And on the Other Side of the Spectrum…

Dexter – “Remember the Monsters?”

It’s hard not to think an era of television came to an end with Breaking Bad‘s finale last night. Sure, Mad Men and Parks and Recreation are still going, but with many of the biggest shows of the last decade relegated to sweet box sets, it feels like a new age has begun. Before we say goodbye and pass the torch onto new hopes, like, uh, Masters of Sex, I guess, it’s worth reveling in the greatness that was Breaking Bad. And, before we do that, let’s talk about another surprising juggernaut, Dexter.

Dexter had two really promising seasons, then a bad one, then another great one. I still prefer the intensity of Doake’s hunt in season two than the titanic work of John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer in season four, but regardless, for about four years, Dexter was a show worth watching. “The Getaway,” the episode that saw Dexter finally kill Trinity only to find Rita dead, aired December 13, 2009. It was the last episode of the show anyone should care about. It was episode 48, out of a total of 96.

Half of Dexter was bad. It’s been many years and episodes since it was good. Say what you will about The Office going on too long, it wasn’t bad for half its run. This presents a dilema: could I ever recommend this series to someone? Could you? Could you tell someone to invest in a show that at least half of is practically unwatchable? It was good in the beginning, right? Or maybe it was always terrible… This is the kind of doubt such a string of badness can instill.

I stopped watching at the beginning of season seven, somehow longer than most everyone I know, despite turning on the series before most. What did it for me was the idea that Debra, Dexter’s by-the-numbers police captain sister, could allow Dexter to get away with murder. And then not just get away with it, but see Dexter’s murderous ways as a societal good. It’s one thing for a deluded sociopath to believe murder is justified, it’s quite another for the show’s moral compass to hop onboard the crazy train.

The core tension of Dexter, at least in the beginning, was that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. All his friends and coworkers were unknowingly hunting him, and he had to stay a step ahead or risk destroying the lives of the people he cared about. At least, that’s why I was watching. Naturally, I thought the ending would revolve around Dexter’s murderous ways finally being discovered. That tension was what the show did best, and I thought that was intentionally the focus of the show.

I was wrong, Dexter was about a misunderstood super hero learning to come out of his shell and get everything he wants. By the finale, “Remember the Monsters?”, Dexter not only has a son and girlfriend who love him unconditionally, but Deb is completely on his side, his therapist surrogate mother approves of what he does, and everyone at Miami Metro thinks he’s just about the greatest guy of all time. Let me explain.

You know about Harrison, he doesn’t matter. Dexter’s girlfriend, who we’ll call Miranda from Mass Effect because I don’t know her name, I guess was a serial killer in her own right before. But she quit, and now Dexter is learning to let go if his dark passenger too. God, doesn’t the whole dark passenger thing seem dumb now? Dexter wants to go to Argentina with Harrison and Miranda, because she’s on the run, presumably because of the murdering. And Deb’s ex-boss is on the case.

You see, after basically deciding murder was cool, Deb had something of a mental breakdown. She ended up leaving Miami Metro and becoming a drunk-ass PI… But I guess she’s good now, because in the finale she’s sober and loves Dexter and back at Miami Metro somehow. Isn’t that nice. Not only is she protecting Miranda, but she actually leads her former boss and Lem from The Shield off the case, giving Dexter and his new family a chance to escape.

Charlotte Rampling plays a therapist who worked with Harry when he found out about Dexter’s craziness. She was a presence in this season as she helped Dexter feel great about himself and Deb feel bad for thinking murder is wrong. Anyway, she gets killed by her son, who’s also a serial killer, because OK, which means Dexter has one last kill to do before he can head off to his perfect life in Argentina.

So Dexter and Deb double team the son guy, and Dexter takes him off to a murder room. And Dexter’s all, “you shouldn’t’ve done that.” And the murderer guys all, “you’re a dick.” And then Dexter realizes killing people is a shitty thing to do, so he calls Deb to pick up murder son while he heads off to the airport to join Miranda. What he doesn’t know is that Deb’s boss is following Miranda and Lem is following Deb.

