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Defending the death of Dexter

That was an alliteration I couldn’t resist. I could call it homage to the originator of the book series, Jeff Lindsay. But I won’t. He alliterates ad nauseam in his book titles, as well as in Dexter’s voiceovers in a misguided attempt at making the character likeable, e.g. “dear darling Dexter.” Good gracious God. All he succeeds in doing is annoying the reader—at least, this reader. Jeff Lindsay is a hack who happened upon a promising idea, and then crapped on it after the first book. Yeah, I get it. Angel-no relation-Batista is not a winged being from the heavens. Say it once, and then move on!

Needless to say, the television series surpassed the books from the very first episode. Even the worst season was by far better than Linday’s best book. I have it on good authority considering I read the first five. I have heard they go even further downhill from there. Usually, derivative works are lower in quality, such as the recent Great Gatsby, if not on par with, as was the case in Jaws.

Every episode was entertaining and riveting. The acting was all first-rate, and the evolution of the two main characters in Dexter and Deb were brilliantly portrayed by Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, respectively. All the supporting and guest actors did an excellent job, as well. Who can forget John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer from Season 4, arguably their best season? Anyone who didn’t come away from witnessing that performance and recognize his acting genius needs a time-out on Dexter’s table. I kid. The only season I was disappointed with was the following, season 5. I felt Julia Stiles was miscast and out of her element. I could not suspend disbelief that she would be driven to murder, and could even help Dexter dump body parts and act like they were making conversation while cooking dinner together. If you ask me, and you probably won’t, Claire Danes would have made a more convincing Lumen. She has the required frailty masked by steely resolve to make that character believable.

Do not read any further if you have not watched the series finale of Dexter, by the way. The “death” in my title is symbolic, i.e., the ending of the series.

Or is it. . . ?

My husband and I are both writers, and we can usually sniff out plot turns before they happen—him more so than I. Neither of us had any idea how this series would end. We both knew that it wouldn’t end well for at least one of the characters. It turned out that it ended badly for all of them. I won’t discuss the whole season. It is only the final episode that left me an emotional mess.

The show’s writers took Vonnegut’s advice to be mean to their characters and ran with it. All the key players were victimized by Dexter, in some shape or form. And for that, Dexter had to die . . . in some shape or form.

When Deb was shot in the penultimate episode, it was the gun on the wall (pun intended) that a happy ending was not to be expected. Deb was injured picking up where Dexter felt he should leave off. He did not kill the Brain Surgeon—the season’s nemesis—because he realized he didn’t need to anymore and decided to go by the book and have him arrested and prosecuted. Is that character redemption I see? Not so fast! Dexter left Hannah and Harrison (another alliteration!) in their efforts to flee the country to be by Deb’s side when he got the call that she had been shot. Are you sure that isn’t character redemption? Scoff! That would be too easy.

I suspected even more so that something tragic would happen when the doctor told Dexter that everything went well in surgery. Context is important, because nothing goes well in that show, so it should not be assumed that it was just a plot device to add a little drama. A massive stroke from a blood clot left Deb brain-dead. It heralded the return of Dexter’s Dark Passenger, so the Brain Surgeon had to die. While doing a GSR test on Daniel Vogel in jail, he set it up so that Vogel, a.k.a. Oliver Saxon, would attack him, thus justifying Dexter killing him. Batista and Quinn, distraught by the loss of a detective and lover, respectively, viewed the video playback. It was apparent that they saw it for what it was—a premeditated murder in the guise of self-defense. After a few obvious questions from Batista, they declared the incident justifiable homicide. On the surface, it appeared to be sloppy writing to do away with some loose ends in the plot. But in actuality, it was showing another side to the detectives—more Batista in this case—demonstrating that sometimes ethics are situational. And some people have to die. So says “the code.”

Like he did to Camilla Figg in season 3, he felt it his duty to euthanize Deb. And that he did. I was shaking, trying to keep it together, when he held her hand and emotionally whispered “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He turned off the machine, disconnected the tube and wires, and listened for her breath to cease. “I love you,” were his last words. That is when I did a face-plant into my husband’s lap. My eyes are welling up just recalling that scene. I was devastated.

