Monday, July 21, 2014
DEXTER: THE KILLER AND THE HERO, REMEMBERING THE MONSTER AND HIS FINAL CONTRADICTION: A look at "Dexter"'s spot in the television landscape.
"You can't be a killer and a hero; it doesn't work that way!"
---Paul Bennett aka, Brian Moser, "Dexter" Episode 12: "Born Free"
This might surprise some people, but it made perfect sense to me, the ending of "Dexter". Batman, went off to hide from the rest of the world, and sacrificed those he loved most, often times, for the greater whole and the greater good of Gotham City. What? Dexter's Batman? I know I'm not the first person who's come to that conclusion, even it's creators, have admitted that; they talked about it on "America in Primetime" on PBS a while back. Vigilante superhero, who protects his city by eliminating the most despicable of the criminal element in the dark of night. Secret identity, dark passenger? Now, as some people have made note of lately, I'm really not an expert in comic books but I study the folklore at times, and Batman was always the best and most interesting one, 'cause he was the most conflicted. The one, that didn't technically have superpowers, but through his own personal code and determination, not to mention, the best-kept and most advanced equipment would protect their beloved city. knifebag, utility belt, Batmobile, boat. They both have childhood female friend they're willing to do anything to protect include sacrifice themselves and them.
I finally got around to finishing "Dexter" and as with all great and special shows that end, I like to take a closer look at the show, through a more overall perspective of the television landscape, and yes, if you want to get "technical", "Dexter" didn't technically stay as strong a show as it was at it's peak. Because, it peaked. I've discussed this concept before, where, especially with these serialized shows, that the constant building up and building up, leads to moments that, are so strong and so good, that no matter what the show does after it'll never hold up or match that single moment and the show inevitably has to fall and decline in order to rise back up, if it can at all.
"Dexter"'s opposite-of-jumping-the-shark-moment, (Seriously, we need a name for this phenomenon.) Came at the end of season four, when the latest bad guy that Dexter's going after, John Lithgow's Trinity Killer, turns out to have, killed Dexter's wife, Rita, and left him alone with his newborn son, symbolically born in blood, just like Dexter, the serial killer was when he witness the gruesome bloody death of his mother when he was young. I talk about Dexter the killer, because that's part of the constant struggle, his fake persona, a lowly blood-splatter analyst for Miami Metro, which he struggles daily to try and, act normal and innocuous around the very people who should be out to catch him. And the rest of the world too. But, you see, that's where the show, began. I think that's why some people are more frustrated by the end than me, 'cause the whole series was about this sociopath unfeeling monster, inevitably finding his humanity. At first, he acquired girlfriends, wife, kids, possessions, all in an effort to look more human, partially 'cause he was taught to do so from his adopted father Harry, but also because of this ingrown obsession he had which was born out of both, a combination of nurturing and nature. Or at least, that's what Dexter's believed, but over time, through both revelations, self and otherwise, and experience, that belief of his becomes more and more questioned, and slowly but surely, he goes from faking human emotions, to actually having them, or at least he comes to believe he does, which, frankly what's the difference? (Shrugs) Seriously, you tell me? How could you tell, and that's part of the point, how can, somebody tell if someone's a serial killer but they blend in and in all other ways seem normal, tell the difference. It's hard for Dexter, it's gotta be impossible for us, and that's why we buy that a police department that's constantly on the lookout for murderers, is unable to see the serial killer in the lab next door. Does Dexter ever actually fall in love with Rita, or does he not actually fall in love until Hannah McKay comes along? Or is it Debra? The insinuation of the incestual bond that was always possible between Dexter and his adoptive sister Debra, who also worked at the police station, was always infatuated with Dexter, and this was reflected in her struggles getting into a relationship, and her father's seeming fascination with him, as he taught Dexter secretly the Code of Harry that he lived and survived by. That's why she became a cop, to be more like her father, and get attention from him that he gave Dexter, and short of her father, inevitably, his fascination, Dexter, became her own? Is she capable of actual love either?
