The Moth Chase

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

Believe me

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Dear Natalie,

I’m really liking this season of Dexter! Somehow the pace of the episodes seems a bit slower, but in a good way. I feel like we get more time to watch Dex and other characters develop instead of just racing through multiple interwoven plots. That is not to say that there isn’t plenty of action. Last night’s episode was pretty packed. We start with a baptismal scene. As Brother Sam later tells Dexter, the ritual really isn’t about the dunking in water or even about the belief in a brand new start. It is about surrender. Surrender to something greater than yourself. This becomes a theme of the episode – what do our characters believe in? What are they willing to surrender themselves to?

It is a little hard not to get frustrated at the big science vs. religion angle – as though this is the only way to think about religion, as the opposite of science or the stupid superstitions people cling to when they aren’t rational enough to accept a scientific worldview. But I’m loving Brother Sam as a character and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) is playing him at the perfect pitch. Brother Sam is a genuine believer, but he is not a fanatic. He is still a bit baffled by his own faith and self-aware enough to know how naive he must sound to someone like Dex. And he is absolutely right to point out that Dexter is not without faith – he may not believe in God, but he certainly believes in something bigger than him. The episode made science that bigger thing, and Dex is a huge believer in science and evidence (“blood never lies”). But come on, that is not all he believes in! What about the Code? Isn’t that Dex’s true religion? I am not sure if the writers are going to make this explicit (or if they just can’t see past the religion vs. science cliches), but they were definitely playing around these edges. Surely it is not a coincidence that Brother Sam’s whole conversion story hinges on an abusive father who drags his son into a world of murder and moral chaos. Nor is it incidental that Dexter’s first venture into prayer happens when he fears for his son’s life (and, I will say, putting Harrison in danger did seem like a cheap way to get Dexter to this point of surrender – effective and symbolically loaded, but still a little cheap). Dexter treats God like he treats Harry – a moral rule giver, the keeper of another Code he is willing to learn if he needs to. I don’t really get the sense that Brother Sam would go for this “God helps you, you help God” theology, but the Harry in Dex’s conscience really plays it up, warning Dex that he better be ready to “pay up” if there is a God. This seems like exactly the kind of thing Harry would say, trying to teach Dexter the complicated moral rules of the world. But it is a pretty limited way to think about God, and a long cry from the beautiful surrender of faith Brother Sam was talking about.

Of course, as Brother Sam points out, that beautiful surrender can also be a hellish nightmare if you surrender to the wrong thing. Enter exhibit A: Professor Gellar and Trevor’s increasingly complex and grotesque tableaux (you know, complex arrangements of people and objects to tell a story). We still don’t know much about Professor Gellar, except that he too is a kind of abusive father figure, encouraging Trevor’s free will and then sadistically manipulating his actions. Poor Erin! Somehow her death was really sad to me, maybe because we get just a tiny glimpse of her, enough to imagine her terror and fear to wake up and discover the nice guy she just slept with is part of a murderous religious cult who has decided to make you part of their doomsday message. We can begin to put together their story: Trevor is parentless and gullible, Professor Gellar a charismatic teacher with strong moral authority. I really hope there is more to it than that, though. We’ve had a lot of father figures and the havoc they wreck on their children, biological or adopted.

Final thoughts: what do you think of our new detective from Minnestota? He is one cocky bastard isn’t he? Did you notice the way he is always standing near or beside Deb, assuming a place of authority over the others? Why do they all take it? Why does Deb take it? She actually seems to capitulate to him (she changes her dress explicitly and seems nervous that he will approve of her). When are the others going to rise up and rebel against the new boy/teacher’s pet? Though I do like watching Deb negotiate her own firebrand personality with the decorum demanded of her new job.

I need to brush up on Revelation so I can anticipate where they are headed!

xoxo,

Kathryn

————————–

Hey Kathryn,

I really enjoyed this one too. Yes, using Harrison to move Dex to his revelation moment was a little cheap (especially when Dexter just runs off to work before the kid wakes up!), but I loved the hospital scenes nonetheless. Especially as Brother Sam and Dexter sat alone, discussing Sam’s childhood, incarceration and path to God, I felt completely emotionally invested in what was happening. The slight facial twitches that usually indicate Dexter is calculating his response relaxed into his genuine listening to a friend. Between that and some of the ways he responded to Harrison prior to surgery, it seemed as if Dexter’s emotional journey reached a new level – he wasn’t plotting what to feel; he was simply feeling. Perhaps it takes such fringe, limit pushing experiences to get to such a place. And cheap thought it might have seemed, Harrison is probably the only person who could get us there.

But that doesn’t mean the show is going to move away from its camp, almost ridiculous tone either – Dexter with the Nescafe machine, literally stepping back in surprise at his own first prayerful utterance, was perfectly executed. For a moment he seemed shocked that the words had left his mouth and, then, in that moment of surrender – why the hell not, nothing else to lose, right? – he decides to give the prayer a chance.

I totally agree that Dexter’s true religion isn’t science, but is the code – and I think the show is playing with this in subtle ways. Like you, I hope they get more explicit, though, because yeah – the science vs. religion thing is way boring. But I think it’s the IOU in particular that captured this. Dexter has been raised with a system that allows no grace, no forgiveness. We’ve asked again and again where Dex might find healing, redemption. And the thing that keeps him trapped is how ingrained in him the notion that there is a cosmic balance scale in effect – and eye for an eye, a kill for a kill – that keeps him from finding that release. He’s come so far in learning how to be human. Perhaps this season he’ll move beyond IOU’s and balancing acts, into realizing that faith isn’t about what you do or what you owe; it’s a gift.

And on to that final scene…were you just twitching in your chair as you heard the buzzing from the closet? Come on people, it had to be locusts (terribly animated locusts)! I found Erin’s death so sad, for the same reasons as you. She had been made so likeable, and we had a glimpse of what a lovely person she might be. But she also demonstrated a path out of this mess for Travis. His attachment to her seemed normal and good. Her death, and his creepy smiling face at the end, made me realize that I’m not emotionally invested in his character. I didn’t feel sad for him at all that his own path to escape was now probably closed. In fact, as far as narrative goes, the story will be more interesting, I think, with him being done with the waffling. Dexter’s right – Travis is a true believer now. Brother Sam is right too – true belief can make you do some terrible things.

Loose ends – seeing as everything ends up serving the story with Dexter, I have to wonder what’s going to happen with Vince, Ryan and the ice truck hand. How is this going to play into the larger story? And why do they keep referencing old killers? What are they trying to tell us? Even stranger, what was with Battista and Quinn getting high? It was hilarious, sure, but what was the point? I want more on this one…was it just there for comic relief?

This is shaping up to be a great season!
xoxo,
Natalie

Written by themothchase

October 24, 2011 at 9:53 am

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