Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dexter Morgan, You Are My Soulmate; Will You 'First Grade Marry' Me?...

There are a lot of shows of late that have tackled characters who have issues with adolescence. Regardless of the numerical age, from the twenty-somethings of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia to the multi-generation (and very on the nose) Arrested Development to newer sitcoms about thirty-somethings and their off-spring who are actually more mature than them (Running Wilde and Raising Hope come to mind off the top of my head), they are all still dealing with residual issues from their early developmental years that keep them from evolving and maturing the way they should. But the one that does it best is Dexter.

Yes, Dexter. Showtime's drama about a family man and blood analyst by day and serial killer by night. It has been advertised as everything from a crime drama to a psychological study, but above all else what it truly is is a character study of one man...or really a man-child, if there ever was one. Dexter Morgan. A man born in blood and bred in violence.

Dexter is the biological son of a junkie-turned-informant and another ex-con who has no real memory of his early years. In fact, one of his first memories is of sitting in a pool of blood after watching his mother get sawed to death in front of his eyes. Adopted by a police officer but never really feeling like he fit in with his new family, he was effectively given a second chance. But here is where the true questions of nature versus nurture first arose because he started to have violent tendencies and murderous urges. He was fine taking them out on small animals until his adoptive father noticed and decided to teach him to channel the rage into something a bit more productive.

Dexter was taught to hunt. It doesn't matter that the game was never other people. He was shown certain specific skills and how to hone certain instincts and behaviors. The escalation in targets was only inevitable.

In the early episodes, Dexter claimed not to know what genuine emotion felt like. Obviously not all emotions: he knew what it was like to feel exhilaration-- at least once in a while during kills-- and the same with relief or release. But he didn't know anything about love. He felt he didn't really need it-- that it was a distracting emotion that really served no purpose. He was a bit like those elementary school kids who chase each other around the schoolyard yelling 'Cooties'. And I loved him for it. Because it showed him as flawed.

Yes, I know; I know: the fact that he is a serial killer should be his flaw, right? Well, it's not. He never kills anyone who doesn't deserve it-- well, not intentionally, but we'll get to that in a minute. He's truly an avenger. And as the central character, we are meant to see his best qualities and amplify them until we relate to, or at least root for, him.

So, well into adulthood and therefore past the age we have been traditionally programmed to believe we have coming-of-age moments, Dexter set out on his. And along the way, he made the same sophomoric mistakes a child would: in moments of loneliness he allowed someone in who was really bad for him (Lila); he didn't learn from past mistakes and mistrusted once again (Miguel); he acted out of passion and emotion and created a big ole mess (Oscar); he lashed out in anger at parental figures for thinking they did things all wrong (Harry); he embarked upon a relationship because he thought that would look good and be the "normal," or "adult," thing to do (Rita). And I loved him all for that, too, because I could relate.

For reasons you will learn if you pick up my pop culture memoir, I, too, feel like parts of my life are suspended in a state of arrested development. I, too, spend great amounts of time just in my own head, and that can crazy complicate things. I, too, have my own addictions and compulsions, and it doesn't matter if they're not to illegal drugs or illegal acts, they can still take hold of your life in a way that's all-consuming. Therefore, I, too, have mega issues with control.

But seeing Dexter grow over the past few years, even if sometimes it's taking a small step forward only after taking a bunch of episodes back at times, gives me hope, as it should anyone. If this guy can finally, albeit slowly, begin to face some of his issues and surpass them however he knows how-- if he can actually experience love and life and normalcy, all while still being true to who he is, even if no one knows about it-- he won't just survive, but he'll also succeed. And so should we.

And for that reason, when Dexter finally returns to Showtime with all new episodes in two weeks, on September 26th (a date that can't come fast enough for this TV reviewer, by the way!), we should probably expect to see him regressing big time. The lack of self-confidence that shrouded him in his extended adolescence will undoubtedly return. The major cause of his maturation and steps into true manhood has been taken from him. Even those who have always had his back are going to have to look at him slightly differently because of the way in which she was taken and the way in which he responds-- or doesn't. The childlike instinct to such abuse is to curl in a ball in a fetal position, and though Dexter has never physically exhibited such on-the-nose behavior, the way he internalizes is an example of the same. He retreats into his own mind, his own world, because that is what he understands best but also because it is comfortable and where he feels most protected.

When the sad day comes that Dexter must end, I can only hope it comes with his graduation moment, of sorts, rather than a comeuppance. I would love to see him finally at peace, whatever that looks like. It would make a very strong statement that no matter what you've been through or who you are or what you do, you deserve a shot at redemption and true salvation.

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