analysis of the tv show dexter

Examining Different Hues of Blood

Dexter, the ideal killer, the perfect psychopath. The Showtime hit T.V. series Dexter has been much more of a success then its producers could have ever hoped for. With over eight seasons and six million viewers, it has been nominated for twenty-five Primetime Emmy Awards winning four, and ten Golden Globe Awards winning two. The success of this show is a great example of how much the American culture is attracted to two types of heroes embodied in the show, the outlaw hero and the official hero. While the outlaw hero questions society, the official hero celebrates it. “The functioning American, as the heir of a history of extreme contrast and abrupt changes, bases his final ego identity on some tentative combination of dynamic polarities” (Ray 378), in this case the outlaw and the official hero. Still for a show to be so popular and on air for eight seasons it needs to contain more than just a dynamic relationship between the outlaw and the official hero. Giving people a chance to glance through a mind of a serial killer, the TV show Dexter embodies many characteristics such as the healing myth, the outlaw hero, and the official hero increasing the amount of things people can relate to. However developed the myth is it still needs its archetypes in order for the story to feel more complete.

To help Dexter along his quest the TV show contains the wise old man and the good mother archetypes. At a very early age Dexter witnessed the brutal death of his mother, cut up with a chainsaw she died a slow and painful death. While Dexter and his brother lay in a pool of her blood, trapped in a shipping container for two days until Harry finally found them. Harry ended up adopting Dexter but could not adopt his brother Brian because he was too old at the time and Harry feared that the event had scarred him too deeply. Just like in the healing myth, Dexter is presented as broken or psychologically scarred, this event is what makes him a serial killer. Harry and Dr. Vogel realizing that inevitably Dexter would need to kill other kinds of animals give him a code to channel his need to kill. Harry adapts the archetype of the wise old man in Dexter’s life “possess[ing] special knowledge and often serv[ing] as a mentor to the hero” (Ray 392). Harry spent the better part of his life teaching Dexter how to interact with people without raising suspicion, teaching him everything he knew as a detective and a human being. Guiding him even after death as physical manifestation of the dark passenger helping him survive and make the right decisions. Originally, the Dark Passenger was Dexter’s way of naming the urge to kill but later on it is used to represent the evil inside all of us that makes us do heinous things. As a female counterpart, Dr. Evelyn Vogel adapts the good mother archetype, “known for her nurturing qualities, and for her intuition. This figure often gives the hero particular objects to help on the Journey” (Ray 392). Evelyn was the doctor who helped Harry develop the code and thought Harry helped Dexter with many different issues in his life. Evelyn has always remained in the shadows and after Harry’s death had no way of communicating with Dexter until one incident made her surface and confront him. When he did not believe that Evelyn was so deeply involved in his life she showed him a tape of Harry and herself discussing Dexter. This event cemented Evelyn as the good mother archetype because of the way she nurtured him from a broken child to a fearless killer.

Through many changes in his life Dexter incorporates the healing myth. Progressively through the story Dexter changes in many ways starting from a psychopath who had to fake casual encounters so as to not appear strange. Rita who was Dexter’s wife was a very big milestone for him; even though he never truly loved her, he showed genuine feelings towards her. After her death he began to shut down and retreat from society. While on the run Dexter runs into a random redneck who insults his dead wife. He then proceeds to kill him in a fit of rage and Harry appears to Dexter saying that it is the first human thing he has seen him do since Rita died. Harry tells him to stop running away and go back to rejoin the collective. This is similar to the evolution we see in Linda Seger’s Healing myth “he moves from his highly independent lifestyle towards the collective” (391). Eventually with the help of his son and Debra he begins to develop real feeling and falls in love with Hanna. Dexter no longer has to fake human interactions and simple encounters because he can now relate to basic human emotions. The audience can now see Dexter cheerful or gloomy rather then just his typical calmness in any situation he faces. This supports Linda Seger’s plotline for the healing myth, where “[w]e can see that the John Book of Act Three is a different kind of person from the John Book of Act One” (391). Dexter completes this change from a broken psychopath who could not feel anything, to a loving father who fell in love and would do anything for the people he cared for.

Designed to appeal to the American collective Dexter poses many opposing characteristics. In the end of the eighth season Dexter decides to leave Miami with Hanna and Harrison so they could live in Argentina. Dexter did not want to leave Miami for anything and had even killed people that did not fit Harry’s code to protect himself. When he found something to live for other then killing, he has somehow developed the ability to love, in this case his girlfriend Hanna. This is a perfect example of Robert B. Ray’s theory in the thematic paradigm about how “a single character magically embodies diametrically opposite traits” (377). Dexter is a psychopath, so by definition he cannot feel love, but almost magically he is somehow able to love Hanna, Debra, and his son Harrison. Dexter loves Hanna so much that he wants to be with her rather then killing Saxon. Dexter’s arch nemesis, the man who killed Vogel and terrorized his life threatening to kill everyone he ever cared about. This is quite extraordinary because killing is the only action that gave any purpose to his life and made him feel something. Killing made him feel strong and in control, he gets the people the police cannot.

