I didn't realize it until now but I've reached 100 posts! When I started this blog last summer I had no idea I would stick with it f...
A Date with Dexter and A Milestone
I finally succumbed to the pressure of popular demand and got my first look at Dexter this week. My expectations were high as I plopped down on the couch and watched the first and second seasons of Showtime’s latest hit show.
The opening credits are arresting in a way that I haven’t seen since HBO’s True Blood. Just as True Blood mingles images of sex and death in the Deep South, Dexter makes the average morning routine into something sensually sinister. The show opens on a mosquito as it makes a meal out of the sleeping Dexter. Dexter quickly retaliates by squashing the offending insect and smiles. In a split second, this scene sets up the premise for the entire series as it reveals the main character’s enjoyment of murder, even at the insect level---he kills bad people for kicks after all.
A large part of the opener is a cornucopia of food preparation. Eating ham, juicing an orange and cracking an egg become a series of viscerally sensual acts. Dexter eviserates an egg, spilling its yolk like blood and coffee beans fly around in the grinder like fragments of bone. The image of a knife slicing an orange feels like a blade hacking through flesh and the pulp of a grapefruit glistens like entrails on the small screen.
For Dexter, even getting dressed is an act of violence. He loops the laces of his shoes around his fists and pulls them tight in a strangling motion, his preferred method for subduing his victims. His face presses against his shirt in a moment of intense suffocation before he pulls it over his head to reveal the face of a killer.
On an aesthetic note, the acting in the first season is bit shaky towards the final episodes. Jennifer Carpenter, the actress who plays Dexter’s sister Debra Morgan is wooden in places and Erik King, who plays Sergeant James Doakes never evolves past the stock character of the angry black guy. His death at the end of season two is a welcome send-off for a character that had become annoying. I’m glad to say the performances improve in the second season, perhaps because the actors have become comfortable with their characters.
I’m especially intrigued by the relationship between Lila and Dexter in season two. Lila is a free spirited artist who sponsors recovering addicts at a support group. Dexter joins the group after confessing to his girlfriend Rita that he is an “addict” though Rita assumes Dexter is addicted to drugs, not murder. Lila becomes Dexter’s sponsor but their relationship tends more towards a girlfriend/boyfriend dynamic than sponsor/addict. Lila starts probing Dexter’s dark side and he “breaks up” with her to avoid her questions.
Lila and Dexter’s relationship makes it easy to read Dexter’s nasty habit of killing people as a metaphor for perverse sexuality. Bent on showing Lila there is evil in the world; he shows her the remains of his victims. Dexter expects Laila to be disgusted, sickened and distraught but her reaction is just the opposite. Instead, she asks if she can touch the bodies and exhales “incredible” in a breathy gasp of awe. This is the reverse of Rita’s reaction in the pilot when Dexter, aroused by the Ice Truck Killer’s “technique” touches her thigh. Rita is still traumatized by the repeated rapes of her cokehead ex-husband and flees the car, murmuring in a panicked tone, “I’m not ready.”
When Dexter gives Rita a glimpse of the monster behind the mask she’s horrified, but Lila “doesn’t look away” and sees Dexter for who he really is. In this sense, Lila and Dexter’s relationship plays out a bit like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Even after Lila discovers that Dexter is the Butcher Bay Killer, she still has nothing but sympathy for him “Poor thing, all alone” she croons to the locked up Doakes, whom Dexter is framing for the Butcher Bay killings. When Doakes thanks Lila for her concern, she clarifies: “Not you. Dexter” before filling the cabin with gas and letting it explode.
Though it seems that Dexter has found a soul mate in Lila (she tells him she blew up Doakes so they could be closer to each other) the end of the season needs to eliminate any social sanction of Dexter’s actions. Dexter’s urges are still unacceptable and he needs to wear a mask to hide them. If Lila accepts Dexter’s monstrous side, a relationship with her would mean that murder is socially okay. After Lila becomes a murderer herself, she embodies Dexter’s monstrosity and Dexter’s fragile game of pretend is threatened. The “Lila experiment” fails and Dexter's self loathing won’t allow him to accept who he is. This preserves the delicate pretense the entire series is based on as Dexter continues to play normal while carrying out his darker urges in secret.
Dexter is a compelling character and I look forward to seeing how he will evolve in the third and fourth seasons of the show.
About author: Monster Scholar
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