Well for all the concerns we’ve voiced, I kind of liked Dexter and Lumen getting it on! The possibility began to tick for me when I noticed how the episode was positioning its lighting – scenes around the house emanated light from her to him, symbolizing the light she is bringing to his life, even as he brings it to hers. And then of course we had all the lead up with the bizarro versions of a first date – “You look perfect”…”Can I touch it?”…the boxed gift of leather gloves in pink tissue paper, the fastening of the clover necklace (that kind of broke my heart, actually – grandparents always get me) and, of course, their version of the pool cue lesson, but with a knife through a heart instead of the eight ball in the corner pocket. But even as it seems so right, it also feels so wrong.
Not least of all because we’ve now had a glimpse of what a relationship born in trauma can look like. I’m bummed with the Emily Birch twist – I realized as the episode progressed how much I wanted my theory that she was the original abuser to pan out. That she was simply the first victim, forming some strange, co-dependent, Stockholm syndrome bond with Jordan felt like a let down to me. We need a bit more to this story for it to satisfy. The weird part is that she knows the “truth,” as she put it – that Jordan led the others in “seizing their desires,” raped her, and now has some strange sense that she created who he is today. But why did that work? How did he hold sway over her? And how did he let her have such power over him?
I have been intrigued by this idea of seizing desire all season long. I don’t think we’ve ever thought of Dexter’s compulsion to kill as desire – it’s always been just that, animalistic compulsion, something antithetical to desire because it’s actually oddly banal and mechanistic. Breakthroughs have come for Dexter when he has allowed himself to experience or follow desire. And all in all, I’m pretty pro desire.
Morality tales that try to inhibit the beauty of human passion tend to get on my last nerve. I’m actually looking at this artwork hanging on my office wall that is a representation of Desire (Desear actually – it’s a artistic rendition of a Mexican lotteria playing card), and thinking about my favourite Tom Waits lyric, “there’s no prayer like desire” – and I’m realizing just how much my view of this human experience is almost wholly positive. This might be my own backlash against my Christian faith and how much I dislike my religion’s fear and mistrust of desire. But Jordan Chase is reminding me of why some of the better reasons why religious folks have feared desire. Desire is good when it’s mutual – when two (or more, I suppose) consenting adults explore its edges and glorious middle together. Desire is good when it views the other as the other wants to be viewed – and when it has some sort of humanizing tendency to it.
And perhaps that’s why Lumen and Dex’s hook-up ended up being so beautiful in the end. She starts it. He lets her bind him before they even kiss. And they end up in each others arms, scars bared, knowing each other fully. Dexter has only every known himself as monster (and, indeed, a good argument could be made that he is one!), but for a moment, he was human and it wasn’t trite or stupid. It worked.
But then there’s this lie we’re told that men desire domination – that their deepest desire is conquest and that they should seek and fulfill that desire. In the end, Jordan’s desire isn’t at the women’s torture – it’s at his ability to be the king of the losers who actually do want that. It’s at his ability to awaken that desire in them and convince them to follow it through. His domination is not of the barrel girls; it’s of the monsters who put them there.
If, in the end, Jordan’s originary trauma that made him that way was the recognition of that power – a power beyond his control – and not something that was done to him, I might be satisfied.
Satisfied and, like Dexter, shocked one more time at the confrontation of the evil that’s in this world.
I love that Deb gets it – I kinda get it to. Those crimes are horrific, and I’d want to see justice tip into vengeance for them. Someone quite wise who’s name is escaping me right now once said that the reason he opposed the death penalty was not because he didn’t want to see the most horrific criminals suffer – but rather, it was because he knew inside him there was some part that did want to see that. And he didn’t want to nurture that part of him. He didn’t want feed it to strength. That quote has long been a driving factor in my own moral positions on criminality, death penalties, punishment, etc., and tonight as I resonated with Deb’s resonance, I wondered if this season needed to be the end of Dexter for me. I love the show. In some ways, I love the character. And I wonder how much, with each episode I view, I’m nurturing that part of me that longs to love vengeance too. And I’m wondering if it’s time for me to stop feeding it.
Oof, that got heavy – must have been a great episode!
Can’t wait to hear what you thought!
Yep, this episode really did bring up a lot of the tough stuff that makes this show so problematic, and so great. I think you really nailed the heart of the issue: Dex and Lumen getting it on. It was beautiful and believeable and far more satisfying than I thought it would be. There was a small nagging voice in my head that wondered if Lumen would be ready for sex, however consensual, so soon after her trauma. Then again, who am I to say? and it is certainly true that they had just shared something more intense and binding than probably any thing else two people can share – death. Which is what made it seem like there was real healing in their encounter, and also what made is seem kind of icky. Somehow their falling into real intimacy after Lumen had come over to the dark side made it that much harder to really countenance what they were up to. Dexter has always walked the line of attraction and aversion so carefully and I think what I feel happening now is the blurring of that line in a way that seems irrevocable.
