The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

It’s Not So Much a Job; It’s a Calling

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Dear Kathryn,

We’ve spoken often of the religious imagery in Dexter, how we actually enjoy that they poach Christian imagery without feeling the need to connect strongly with the meanings inherent in those symbols. It’s fun to see how symbols that we might know well (as theologians) play out of context. But this one just went too far…not that I’m offended or anything. Do what you want with my symbols. But please keep my Sunday night viewing pleasures at the high quality I expect. Really, in our post-Christian, in many ways, post-religious society, are people really shocked – as Battista and Deb both were – that someone might not (gasp!) believe in God? I tend to think it’s more shocking when someone does!  Moreover, do people with little to no faith commitments really think a convent pre-school is a good place to send their kid to learn about religion? And don’t get me started on Dexter’s final kill – what white guy has a Latino-Catholic style Jesus tattoo on his chest, but starts quoting Scripture about the blood of the lamb all Pentecostal/Evangelical style in a moment of panic? That religious identity simply doesn’t exist – and perhaps that doesn’t bother the average viewer (as my mother pointed out to me when I was getting all frustrated about it), but I still think the show has a responsibility to try to get things right.

All in all, it felt overly didactic and overly expositional. We had awkward speeches about why Angel and Maria are divorced, how this is a year later, who’s doing what and why…and I sense these awkward speeches will only continue as we scoot Harrison into religious education in a way I can only assume will allow Dexter to get a second hand education on Genesis and Revelation so that he can track the Edward James Olmos storyline.

Ok, but despite all that – here’s what I did like: the potential in the Edward James Olmos storyline! Sure, right now it feels a bit too much like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with the creepy, Biblically themed killing…but I have some hope that it’s going to get a bit more cosmic conspiracy theory-driven than that. Am I right in thinking that those verses they kept quoting were from the section in Revelation that flows into the idea that the “leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”? Are these killings, with the snakes (which I thought were a “Fall of Humanity” reference at the beginning, but instead seemed to have more to do with the end of times) going to lead to some sort of crazed, presumption of an eschatological narrative? Is this odd little duo (what is their relationship?) trying to usher in a second coming?

I also loved the show’s return to the humour – Hammer time, a ridiculous sex scene (sorry fellas who have your high school reunions upcoming – there are very few women in this world who will actually enjoy accosting you with oral pleasures, even if you let them cheat off you when you were a dork), and Quinn’s hilariously clichéd attempts at a proposal. And I really enjoyed this new, relaxed, Harry who functions, quite literally, as a sideline coach rather than morality police. As much as Harry is a reflection of Dexter’s inner voice, it’s nice to see that Dex himself might be mellowing.

Plus, I liked that the whole divorce thing hasn’t made scenes between Dex and Deb awkward…that was good to see.

So, in sum – I might be a little annoyed by this religious imagery thus far and strange pace as the show tries to catch up new viewers…oh, and what was with that weird restaurant scene with Angel and his sister (that has to be building to something), but I’m hopeful that it will even out and find its groove…and I’m super excited that I get to watch Captain Adama in a new role!

Can’t wait to hear what you thought!

xoxo,
Natalie

—-

Dear Natalie,

Funny, I didn’t get as annoyed with the cliched religious themes. Except with the Prom King – I had exactly the same reaction you did. That combination of stupid reductive theology (God will forgive me for killing my wife if I get a Jesus tattoo), Latin American imagery (NOT the kind of Jesus tattoo white ex-jocks tend to get), and then the super violent, angry “washed in the blood of the lamb” biblical quotation just doesn’t exist. And if it does exist that would be a hell of a story to tell in and of itself and not just a way to slap together a bunch of religious stereotypes to make a loser character seem like a religious nutcase or to make religion seem like the kind of thing psycho wife-killers hide behind when they are about to be executed vigilante style.

