Sunday, August 18, 2013

On 'Dexter's' Battle with Addiciton and Dr. Vogel as Dr. Drew...

This is the post about Dexter I'm really happy to write. Sure, in it I have to admit I was wrong about Zach Hamilton (Sam Underwood)-- R.I.P.-- but I'll take being wrong over Dexter himself (Michael C. Hall) ending up on a protege's table any day. And this time Dexter didn't even have to be sucker punched in the gut by learning that someone he was confiding in-- someone he was teaching-- was going to turn around and stab him (literally). Sure, it hurts the same, just in a different way, that Zach became a victim of someone else-- and probably partially because Dexter couldn't see the bigger picture. And if Zach was a surrogate son or little brother even for a minute, it was still a blip on the radar that didn't go unnoticed-- by Dexter or by Dr. Vogel (Charlotte Rampling). But that's what's so fascinating: Dexter has always been so entrenched in stepping back and observing everything around himself and his prey, to the tune of missing out on the more important, personal moments. He was always lost in his Code that way. But as he finally started to realize in "Are We There Yet?" he may actually want something more.

Sometimes there appears to be a very fine line between a true sociopath and just a really good liar. In the beginning, Dexter was written in a way that made the audience wonder, perhaps assuming the worst as we're often loath to give killers the benefit of the doubt, but then wanting to believe the best, as we got to know the hero and tragic man within Dexter. Hall always seemed to play Dexter on the edge-- but not of psychosis, of addiction. Unfortunately it was never something I had a chance to talk to him about-- how conscious a choice that was, if that's how he personally viewed it, etc. But in the moments when Dexter would lose himself in the hunt for another fix, his eyes getting tweaky, his inner monologue sounding more desperate and urgent, it seemed quite clear that his Code was something to manage a compulsion, not a psychosis. 

But here's the thing: addiction can never truly be cured, just getting it under (what often proves to sadly only be temporary) control. Addicts struggle for years, often for their entire lifetime, with the notion of "containing" it-- claiming one drink or one bump or one shot is all they need to take the edge off. Dexter never made any such claims. In a way, he was a much more self-aware addict, even if he wasn't willing to give it that name. Addicts are selfish when they are in their disease. They will stop at nothing to get the fix they believe they need, and that means hurting those in their way-- loved ones or complete strangers. Dexter hid his proclivities from his friends and family and co-workers, but as time went on, he was more burdened by these lies than his acts themselves. He had come to care about some of those in his life just as much as he cared about himself. In the earliest seasons, Dexter lashed out at anyone who found out his secret, killing them to cover his own ass. He justified it; he reasoned with himself about it; he said it wasn't a break in the Code because the first rule of the Code was not to get caught. 

But then he was confronted by someone he loved perhaps more than himself, and he suddenly saw his behavior reflected. If it had happened years earlier, he wouldn't have been ready, and he probably would have killed Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), too-- and then been so tormented about it, he would have sunk deeper. But when it happened he had accepted certain things about himself and his life. He understood he lacked certain control (losing Rita pretty much solidified that), and he had distanced himself from the scramble to regain it. The things he had learned-- about his brother, his mother, Harry-- all gave new perspective to this Dark Passenger anyway. He wasn't asking for help to get rid of it completely, yet he was starting to see the lies that came with it. And since he was faced with a lot of more "real" options-- his sister, his son, Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski)-- he finally seemed to realize he had a choice to let the light in so the darkness wouldn't envelop him completely.  

People with obsessive tendencies can still outgrow phases, even if those phases completely overtake their lives for awhile first. Maybe Dexter would have been a sullen, violent, angry teenager in a dark phase without Dr. Vogel. But with her, he turned into a full-blown addict. There is something really poetic in the fact that he thinks he's coming out of it now thanks, in part, to Hannah, a woman with a darkness in her, too. There's a reason real doctors tell recovering addicts not to get into relationships in rehab: because two people with the same proclivities often find it easier to use one another as a crutch when they backslide. But it feels good going down, doesn't it? 

(I love Hannah. I love Dexter and Hannah. I have made no secret of that. But as surreal as some of the things Dexter has gotten away with have been, this is not a soap opera, and I have no delusions that they can sail off into the sunset together. Maybe if she hadn't escaped from jail-- if she had just done her time and then come back to him upon release. But not like this.)

