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Let’s Get Reel: Dexter

Photo Courtesy of The Huffington Post

Photo Courtesy of The Huffington Post

Paige Hamilton ’18, TV Columnist

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“I’m a very neat monster.” This is how Dexter Morgan, the forensics officer specializing in blood spatter, describes himself. He works in Miami in a large police office, solving crimes and tracking down perpetrators. His coworkers are hard working, as is he. His foster sister, a former prostitute, also works there. Dexter maintains great rapport with everyone in the office and is highly respected for his intuition and smarts. Which makes sense, I mean, who better to analyze a murder scene than a murderer himself? Oh, sorry, did I forget to mention that he’s a serial killer?

Don’t worry though; Dexter assures us he kills for good. During periodic flashbacks in season one, episode one, we see a younger Dexter, age 9 or 10 and then again in his teens, talking with his foster dad about the boy’s “urges.” His father alludes to something perhaps traumatic happening to Dexter before he began foster care, but of course doesn’t go into details: it’s still episode one after all. These snippets are interspersed with the current plot line in which an adult, in his mid-30s maybe, Dexter works on a series of cases.

In this episode, the main mystery the police force is investigating is a series of murders in which the killer chops up his victims and leaves their cold, bloodless, puzzle-pieced bodies strewn around the city. Because the murderer drains all this victims of their blood, splatter specialist Dexter isn’t needed. Thus, he has some time freed-up to engage in…extracurricular activities. Explaining that he needs some more work to pass the time, he stops by the room with all the files and asks for one. Clearly, he has wooed the woman in charge of the documents since she, without concern, hands one to Dexter. It’s this case that Dexter will pursue solving on his own time and in his own way.

Methodically, the sociopathic protagonist plans out how he will find and murder the man running a rape website. Dexter frequently narrates, explaining that what he does is with the best intentions. He’s making his “own corner of the world a neater and happier place. A better place.” The audience is plunged into the depths of an immense ethical dilemma. Is his “work” justifiable? Dexter has standards, he assures us. He is thoughtful, would never hurt a child and, while admitting to lack emotions, treats all good people with the upmost respect. 

Like many successful crime shows, Dexter draws on human curiosity and our fascination with the taboo, the frightening and the gruesome. Additionally, it’s a psychological thriller—except in this version, the psychosis lies in the protagonist. The script is flipped. Our moral standards are thrown into question. While watching the show, I found myself revolted but curious, at times supportive of Dexter, but also intensely scared by him.

As Dexter strolled around his office handing out donuts and smiling to his coworkers, it becomes hard to believe this character is anything but kind—until he reopens the donut box, commenting, “Hm, just like me: empty inside.”

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Let’s Get Reel: Dexter