Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fangirling Dexter: The Psychology of Dexter

Since I've decided to fangirl Dexter on my blog, I feel kind of weird. The shows about a serial killer, you know. So I'm reading The Psychology of Dexter by Bella DePaulo Phd. I'm not sure it's helping. It's a collection of essays that were written post-Season 4. (No Dr. Evelyn Vogel insights.) Many of them focus on Dexter as a killer. UGH! That's not why I watch the show.

Finally, I get to an essay that zooms in on the issue's of Dexter's identity. His sense of self. His self-identity. It discusses how self-identity develops and it examines the development of Dexter's. Yeah. That's why I watch the show.

Two things in life fascinate me: Spirituality and Psychology. I guess that's why you find a post about Dexter following a post about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe on my blog. I guess.

I'm super curious. I always have been. I'm fascinated by what makes people tick, including myself. Tick-tock.
I suspect that our spiritual beliefs and psychological realities are the two legs are psyches stand on. Even if we don't have spiritual beliefs, that is a spiritual belief.

Back to Dexter. The show is intensely psychological, offering a unique window into one man's psyche.

It works like this:

1. We see Dexter at work, the blood spatter expert.
2. We see Dexter interact in his personal relationships with his sister, his colleagues, and his victims. And of course with Harry's "ghost."
3. As the series evolves we became privy to the events in Dexter's life that make him who he is.
4. And yes, we see Dexter kill. Only killers of innocent people according to Harry's Code, unless things go awry.
5. Then we get that fabulous voice-over. Of it all.

The show wouldn't work without the voice-over. I've read a few of the books in the series, and no offense to Jeff Lindsay, but the TV show took an interesting idea and blew it out of the water. All the main characters in the show are in the books, but Dexter is a decidedly more disturbing character in the books. Just sayin. I stopped reading the books.

So it's the voice-over that makes the show, not the killing. My opinion. We see Dexter's mask, and how he creates it. We see what his mask hides, how disturbing that is, and perhaps, if we are inclined to believe, the plausible roots of his psychopathy. The voice-over, along with Michael C. Hall's impeccable acting and delivery, are what engages us. Okay, what engages me.

Dexter is constantly concerned with his identity. He's often confused by social expectations. Most don't seem to make a lot of sense to him, and they seem like a lot of bother. But Harry, his foster-dad, taught him that he needed to appear normal because he isn't normal. Harry and Dexter's relationship is very dark, but it's all delivered with such intense genuineness, you can't help but be charmed. Okay, I couldn't helped but be charmed.

To say the personality of the character Dexter is a multiplicity of constructions is an understatement. The fascination is in how he processes, adapts, accepts, and reorients himself. The gems are his incisive insights on the  ever-present absurdities of the social condition.

Deb, Dexter's younger foster-sister, is his most enduring counterpoint. She doesn't see behind his mask… [no spoilers here!] So there is this kind of crazy normalcy contrasted with this off-the-charts insanity, and we get  Dexter's inner thoughts on it all. Quirky. Irresistible. Dark Humor.
And then Dexter evolves. Each season he has a particular social conundrum, a new role to take on. How he experiments, fails, succeeds, and resolves the season's particular perplexity is woven deep into the fabric of the show's plot, which always includes a Dexter nemesis and a big crime that the department is working on.

The brilliance is in how these threads come together—sans cliches, season after season. We, the viewer, are constantly surprised, amazed and gratified with how it's pulled off. And that voice-over. Dexter aka Michael C. Hall charms us in spite of ourselves. Ick. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? No answer.

Okay, that's a pretty long-winded justification of my guilty pleasure.

Fangirling Pick of the Week: Episode 8.04 Scar Tissue Wrap-Up Podcast The first 30 minutes of the podcast writer Tim Schlattman provides incredible insight into the writing process that created the series. [SPOILER ALERT]

3 comments:

  1. Hello, Heidi. Do you know that I have never seen this show? Truthfully, I hardly watch any television with this terrible work schedule I've got. However, being a horror writer, one would think I'd know more about this popular show than I do. Sadly, pushing my wife's shopping cart past the seasons on dvd in our local Target is as close as I've come. *laughs* I suppose I need to rectify this, huh? :)
    Take care and have a good week.

    -Jimmy
    http://jamesgarciajr.blogspot.com/

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    1. James, Hi! thank you for stopping by and commenting. I understand about no time to watch TV:) We are all so busy. But I do usually watch one show a day, and since that's all I watch, I get a little picky. Also our DVR get's filled, which is where it is right now. However, since you write horror, maybe it would be worth checking Dexter out. The show brings a whole new level to the genre and makes it much more sophisticated. It's also fascinating to read the first book by Jeff Lindsay and then watch the series. You see how much the tv writers added to Jeff's idea. Kind of a great exercise for writers and inspiration!

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  2. Heidi, I only watched a few minutes of the pilot episode of Dexter a few years ago before my mom, who was watching with me, told me to turn it off. I have more tolerance for gore (especially when it's framed in a good story, and not just thrown in for titillation) than she does, but I never picked it up again on my own. However, I'm starting to think I should. I loved Michael C. Hall's performance in Six Feet Under, and moreover psychopathic characters have a strange appeal for me. There's something so fascinating about them and, like you said, watching them interact with the world.

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