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'Dexter': Doakes is gone in a bang

December 16, 2007 | 11:00 pm

The biggest surprise of “Dexter” on Sunday night wasn’t that Sgt. James Doakes was killed. Nor was it that his death was at the hands of Dexter’s psychotic ex-girlfriend Lila (Jaime Murray) rather than Dexter himself. What was most shocking was that it happened within the first 10 minutes of the Showtime series’ season finale.

Though fans of Doakes are undoubtedly sad to see the irascible character go out with a literal bang, true to form, he showed only irritation and anxiety, rather than pants-wetting fear, at the predicament of being locked in a cabin about to explode.

Erik King, who played the dearly departed Doakes, said on the telephone recently: “I don’t say that there isn’t fear, but I think that in some ways Doakes is that guy who will always push it to the limit. With his Special Ops background, you have to believe that this is probably not the first time he has been captured or held against his will.”

It seemed fitting that Dexter (Michael C. Hall) — with the question of whether to turn himself in or murder his captive answered for him — chose to “honor” Doakes’ memory by enjoying his freedom after the cabin explosion, in a clever callback to the show’s opening credits. This sort of dark humor was one of the hallmarks of the relationship between Dexter and Doakes, so Dexter’s rather flippant memorial was pleasurable to watch.

However, with Doakes dispatched and, later on, Lila taken care of, Dexter has thus lost the two people in his life who could truly see him as he was. King reflected on what it was about Doakes that let him see through Dexter. “They both have a killer instinct, a sense of vigilantism. These are guys that have a code that they live by: Things have to make sense. I think that instinct is there, as animals — I see them often as pit bulls.

“And the more of course Dexter eluded him, the more he chased him down,” King continued. “I often liken Doakes to this character from Greek mythology, Cassandra, whose curse was that she would always tell the truth and no one would believe her.”

Dexter, of course, helpfully pointed out to Doakes, once he had captured him, that Doakes’ lack of a social life contributed to his unfortunate situation. “I believe that one of Doakes’ fatal flaws is that he is a lone wolf,” King said. “He is that guy who has to take care of it himself. He would have fared better had he gone to [Lt. Maria] LaGuerta [Lauren Vélez] or [Special Agent Frank] Lundy [Keith Carradine] and built the case against Dexter that way, but that’s not his way.”

King, who, pre-“Dexter,” was best known for playing a death-row inmate on HBO’s “Oz,” was partially inspired by his father, a former Washington, D.C., police officer, for the role of Doakes. “The gruffness is there,” he said. “My dad was one of those people like Doakes who was always an outsider. He made his way in the world, did what he had to do, but he was often an outsider with the exception of his immediate family — my mother and his kids.”

King is often amused by the way the show  made his character  the villain. “There are times when I realize, wait a minute, when did Doakes become the bad guy? He’s a police officer, this guy is the serial killer, why are we rooting for him? As I walk in the street, people say things to me like ‘Leave Dexter alone!’

“I try to convince them, hey, I’m the good guy!” he said.

That moral reversal is one of the things that appealed to King about “Dexter,” he said. “When I first got the script, I thought, ‘Can they actually do this, can they be this profane?’ Of course, it’s Showtime and after having done ‘Oz,’ I thought, ‘All bets are off, I can do just about anything.’ ”

Season 1 of “Dexter” ended with the death of Brian (Christian Camargo), Dexter’s brother the Ice Truck Killer, who, in ghost form, haunted some of the first episodes of Season 2. King discussed the possibility of Doakes returning in Season 3 (the timing of which is in doubt because of the writers strike). “That wouldn’t surprise me,” he said. “If Harry’s [Dexter’s father’s] code is broken, and if everything about him is not quite true, then wouldn’t Dexter need someone to sit on his shoulder with whom he could have this dialogue? I think Doakes would be the perfect person.”

King, who is as jovial in real life as Doakes is crabby, finds that some fans of the show worry that he is like his character. “They’re a little reticent: ‘Do you mind if I . . . ?’ and then the response later on is, ‘Oh my God, you’re such a nice guy!’ What do you expect, for me to call you a . . . ?” (He said an unprintable word.) 

After playing intensely dramatic characters on both the right and wrong sides of the law for much of his career, King said: “I’d love to do a comedy at this point. After being on death row on ‘Oz’ for quite some time, I feel like I need to do something to make myself laugh.”

Understandably, King feels bittersweet about the demise of his character. “I’m going to miss Doakes more than anything. I love this character that we created together. I’d known from Episode 4 that I was going to die, so I had eight more episodes to do. I wanted to keep it from the cast and crew because I love them and we’re very close. It’s just my nature to work that way. But when they found out, everyone was upset and people were crying on the set. It was a mess, believe me.”

One relief for King is that he no longer has to keep  up with Doakes’ considerable physique. “I had to make a concerted effort to keep the weight on and keep the size, because Doakes really needs to take up space,” he said. “It’ll be a relief to wear shirts that I can actually button!”

-- Claire Zulkey