There was only one convincing path for Dexter to take at the loss of his moral compass in Deb, for which he felt responsible. He could have met up with Hannah and Harrison and lived his life the way Deb would have wanted him to. That would have been trite, out of character, and despite our desire for some semblance of a happy ending, unrealistic. He spoke one last time to Hannah and Harrison, leaving the possibility he would see them again. Then he threw the phone into the ocean to cast away any temptation to meet up with and eventually destroy them the way he did everyone he was close to. After that, he buried Deb in the same place he did his victims, as if she died at his hand, as well. But with her, he demonstrated his love and respect by keeping her whole and uncovered. Her face dissolved as it sank into the ocean’s depths in a symbolic disposal of the mask he wore for so many years.

He drove into the eye of the hurricane, and the wreckage of his boat was found the next day. The assumption was that he died, and in a way, he did. The façade, the emotional growth, as well as any possibility for more connections with humanity, died. Whether he intended to kill himself or fake his death is left for the viewer to decide. Regardless, he made a supreme sacrifice. The last scene showed him as what appeared to be a lumberjack, possibly in the upper Northwest. The cold, dark atmosphere was a stark contrast to Miami’s sunny warmth. He had a full beard, either as a disguise or perhaps to indicate that he no longer cared to maintain a carefully cultivated clean-cut and unthreatening appearance. His father’s image and voice were conspicuously absent. He sat down at a desk, and stared at nothing. His face with that mask fully removed, revealed the monster he always knew himself to be. This was the real Dexter, laid bare for the viewers to see. It was disturbing.

No one was redeemed, no one was happy. Joey Quinn became an honorable cop again during the season, and got the girl in the end. Then, she was cruelly taken away. What will happen to him? Hannah is left with Harrison. Will she be a good mother to him? Will she raise him to be a good, law-abiding person, or will he follow in her or his father’s footsteps?

What will become of Dexter? Did he mean it that he would see Harrison again? If so, would it be from afar? Dexter will continue killing, there is no doubt. But, did “the code” get buried along with the mask and moral compass, at the bottom of the ocean? There are so many questions that have a plethora of possible answers. Six Feet Under ended perfectly by giving closure to the key characters. It fit the theme and spirit of the show. The characters were surrounded by death, so too they must die eventually. The same goes for Dexter. Many fans are angry about the finale. Either they let their emotions cloud their judgment or they just didn’t get it.

On a final note, Jennifer Carpenter must at least get nominated for an Emmy. She has been overlooked for too long. Michael C. Hall should be nominated again, and actually win this time. It would be the appropriate closure to honor a terrific artistic work.

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The Twelve Days of Christmas (As celebrated by Dexter)

I’ve had an interesting conversation with someone who has been forced to listen to holiday music all day at work. He swore that he’d become murderous if he listened to The Twelve Days of Christmas one more time. The inspiration to combine it with America’s favorite serial killer was a natural one, in my opinion.

The quantity of some of these items does not make a whole lot of sense, but really, neither does the original song. What the Hell does one do with maids a milking, and why eight of them? Anyway, ‘tis the season to be stabby!

On the first day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
A drop of blood on a slide.

On the second day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the third day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Four severed limbs, 
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Five body bags.
Four severed limbs,
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Six cheeks a-slicing,
Five body bags.
Four severed limbs,
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Seven rolls of duct tape,
Six cheeks a-slicing,
Five body bags.
Four severed limbs,
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Eight vivisections,
Seven rolls of duct tape,
Six cheeks a-slicing,
Five body bags.
Four severed limbs,
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Nine knives a-stabbing,
Eight vivisections,
Seven rolls of duct tape,
Six cheeks a-slicing,
Five body bags.
Four severed limbs,
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Ten yards of plastic,
Nine knives a-stabbing,
Eight vivisections,
Seven rolls of duct tape,
Six cheeks a-slicing,
Five body bags.
Four severed limbs,
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Eleven neck injections,
Ten yards of plastic,
Nine knives a-stabbing,
Eight vivisections,
Seven rolls of duct tape,
Six cheeks a-slicing,
Five body bags.
Four severed limbs,
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,
And a drop of blood on a slide.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
Dexter Morgan gave to me
Twelve worthy victims,
Eleven neck injections,
Ten yards of plastic,
Nine knives a-stabbing,
Eight vivisections,
Seven rolls of duct tape,
Six cheeks a-slicing,
Five body bags.
Four severed limbs,
Three bone saws,
Two pairs of gloves,

And a drop of blood on a slide.

The Dexter Defense

Showtime’s Dexter is one of my favorite programs of all time. It is superbly written and acted, entertaining, intelligent, horrifying, comical, and most significantly, plausible. My toes curl in anticipation for the start of every season.