So Deb shows up to arrest murder guy but Lem gets there first and Lem’s all confused and angry and shit. He lets murder guy go just as Deb walks in the room, and murder guy stabs Lem to death and shoots Deb. Oh no! It would be dramatic if it wasn’t oddly shot terribly. Dexter helps Miranda escape Deb’s boss by creating a bomb scare at the airport, but don’t worry, it’s not like it’s hard to commit crimes at the airport, they don’t have cameras or anything. Then he gets the call and rushes to the hospital, while Miranda and Harrison go to another airport.

Deb’s in the hospital, dying of being shot, when Dexter shows up. And instead of Dexter perhaps learning a meaningful lesson here, Deb basically says, “you’re the best fucking guy ever, sorry I fucked up the one fucking job I had” (she swears a lot). And then falls into a coma. Meanwhile, Miami Metro, in a shocking display of competence, arrest murder guy. So Dexter goes to question him.

Obviously in reality Dexter, a blood splatter analyst, wouldn’t be allowed to interrogate a murder suspect, but whatever. Dexter basically goads the guy into stabbing him with a pen, so that Dexter can then remove said pen from his chest and stick it in murder guy’s carotid artery, killing him. Despite being stabbed in the chest, Dexter seems to be fine.

Quinn and Batista question Dexter, watching the tape of him killing murder guy with dumbfounded expressions. At this point, I’d like to remind you that a couple seasons ago, Quinn hired RoboCop to prove that Dexter was a serial killer. This time, after watching the tape, the two best detectives in Miami seem to realize that Dexter went in there to kill that guy, but say, essentially, well, it was self defense, get out of here, you silly goose. So officially everyone in this show is accepting of murder, except for maybe Masuka.

Dexter goes back to Deb in the hospital and unplugs her from life support, making her his last kill. He takes her body to his boat and drives off into a hurricane for some reason. The series’ ever-present narration and ghost Harry are nowhere to be seen. We just watch silently as Dexter throws his sister’s body into the ocean and apparently commits suicide, despite that not being Deb’s wish and him having a perfect life waiting for him in Argentina. He drives into the storm, fade to black.

We cut to Miranda and Harrison at a cafe in Argentina, they made it! Wait, is Dexter going to do The Dark Knight Rises ending? No, it’s not, Miranda and Harrison are just having a great time in Argentina. The show cuts to a lumberyard somewhere, where a Dexter has apparently become a lumberjack and grown a beard. He goes into a tiny house, sits down, and stares at us. The show ends.

What the fuck is this shit? The show was basically never ambiguous in its eight year run, but tries to get artsy in its final five minutes? Why would Dexter do this? What possible reason could he have for abandoning the love of his life and his child for? Is it some sort of penance for getting Deb killed? That seems dumb. Is it because he thinks they could never be safe with him there? Why would that possibly be? He’s killed everyone who could possibly be a threat to him, and says he’s lost the need to kill. This is ludicrous.

What an utter betrayal. This show needed to end with Dexter exposed… He can’t just get away with it. He didn’t necessarily need to be arrested or killed, but someone at Miami Metro needed to find out the truth about Dexter. It needed to get out, otherwise what was the point of spending so much time having those detectives almost find him? How could this ending possibly be seen as acceptable?

Simply because the fans and writers Dexter still had at the end saw him as a real hero. Not an antihero like Walter White or Vic Mackey, even though he did worse things than either of them, but a real hero. Like Superman. And I’m tired of being disappointed by Superman stories.

Long Dong Silver

Don Jon

With the reality show Jersey Shore becoming more and more a fading memory, it’s surprising it took this long for someone to make a movie about a GTL (Gym, tan, laundry) loving guido. JGL stars as Jon “Don Jon” Martello Jr. a promiscuous bachelor who’s not sure who he loves more, his girl (Scarlett Johansson), or his hand. A satirical critique of porn obsession, Don Jon marks JGL’s first time behind the camera as a writer and director. The pieces don’t always fit, but the whole is a promising start for a directing career by the man who once starred as an adult alien in the body of a little boy.

Don Jon loves his body, his pad, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. Scratch that… He REALLY loves his porn. There’s nothing Jon finds more gratifying than the thrill of choking the bishop to the church of poon. This is all made clear in Jon’s voice-over, which gives some very entertaining insight into his views of gettin’ it on. The film works best when we dive right into the mind of Don Jon, like each page of the script is a page from Jon’s personal diary. What doesn’t work is that diary has no final chapter. I’m all for slice of life stories, but with little at stake there’s not much to get worked up about. Jon might be looking for love in all the wrong places but everything else in his life seems pretty sweet.

