Monday, March 10, 2008


Offloaded the children, crawled into bed with the flu, and watched the four last episodes of Dexter back to back. If you don't get tv and don't pay for cable but are as much of an addict as everyone else what you tend to do is to watch series's on your own time. Our personal favorites are Buffy the Vampire [edited to add: slayer, slayer, slayer. Jeez you people are fanatics]. (watched in rotation for seven years after the series stopped airing), The Sopranos (watched by me while Mr. Aimai, the wuss, is out of town), Carnival (two seasons of the most jaw droppingly evocative and creepy grand guignol set in the dust bowl), and now Dexter.

What does a series about a soulless serial killer have to do with me? Well, opposites attract. After a week of insta adolescent angst from my children so extensive that one or the other of them was always running off sobbing about something while the other stayed to chastise us for failing to figure out what was wrong soon enough... we took the kiddies to a ren-faire (everyone from six months to sixty years old in a bustier, if they had anything at all to buste) and outside the gates of the castle was a teeny-tiny sign that I wanted to steal that said "drama free zone." Sometimes all I want is an hour or so in the company of someone who won't burst into tears.

Dexter is, to my mind, one of the most brilliant riffs on anomie, men, and death of all time. Dexter is a sociopath, but not a bad guy. He longs to fit in, but can't figure out what makes other people tick and doesn't really care. He's just been raised to grasp that unless he can fit in, ultimately, he'll be caught and imprisoned or executed. He has uncontrollable needs, like killing people, but if he is to survive they have to be channelled and hidden. The show moves back and forth seamlessly between Dexter the adult, who works as a blood spatter expert for the Miami PD and who sublimates his urge to kill by killing only other serial killers, disposing of their bodies, and retaining a single blood spot for his personal enjoyment and Dexter's childhood training in covering his tracks which he received from his sympathetic and loving foster father. The episode on learning to act normal--to smile when people expect you to smile, to make the appropriate social gestures to get along--was perfectly counterpointed with hysterical scenes like when Dexter, eager to be the perfect boyfriend, brings home "terms of endearment" to watch with his girlfriend and then can't figure out why she's crying.

At first Dexter seems totally in control of his own weird needs and his social world. People are, in general, so self absorbed that they can't spare the time to really respond to another person. They project on to him their own needs, goals, sexuality, and even their own laughter at their own jokes. Only one police officer out of the entire building seems to realize that Dexter is faking his humanity and considers him a "creep"--the others don't even begin to guess because if they really paid attention to him it would take some time from their own self absorption. But over the course of the first season Dexter's self sufficiency and his sense of security as an outsider is slowly chipped away. He finds that he does want some kind of normalcy, even if he doesn't really think he will enjoy it. And every step he takes into the "normal" world, including having sex with a woman, leads him to further social entanglements that create feelings he can't reallly handle. At the same time, we find out that none of the other people around him are exactly who they pretend to be, either. In fact everyone, as we learned from Paris is Burning is performing their public selves--class and gender just being two of the more obvious things people enact for the benefit of others around them.

Highly recommended.