Also, isn't that the creepiest packaging ever? It's not the blood spatters or his smile, so much as his blank, soulless eyes combined with the blood spatters and smile. Actually, I think his eyes would be creepy regardless.
After killing his brother at the end of the first season, Dexter has a bit of a problem - he can't seem to kill anymore. He needs to kill, but he can't bring himself to do it. When he gets over that problem, a new one crops up - Rita starts to wonder about Dexter's habits and behavior and comes to the conclusion that he's a junkie. She tells Dexter that he either has to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings and stay clean, or he can no longer have her and the kids in his life.
Narcotics Anonymous introduces Dexter to another complication - Lila, his beautiful, reckless sponsor. Although Rita does approve of Dexter doing something about his addiction (Dexter didn't technically lie when he said he had one, but he didn't tell her that killing is his true addiction), she's not happy about his sponsor. Things come to a head when Rita finds out that Dexter and Lila went on a trip together. Dexter took Lila with him as support while he confronted his mother's last remaining (not in prison, not dead) killer, but Rita assumes they had sex while they were gone. Unfortunately, Dexter actually does have sex with Lila not long after he assumes he and Rita are over. When Rita decides to hear him out about the trip, finding out that they really had sex after the trip is the last straw for her. It looks like she and Dexter are over.
While Dexter is dealing with all of this personal stuff, his life as a serial killer is falling apart. His dumping ground has been discovered, and his sister, his coworkers, and brilliant FBI agent Lundy are all working to find the Bay Harbor Butcher, aka Dexter. It's a stressful situation for Dexter, whose first rule, Harry's first rule, is "don't get caught." Then Dexter has something of a crisis when he discovers that Harry not only knew his mother, he got her killed (not on purpose, but still) and he was having an affair with her.
There's no one Dexter can really talk to. He can't tell his sister any of this, because too much of it touches on what he is and does in his free time, plus there's a whole lot of never-to-be-resolved issues between Dexter's sister and Harry. He can't tell Rita, because there's too much she doesn't know about him and because their relationship is in a seriously rocky phase. The closest Dexter comes to someone he can talk to is Lila. Lila knows his mother was murdered in front of him when he was a child, and she knows that there's a lot of darkness inside him, although she doesn't know that he kills people. Even so, she seems to understand him better than anybody. It's unfortunate that she's a master manipulator with no conscience. She becomes obsessed with Dexter, much to Dexter's annoyance and, later, anger.
Just as Dexter becomes sure that he's been identified as the Bay Harbor Butcher, a stroke of luck - Doakes has been acting suspiciously enough that, combined with the discovery of Dexter's blood slides in Doakes's car, he becomes the prime suspect in the Bay Harbor Butcher case. Unfortunately for Dexter, everyone decides that Dexter is in danger and needs to be put under protection. Although he eventually gets that protection to back off, the extra attention does make it hard to deal with the remains of a recent kill and Doakes, who Dexter has locked up in a remote cabin.
Dexter wavers between the "don't get caught" rule, which encourages him to frame Doakes for his murders, and a strange new desire to quit being a ticking time bomb in his relationships with the people that he, well, kind of cares for. He knows that Deb (his sister), Rita, and the kids will all be horrified and devastated when his murderous identity is revealed. His code doesn't make him comfortable with the idea of killing a relatively innocent man like Doakes (Doakes isn't a killer in the same way Dexter's usual victims are), and it also doesn't make him comfortable with framing him. Dexter wants to do the right thing and turn himself in, but admitting what he is to the people in his life isn't easy.
In the end, Lila makes things easy for Dexter. She finds the cabin where Dexter keeps Doakes locked up, discovers what Dexter is (and, rather than being horrified, feels even more like Dexter's soulmate), and blows up the cabin with Doakes still inside it. Doakes's charred body is found with the remains of Dexter's latest victim, so it seems clear to police investigators that Doakes is truly the Bay Harbor Butcher.
When Rita decides to allow Dexter back into her and the kids' lives, most of Dexter's problems are solved. All that's left to deal with is Lila, who still won't leave Dexter alone. After a botched attempt at killing her, Lila kidnaps the kids and escapes, leaving Dexter and the kids to die in her burning apartment. Of course, everyone survives (although poor Deb misses out on her chance to be with Lundy, with whom she had developed a romantic relationship), and Dexter eventually hunts Lila down and kills her, removing her from his life once and for all.
I wasn't sure what to expect with this season, since I figured it wasn't going to follow the book. It was...okay, but I kept having to take breaks. For a while, I was only watching one episode every few days, at least until the end, when I started watching several episodes at a stretch. I think it was the tenseness of things that got to me. In the first season, the overarching plot dealt with the Ice Truck Killer. There were individual episodes where Dexter had to fear being caught (the one with the little kid was amusing), but, as far as I can remember, nothing like the amount of stress that was heaped upon Dexter in this second season - and when I'm really into a show/book/whatever, when the main character is stressed, so am I. By the end of the season, the "need to find out" overwhelmed the stressed feeling, and I was able to watch more at one time, but it still took longer to get through this season than I thought it would.
I have to say, I liked the first season more. When taken with that first season, the second season had too many inconsistencies. Plus, some things were kind of...meh.
