Portland, Oregon. Aka “Stumptown.” Beneath the gray clouds and overshadowing trees lies the home of Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders), a badass woman who just happens to be former military with a fast-and-loose approach to life and a merciless vengeance. From the very first scene, it’s obvious this woman is a warrior, gritty and rugged, from the way she manages to break through a car seat and fight two captors alone (even strangling one with a seatbelt…yikes).
Dex’s character is definitely one of the more complex ones on television right now. On the outside, she comes off as standoffish, sarcastic and a little scary, if we’re honest. She’s obviously no girly-girl and can fend for herself. As the episode goes on, however, there’s more to her than meets the eye.
Being the introductory episode to a brand-new series, we learn about a significant chunk of Dex’s backstory. Dex has obviously seen war and the damages sustained thereof for both enemy and ally alike. Through flashbacks, we learn that Dex suffers from PTSD, and in this instance, we sympathize with her. However, what may split audience opinion is Dex’s scrappiness. Some may find her too harsh or simply a product of her background. It depends on your perspective.
She copes with booze and gambling a little too well, she can’t hold a steady job and it’s clear she struggles because of it (she still drives a 1990s Mustang and obviously utilizes gambling to pay her bills). Her gambling debt is what leads her to working for a woman that was once nearly her mother-in-law, a relationship that to the present day still exhibits elements of hostility, bitterness and resentment. Still, Dex undertakes the job of finding said woman’s granddaughter, the daughter of the man Dex deeply loved, nearly married, and ended up losing to war When you take into account her broken love life and her career, it’s easy to understand why Dex is the way she is.
On the other hand, Dex does have a softer side. Likely, this is what wins most audiences over in favoring Dex. She cares for her brother, who has Down Syndrome, and has a tender and kind relationship with him. She has a best friend in Grey, who keeps her in line and provides support wherever needed. The added incentive of the will-they or won’t-they factor is also a promising component to the relationship between these two characters.
Plus, there lies the mystery of the meaning of the mixtape Dex listens to in her car – oldies like “Sweet Caroline” and “Heart of Glass” fill her car throughout the episode. Is it the songs that have meaning, or the mixtape itself? Perhaps a special person gave it to Dex and it reminds her of them? Or is it simply a mixtape that got stuck inside the player? The mystery has yet to be revealed, but it could very well be worth the wait.
Ansel (Cole Sibus), Dex’s brother, is a meaningful inclusion to the show. Many series have before tried to be more diverse in their casting, but it feels as though they’ve tried too hard and their inclusion of a different kind of character seems more strained than anything. In Stumptown, the chemistry between Dex and Ansel seems natural, as if they truly have known one another all their lives, and it fits Dex’s personality in that it helps draw out her caring, gentle side.
The inclusion of Sue Lynn, Dex’s would-be mother-in-law, is another interesting angle as it provides an insight to Dex’s history and her current personal struggles with gambling and drinking. While the premiere brings them together because of a kidnapping, we wonder what lies in store for these two down the line, and if there will be a blowout because of long-buried grudges and conflict over the years.
The one character that seems largely out of place in Stumptown is Hoffman (Michael Ealy), an officer with the Portland Police Department. He is initially shown as just another officer, but it turns out he and Dex have a little something extra on the side. It’s too much to add to Dex’s already full plate. While it could be a good thing to have an inside man in the department to get information from, Dex doesn’t necessarily need to have a casual relationship with the guy.
Her life is complicated enough, we get it. His character seems more of a distraction than anything else. The paradigm of the complicated love affair is overwritten, and frankly, too predictable for a crime drama like Stumptown.
Dex is a contrast in herself. She comes across as tough and merciless with a bad attitude. She drinks to numb her pain and gambles at the local casino to pay the bills, albeit unsuccessfully in this episode. Sometimes, she’s not necessarily the most upstanding citizen. Still, people are flawed, and Dex has her good points, too. She’s observant and insightful, emphasized by her ability to detect a liar instantaneously (like when she nipped a guy’s suave attempts to woo her in the bud).
She obviously cares for her brother, for Grey, and about doing the right thing (saving Sue Lynn’s granddaughter despite her brutal history with the family). At the episode’s end, she’s got the opportunity to put her skills to good use as a private investigator and establish something of a steady job, meaning her life is about to change and quite possibly, for the better.
Dex’s character development, her evolution of becoming a PI and quite possibly a sounder person, and exploring her past all seem promising. Her fast-and-loose approach to life may be entertaining but also humbling as Dex learns her lessons (most of the time). Her unusual tactics and resources may lead to occasional clashes with local police, but it’s all in a day’s work.
The show carries an obscure vibe to it from its dark-colored aesthetics to its topics of mental health (specifically PTSD) and life’s woes, but still maintains enough wry and satirical humor to carry a balance within the show’s tone. Action and adventure are prominent, promising from the get-go of the opening scene’s sequence. All in all, the show’s got a little bit of everything. Almost like Stumptown has taken an approach of “why not?” when it comes to its content. At least from this, we know that just about anything could be, and is, possible.
Stumptown in itself is an interesting name. It’s one of Portland’s many nicknames and it lends a certain unpredictability to the show. You never know what to expect, whether it be car fights or a mixtape of the best the 1980s and 1990s had to offer.
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It’s got promising characters, Dex’s complicated background, and some serious girl power. Yet, some of Dex’s badass behavior (like her car taking a high jump and landing without a scratch) and her relationship with Hoffman make it a little too typical of a crime drama.
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