Time is almost up for TV’s favourite sociopath. Season 8 is upon us and the end is imminent; it’s got to be something brutal, something brilliant… something true. The problem with truth is that it’s philosophically complicated: enveloped in relativity, the application of ‘true’ is almost never satisfactory – at least not to everyone. But ‘true’ does become a whole lot less relative within the context of a life, a mythology – seven seasons of story provide a reference, a framework, for truth. And truth must abide. It must.
As a character Dexter exists and operates on premise that he is a sociopath – void of moral responsibility or social conscience – and a psychopath – garners psychological gratification from criminal activity. Dexter’s personality disorders require him to mirror the mannerisms of those around him in order to be accepted as a non-threatening member of society. And the reason he needs to be accepted at all is to mask his serial killer identity. Mild mannered blood spatter analyst by day, killer by night – that’s Dexter. But it’s not that simple.
He has a code: Dexter only kills baddies – people who deserve punishment. He is the ultimate vigilante, an avenging antihero, and in spite of his fiendish lack of moral core, diabolical Dexter is a fan favourite. He embodies the dark ambivalence that is intrinsic to the condition of being human, thus allowing viewers to acknowledge their innately sinful nature – the stuff that lurks in the recesses of the mind.
Weren’t we all crazy in our sleep? What was sleep, after all, but the process by which we dumped our insanity into a dark subconscious pit and came out on the other side ready to eat cereal instead of our neighbor’s children?(Jeff Lindsay, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”)
But sin without constraint has a price. A barrage of bloody murder later, Dexter Morgan has emerged a little worse for wear. Code infiltrated by circumstance, Dexter’s head is not in the game. And it all comes down to Deb; Debra crazy-ass Morgan, sister to Dexter and ex Miami Metro cop and Lieutenant.
After stumbling upon Dex mid-kill in season 6, loyal-to-Dex Deb repeatedly breaks the law to save her brother’s ass and keep him off death row – a choice that includes the murder of ex Miami Metro Lieutenant Maria LaGuerta. But it ultimately becomes all-too-much for Deb’s (recently turned dubious) police-style morality, and she descends into an abyss of self-loathing. Season 8 cleverly juxtaposes brother and sister in an effort to emphasise Dexter’s pathology. Seasoned criminal Dexter, apparently guilty about his sister’s plight, is less concerned (than he should be) with the execution of precision-type (stay out of jail) murder (never mind the fact that he is a serial killer) and more concerned with the well-being of his sister. Which is touching… but not the point. It is through this story arc that the very crux of the Dexter mythology is brought to issue:
Is Dexter a sociopath?
It is the answer to this question that will dictate Dexter’s fate in the show.
Dr Evelyn Vogel (Machiavellian mastermind and creator of Harry’s code) gives voice to the equivocal nature of Dexter’s supposed pathology. Sociopaths don’t feel remorse – so what is Dexter’s game?
Vogel: When your sister found out about who you were and what you were doing, why didn’t you kill her? Not that I’d ever advocate such a thing… but since Debra knew the truth about you? She’s clearly a risk.
Dexter: I’d never kill Debra; she’s my sister. I love her.
Vogel: What exactly do you love about her?
Dexter: What do you mean?
Vogel: When a psychopath speaks about love, it isn’t the same thing as it is for typical people. So, what do you love about her?
Dexter: I don’t know. I love having steaks and beer with her and until recently that fact that she was always there for me, she looked up to me.
Vogel: But none of that is really about Debra, it’s about what she does for you.
Dexter: So you’re saying I’m selfish?
Vogel: I’m not criticising; selfless love is hard enough for typical people and for psychopaths it’s impossible.
Dexter: So why are you telling me this? So I’ll feel bad about myself?
Vogel: Quite the contrary. I want you to revel in what you are. I told you, you’re perfect.
Dexter: How can you still say that when you know what I’ve done to Deb?
