One baptism for the forgiveness of sins
I’m sorry that I never got around to posting on last week’s episode. I was traveling, as you know, and was only just able to catch up on both last week and last night this morning. But the two episodes fit well together and maybe I can respond to your great post from last week a little bit in what follows. This episode took Dexter’s musings on light and darkness out of the hypothetical. Brother Sam’s shooting leaves Dexter feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and also murderously angry. I loved the scene between Dexter and Harry when Dexter realizes that he cares of Brother Sam. “Care” is a term Dexter has come to accept as part of his world, even love, but only when he can see the clear lines of relationship. He knows why it makes sense that he loves Deb and Harrison but he can’t understand how he can form an attachment to someone he has no long-standing or biological ties to. Harry’s explanation was both true and really sad. Brother Sam is the first person who has really seen light in Dexter and Dexter cares about him because he has given Dexter a way to see himself he never had before. Harry’s speech was also the first time this season where he alluded to his confession from last season – that maybe if he could have seen the light in Dexter too, he could have steered him in a different path. I’m really glad the show went here again, explicitly, because that is such a huge point in my mind. Last season Dexter confronted, for the first time in his life, that Harry perhaps made him into the killer he is more than just directed his own darkness in a somewhat better direction. Dexter has proven again and again that he is capable of more goodness and love than Harry ever imagined and therefore he was not the heartless killing monster Harry assumed. Dexter accepts the possibility but also completely shuts it down at the end of last season, embracing his dark path.
Of course, Harry isn’t really Harry. He is a projection of Dexter’s conscience and has, this season, mostly come to stand for the sad part of Dexter who wonders just how human he could be. I realized just how much he has taken on the role of Dexter’s possible humanity when he urged Dex to honor Brother Sam’s last wish and forgive Nick. Earlier versions of Harry would have chided Dexter for even entertaining the idea of forgiveness, reminding Dexter what a monster he was. Now the new Harry prods Dexter to embrace his possibility for even more human connection and emotion. So it has to mean something pretty dark when Harry is replaced by Rudy/the Ice Truck Killer/Dexter’s evil brother in the end sequence as a new projection of his conscience.
Dexter has killed so many people, and even done so in anger, why does drowning Nick silence Harry and bring back Rudy? While I am sure that Brother Sam would have still urged Dex to forgiveness even if he’s seen what a gleeful scum bag Nick was being on the beach, by making Nick into such a scum bag, it is not really surprising at all that Dexter wasn’t going to being to hold it in. But surely his killing of Nick, far from signalling the absence of all light in Dexter, was motivated by the light in him. It has to count for something that he killed Nick out of anger and grief and revenge for Brother Sam. Those emotions are proof of Dexter’s love for Brother Sam. It is one of the ways this show forces us to really examine what counts as moral that anger killing can be a sign of Dexter’s possible morality, not the absence of it.
I hope that in some way this comes round again. It would be the most interesting part of the religion theme so far. In fact, the whole idea that religion can be about reaching for the light in each of us (while also cliched) is more interesting than the outlandish apocalypticism of Gellar and Travis. I also like the strange parallels between the Dexter/Brother Sam story and the Gellar/Travis story. By letting Travis go, Dexter acts kind of like a Brother Sam to him, showing him the light and offering him a way out. That moment of reprieve sets Travis on a path that eventually leads to him freeing the most recent victim of Gellar’s schemes. It is also a nice inversion to Nick, where Travis’ salvation will come from being disloyal to his so-called religious leader whereas Nick’s destruction came in disloyalty to his religious leader, Brother Sam. Speaking of Gellar, is there any part of you that thinks religious symbolism might just be a cover for his murderous impulses? I mean, obviously its a cover, but do you think he knows he’s faking it or is he a genuine believer in his own misguided horror? Professor Porter insisted that she always thought of his work as academic – she never thought he had beliefs of his own, he was just an academic (and there we could spend quite sometime talking about assumptions about what it means to believe in what you study as an academic). Is it possible that Gellar doesn’t believe, but just wants to corrupt a partner for his own evil ends?
