Saturday, August 16, 2014

Idiot Boxing: American Horror Story Season 2 & Dexter Season 1

Yes, I do actually watch some TV in between the movies...

Yes, this show is every bit as disturbing
as this poster would suggest...
American Horror Story: Asylum (2012)

This show is about as dark and twisted as you could possibly find on network TV. And it's phenomenally well done.

I enjoyed the first season, known as "Murder House," well enough, even if I didn't think it was exactly a masterpiece. Though some aspects of the 12-episode tale didn't completely draw me in, I couldn't help but admire the construction and execution of the complex plot, as well as the outstanding performances by the cast.

This intense demon exorcism was one of the tamest scenes
during the
Asylum storyline.
Season 2, "Asylum," resulted in a similar feeling. I must admit, though, that the direction and acting grew even stronger with this season. It's an interesting series in that it brings back many of the same actors from the first season, but has them all playing completely different characters, in a different time, place, and story. While all are marvelous, the standouts are Angela Lange and

Like Season 1, Asylum is not for those who blanch at dark horror. Asylum places these actors in a horribly gothic asylum in Massachusetts in the 1960s, where various twisted administrators abuse and torture the committed patients. There are rapes, brutal murders, and ghastly experiments enough to go around. As if that weren't enough, the supernatural elements include demonic possessions and alien abductions. So there's plenty of the stuff of horror films to satisfy nearly any fan.

All of these elements might have led to a massive mess of a tale. Admittedly, things do get a tad convoluted in places. Still, the narrative is handled well, and it remains mysterious and compelling enough right to the end.

Some are likely to be disappointed or confounded by the resolutions of some characters' stories. I must admit that not all of them were satisfying to me. The show was still well done, though, and I'll likely watch Season 3 - Coven.

Dexter, Season 1 (2006)

This was a re-watch for me. I watched Seasons 1, 2, and 3 back when they were released between '06 and '08, and I liked the show well enough. But I didn't keep up with it after that, and never really felt any great sense of loss. All the same, when a key character from the first season showed up in Europa Report, I felt the urge to go back to the initial run.

It's still a pretty good season, though I was also reminded of why the show never completely won me over. The main draw is, as you would expect, the title character. Dexter is a serial killer who has mastered the art of "blending in" as well as possible. He's a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department, and he uses his background in criminology to track down, stalk, and ritually kill other serial killers. This method allows him to feed his ever-present urge to kill while not arousing suspicions.

This season did very well with introducing the character and using pitch dark humor to get into the mind of a homicidal sociopath, and even make him amusing and a little charming. As the season unfolds, we learn about the making of this very unusual murderer, and how his adopted father - a police officer - recognizes what Dexter is and helps him avoid detection. Sure, it's far-fetched, but the show makes it just plausible enough, and it is a morbidly fascinating tale.

And on the right, Deb, likely on the verge of one of her
countless mental meltdowns. I rate Deb as possibly
the most
annoying character in a TV series I've ever seen.
Unfortunately, Dexter is far and away the strongest character. Aside from Doakes - a tough and highly suspicious cop who works with Dexter - all of the other characters are nuisances who, to me, simply waste screen time. The greatest offender happens to be Dexter's adopted sister, Deb. Deb is one of the worst-conceived and most annoyingly-portrayed characters I've ever seen. She's an insecure, emotional basket-case who is exceedingly sensitive and constantly on the verge of crying or breaking down in some way. And what's her job? A cop!! There is no way such an unstable personality would have passed the psych profiles to become a police officer, and yet there she is. I always found her character horribly forced. She is supposed to be some counterpoint to Dexter's unfeeling sociopath. That's fine, but to make her a cop is ridiculous. On top of that, as if to somehow justify this irrational decision in storytelling, they try to make her "tough" by having her constantly spew profanity. It's all very contrived, and she's a large enough part of the show that her presence would test my patience far too often.

I have no idea how the more recent seasons of Dexter have shaped up (it's in its ninth season, currently), but this first one was entertaining enough. I feel no great need to re-watch the second season any time soon, though the building confrontation between Doakes and Dexter was certainly intriguing.