Dexter and Me

I should be watching the Democratic convention, but I’m watching season two of Dexter on DVD instead. This story about a serial killer who kills serial killers has me hypnotized. And that’s starting to bother me.

When I discovered this gem of a Showtime drama last year, the main character troubled me. As a psychologist, I’m pretty good at telling the difference between regular crazy and scary crazy. Dexter is scary crazy. He’s a high-functioning sociopath – the worst kind. The stupid and reckless ones get killed or arrested. The methodical, grinning, patient ones are far more dangerous. It’s the difference between Frankenstein and Dracula. Dexter is Dracula.


At the beginning of the first season, I wanted Dexter to get caught. His expedient coolness gave me chills. After a couple of episodes, however, I warmed up to him and began hoping that he would change. I wanted him to heal, grow, and destroy the monster within. Then, in season two, he fell in love and stopped cutting up murderers.

It was awful.

I wanted the old Dexter back. I didn’t realize how satisfying his version of macabre justice had been. I howled in protest as Dexter let murders go unpunished as he cavorted with his flaky new girlfriend. “C’mon Dexter!” I shouted at the television. “Get out of bed with that floozy and go kill someone!” An episode later, he did just that. Then his nemesis, Sergeant Doakes, almost caught Dexter. I routed for Dexter to get away so he could continue butchering bad guys. If he had to kill Doakes to do so, it would only bother me a little.


Good Lord, what‘s the matter with me?

Why am I cheering for a sociopath who chops criminals into little pieces without a fair trial? Why does a friggin’ psychologist like me want this guy to stay sick in order to satisfy my primal urges for vengeance? I’m not sure, but I think I understand now why my politics are more dovish than hawkish. I’m figuring out why I oppose the death penalty and prefer a justice system that presumes innocence until a judge and jury decide otherwise. It’s not because of my moral or political ideals; it’s because I can’t always trust my heart.

If I let my impulses and instincts loose, there wouldn’t be justice; there would be retribution and chaos. I haul around a hot, angry mess of primitive desires that want to be immediate gratification. Maybe that’s why it’s better if I let the words of Christ guide me instead of my gut. I need to look for Lincoln’s better angels instead of the visceral quick fix.

Not that I won’t keep getting a little catharsis through Dexter. But, along with the suspense, intrigue, and blood, the show offers some good lessons. Dexter feels lost and miserable most of the time. His compulsive justice never satisfies for very long. His story is about what happens when we choose the immediate release of tension instead of the patience and grace that brings peace over time. I could tell you a lot of stories about the trouble that choosing the former has caused me, but that will have to wait. I need to turn my television back on and find out if Dexter gets away.

1 comment:

  1. I had a very similar reaction when I, too, got hooked watching Dexter. I've recently had a similar, though not as intense, reaction watching the old show The Pretender about vigilante justice that only mimics the murder without actually committing murder.

    Part of what I've realized is how ugly justice can be without grace.