But actually, I found Deb and Battista pretty convincing, at least for TV characters talking about religion. I think it is actually a pretty rarefied world where religion is mostly assumed to be off the table. In college towns, among academics, or even among certain professional classes there might be a general sense that religion is embarrassing. But for two cops in Miami to hold on to some basic religious inclinations seemed pretty right on. Especially since it was clear that neither of them really felt comfortable talking about religion, clearly didn’t think about theology at all, and really only felt its importance in relation to kids. I think there are tons of people like this, who don’t practice religion themselves or not much, may not even know what they believe (like Deb), but just feel in their gut that they should probably take their kids to church or at least mention the idea of god every once in a while. In fact, taking the religion story in that direction seemed promising – is religion something you pass on to your kids? Is it a value system? A belief system? A set of stories and weird statues and pictures? Battista and Deb were much more comfortable with it just being something you do, a series of stories and images and practices that just blur together with snack time and art class. Dex is trying to come round to this idea – maybe religion is something he just needs to expose Harrison to so that he covers his bases as a parent. He is also trying to figure out what it means to raise a child without the Code. His whole relationship to Harry was based on a kind of indoctrination. If the Code is like a religious system, then Dex might be the most religious person on the show. But he can’t raise his son in the faith so it makes sense that he will have to figure out a substitute or at least wrestle with the question.

Of course, the creepily fantastic end-of-time murders might give this whole view of religion a run for its money (and I do agree, I think the imagery is straight from Revelation). It would seem like Edward James Olmos’s character and his side-kick (Colin Hanks, who also played a confused priest in Mad Men – remember his post-Vatican II guitar strumming and moral condemnation of poor Peggy?) have a much higher, if more disturbing, view of religion than either Battista or Deb. It is certainly not just a good story or a funny statute to look at on your way to math. Let’s just hope all religion or religious belief isn’t encapsulated in their wacko theology. Maybe that is a foolish hope, since the show hasn’t exactly been very nuanced in its use of symbols or stereotypes.

Then again, maybe religion is just the next anchor to human life that Dex is going to have to explore. We’ve watched him work through various aspects of human life each season – romance, friendship, father figures, parenthood – figuring out if and how he can enter these bonds and which threads actually bind him to other people in a meaningful way. Maybe this season is about Dex figuring out if and how religious belief, practice, and community might anchor his human experiment?

I do agree that the episode as a whole was rather clunky – moving surprisingly slowly for a premier and with far too much exposition to catch us up on character development. I feel pretty caught up, so let’s move it along people. As far as side plots go, I think Quinn should watch out. Our friends on the force have not had very good marital luck. He might just want to tuck that ring back in his pocket and keep the good thing he has.

I probably would have fainted like the first lab intern if I’d seen the snakes live too, so here’s hoping we move on to other creepy biblical imagery soon.

xoxo,

K

___________

Hey K,

So I can’t resist one quick response. You might have convinced me on the Deb and Battista thing. The idea of religious identity as a fragmented connection to something from one’s childhood or past that, even in that fragmented mode, nevertheless exerts a deep, almost visceral hold over us in our adult lives does ring true. But here’s the other thought I had while reading your post – we might just be encountering this episode from our different cultural contexts. Having lived over half my life in Canada and the UK (and living back in an urban, Canadian context now), the ways in which religion was so freely expressed in public life in the US has always felt strange to me. Especially during my stint in the South – the fact that a stranger would ask you where you went to church was absolutely shocking to me. Indeed, as an exact opposite to your assessment, I tend to think of it being a pretty rarefied world in which religion is presumed to be on the table: in both churches and theological academies, the precise places where you and I spend a lot of our time!

But to be fair, Dexter is set in an American context, in Miami, a highly Catholic-influenced context, as well as perhaps, a highly-Pentecostal and other charismatic Christian traditions influenced context. So perhaps the thing that really bothered me (as it bothered you), was the melange of traditions, blended in a single character (the jock) in an unbelievable way. But perhaps I also let my frustration with that image overtake all the others. As it stands, you may be right, and the Angel, Deb, Dex, and creepy end-of-times guys might all be performing much more coherent, recognizable identities that will reveal something interesting over the course of the season.

Thanks for winning me over!
N

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