The Dexter Dilemma

“Lurking in the shadows of every seemingly upright person is the capacity to do very ugly things.” –Dr. John Tolson

As the agenda absent summer days neared their end, I decided to binge watch Dexter. I have always been curious about Dexter, the psychopath serial killer, especially after reading Steven James’ Bower Files series (which is about the hunt for several infamous serial killers) and watching Silence of the Lambs. How was the show going to handle Dexter’s gruesome hobby? He kills uber bad people that the police fail to catch, so do their sins make it right for Dexter to kill them? Who makes Dexter judge/jury over their lives? Will he get caught? Am I supposed to cheer for Dexter?

I settled on my coach, hoping I was in for a thought provoking thriller on humanity, justice, and morals. Because I only wanted to have answers and not a progression of Dexter’s life, I watched season 1 and skipped ahead to the finale two seasons, seven and eight. I did the ultimate skip binge, but I now wish that I had merely stopped at season 1.

Season seven was amazing, because Dexter really begins to question those killer instincts. He is raising a son and has friends that respect him. Then his beloved sister finds out (finally) about his sinister hobby. Naturally, she is horrified by the discovery and confronts him. She loves her brother, but grapples with his monstrous actions. As the season progresses, Dexter is forced to witness his sister’s mental/emotional decline as she compromises her values and position on the police force to protect him. Then his new girlfriend also finds out about his kills.

“Why do you kill?” she asks. When he says that it is a “dark passenger” that lives inside of him, she laughs. Really? She tells him that his “dark passenger” is probably just strong feelings or desires that can be contained. This gives Dexter pause. He thought he couldn’t help himself. His girlfriend (who ironically is a murderer too) makes him consider whether his actions are really that excusable. At one point, on the verge of killing an arsonist, he stops because he realizes maybe he doesn’t need to kill. Finally! I think the show and Dexter are getting to a truth we all need to hear. Strong tendencies or urges does not give us an excuse or the need to follow them. However, season 8 comes along and disappointment sets in. Maybe the producer and writers realized that the show was veering toward a certainty that goes against our society.

In season 8, a phycologist comes along and tells Dexter that he is unable to help himself. He was born to kill, and so the show spiraled down from that point on. Dexter so wants to be a good person, hero, but the writer’s seal his fate in another way. In the last episode, Dexter does not die or turn himself in. He does not run away from his past to care for his corrupt girlfriend and son. Instead he becomes a lumberjack! dextor

On the surface, it appears to be a random stupid ending that fails to answer any of my questions. Dare to look closer and you may find the ambiguity a little unsettling. Dexter’s final move implies that society will not accept him as he is and therefore he believes he cannot accept himself. Do the writers believe our human judicial systems are unworthy of bringing Dexter to justice because ultimately they are run by people hiding secrets like Dexter? Who is to judge/forgive Dexter? According to the show nobody can judge Dexter, except himself. Dexter condemns himself to a living hell of isolation, and tree cutting. There is no hope, resolution. Dexter is Dexter. Born killer.

The viewers are forced to stare into Dexter’s face one final time and accept his choice to be the unrepentant serial killer. Our society is already beginning to have a Dexter philosophy. We are born the way we are. We cannot change or control who we are. Our only check is the ever changing face of cultural beliefs. As Dr. Tolson states in his book The Four Priorities, “Most people have become quite comfortable with today’s societal values, premises, and assumptions without questioning their validity or considering their impact on future generations.”

Steven James fictional books about a detective who pursues serial killers provide better dialogue on humanity. James doesn’t shy away from the truth. In Checkmate, the detective often questions his own motives in apprehending serial killers.

“We choose, we act, we live within the incongruity of our godlike desires and our animal instincts. A double life. And no matter how self-controlled we might be, we all do things we don’t want to do, that are antithetical to our beliefs. And sometimes we enjoy them.”

But then later he says, “You strive for justice, you move toward the light when you can, and shake off the darkness that clings to you from living on this fractured planet of lost dreams and sharp heartache. . . because it’s also a place that hope calls home.”

To bad Dexter never learns this fully. Instead he embraces his own darkness.

Read the Bower Files. At least there is a better ending.

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