with the help of drills, knives, duct tape and lots and lots of cellophane -- Dexter keeps a tiny sample of their blood on a glass slide, which is kept in a wooden case hidden behind the air conditioner of his apartment.

It's all very tidy.

We're not too sure yet how Dexter got the way he is but, luckily, his foster father, Harry (James Remar, the creepy onetime boyfriend of Samantha on "Sex and the City"), knew early on he was a natural-born killer. "Maybe we can do something to channel it -- use it for good," he tells his teenage son in one of many flashbacks.

So begins Dad's training of Dexter, which we come to know as the "Code of Harry." It includes: Don't go hunting after random individuals but rather those who have it comin', and make sure to "always cover your tracks."

The foster dad is one of many appealing supporting characters. Dexter might have to fake human interaction, as he says, but that doesn't stop him from having a girlfriend. Rita (ably played by Julie Benz) is "equally damaged" because of a brutal first marriage, but they are content in their sexless companionship. Slowly, though, with the help of her two adorable kids, we start seeing Dexter evolve.

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