I figured it was only a matter of time before life imitated art. An Indiana teen was accused of strangling his 10-year-old brother to death. Andrew Conley, who was 17 at the time, felt that he “had to do it”. What was the impetus for this gruesome crime? You guessed it: Dexter made him do it. He so identified with the character that he finally acted on his compulsion that he felt since he hit his teens. Perhaps faced with life in prison, he grasped at straws there. Yet, I found out after reading the article about the case that this wasn’t a first. A 29-year-old Canadian filmmaker murdered a man in 2008 based on one of the storylines in the show. A filmmaker. He of all people should appreciate that despite the aforementioned plausibility of the idea, it is still indeed, fiction. What gives?

This is not an isolated incident. Since the concept of cinema was actualized, people have found their inspiration to act on their already existing pathologies. Yes, the desire to do the dastardly deed was latent, awaiting something or someone to stir the beast from its slumber. Even before that, troubled souls found ways to rouse their demons into action. How many Jack the Ripper copycats were there? Who knows, maybe Emperor Nero’s insane act of locking helpless citizens in Rome’s colosseum (or so the story goes) to force them to view his godawful performances led even the gentlest of characters to violent responses.

Call this human behavior what you will, for this writing I will coin it somewhat topically: The Dexter Defense, and it is a flimsy one, at best. While not historically apt, as evidence of this spans centuries, it is a good representation—an almagamation, if you will—of how far some people would go to make excuses for their actions.  Plus, I really dig the alliteration.

As an artist with little exposure, my only concern about creating something that could stir a violent response is offending my potential audience. Imagine successful entertainers with far-reaching influence doing the same. They not only have to deal with possible rejection, they also may consider the likelihood that there will be impressionable people who take their art just a wee bit too seriously. Does that mean they should keep it to themselves, or should they expect a modicum of objectivity from their viewership? Should the sins of a few ruin it for everyone else? While the collective intelligence can decrease as the group expands, can the actions of a few leaven the whole loaf?

Musical influence

While Doris Day’s beautiful rendition of Secret Love was somewhat marred by the rumor that Calamity Jane had syphilis (I don’t believe it!), my history need not go back that far. Where the tendency to attribute malevolent influences from music became prevalent is with the recording technique of embedding subliminal messages in music, called backmasking. The Beatles popularized it (really, was it “cranberry sauce” or “I buried Paul”?) and other bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC followed suit. A law was passed forcing record labels to add a warning message that this technique was used. It is akin to adding the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes. We all know they are horrible, but does that stop the addicts?

Who can forget the inspiration Charles Manson got from The Beatles’ Helter Skelter? As far as their songs go, it isn’t one of their best, albeit an interesting cacophonous experiment. I personally wouldn’t even put it in their top 20. Never mind that the song was not violent, per se, nor could any rational person infer evil intent from it. Yet, the song is now inextricably bound to the Manson murders, so much so that the infamous book about this nugget in history shares the title. Lest we pin the blame on Paul McCartney, we must realize that Manson was born with violent inclinations. While it can be argued whether he was a psychopath or a sociopath, the seeds of nature and nurture were planted long before that. What nurturing mother punishes her son by forcing him to go to school wearing a dress? While he was definitely genetically hard-coded towards a pathology, his abuse as a youth set the stage. The song played as a convenient excuse.    

Arguably, the most notorious case in recent memory involved the heavymetal band, Judas Priest. In 1985, two Nevada teens made a suicide pact after listening to their music all day while drinking beer and smoking pot. They went to a playground at a local church and aimed shotguns at themselves. The one died instantly, the other survived and was left with a severely disfigured face. He died several years later, even after numerous surgeries. The parents brought the case to trial in 1990. Rob Halford had to experience the ignominy of singing the offending lyrics from the album Stained Glass in court, and was specifically instructed to sing it in the same style as he did on the record. The prosecution claimed that it wasn’t just the words, but also how they were conveyed. The court ruled the band not responsible. The teens’ mental state was compromised with chemicals and existing depression. The album only reiterated an idea they already entertained. Still, the lack of precedent doesn’t keep others from attempting the same scapegoat defense.