You never get the sense that Jon’s porno addiction is that detrimential. I’d like to say that it would have been better had that been explored deeper but then you’d just get the movie Shame, which although not always easy to watch is a better movie. From the moment Jon starts his relationship with Barbara (ScarJo) you feel like something wacky is going to unfold but then it doesn’t. She sees Jon watching porn but that same clip is in the trailer. The film’s real curveball is an older, lonely woman named Esther (Julianne Moore), whom Jon forms an unusual bond with. Somehow this relationship feels meant for a different movie entirely.

I like JGL’s performance and I like the humor but I the story feels flat. JGL found an amusing jumping off point with a guido who loves porno but didn’t seem to know where to take it. The commentary on porn watching is probably the film’s strongest attribute and I wish I’d gotten even more of that. I also could of used more Tony Danza as Jon’s dad. I like to think of this film as the spiritual successor to Angels in the Outfield.

In Case of Emergency, Neko

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

There’s something really freaky about Neko Case’s warped eye on the cover of her latest album, which has the lengthy title The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Fortunately, there’s a sweet alternative cover on the deluxe edition of this new album which has her wielding a sword and saves me from staring to long at whatever’s going on here. Plus the three extra tacks on the deluxe edition are pretty great and worth listening to anyway.

This album’s lead single, as far as I know without looking it up, was “Man,” a fucking kick-ass jam that seems cut from the same cloth as the best tracks off Middle Cyclone, Case’s last album. But The Worse Things Get… is actually a much more emotional, personal album. No song represents that better than “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,” an a capella retelling of an uncomfortable event Case experienced in Hawaii.

This album didn’t knock my socks off like Middle Cyclone, but it’s often the case for me that I really like the first album I hear by an artist more than anything they follow it with… Maybe that’s a real problem of mine. But The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You has definitely grown on me over the past month or so, to the point that I felt I should actually write something about it, unlike so much of what I listen to.

Favorite Tracks: “Man,” “Calling Cards,” “Ragtime”

T3 66: Top 10 Things We Love About GTA

We end our late summer hiatus by spending this week talking about the thing everyone was talking about last week: Grand Theft Auto V. But can you blame us? It’s the biggest franchise in gaming, with massive appeal outside of core gamers. And it made like a billion dollars in three days. That’s Justin Timberlake money! So, you know… Yeah. Let’s talk about what makes this series so great.

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Everybody Wants a Piece of the Action

Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action

Franz Ferdinand is a band I liked when I was 15. Equipped with a Glaswegian swagger and 80s pop sensibility, they released a debut album in 2004 that immediately sounded like a greatest hits. The clever interplay of funky white guy guitars alongside Alex Kapranos’ Lizard-King croon made Franz Ferdinand an instant rock radio darling. Though at some point the novelty wore off. Franz Ferdinand has released four albums now and they all sound more or less the same. Some might argue that album no. 3 “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” was a departure but take a song like “No You Girls” and tell me it couldn’t have been on any other Franz Ferdinand album. None of these lesser works have been bad just too safe. Franz Ferdinand has a formula, bless ’em for it, but it feels dated. Though I have grown up I feel like Franz Ferdinand is infinitely trapped in 2004. Which makes me question whether or not this album truly has taken right action.

The album kicks off with the marching cheer of its own title track. The song calls back to the group energy of “Do You Want To?” Minus the sing-a-long chorus. The song keeps afloat thanks to the fun jingly jangly guitars of Kapranos and Nick McCarthy. “Evil Eye” peaks more interest with a scary circus haunt behind its ominous crawl. Where melodies occasionally fall short, the riffs are always blazing. “Love Illumination”, “Stand on the Horizon”, “Treason! Animals” take a nice trip riding that thin line between rock, funk, and “Are we kind of disco?” It has its moments, but I’m looking for whole songs that’ll go down smooth.