If there ever was a perfect example for an outlaw hero, Dexter would be it. Portrayed as a psychopath Dexter is not able to feel any emotion, which means that he is as alone as anyone could be. Separated from people he never understood the things they did, said or the actions they took. This relates to the “mythology of individualism which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass” (Ray 381). He has to fake even casual encounters and more then once mentions his “distrust of civilization” (Ray 380). Dexter’s distrust in civilization lies more in his inability to understand people and emotions rather than Robert B. Ray’s theory that “the outlaw hero’s distrust of civilization, typically represented by women and marriage” (380). Dexter does however marry Rita thereby becoming entangled with responsibilities, and this is where Robert is spot on when he says that “American stories avoided this problem by killing off the bad women”(380). However Dexter still has a baby, so his responsibilities are not fully gone, presumably because something in his life needs to change. So his character could develop further establishing his own set of rules and guidelines.

Dexter offers his viewers an entire ideology called the Code of Harry which represents its own set of natural laws. The Code of Harry is a set of guidelines created by Harry and Dr. Vogel to help Dexter channel his need to kill. Dexter seizes impulses that could not be stopped and uses them throughout life to both satisfy his needs and in some sense do some good. It both prevents Dexter from getting caught and to channel his impulses while getting rid of the people that deserve to die. This code contains the American ideology mentioned by Robert B. Ray in The Thematic Paradigm “This sense of the law’s inadequacy to needs detectable only by the heart” (381). Dexter works in the police force seeing the injustice when criminals escape through loopholes and murderers get away.. But no one gets away from Dexter, he is there to catch those that got away and put them down for good. Robert B. Ray states, “This mythology transforms all outlaws into Robin Hoods, who correct socially unjust laws” (381). It is obvious that the American justice system is imperfect so when a person gets what they deserve people like to romanticize it. Although sometimes the American audience likes to see justice prevail and that is where the official hero steps in.

Through her actions and motives, Dexter’s foster-sister Debra Morgan represents the official hero. Following in her father’s footsteps, Debra has always wanted to become a homicide detective. Through sheer dedication and personnel sacrifice she surpassed that goal and became the lieutenant of the Miami police department. As Robert B. Ray puts it the official hero must be “willing to undertake even those public duties demanding personal sacrifice” (380) and nothing demands personal sacrifice more than joining law enforcement. Debra loved being a homicide detective, solving crime and busting bad guys was all that she had ever wanted in a job. When first presented with a promotion she refused but then realizing that she could do more good as a lieutenant than a detective she inevitable accepted the position. With this promotion Debra sacrificed a great deal and in certain instances missed the thrill of being out in the field, wishing she could go back instead of “sitting at a desk doing paperwork and dealing with all this bureaucratic bull shit” (Smokey and the Bandit). The position of lieutenant is fairly elevated in the hierarchy of law enforcement and is representative of law itself. Stated by Ray in The Thematic Paradigm the official hero’s motto is that “[n]o man can place himself above the law” (382) and no one represents that motto better then Debra Morgan. She has amazing detective abilities and typically catches on to clues just a mere step behind her brother thus leading the homicide department multiple times towards success, accidentally almost catching her brother on multiple occasions. It is through her many selfless actions that she now holds the position of Lieutenant in Homicide. However after Debra found out that her brother is a serial killer her morality was fundamentally shaken to the core.

The TV show Dexter proves that the American audience loves to see the combination between the official hero and the outlaw hero within each character. Characters are no longer represented by stock images of the specific archetypes; the ideas behind the official and the outlaw hero have begun to decay to a point of no return. Dexter and Debra represent the two most dysfunctional archetypes of heroes to ever be on national television. Even Though Dexter is a psychopath, he begins to develop feelings and falls in love with Hanna, doing the exact opposite of what Ray said in The Thematic Paradigm, “[w]omen were avoided as representing the very entanglements this tradition thought to escape” (380). Debra, on the other hand, while representing the official hero chooses to kill an innocent woman, Capitan Maria LaGuerta, in order to protect her brother. According to Robert B. Ray, “[t]he movies traded on one opposition in particular, American culture’s traditional dichotomy of individual and community that had generated the most significant pair of competing myths.” (378). But Dexter proves that it is not the competing myths that the American culture so eagerly craves but the harmony of the myths within each other. Through all the chaos Dexter and Debra seem to almost complete each other, working in harmony almost like yin and yang to put away bad guys. Similar to the concept of yin and yang the pair shows how there cannot be light without darkness, and even in the darkest of places there is always a glimmer of light. Through this harmony the TV show has gained a lot of traction and proved a great success.

Appealing to the American nature Dexter incorporates characteristics such as the healing myth, the outlaw hero and the official hero. The sheer success of this show confirms that the American population has a deep desire for a myth within film. Inheriting hundreds of years worth of abrupt changes, created a lust toward the outlaw and the official hero within the American community. But through years of stability and peace between government and the common man, the American population seemed to forget the sudden changes that so radically shaped it. Dexter is a great example of the change currently happening in America. People no longer crave a direct conflict between the outlaw and the official hero instead they want a more harmonies relationship between the two. Of course there are still many shows that embody more of a competing mythology when it comes to the outlaw and the official hero but change is inevitable. Perhaps in just a few years this change will be more evident and widespread in Hollywood cinematography.

Work Cited
“Dexter (TV Series).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 Oct. 2013. .
“Smokey and the Bandit.” Dexter: The Complete Series Collection. Writ. Paramount Studios, 2013. DVD.
Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Signs of Life in the U.S.A. Boston, New York: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2012. Print.

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