Lumen Pierce Shines a Light on 'Dexter'
by Stephanie Earp, posted Nov 16th 2010 4:00PM
Julia Stiles is one of those actresses, it seems, that divides people. Those of us who love her love her for her deep voice, her strange beauty (flat face and down-turning mouth) and her off-beat choices ('10 Things I Hate About You,' the 'Bourne' series, and now 'Dexter'). Those who don't like her point out -- rightly I suppose -- that she's monotone, odd-looking, and makes bad choices ('The Prince & Me,' 'Mona Lisa Smile').
Whatever you think of her, it's hard to imagine another actress who could deliver in the role of Lumen Pierce, Dexter's latest partner in crime. For one thing, she has experience playing the no-man's-land of emotional intimacy without physical intimacy.
In her role as Jason Bourne's girl Friday and as the untouchable Kat in '10 Things,' she has been a romantic lead where romance is off the menu. It's a key element to the developing relationship between Dexter and Lumen. Like Rita, she's recovering from trauma, but her trauma is fresh and horrifying -- sex is clearly even further from her mind than it was from Rita's on those early dates with Dex.
That's another thing that makes Lumen unique among Dexter's never-ending parade of partner-killers. She is a real victim. If you think back over the course of the series, 'Dexter' has carefully sidestepped putting the viewers in the victim's shoes. When I say "victims," I mean the people Dexter's targets have hurt. Their crimes may be the excuse Dexter uses to go after them, but the actual toll of pain and terror that's been inflicted on characters we've never met, whose names we do not know, is kept carefully off stage. Lumen changes all that -- and how.
Only now have her bruises faded, eight episodes into the season. Only now are her fingers free of scabs and blood. When she's touched, she flinches. The mere sound of sex -- rough sex to be sure, but consensual -- sends her into a rocking crouch, her hands pressed over her ears. Stiles' performance of this lingering physical and emotional trauma has me utterly convinced. I find my hands are clenched, my toes curled under my feet, watching these scenes. She describes -- in that low, throaty voice -- the sound of one man's watch next to her blindfolded head, and I shiver. Never before has 'Dexter' asked us to acknowledge the truth of what it means to be a victim.
She is a woman standing on a precipice, and despite Dexter's attempts to turn her around and send her back to flat land in Minnesota, I think we are all happy that she stayed in Miami to explore her own dark passenger. Even though we groan that every season of 'Dexter' throws up the same conundrum -- can Dexter tell someone the truth about himself and not have to kill them? -- we are all rooting for this partnership. But it's making me awfully uncomfortable. Lumen is not a sociopath. She's not even slightly crazy. She is damaged, and angry, and if it weren't for Dexter, she would go home and work that stuff out -- or not -- and never harm anyone but herself.
With Dexter slowly turning into her personal Harry, I am increasingly aware of what going Dexter's way means for Lumen. She may have run away from a traditional marriage and a small life back home, but who's to say she might not have found her way back to some kind of happiness if left to her own devices? Am I really rooting for Dexter to turn this lovely young woman into a killer? I am. And I'm sick about it.
It seems impossible to me that this story arc will end the way previous seasons have. Dexter cannot harm Lumen. If he does, this show is done. Anyone who saw the scene this week where Dexter puts his hands over Lumen's as she blocks out the sounds of her rape would never believe it of him. It's clear all he wants to do to Lumen is wrap her in something soft and protective so no one can ever hurt her again.
So ... what happens when they run out of victims? If Lumen is only in this for revenge, they will eventually reach the end of her hit list, and Dexter will have to go back to seeking targets from the files of Miami Metro. Dexter will never stop being what he is, but Lumen still has the chance to cross back into humanity. It seems unlikely that Stiles will return for another season, so I assume they must part ways eventually. But I admit I'll be sorry to see Lumen go. 'Dexter' lately has been dark -- the darkness made of rote killings with no meaning, and complete isolation. Lumen brings a different kind of darkness -- the randomness of violence, and how permanent it is for its victims.