I have nothing against these guys, I haven’t hated any of their albums. I just think the time has come for me to step aside for a new wave of fresh faced fans. I’m not sure who Franz Ferdinand’s audience is today but hopefully they’re happy. I’ll always have love for this band. I did see them live after all, though that was nine years ago. Sunrise, sunset

Favorite Tracks: “Evil Eye,” “Love Illumination,” “Stand on the Horizon”

Alienated Nation

MGMT – MGMT

MGMT’s last album Congratulations was my favorite album of 2010. Back then I admired the fearlessness of MGMT casting off the electro-pop shackles of their first album and delving into psychedlia. On album no. 3, MGMT has gone off the deep-end and can barely keep afloat. MGMT has become an incomprehensible mess of beeps and buzzes on their self-titled third album and entered a psychedelic nightmare. This album is nothing but unintelligible melodies sandwiched between lumbering rhythms and too much overproduction. After awhile you start to wonder how some of these even began as songs. That’s not to say there aren’t brief reminders of why this band became popular in the first place, but be prepared to work for it.

The album opens with “Alien Days”, featuring a trippy duet between frontman Andrew VanWyngarden and a young boy straight from The Village of the Damned. This decision sets up an album of promising youthful whimsy and fantastical exploration. “Alien Days” may try to cram in more ideas than it needs but it’s passable, it’s what’s after that troubles me. I don’t know that anything on MGMT is offensively bad, just boring. So many “songs” (and I use the word lightly) just plod along, never building to anything worthwhile. I remember when I said MGMT was the new Flaming Lips. Funny, because both of these once avant-garde pop bands have now descended into psychedelic white noise. Just look to the Flaming Lip’s album “The Terror” released earlier this year. The Lips earned their weirdness with a career’s worth of quality work. MGMT just sounds like they’re trolling everybody.

Thank god there’s at least one song, one needle of hope in this haystack of dispair. I like the song “Plenty of Girls in the Girl”. After “Alien Days” it’s the only song I feel that captures the whimsy MGMT should’ve tried to explore more thoroughly. It’s a bit off-the-wall (big surprise), but at least it’s optimistic. Remember when this band was fun? “Time to Pretend” and “Kids” were catchy radio darlings, but everything on this album feels like a big, “Fuck You!” That’s how I feel as a fan, alienated. I don’t know what I want from this band at this point and wonder how much longer I’m going to care.

Favorite Tracks: “Alien Days,” “Plenty of Girls in the Sea,”

Android Love

Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady

Apparently 2010 was a pretty awesome year for music, since I can remember Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid coming out and critics being pretty enthusiastic about it.  And yet, for some reason I figured I could just let this one pass me by, despite Monae’s music being the exact kind of amalgam of retro R&B sounds that usually make me proclaim, “I can dig it”.  But nonetheless, I didn’t end up getting into The ArchAndroid until about a month ago when I heard The Electric Lady‘s fantastic single, “Dance Apocalyptic”, which affirmed my suspicions that Monae was a talent worth paying attention to.  Also, I should remind you that this is the second music review in a row in which I’ve sighted an awesome album from 2010 that I just recently got into.  So yeah.  2010, it’s the year that keeps on giving.

As far as Janelle’s Monae’s influences, I don’t think she’s terribly concerned about hiding them, since one of her bigger ones (Prince) makes an appearance on the album.  And besides the Purple One, you can also see Monae continuing to indulge all sorts of R&B reference points, from ’70s funksters like Stevie Wonder and George Clinton to more recent hip-hop influences.  And then on top of that, you’ve got Monae continuing to pursue the sci-fi concept album aesthetic, as she once again explores the adventures of Cyndi Maywhether, her fictional android persona.  So obviously there’s a lot of stuff going on here.  Which begs the question, is there too much stuff going on here?

Maybe.  With a 67 minute running time, The Electric Lady is a bit larger in scope than The ArchAndroid, and consequently is a little less consistent.  Sure, there are some hip-shakingly golden moments here, like the aforementioned “Dance Apocalyptic”, or the deep funk of the Erykah Badu collaboration “Q.U.E.E.N.”.  But at the same time, I could probably do without a couple of the slower songs, as well as the radio-themed skits that are interspersed throughout the album.  Still, it’s hard not to be charmed by a singer who’s willing to throw together so many gleefully disparate elements, all while doing it with the utmost chutzpah.

Favorite Tracks: “Q.U.E.E.N.”, “Dance Apocalyptic” “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”