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Image: "Dexter"
Peter Iovino  /  AP
Michael C. Hall, who portrays the title character in "Dexter," was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series Drama. The series' season 2 finale, which is headed toward a graceful yet conflicted ending, airs Sunday.
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/14/2007 9:59:46 AM ET 2007-12-14T14:59:46

As the second season finale of Showtime's vigilante forensic-scientist serial-killer drama "Dexter" approaches, many questions remain.

Now that Doakes knows that Dexter is a serial killer, how will Dexter deal with him? Will Dexter successfully frame Doakes for his crimes? Or just kill him and dispose of his body in garbage bags like all of his other victims? How will Dexter's psychotic ex-sponsor Lila's presence affect what happens? And what will happen when the FBI and police officers whom Dexter works with arrive on the scene?

Dexter's three immediate concerns come in the form of Doakes, Lila and every cop in Miami, including his sister and her new love interest, an FBI agent played by Keith Carradine (a refreshingly grounded character who will be missed if he doesn't return next season).

Whatever happens in the end, the finale will bring together several threads that have built up gracefully and exponentially over the series' second season.

As "Dexter" veered away from the plot of the novels that inspired it, the show pulled its title character's internal struggles into the external world. His victims' bodies were discovered, his motivation became public knowledge and his colleagues began actively pursuing him — not that they know that their doughnut-offering blood-spatter analyst is the real Bay Harbor Butcher.

One of his colleagues, however, now knows who Dexter is. James Doakes has always been Dexter's quasi-nemesis, the one person who didn't find Dexter to be competent, harmless and lovable. Last season, Dexter asked in his narration, "Why, in a building full of cops — all supposedly with a keen insight into the human soul — is Doakes the only one that gets the creeps from me?"

Following the murder of his murderous brother at the end of last season, Dexter became impotent, incapable of killing. He framed girlfriend Rita's volatile ex-husband to send him back to jail, but in the process, was forced to admit that he, too, had an addiction. While Rita assumed that Dexter was addicted to drugs like her ex, thus forcing Dexter into yet another lie, he nevertheless found comfort in dealing with his urge to kill in his 12-step program.

Genuine, horrifying plot turns
These plot turns, while building to a climax that is rapidly approaching sensational and appears almost impossible to work out of, have never felt artificial. While Dexter, like other serial killers in popular culture, claims to have no emotions, watching his emotional unraveling and then growth has been the real focus of the show's sophomore season.

Most of that is thanks to Michael C. Hall's incredibly subtle yet revealing portrayal of Dexter. On the surface, he's easygoing and awkward, but Hall — who was just nominated for a Golden Globe for this role — lets us see past that.

A large part of the character's complexity is revealed through Hall's dry, wry narration, a combination of a confessional transcript and a carefully crafted autobiography. Those lines are full of brutally witty turns of phrase, but also contain insight into humanity's quirks.

Dexter was finally able to discuss his internal feelings with someone else after he imprisoned Doakes, and the interplay between the two resulted in the series' most rewarding scenes.

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Doakes, who has his own demons to deal with, convinced Dexter to seriously consider turning himself in.

In many ways, this was a horrifying turn of events for viewers.

If Dexter confesses, his ability to roam freely and punish the unpunished will disappear, as will our pleasure from watching him do that. And as Doakes discovered who Dexter really was, the series presented an even more complex dilemma than it usually does.

Viewers are already placed in the intriguing position of identifying with and rooting for a serial killer, but even more damningly, the series now asks us to choose between Dexter and Doakes. Ideally for the characters and for viewers, they'd find a way to come to an agreement so that they could co-exist, but that seems extremely unlikely now with the police and FBI closing in.

Slideshow: Hollywood on strike Unless they frame Lila together, only Doakes or Dexter will come out of the second season finale in one piece. Unlike Dexter's other victims, Doakes is innocent — and rather likable. Will we, Dexter's confidants, be able to forgive him if he kills Doakes?

Likewise, will we, those who've watched "Dexter" unfold on Showtime, be able to forgive CBS for airing an edited version sometime soon?

Going mainstream?
Due to the writers' strike and lack of scripted content, CBS chief Les Moonves said the series might make it to the network "in the near future" but with "some edits," according to The Hollywood Reporter. What exactly those edits will do to the show present the biggest problem.

The violence on "Dexter" is, at times, rather graphic, but not really any more so than the violence that's part of the network's often-gory "CSI" shows. The language presents more of a problem, as Dexter's sister Deb's dialogue is not FCC-friendly.

Removing that pervasive language would definitely impact the series' tone, and not just because it's an integral part of who Deb is. Cops, detectives and serial killers just don't say "shoot" and "oh fudge" or whatever euphemisms would be dubbed over the actual dialogue, and editing could mangle the series' realism.

Perhaps, though, "Dexter's" presence on network TV would have the same effect that Dexter the character has in Miami: He rids the city of its unwanted, undesirable members, even though he does that in a less-than-desirable way.

Likewise, an edited version of "Dexter" may make Showtime and DVD watchers cringe, but it could help move broadcast networks and viewers away from ratings-desperate, plot-driven dramas and toward the more reflective, character-driven model that HBO perfected and Showtime finally got right with "Dexter."

Andy Dehnart is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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