Can I get a witness?
Dexter’s journey to understand religious faith continues with a new potential guide in the earnest face of Mos Def as Brother Sam. Throughout all six seasons Dexter has been asking the question “can humans change?” And then even more importantly for him, “can monsters change?” Last season he began to think that perhaps love – genuine understanding, vulnerability and transparency with Lumen – could change him, or was itself proof that he was more than the monster he had been raised to think he was. With Trinity, he wondered if family bonds could temper monstrous impulses. In both cases he came back to his rather fatalistic conclusion – once a monster, always a monster. Though in both cases, he also accepted that he was capable of more than he had ever imagined and that he could in fact accept love and family in his own terms as part of his life.
In Brother Sam he encounters a monster who might actually have changed. Or as Brother Sam himself puts it: the monster is still within, but he learns through faith (self-control, self-sacrifice) to keep his darker impulses at bay. It is an interesting test of the Code itself – does reform, if it is genuine enough, get you off the hook for past sins according to the Code? I don’t think I had ever fully realized how much Dexter’s work is preventative not just retributive. He is looking for people, who, like himself, won’t be able to control the violent impulses inside them and who will keep perpetrating violence. The proof that they deserve to end up on his table is in their past deeds, but the impetus to track them is to prevent them from doing future harm. In this way, the Code is built upon the idea that darkness, once unleashed in a soul, threatens to consume it and will, in almost all cases, exert its control over a person again and again. Reform, then, really never can be complete – it is at best holding darkness at bay. Theologically, this is something like the doctrine some Protestant Christians call simul justus et peccator – that we are simultaneously justified/righteous through God’s grace and still sinners at the same time.
In Brother Sam Dexter is encountering the possibility that religious faith can do the work that family and erotic love have not yet been able to do – give the strength to hold the darkness at bay. If a no-name actor had played Brother Sam, I might have thought he was a one-time morality lesson. But given that Mos Def is on the scene, and that Brother Sam is connected to Omar Rivera, I suspect that he might prove to be Dex’s guide through his spiritual quest.Which seems far more promising than Dex picking up his biblical interpretation from Harrison’s preschool.
It will be interesting to see how Brother Sam’s theology matches the psycho-symbolic theology that is unfolding in that decrepit old castle/church (and really, how many of those are in Miami and how do the weird religious murderers have access to it?!). At first I assumed that our nemeses (and do we know their names yet, by the way?) were choosing their victims with some rationale – at least Omar did have a violent past, even if he is reformed now as Brother Sam claims. But that jogger in the park? Is he going to turn out to have been a rapist or something because it kind of just seemed like a random attack? I am starting to suspect that these two might hold to another Protestant doctrine – the total depravity of all human beings – but push that to a grotesque extreme. The fact that young psycho’s sister cannot be saved hints that these two might believe that all human beings, regardless of their particular actions, are so corrupt there is no hope except the coming apocalypse. I’m intrigued to learn more about these two, but right now, their creepy locale and use of medieval torture and their homoerotic power dynamics all seem a bit cliched. I am trusting something more complex will be revealed.
Finally, how fun was it to see Molly Parker as young psycho’s sister (even though it is hard for me to accept her without her Deadwood period dress)! That is bound to lead to some interesting side story. And I haven’t even touched on Deb’s promotion, which I found to be a really fantastic side story. What did you make of Dex’s side comment to Quinn: “she made her choice and it wasn’t either of us”?
I can’t wait to hear what you thought this week!
As I had hoped, the season is definitely picking up! Yes, I agree that the creepy apocalyptic murder storyline needs to be rounded out some (and yes, I wondered the same thing about the abandoned church complete with period art). With the arrival of Molly Parker (who I also loved in Deadwood, and who I enjoyed as the rabbi in Six Feet Under, David C. Hall’s old stomping grounds!), my hope is that her concern for her brother, Travis, will lead us into some backstory on how the kid ended up with this creepy mentor. If he was once quite normal, why does he now believe that the world is coming to an end?
Indeed, this was one of the more interesting questions of the episode for me – that is, not the question Dexter and others continually asked about what they believe, but more so the question on Brother Sam’s lips – why does it matter? The apocalyptic duo believes either that the world is coming to an end, or that they can bring about the world’s end – and they have a set of practices that go with that belief. Brother Sam believes in the power of redemption, and that comes with yet another set of practices (helping other ex-cons find a similarly redemptive path). And we’ve always questioned Harry’s odd set of beliefs that led to the creation of The Code…a Code that Dexter puts his faith in, even while he stretches and tests it.
So, as Dexter realizes more and more that his son will need a new set of practices – a new story, as he puts it, that blurs the boundaries between what’s real and what’s imagination, as all great religions do! – how will his own relating of belief to practice begin to be shaped anew?
As much as I saw the creepy apocalyptic duo being set up as even creepier versions of the Harry/Dexter relationship, I wondered to what extend the sister was meant to recall Rita. Certainly her home looked like Rita’s, to the point that I wondered if we were back there for a moment. I even thought the way she and her brother interacted evoked Dex and Rita’s early very asexual but nevertheless domestic relationship. In a way, she seems to serve as an anchor for the brother, trying to love him out of his strangeness. And he responds to it (not unlike Dex did with Rita, but has always also done with Debra too, I suppose). But all this makes Olmos’ line, that the sister can’t be saved, all the more ominous…saved how? From what? Will her fate be much like Rita’s? Even worse, does that serve as some prediction for Deb too?
Dexter’s ruminations on rituals were particularly lovely in this episode, I thought. Of course, they were always tinged with danger – Daddy’s box, the monster stories about Little Chino, and even the reminder that the stories we do tell, about pigs and wolves and houses of bricks, contain their own kind of menace. But the desire and the joy that Dexter demonstrated at the possibility of creating a new story for his son were nevertheless quite magical. The strange lack of trust on the kid who plays Harrison’s face while David C. Hall tends to his nightly rituals ends up evoking more than it probably intends. It’s an accidental performance of what an intuitive child might actually express were he to have Dexter as a father – this feels nice; everything is better after a bubble bath; but, hmm, something still isn’t quite right here.
Before closing, Deb and Quinn definitely deserve a few words – I felt terrible for poor Quinn, even as I wondered why he ever thought Deb would go for all the cheesy romance. And it remained unclear to me if we are supposed to interpret Deb’s reactions as indicating that Quinn really isn’t the guy for her, or if we’re supposed to remember how her season 1 engagement turned out – with another great parallel, to a guy who was on to Dexter. There’s a deep trauma in Deb that makes the notion that everything is fine until you put a ring on it ring extra true. So I’m not completely sold on the idea that her and Quinn are over.
As for the line that she chose neither of them – I found it to be an odd line through and through. It made me wonder how we were supposed to imagine the relationship of the last year progressing if we were still to feel that Deb might have to pick between Quinn and Dexter? Why even still frame it that way? But it also seemed to indicate that Deb was forging her own path (with the safety net that she could make Dexter proud, as she put it, rather than Harry). I’m sensing that the story will need some colossal failure on her part before it lets her sink happily into her new role. And Vince’s brilliant look of calm yet potent shock at the announcement makes me wonder how chaotic the department might get under Deb’s watch.
Lots going on, and I’m hooked once again!