There is a great chance Dexter is a much more interesting man because of Dr. Vogel, and there is a great chance he did much more good than he would have otherwise because of her, too. But there is no doubt that she set him down a very specific, very narrow, very all-encompassing path. He was so focused on getting to the end of that path-- because each time it led him to a new kill-- he missed the beauty of the nature around him. He missed the possibility of life around him. Sure, life is messy. Sure, he has always had more chances of getting caught while he was juggling, entangled in relationships above and beyond the one with his Dark Passenger. But those complications, and how we handle them, are the point of life-- of truly living, of proving our character. No one who is deep in an addiction is alive. 

But for Dexter, getting lost in the Code also meant he missed-- or just wasn't willing to see-- that the person who most deserved his table was the one who turned him in the first place.

When we believed Harry (James Remar) was the one who gave Dexter his coping mechanism, we could cock our heads sadly for the boy who lost his youth to a well-meaning but misguided man. But the reveal that it was actually a doctor who "prescribed" this moderation for the man means Dr. Vogel is the Dr. Drew of Dexter. She used him, not explicitly for fame, though I have no doubt she has been recording and writing about her recent escapades with him for another book, probably to be published posthumously-- whether that death is his or hers, though, remains to be seen. She managed success with Dexter in that he accepted her skewed morality and "worked" by it, but there were countless others she tried to do the same with but couldn't convince-- people with true psychoses or ones who could just see through her, or even people who were spurred on to take violent action for the first time because of her methods and encouraging. People who went onto do things worthy of Dexter's table. But people who without her influence may have never needed Dexter's table at all. Because maybe Dexter wouldn't have even needed a table.

If Dexter had seen her directly as a youth, he probably would have seen through her, too, but she was smart enough-- cunning enough-- to keep him at arms' length. I wouldn't put it past her to have had a physical hand in Harry's death, too. 

Dr. Vogel is quite literally the drug dealer who got Dexter hooked in the first place. Because of her he couldn't see the forest through the trees, but I only hope now his proximity to her allows him to actually see her for who and what she really is. He's had so many brushes with people right under his nose not turning out to be who he believed, but never before was someone so perfectly deserving of the fate he usually delivers than this particular one. She's manipulated him his whole life, and now, like any true sociopathic serial killer who needs to escalate over time, she has stepped up to doing so directly, taunting him, touching his family and friends, circling him. She might as well lift her leg and pee, but this isn't her show, and she is not the hero here. I said before that I feared the student might overtake the teacher in the Sam/Dexter relationship, but I, too, couldn't see the forest through the trees, focused so narrowly on only one small part of the story, distracted from other important details. All along Dexter may have been about that very theme-- first it was Dexter trying to pay homage to and respect Harry, all while advancing above and without him, and now, well now it's about Dexter realizing the monster who made him and stopping her from toying with him, let alone turning out anyone else.

Dexter should have seen right through Dr. Vogel when he finally met her this season, but his quest for a family-- any family-- overpowered any identifying factors that said she was one of his. After all, he respects and honors his Dark Passenger-- he sees its value-- so he was oddly inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, even after learning of some of the other experiments she was involved in and that some of her clients still went on to be violent under her influence. He works so hard at knocking off criminals and serial killers, but in many ways, they're the lowest level of the totem pole. If he had stepped back and breathed in the bigger picture*, he would have seen that by eliminating the one at the top (in this case, Dr. Vogel), dozens others could be saved. Hopefully he will realize that before it's too late and the series goes dark.

Though it's not the same as killing the head vampire and therefore breaking the line in lineage-- and even if it's the act that finally exposes him-- it would be quite satisfying for a recovering addict to take out the person who so drastically altered the course of his or her life, wouldn't it? At least he wouldn't be living in the lie, in the addiction, anymore. And once you shake that, you can finally be free in the way it matters most. It's certainly very late in his life to be realizing he wants-- he deserves-- more, but it's still early enough to give him a fighting chance at getting it.

* I am sure there is a "bigger picture" for Dr. Vogel, too-- a reason she has devoted her life to attempting to aid these damaged young men and women. I'm sure a part of her is overcompensating for something while another part of her believes she really is helping, in her own twisted way. But this is not "The Dr. Vogel Show," and I don't care much to learn her reasons and motivations. 

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