Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dexter

In Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter said to Will Graham; ‘we’re very much alike’. It was not out of spite that made the canniba serial killer say what he said. He meant that the fear and revulsion of Graham was misplaced, that there lies deep within the FBI agent a killer nature similar to Lecter’s own.

Such remarks are not unique, however. The hero and the villain sometimes are said to be just opposites of the same coin. Often it is the villain who says it with the hero saying something like ‘I am not like you’.

But more often the truth is neither side can stay apart or different from the other.  One side needs to understand the other side in order to win.


Dexter is how the ups the ante on killer and hero being alike. Killer and law enforcer are no longer on the opposite sides but are in one. The law enforcer is no longer the man with an unusual imagination and understanding of the sick mind of the killer as movie and TV often portray; he is the serial killer.

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is the lead character. He is a forensic analyst by day perhaps not surprisingly specializing in blood spatter. Perhaps it is a wise choice because blood pacifies him being an everyday constant instead of going ‘cold turkey’ like an addict would, except that for Dexter reform is farthest from his mind.

Dexter is every bit the serial killer one sees in other shows and films. He lusts for blood every so often; every potential kill is like opening gifts on Christmas day. As a sociopath he is incapable of genuine human feeling. He is a single white male, a typical trait in a serial killer profile. He is meticulous.

What sets him apart from all the villains is his loyalty to his adapted father, Harry Morgan, the only man who knew who he was, and ironically a cop. It was Harry who made Dexter a serial killer of serial killers. With a serial killer’s eye for detail he makes sure that he doesn’t kill any innocent people.

I rate this show high on my unique list. While there have been stories where the proverbial ‘devil’ goes against his nature to be a good guy, Dexter seems more real. He cannot help himself hence more challenges. He lusts for blood almost like a vampire would.

Often he has this amusing look while analyzing crime scenes, almost that of enjoyment, admiration. At some points he feels like he wants to drool at the cases he handles at forensics. Dexter is a bad buy, a sick man, with only the loyalty to a dead father’s code holding him together.

Ironically enough the stories deal with aspects of humanity, things that are foreign to someone of Dexter’s condition like love, sex, smiling, and friendships. As a sociopath he is always an outsider, a fake human in a way. So the stories are the observance of the life that he cannot feel.

If you like stories where the police and FBI strain to solve clues left by serial killers you will like this show. There is that cat and mouse feel; often that mouse is hidden in the open.

Michael C. Hall is perfect in this role but I wonder sometimes if he can act. Dexter, as he often says of himself, fakes his humanity every day, and so it is possible that a layman can do it. The role calls not for genuine emotion but an essence of being fake. But then again he can also be a genius as he really got the fake human part very well. Michael owns the role of Dexter in every way.

If ever there is a downside to this show is that it is hard to draw empathy. No one can ever understand what it means to hunger for the death of another human being, see the blood; not for revenge but just to see the life drain away.

In watching heroes on film or TV there is always that tapping of everyone’s desire to be a hero; be recognized, do something extraordinary. People might even go for Ghost Rider with that flaming skull for a head and trying to pull a fast one over the Devil himself by doing good instead of evil.

Of course people will readily be a Vampire; there is a large fan base for that. When I had a physique that was still palatable, and if I were only able to rip my shirt off, I even admired being the Hulk at one time.

There is just something about Dexter that even though he is a monster doing good deeds you draw the line. I don’t remember even getting that good feeling whenever a bad guy is defeated. In contrast, when I see Jack Bauer torture a suspect you get a feeling that something is achieved. There is just that line.

Fortunately for the show, now on its 4th season, the time for that squeaky clean hero has long been gone. It is indeed one of the most interesting shows to watch.