[Digression: do we even know what department Gellar and Porter as supposed to be in? I can't remember if they've said, but interestingly, I never assumed they were theologians, but always imagined they were in art history]
Final thoughts: poor Deb! What a rough patch she is having, and just when she needs her brother, he is out cavorting with his ghostly brother/her ex-fiance murderous maniac. I can’t say I have much sympathy at all for Quinn right now, but there is something really horrible about watching his breakdown. And what about Molly Parker’s return as Travis’ sister? Watch out, Molly! The guest stars are dropping like flies and you are a brunette! Things do not bode well.
OK, this post is way too long, but I was making up for lost time. Can’t wait to hear what you thought!
I absolutely loved this episode! Much as I’ve enjoyed the formula of each Dexter season (Dex discovers a human possibility and finds his own unique way to live into it with some modicum of – but not too much – redemption), I found the complete upending of this formula in this episode utterly exhilarating. Sure, I love redemption as much as the next guy. But I’m a pretty well-adjusted human being. This reminded us that for all the glimmers of hope we’ve had each season, Dexter is a monster. And I’m loving his primal return.
So I might agree with you that in killing Nick, Dexter was exhibiting some form of love for his friend. But I don’t agree that this love indicates morality – indeed, I think love can make us all do profoundly immoral things! That Dexter carves this distinction between love and morality is, perhaps, one of the more interesting aspects of this episode for me.
So I interpret that scene not as a complex step into the light via love, but more so as a fascinatingly simple descent into immorality because of love. Indeed, I see all the (heavy-handed as usual) talk about forks in the road and choices making us who we are to shape Dexter’s refusal to step into the light that Brother Sam – and by extension we – saw in him. This framing leaves the possibility of light not only refuted, but more so, refused. In other words, the Dark Passenger has become the driver!
Light vs. darkness; love vs. hate – Dexter has made his choice and it’s a choice based on a million choices that came before. There is no such thing as an entirely free will because our will is always bound by the context in which it finds itself – a context we have had a hand in creating. In this episode Dexter reminds us that the will is only free to choose the choices we have put before it…and those choices narrow with each one made.
Indeed, it almost felt like we, the viewers, were being mocked for thinking a life made up of so many choices to kill could be so easily redeemed. “Come on,” this episode seemed to say, “redemption is difficult and complex. There’s no magic bullet – or cross and nails – that can simply wipe away a lifetime of sin in an instant, no matter how much the sinner might want it.” Whether or not I agree with this theology, at least the show is finally taking a side and sticking to it. It’s gutsy and in general I think the gutsy moves on this show make the stories better!
So what do we do with Harry? He has been ‘killed’ so many times each season in various ways. But each slaughter of the father has entailed only a weakening of him that has detracted from the power he once held over Dex, as you indicate, not an absolute erasure. With Harry’s absolute death in this episode comes the death of the code, though – an invitation to killing that is for play. Yikes!
I love the parallel you draw between Dexter and Travis – throw Rudy and Sam into the mix and it’s like we’ve got four brothers (it’s no accident they refer to him so consistently as “Brother Sam”) who depict different responses to having lived in submission to a violent code (and, in some cases, an overbearing father figure).
And so, Rudy’s re-appearance as Dexter’s subconscious feels chaotic and absolutely beyond redemption. If Harry tried to keep Dexter in the light (albeit in some broken, messed up ways), Rudy always longed for his brother’s descent into darkness so they could descend together – which is why I think he has appeared to replace Harry. But what will it feel like for us as viewers if this season ends beyond redemption? What if Dexter’s re-embrace of his animal side – his primal violence – puts him beyond our sympathy?
I am intrigued by the possibilities of narrative inherent to this arc. You and I have pondered a number of times what the moral implications are of involving ourselves in a story that makes us want the vigilante killings to ensue – indeed, that makes us celebrate them. The show is reminding us what we love when we love Dexter – perhaps a part of ourselves we don’t want to fully admit is there! For me that remains the most interesting moral question of all!
Of course, they might be moving towards a notion that redemption can only come out of complete and utter death – that Dexter has always been kept from losing his humanity entirely, and that’s why he’s never found healing. But I have to admit, I’m more intrigued by the utter nihilism that could come from an utter loss of humanity on his part. At the very least, I’m more intrigued by the philosophical of theological stance of the show at the end of this episode than I have ever been. I sure hope it can live up to the interesting agenda it has now set!