For example, somewhere a couple seasons ago (a real devotee can probably tell me exactly when it happened), Dex turned from slicing and dicing his victims with handsaws to a quick, effective blade through the heart. I am not saying getting stabbed through the heart is a nice way to die, but it is sure a lot more palatable to watch over and over again (especially when you know what is coming) than the much more twisted and torturous ways he seemed to kill before (and in fact, they were so creepy and awful because they never showed them to us directly; they just showed a saw buzzing and Dex getting splattered in blood while his victim screamed). As much as that dark place of vengeance you talk about was being nurtured with each of his kills, it was also hard to feel peaceful about what he was doing, since it was so obviously like the serial killers we are trained to fear (remember that scene when Doakes was locked in the cage and Dex was killing someone on the table behind the plastic and Doakes watches blood gushing from the table pool at the base of the plastic? That was a terrifying image and kept Dexter just out of reach of our complete sympathy).
We’ve watched Dexter wrestle with integration, with taming his dark passenger, with trying to embrace his humanity, but it never quite works, which is somehow how we aren’t asked to condone what he is doing. This season feels like a turning, and even an ending, because that separation between our full sympathy and Dexter’s true nature is being removed. Lumen is his lifeline out of the cage of animal desires that Harry assumed he would live in forever, and in his connection to her he feels most human. But that connection also changes the tenor of the kills. We have always known that Dex was targeting the bad guys, but they were not people he had an emotional hatred for. They were just more socially responsible prey – the necessary bodies for his table. Better they end up there – monsters that they are – then innocent people, turning Dex into just as bad a guy as those he killed. Now he is hunting people he wants to kill in a personal way, for Lumen’s sake, for her healing, and thereby for his own. We can see the difference in Deb’s speeches about vengeance and vigilantes. It isn’t a coincidence that these murders all involve violence against women, rape, and torture – they are the really, really, really bad guys. Even law-abiding Deb can understand someone who wants to take them out – she even seems to be secretly cheering the killer on. Which leads me to believe that she will discover Dex and Lumen, but somehow she will understand (no prediction yet on what will happen after she finds them). Even more so, Deb helps us sympathize fully – she represents our turn from a complicated relationship with Dexter’s violence to a more thorough embrace of it. We no longer see Dex as the inhuman monster who can’t help but kill. He is actually becoming the dark hero he has sometimes wanted to imagine himself as being. Only, in the past, we were always held at bay from really buying this explanation – sure he his doing good with his evil inclinations (however we calculate that moral equation), but he isn’t exactly a hero. The ritualistic need to kill separates him from other heroes. But now that he is killing for Lumen, that killing seems more justified, less ritualized, more about justice.
Perhaps that means after they take down Jordan he will find his humanity in Lumen’s arms and the killing will stop. Our acceptance of him – like Lumen’s acceptance of him – will mark the end of his killing days. And I suppose if the show has to end, that is a better ending than his arrest or death. And maybe it is even a necessary end. As you say, our sympathies have been pushed as far as they possibly can, even to the point where it is hard to find anything wrong or disturbing about this brand of vengeance. In that acceptance, maybe the show has not in fact become lighter, but pressed into the very darkest place imaginable – the place where our own desires are completely comfortable with the darkness in Dexter.
Do you buy that explanation? I think I do. I need to think more about it. If it kind of works, it definitely makes the show very much about desire, both its liberating, healing aspects (witnessed in Dex and Lumen’s budding love/grace) and its terrifying, dark aspects (witnessed in Jordan and his crew). Interestingly, I think that sometimes non-religious people have an easier time dealing with the really complicated aspects of desire – it is not something to be rejected, but in not rejecting it, one does not have to automatically affirm all its manifestations. It is a powerful, real force of life, with as much power for destruction as for liberation (or rather, liberation is often destructive). And it certainly isn’t just a code word for sex, even if it is always about the erotic. Which I suppose religious people have known for a long time too. After all, the great sin for Augustine is pride, not lust, and Jordan Chase is a perfect embodiment of an ego expanded beyond all confines of right order and he refuses to engage in any kind of physical or sexual encounter. Clearly this is another conversation, and a fun one to have, given how much Dexter plays with Christian imagery and language. But since this is going on WAY too long, I will wait for next week, and the penultimate moment of surrender.