Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I Heart Dexter

I'm not a fan of blood. Big surprise, being a vegetarian and all. So how did a serial killer manage to become my new TV boyfriend?

It all started a year ago in the aftermath of the Maine Bed & Breakfast murders. One of the victims was a friend of a friend. It was jarring to have only one degree of separation from such a heinous crime. Humor with my circle of friends can tend toward the irreverent. I was really worried I might slip up around my friend with a dysphemism like, "I could kill you!"

One day, I overheard that friend and another joking about something. I was busy with something else, so I only heard bits and pieces of the conversation. And then I heard the word "murder." I instantly tensed up, as that was the first time I had heard the friend in question mentioning the whole situation. And I heard something even less expected. Laughter.

I realize everyone processes grief in his or her own way, but made me really uncomfortable. So I jumped into the conversation, only to find I was mistaken. My friends were talking about the show "Dexter." I had heard about the show in passing before. All I knew was that the "protagonist" was a serial killer. But then the friend with the tragic loss elaborated. Dexter was a serial killer who only hunted other killers.

I didn't have much interest in the show before, but I filed it away in my head to check out later. Finally, a year later, I caught up on the first season of the show, plus the premier of the second.

By day, Dexter is a forensics analyst for the Miami-Dade Police Dept (oh Miami, I do miss you sometimes...). Getting to work with his favorite medium, blood, he loves his day job. Plus, it gives him all the necessary intel for his extracurricular activities. He's able to go through the files of the Police Dept. to find out about the killers that escaped the system on technicalities (lack of witnesses, destroyed evidence, etc). Once armed with this knowledge he tracks the killers down and gives them a taste of their own medicine.

After work, Dexter snags his latest victim. In what we soon discover is a ritual, Dexter confronts his victim with irrefutable evidence of their crimes. In this case, it's the exhumed bodies of several young boys. The murderer begins to cry and begs Dexter to spare him.

"Please, you can have anything."

"That's good, beg. Did these little boys beg?"

"I couldn't help myself! Please, you have to understand!"

"Trust me, I definitely understand. I can't help myself either. But, children...I could never do that, not like you."


"I have standards."

And thus ends one of many lives by Dexter's hands. Despite the "good" work he does, he knows that he is a monster. A bad person who does incidentally good things, rather than the other way around. A significant distinction that is tested later in the series.

Dexter knows how to hide in plain sight. Though emotionally blank, over the years he's learned to fake all social interactions to appear normal. He's loved by his sister, his co-workers (with one big exception), and his girlfriend.

I usually dislike romantic subplots in otherwise non-romantic television shows. However, Dexter's "relationship" with Rita is surprisingly engaging.

Dexter met Rita through his cop sister, Deb. Rita was the victim of extreme domestic violence and is completely uninterested in any physical intimacy. Which is exactly what Dexter wants in a woman. Someone who serves as a neon sign of "look! I'm a normal guy with a girlfriend," without any physical expectations on her part.

Dexter doesn't dislike Rita, but he also doesn't like her either. He's ambivalent. Dexter doesn't have real feelings, just a careful imitation of the social mores everyone else takes for granted.

Dexter long ago discovered that he isn't interested in sex (killing is his true "release"). He's also found that unlike most other social interactions, he's unable to fake the emotional connection that past girlfriends have expected after the relationship has become physical. Dexter finally found in Rita a woman that doesn't question his lack of libido. Only, as the series progresses, and as he becomes more involved in Rita's life and the lives of her children, you're left wondering if his total lack of feelings is an accurate self-description. But even with the glimpses of humanity, along with more humor than I expected, the viewer never forgets Dexter's terrible, evil hunger.

Ever since Dexter can remember, he's felt an urge to kill. His first memories are with his adoptive family, particularly his father Harry, the late Police Chief. Years ago, when Dexter was barely a teen, Harry found a gruesome discovery:

"Dexter, you killed the neighbor's dog, didn't you?"

"It was making to much noise and wouldn't shut up. Mom was trying to sleep."

"Dexter... I found other bodies..."


"Have you ever wanted to hurt something larger?"


"Like a person..."


We're back to the present as a new serial killer is on the loose on Dexter's turf. Unlike previous ones, he knows exactly what Dexter is (cue ominous music). The new killer leaves a macabre message for Dexter, but rather than taking it as a threat, Dexter sees it as an invitation to play cat and mouse. But how long before the hunter becomes the hunted? Still, Dexter isn't one to back down from a challenge. Harry would expect nothing less, as another flashback fills us in on Dexter's early years.

Teen Dexter is in the garage working on a skateboard. Harry walks in and open a sack in front of him. Inside are bloody knives. Ick.

"Dad, I can explain..."

"We had an understanding. Whenever you have an urge, you come to me and we deal with it together!"

"Do you remember anything from before your mother and I took you in?"

"No. Is that why I have these urges?"

"What happened changed something inside you. It got into you too early. I'm afraid your urge to kill is only going to get stronger. But there are ways to spot bad people, and to cover your tracks. Do you understand what I'm saying, Dexter?"
(omg, this scene was just chilling)


"You can't help what happened to you, but you can make the best of it. Remember this forever: you are my son, you are not alone, and you are loved."

That scene brought tears to my eyes. The horror of Dexter's condition against the power of unconditional love. Together they formed the "Code of Harry," which Dexter lives by. He knows that he is a monster, but does what he can to make the world a better place.

I *heart* Dexter.

1 comment:

Pteryxx said...

Thanks so much for posting this analysis! I heard something about the show but didn't pay attention; now I know I need to follow closely, for research reflecting on my own characters. I'll definitely be searching.