First, the inconsistencies. Whatever happened to the NA meetings? Sure, Dexter had no excuse to keep going to them after he and Rita broke up, but what about after they got back together? Are they just going to pretend that the whole "junkie" thing never happened and that Dexter is now all better on his own without any outside help, even though Rita thought he needed something like NA and a sponsor in order to stay clean? Also, what happened to Dexter's aversion for blood? He still chopped his kills into pieces and neatly packaged the pieces in plastic bags, but he made no attempts to keep his kills from being massive gore fests. The man who killed his mother, in particular, was killed in a way that could not avoid splattering blood everywhere. I suppose you could argue that, in that case, he was dealing with his mother's murder by killing the man in the same way he killed her, with a chainsaw, but I'm not really convinced. This is the guy who wigged out after walking into a crime scene filled with blood in the first season - it's hard to believe that he could chop a guy into pieces with a chainsaw and be unaffected. Another thing - why did Dexter stay with Lila for so long? He might not necessarily love Rita, but I think he cares for her, and he definitely cares for her kids. It didn't make sense to me that he'd completely abandon them for Lila, even for a little bit.
Now, the "meh" stuff. The relationship between Deb and Lundy was...weird. I'm sure the show's writers, and maybe Showtime, were hoping for it to come across as edgy and unusual. Depictions of relationships between older men and younger women are pretty common, while the reverse is less common (more common than it used to be, though). It might have been more interesting and less icky if Deb hadn't had all that daddy baggage, and if the writers hadn't made sure to remind the audience of that baggage. At one point, before she started sleeping with and dating Lundy, Deb told her current boyfriend (a nice guy who had nothing wrong with him except he wasn't really adding to the story) that she couldn't possibly have a crush on Lundy because he reminded her too much of her dad. In fact, for the longest time I thought that she followed Lundy around like a puppy because she saw him as a surrogate father figure. She never got the approval and attention from her father that she craved because her father was always more focused on Dexter. Then she and Lundy jumped into bed together, and my brain started screaming "Elektra complex!"
Another thing that I didn't really like so much was all that Lila stuff. I hate it when I can see a character being painfully, obviously stupid about something, and yet they keep on being stupid. Dexter was that way with Lila. Dexter's not always very good at divining others' emotions, so it didn't bother me too much that he didn't seem to realize that Rita didn't like him hanging around Lila all the time. However, nearly from the beginning, Dexter knew that Lila was wild, a risk-taker, the exact opposite of what he had to be to keep from being caught. Despite that, he kept hanging out with her. Okay, so she "understood" him better than anyone he'd ever met, but that didn't mean she wasn't bad for him too. I was like Deb, I could've smacked Dexter for leaving Rita for Lila. Lila was either the cause of or contributor to a lot of Dexter's problems in this season. By the time he realized what an annoying snake she was, it was too late.
Quite a few people found out about Dexter's secret this season. Two of Dexter's failed kills got to run around with that knowledge (one of them was blind, but still), Lila found out, and Doakes found out. I was surprised it took Lila so long to find out, considering how well she could read Dexter, but I was also kind of surprised that she reacted so well. I figured for sure that all her talk about there being no monsters in the world was really just talk, and that she'd crumble in the face of what Dexter really was. Instead, she not only went all "poor, lonely Dexter," she helped him out by killing Doakes. I wonder, if Doakes had gotten free or if Dexter had voluntarily freed Doakes, would Doakes really have taken Dexter in, or would he have just killed him. After Dexter killed his mother's killer in front of Doakes with a chainsaw, I figured it was possible he'd just kill him, but I was never really sure. I guess now I'll never know - I can't believe he was killed off.
Most of the extras are only available if you pop the final DVD into your computer. I wasn't willing to do that, so it felt, to me, like there was only one extra - a couple episodes of the second season of Brotherhood. I haven't seen the first season. I tried a little of the first episode of the second season, hated it, and shut it off.
The list below was a bit of a cheat for me, since I actually focused on Jeff Lindsay's books as part of my final project in my readers advisory class. Sorry there aren't any watch-alikes (unless you count Silence of the Lambs), but I haven't really watched anything very similar to this show and my usual resources for watch-alikes are no help.
- Darkly Dreaming Dexter (book) by Jeff Lindsay - I shouldn't have to say this, but, if you like this TV series, you really should try the books. The first book introduces Dexter, a serial killer who follows a strict code to only kill criminals the law is unable to deal with. Dexter is fascinated by a serial killer who has entered his area - someone who may know more about Dexter's past than he himself does.
- Whale Season (book) by N.M. Kelby - This black comedy set in fictional Whale Harbor, Florida begins with a poker game between a used-car dealer and a man who claims he’s Jesus and continues with the threat of grisly murder. “Jesus” is actually a Cuban-American doctor and serial killer who views murder as an act of mercy. Those who'd like another serial killer story with a sense of humor might want to try this.
- Florida Roadkill (book) by Tim Dorsey - In this darkly funny novel, fifteen varied criminals make their way through Florida in order to get to a suitcase full of drug money. Lindsay fans may like the Florida setting, writing style, and Serge, a goofy serial killer.
- The Silence of the Lambs (book) by Thomas Harris - In this thriller, Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee, is trying to catch a serial killer and seeks the expert advice of the imprisoned Hannibal Lector, a pleasant and well-mannered sociopath. Like Dexter, Hannibal can get into the mind of a killer because he is one himself. I haven't actually seen the movie (this is one of those where I'm not really sure how many others besides myself know about the movie but have never seen it), but it might also be a good watch-alike.