Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Silently Scheming Sinister

Just saw the season finale for season three of Dexter.  Needless to say, these are


I have to admit that I felt this was the weakest of the three seasons so far.  I don't mean that it was bad - Dexter is still one of the most gripping experiences out there - but the last two seasons have been superlative, while this was merely excellent.

Since watching the finale I've been trying to put my finger on what exactly was lacking.  At first I thought the problem was that this season lacked focus... you had Miguel and John King running around, with neither really sufficiently dominating.  However, the second season was also a little scattered, with Dexter being the actual villain, and Doakes and Lila his antagonists.  That scattering had a multiplicative effect that kept me breathless as the plot began to spin out of control.  By contrast, it felt like things never really clicked in season three... other than a very weak connection between Miguel and the Skinner, on-screen for all of ten seconds, you just have one wannabe killer and an uninteresting serial killer.  Don't get me wrong, the actual skinner crimes are horrifying, but King's psychopathy doesn't begin to compare with the cold, elegant murders of the Icetruck Killer, the righteous fury of Doakes, or the pure jaw-dropping craziness of Lila.

I guess that I kept wanting to see everything get unified and become greater than the sum of its parts.  After Dexter sees behind Miguel's facade, I began to fantasize about a modern-day interpretation of the climax from The Godfather.  On his wedding night, Dexter would take care of all family business, putting down Miguel and the Skinner while he had a perfect alibi, establishing a safe future for his unborn son.  Obviously they chose a different path, though it was clear the same temptation had presented itself to the writers, because they had Dexter's dad specifically dismiss it in one of the very common fantasy sequences.

It's not like the season was a bust.  It had some of the best cliffhangers in the series to date; specifically, the episode where Dexter finally shares a kill with another person, and the one where he puts down Miguel.  I really enjoyed the evolution of Angel's character, and liked most of the new characters introduced.  Well, that isn't entirely true, but I do like Angel's girlfriend.

In keeping with the "scattered" criticism, it felt like there were a LOT of minor plot threads that just didn't go anywhere.  The most gaping example is the Internal Affairs investigation.  There's also Debra's pursuit of Harry's past.  And, related to IA, we still don't really know what the deal is with Debra's new partner.  I get the strong feeling that they're laying the groundwork for future seasons, and hope they give an impressive payoff, because this just didn't do that much for me.

What else... I think Vince might be my favorite supporting character.  Especially after he got over his crybaby fit, I realized how much I appreciated his personality.  I'm really digging the way that all the characters on the show are evolving.  I miss Doakes... I'm glad they did what they did, because the second season was amazing, but I do miss his strong antagonistic presence; Ramon just isn't an adequate substitute.

Also, you do know what the opposite of "Dexter" is, don't you?  It's "Sinister."  I'm just sayin'.


While I'm on the subject, how does the rest of television look?

I continue to be impressed at the longevity of House.  The staff shakeup continues to pay dividends... it gets a little soap-opera-y at times, but is generally really solid, and the writing continues to be excellent.  Kal Penn is an excellent presence on that show.  Character-wise, I've been surprised at how effective Dr. Taub (sp?) is; I think that this is at least in part because he's such a non-conventional character.  You don't see that many short, balding, mildly unpleasant men on television.

Hooray for a new season of Robot Chicken!  Loved the premiere.

I have to admit that I gave up on Sarah Silverman.  It was funny, but I'm finding diminishing returns there.  I think that Silverman is one of those things that is hilarious in small quantities, but can become overwhelming with too much exposure. 

We're SO close to the end of Battlestar Galactica!  I can hardly wait!

After catching some Daily Shows and Colbert Reports during the election, I'm on the wagon again, trying to detox.  They're excellent, but I just can't give that much of my life to smarminess.  I did, though, check out the Colbert Christmas Special.  Funny stuff!  I don't think it will age well, but the fact that they aren't even trying should help. 

More loosely on the topic of television: last weekend I made some progress on my longest-running hardware project to date.  I picked up a digital television converter using my free $40 coupon, got it working, and was pleased to see that (1) I can get KTEH signals, and (2) one of the "child channels" on KTEH appears to be KQED, which is usually what I actually wish I was watching.  Success!  I was so elated by this that I decided to try again to get the TV capture card in my media PC working properly.

