Why 'Dexter,' a Show About a Serial Killer, Resonates With Us
by Stephanie Earp, posted Dec 6th 2011 3:00PM
Over the six seasons I've been watching 'Dexter,' I have at times been frustrated that the show insists, season after season, on setting our man up with a double -- a partner, a lover, an enemy. Like other fans, I've bemoaned the predictability of it. But on the other hand, there is something to be said for a show that consistently tackles the fascinating idea of how others affect our view of ourselves.
Some Potential Spoilers Below!
We all have examples of this phenomenon in our own lives. We met someone new, start spending time with them, and suddenly their habits are ours. If I may, a tiny example from my own life: I have a new boss. She is a delightful -- she laughs a lot, is understanding, supportive and creative, and she has this particular way of saying 'yeah' when things get stressful at the office that I find myself doing now. This happens to all of us, we pick up speech patterns from those around us. But this little 'yeah' of hers is bigger than just a verbal mannerism -- I know, from being around her, that this 'yeah' incorporates her world view, how she deals with office politics and the teapot tempests that arise. When I say 'yeah' the way she does, what I'm really expressing is the way I've incorporated her point of view into my own.
The people around us change us, and 'Dexter,' as a series, has explored that more thoroughly than any other television show I can remember. In a way it reminds me of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'; by setting the story in the extreme world of serial killers, the writers can explore theme with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer and we don't turn away. Dexter is constantly telling us, via voiceover, how empty he is. Dexter is the blank slate, and he just picks up the neuroses of those around him. His self-professed emptiness means he's always looking to others for a belief system, from Harry's code to Lila's 12 steps, Trinity's family values to Lumen's righteous vengeance, and of course, Brother Sam's kicking at the darkness with light.
Like Dexter, we all pick up the beliefs and codes of those around us, those closest to us, though most of us don't reel from person to person on a 13-episode schedule. And I think that's the theme of this season, much more than religion. Look at what's happened to Quinn since he and Deb split up. He told her she was the glue that held him together, and it's clearly true. Quinn with Debra is a different guy -- almost. We recognize that drunk man-slut, and we recognize that essentially, Deb was the good influence that brought out his best and kept him from indulging in his worst. The closer La Guerta gets to Captain Matthews, the more like him she becomes. Every time she spends more than five minutes in a scene with Deb, she softens up. (Note to writers: please don't give La Guerta more scenes, with Deb or anyone.)
Consider this: I was really surprised when the show revealed Professor Gellar was just a figment of Travis's murderous imagination. I don't think many people saw that coming, but we should have -- it was all laid out for us during Dexter's unruly road trip to Nebraska. Dexter is almost always a mirror, and the break he experiences in Nebraska (seeing his dead brother, losing control of his dark passenger, spiraling out of control) is very similar to the break Travis is going through.
Dexter always chooses to relate to a killer who addresses some question he's having about himself -- you can call that convenient or a writing contrivance -- and I don't think the real question on Dex's mind this season is whether he believes in God. He wonders if he's crazy, misguided, evil, and worst of all, fooling himself. And whatever diagnosis you'd give Travis, he has a serious case of fooling himself.
At times, I haven't been sure what to make of 'Dexter,' whether it's truly a great show or just a vicarious thrill ride. This season has convinced me it is a very, very good show, one that often leaves me thinking about big issues in my own life, as much as just how Dex is going to get out of this one without getting caught.
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