Vogel: That’s my point. You’re perfect as a psychopath. All this talk about helping Deborah, and loving her… it’s like you’re Michelangelo trying to play the banjo.” (Season 8, “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan”)
Author Jeff Lindsay is pretty clear on Dexter’s character:
Whatever made me the way I am left me hollow, empty inside, unable to feel. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. I’m quite sure most people fake an awful lot of everyday human contact. I just fake it all. I fake it very well, and the feelings are never there. (Jeff Lindsay, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”)
But Dexter the TV series has taken a different direction. Throughout the course of the show, Dexter’s attachments to women have confounded his status as sociopath. Rita was easily a convenience match; she masked Dexter’s true identity under the guise of family. It made sense… until she died and Dexter’s guilt and remorse were honestly palpable. Remember pyromaniac weirdo Lila Tournay from season 2? – Chalk it up to ‘sociopaths feel lust’, maybe? Lumen Pierce in season 5 – guilt and loneliness after the death of Rita (do sociopaths feel lonely)? Then there’s the delightful Hannah McKay, who Dexter thought he might love. And does Dexter love his son Harrison, Cody and Astor even? The characters that perforate Dexter’s periphery totally confuse the whole sociopath issue. And the arch brain beffudler is disorienting Deb, Dexter’s Achilles heel… and also the key to unveiling the heart (or lack) of the man.
In an effort to force Deb to relive LaGuerta’s murder Vogel gets down and dirty – and to the point:
Vogel: LaGuerta; she was on her knees where those blood stains are, she was your co-worker, your friend. Why didn’t you just stay at the party and let Dexter take care of everything?
Deb: I had to stop him.
Vogel: But Dexter can’t help what he is; he has no conscience, unlike you. You knew the moment you pointed that gun at LaGuerta that it was wrong. And still, you pulled the trigger; you shot a woman in cold blood. You let her bleed out and did nothing. You shot an innocent woman for simply doing her job. (Season 8, “Scar Tissue”)
The nature/nurture debate has come up in the show before. Did witnessing his mother’s brutal murder make Dexter a sociopath, or was he void of conscience already? If Harry had not created the code and had tried to ‘fix’ Dexter instead, would he still be a killer? If Dexter is indeed a sociopath, can he be blamed for his own nature? Vogel argues ‘no’. But Deb and Harry disagree. Season 8 reminds viewers that Harry killed himself because he couldn’t live with the fact that he had created a monster – the question is: how is Deb supposed to live with the same information and how does Vogel, a ‘typical person’ rationalise her role in what Dexter is?
Season 8 seems to be looking for answers; not only a conclusion to Dexter’s life but to his character as well. Or will fans be left to fill in the blanks? Mystery is seductive and there are many endings to contemplate…
1. Dexter dies – the only way that this ending can be remotely acceptable is if darling Deb does the deed. But she’s already tried (season 8, “Scar Tissue” – episode 4) – close but no cigar, sorry Deb. Love won the day.
2. Dexter gets caught (goes to jail) – Dex has become a bit sloppy of late and realistically speaking, there’s not much chance that he can stay in Miami and get away with murder. Realism is so overrated.
3. Dexter escapes – finally cottoning on to his impending demise Dexter crosses the Mexican border, finds a house on the beach and kills all the drug dealers who frequent his flower shop. What are the chances?
4. Dexter kills Deb – in an ultimate realisation of his pathology and in confirmation of his sociopathic inclination.
5. Dexter stops killing – in a miraculous reformation of character. Yawn…
6. Dexter marries Deb – finally realising his love for his dear sister, Dexter proposes and Deb, blinded by love, accepts – forgiving and forgetting. Uh… no, Alan Ball is not directing this show.
7. Deb becomes the new Dexter – continuing the work of her dear departed brother. After being pushed over the proverbial edge by Dexter’s demise, Deb continues Harry’s legacy. Or maybe Harrison becomes the new Dexter – looking into the future of course. If you’re reading Jeff Lindsay’s series, this really is not that far-fetched!
What will it be?
I’m not sure what I am. I just know there’s something dark in me. I hide it. I certainly don’t talk about it, but it’s there always, this Dark Passenger. (Jeff Lindsay, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”)