Mar 25, 2015

Narrative Explored: Dexter, Season Five

Season Five of Dexter opens exactly where Season Four ended. Dexter has tried to reconcile his domestic and serial killer selves and he ends up getting his wife, Rita, killed. Domesticity is now off the table, although he's stuck with three kids, a house and lots of time off work. Through some fairly simple plot manipulations, Dexter ends up with his son, Harrison, and a very good nanny. The two step-children, Astor and Cody, go live with their grandparents.

The question of completion begins to reassert itself and Dexter believes that going back to stalking and killing serial killers is the answer. The writing in these episodes continues the trend of Season Four. It is excellent.

By the second episode Dexter is in pursuit of Boyd Fowler, whose day job is Dead Animal Pickup Officer. Dexter believes that he is a serial killer in his free time. There is a physicality, a slapstick quality to these episodes. Someone's sense of humor is coming out, much like the earlier seasons. Dexter losing Little Chino in Season Two is a perfect example of when they had fun.

The messy pursuit and final moment of Boyd Fowler unfolds the real seasonal arc, when Dexter finds that Boyd is killing women (and stuffing them into barrels of formaldehyde) not because Boyd is a killer. Boyd's killing is incidental and necessary. Boyd is part of a group of friends who ritually abduct, torture and rape women.

Boyd's latest victim watches Dexter off Boyd and Dexter does not know it until it is too late.

There are two revelations here. The first is that people kill as a necessity not as a ritual and that a group would do things so horrible that the victim simply could not continue to live. In a way this makes Dexter seem even more virtuous in his quest to kill the killers.

The second revelation for Dexter is that he suddenly has someone else's victim, alive but broken, and he chooses not to kill her for the sake of convenience. After what he's learned in Seasons One and Four, he is now making the final transition from empty serial killer to human.

The surviving victim is Lumen Pierce, played by Julia Stiles, who takes her character from a pitiful battered animal to a woman who has not only gotten her revenge, but who has taken back control of her life. Stiles is absolutely brilliant in managing this transformation from episode to episode.

And finally we have the perfect companion for Dexter. In Lumen Pierce Dexter has a guide for becoming human. She has done what Dexter has not been able to do. She deals with her trauma and is then ready to move on. Dexter has been trying to do this for his entire life.

It is a mistake for Lumen to want to sleep with Dexter. Their relationship is far more interesting while they keep a physical distance and Lumen, not just a rape survivor but also the victim of some truly horrible torture, is not believable wanting physical intimacy. Her intimacy comes from sharing her goal of revenge with Dexter. They should have danced around the topic the entire season.

Jordan Chase emerges as one of the better psychopaths of the series. He is a motivational speaker whose theme, "Take It," is a perfect description of the self-service society. He truly understands human nature, but has no sympathy for humanity, only raw destructive ambition. He's also developed late in the season, although his shadow begins to cast itself in episode two.

There is a wonderful subtlety to Season Five, a kind of full moral spectrum that contrasts with the black-and-white nature of Dexter's earlier life. At the end, Dexter's Dark Passenger appears satisfied and it would be a natural place for the two to part.

But Showtime at this point has a money-maker and the endless pressing of this button dooms the series going forward.