Book burning

How many books have been destroyed in an effigial attempt to banish violence from our society? What, outside of a waste of resources, does it accomplish? Even Reverend Terry Jones’ recent showboating plans to burn the Quran were misguided. Yes, there are many fundamentalists who take a literal and/or incorrect interpretation of the work and wreak horrible havoc on those with dissenting opinions. My own views of religious persuasion aside, burning a book that can easily be reproduced and not abused by the majority, does nothing but incite further violence. It is laying the blame on the printed word instead of the individual. Sticks and stones and all that.

Mark David Chapman claimed that he re-enacted scenes from Catcher in the Rye when he fatally shot John Lennon. While Holden Caulfield was a dark character experimenting with rebellion, I personally focused on the symbolism of watching children on the carousel grab the brass ring that gave me hope that there was salvation in his future. How did Chapman devise such sinister machinations from this classic piece of literature?

Really, unless bookmakers can create a technology that will cause the reader’s hands to blow off if the story is not acted out, there is no one to lay blame on but the criminal. There are a bunch of Humbert Humberts running around deflowering nubile girls because they are compelled to do so, not because they were inspired by Lolita. Who reads about pedophilia and thinks, “Hmm, interesting concept, I think I’ll give it a whirl,” and then later blames Nabokov for corrupting them with his beautiful literature? Ridiculous.

Film noir

It only takes a modicum of common sense to intuit that thrusting two fingers at someone’s eyeballs will never end well. Yet, impressionable people tried that after watching The Three Stooges. It doesn’t matter that upon closer scrutiny, it is obvious that Moe Howard aimed at his brother Curly’s eyebrows. We are just such curious creatures that sometimes, we can’t help ourselves.

Filmmakers recognize this, and in fear of the consequences that could arise in our litigious society, they make allowances for that via disclaimers. The Mythbusters remind the audience every episode that they are professionals and since the average viewer is not, they are ordered to “not try this at home”. Does that stop everyone from trying to blow up Buster, as an example? Of course not, but it does remove the show’s culpability. My question is this: Should they be held responsible when their efforts to entertain result in criminal acts?

John Fowles The Collector was made into a movie in 1965 about a man who kidnapped and imprisoned a woman he was obsessed with, and held her until a relationship developed. She died, and he blamed her for it and looked for better ways to hold a woman captive and improve the experience for himself. Robert Berdella, a.k.a. The Kansas City Butcher, credited the movie version for planting the seed of fantasies about his subsequent acts. While he admitted that it just laid the foundation for the feelings that were already there, it seems fiction always must play as fodder.

Supposedly, Mark David Chapman’s obsession with killing John Lennon was assuaged temporarily by watching the movie Ordinary People. It was an emotional movie that inspired a lot of people in different ways. There hasn’t been an issue with crediting positive influences to any art form. Should there be a double standard applied?

But of course!

Don’t shoot the messenger

There is a precarious balance that faces artists in providing necessary escapes in entertaining ways and with giving fodder to disturbed viewers. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, humans are fascinated with violence and the ability to inflict it on others, thus determining their fate. It gives us the control that we feel we don’t have over our own destiny. Most of us are content with experiencing it vicariously, and there are plenty of opportunities out there to do so. From slowing down to check out car accidents, restraining ourselves from asking a soldier if he or she has killed people, flirting with road rage, and more to the point of this writing, immersing ourselves safely in pure fantasy. It’s there, and we are drawn to it. Like screaming at the plants, it shouldn’t hurt anyone, and it is a great stress-reliever.

We are born with a survival instinct, and it is manifested in a fight or flight response. When crimes are committed, we want to know why it happened. This provides an opening, and some are inclined to take it to save their own asses. In the movie Primal Fear, Edward Norton’s character faked a stutter and dissociative identity disorder, i.e., multiple personalities, to avoid the death penalty. That is not a stretch by any means, nor is blaming actions on works of fiction. Remorse can result in sincere apologies, attrition, retribution, as well as accusation. Apparently, the first three are more daunting and difficult than sitting back and pointing the finger. It is a convenient and alluring escape hatch.  The fight is owning up to one’s actions; the flight in laying blame on outside influences.

The show Dexter is a brilliant tour de force. The actors, writers, and directors succeed where many fail—they make an otherwise reprehensible character not only sympathetic, but also likable. We root for him, even though in reality, it would be the opposite. If faced with that character in our world, we’d be horrified and humiliated that we were so duped. We know this to be true, so we are free to embrace this alternate reality. Leave it to a few bad apples to spoil it for the rest of us.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must gaze at Piss Christ, then punch a priest for bastardizing religion. That is what Andres Serrano wanted me to do, right?