I ask a lot of questions and discuss this character, much more psychologically than most, and in essence, that's really the big key to this character. I thought about it once, and trying to determine the most psychologically interesting television characters, and by that I mean, not just the ones who are interesting to psychiatrists and shrinks, but ones that are so complex that in order to truly get ahold them that you have to discuss them in that manner. Looking at their actions as a part of their behavior, and a psychoanalytical look is the best and most interesting way to watch them and analyze them. The top two I came up with were Dexter Morgan and J.R. Ewing from "Dallas", and frankly Dexter's more complicated. That's probably the thing that I most got out of "Dexter", that the whole series, was this long strange trip through his mind as well as his actions. That's what so compelling about him, and why the show remained so fascinating. Dexter, making a friend, Dexter having a relationship, Dexter having a kid,....
That's a classical format, get a character and put him in a bunch of different uncomfortable situations and with interesting characters and see how he reacts, let him do what he does. Usually that's a detective of some kind, serial killer works too. The way they did that, over a whole season, and each season being a new adventure, there's positives to that, but also some of it's influence it's had, I found troubling. The reason the show was like that is because the show, was true to the novels by Jeff Lindsay, and "Dexter" was one of the first shows, to really be true to the format of the books they were based on, and they did with each season being a different novel. Now, "Game of Thrones" and "True Blood" have come around, and other shows based on books were around long beforehand, but that's why the seasons are so distinctive, 'cause each one essentially represented a different book in the series, and "Dexter", was one of the big shows that really started that trend. Frankly, I appreciate that they did that well, but part of me, also thinks that that's led to this more focused attention to seasons on a TV show, and that's troubling. I think the best shows, to some extent, not only should you not be able to tell what season a random episode is apart of (Or at the least, with the very best shows, it shouldn't even matter), but also, this serialized structure, it gives people the impression that shows are divided so directly by season. In some aspects they are, but each episode, especially by the end, seems intertwined with each other nowadays, there's never a break. Too many shows, have this "24"-soap opera, format, where every scene in every episode is connected to a bigger wider story, and frankly, the best TV shows, that's a running theme, that's not the core of the episodes. It's unfortunate that "Dexter" was such a great show, that it helped lead to other shows doing this structure as well, 'cause that's what worrisome, how are people gonna truly remember "Dexter" ten, twenty years down the road? I mentioned "Dallas" earlier and that was still so popular that it got a renewal years later, but that might be an exception to this rule, but it still wasn't exactly a show that thrived in reruns, unless you count internationally. I mentioned before how I predict that nobody will watch "Breaking Bad" ten years from now, and shows like that and "Dexter" might have the unfortunate same fate. Great shows, great characters, a whole new perspective on the art form of television drama, but is it, is it gonna remembered? In this format, which is not conducive to reruns? I don't know.
Especially after that controversial finale. To me, it made sense, and no, it probably isn't the perfect ideal ending that perhaps we wanted, or perhaps, the best one, but I thought it was the right one, because the character was complete. Like Batman, he sacrificed himself and those he loved. His entire life as we know it, had change. No more boat, no more sun and murder Miami, no more voice over. No more Harry. No more carefully planned murderous breakfast. No more blood, no more splatter. The eccentric vigilante with an identity crisis, the Tom Ripley-esque sociopath who wanted nothing more than the humanity of everyone else, is now hidden from the world, masked in a beard, away from the civilized world, where there aren't criminals to eradicate and lives he destroyed to endure, no creepy string music and that dark passenger is dead, never to return... for now....? Yeah, it's a bit ambivalent, isn't it? Did he really become the changed caring father who protects all he loves from him, or is it that dark passenger, shut off, for the time being? I'd like to think he did, but we don't know for sure, and that ambivalent note, probably the correct one. Here's a character constantly at conflict with himself, why would there suddenly be a comfortable answer now? Is the old Dexter dead, or is he just, at rest, waiting for that moment to return, still with the desire and urge to kill, that's just remaining dormant for the time being?
Is Brian right, can you not be the killer and the hero, or did Dexter prove him wrong? Could this show end that hypothesis with any answer other than "yes and no" and still be as good as it was?