It was a bit of a pain, but after a lot of Googling and research, I finally got the bttv module to load properly.  There are literally hundreds of cards out there that use the same driver, and only a few can be auto-detected.  I fell even more in love with Newegg than ever, because I was able to view my original order history from 2004 (!) and find the exact model of the super-cheap card I had bought.  For a long time I could only get a green screen with some static on this KWorld, but eventually I got the right options and the right order, and at last was grabbing good-looking video.  And it only took me a little more than four years!

There is still one major hitch, though: I can't hear any sound.  Apparently this has been a problem on Ubuntu for over two years now.... something to do with the way the modules are loaded into the kernel.  It looks like I actually need to get two modules loaded, bt878 and snd_bt87x, in order to capture sound off the card.  I finally got them loaded and created the /dev/dsp1 driver (after learning that I needed to pass "load_all=1" to snd_bt87x), but I only hear a faint hum/hiss sound that might be from my speakers.  When I try to capture directly from the device I get an Input/Output error.  I've made sure that all my ALSA options are configured properly, so I'm not sure if there's anything I can do to help at this point.

I will try one more thing before giving up: one way people use this card is to run the line-out audio from the TV card directly into the line-in of their sound card.  This is the preferred way to listen to sound while watching a live broadcast, but I'm unclear on whether I'll actually be able to capture audio using this method.  Still, since the cable costs like $5, there's no reason not to try it.

What's really funny is that I've already spent more time trying to make this work than I probably will watching shows once/if it's set up.  Pretty much the only over-the-air television I'm planning on recording is America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country.  I suppose I might try to cap the occasional Charlie Rose, too, when there's someone good on.  Anyways, it's just kind of amusing... I really do get more pleasure out of building things than using them.


  1. Bro- interesting commentary on Dexter. Some thoughts:

    I watched this season with my roommates, which was a bit of a new experience. Previously, I've seen it first and introduced them to it afterwords. The main change this made was that I actually had "watercooler" talk about a lot of this season. With that in mind:

    -Character development. I would say this was the main focus of this season. We have Dexter learning the values of family, from his chilling rage execution of the Child Molester to his genuine vow to Rita in the finale. We also have him reaffirming the Code through his tribulations, not only as a method of survival but as *the best way*. This is important for him as it will prevent any future thought of apprenticeship, an important difference from the book.
    -Deb's development has to do with what she places as more important, her job or her personal life. That's on the surface. But underneath is the question of whether she follows in her dad's shadow or strikes out on her own. Under-developed, certainly, but summarized nicely in the finale.
    -La Guerta learns how to be an administrator and how to bury the hatchet.
    -Angel learns to not buy prostitutes unless they are a cop [okay, so I wasn't in love with his storyline. :)]

    I agree that some of the show was setting up the next season, which is unique. Previously, we haven't had any sort of clue of what the next season would contain. This one is fairly obviously gearing towards a Dex/Deb confrontation.

    Finally, with the villains. Both George King and the ADA were weak villains. But that is perhaps on purpose. If Prado was a genius, he would never have had to use Dexter. If King was the Ice Truck Killer, he wouldn't be caught. They are the 'ordinary' psychopaths contrasted with Dexter.

    Overall, I agree that elements felt rushed. I was very pleased with Sheriff Prado's revelation, but would have liked more build up to it. It reinforced my belief that the entire Skinner plot was included for two purposes only- for Deb's growth and to allow the complex family relationship of the Prado's to play out.

    Whew. Lot there. Sleep now.

  2. Thoughtful comments as always! Good call on the season's priorities... I tend to mainly follow it for the plot, and appreciate the character development that comes with it, while in this season it was the other way around.

    And same here, I thought that Prado's final reveal was really interesting. The whole last episode was quite good, but at the same time, there was enough content in there that they could probably have done it across two or more episodes, and done an even better job of it.

  3. I started watching Dexter from early this season with my BF who'd already seen the rest. Very weird for me. lol

  4. Also, I'm rewatching it now with a friend who missed this season. Very compelling to see all the little things throughout, and gives even more insight into motivations.

    I agree that the season feels rushed, but its not quite BSG yet.