Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Some people should die, that's just unconscious knowledge

As a fan of the Dexter novels, I was a bit nervous about the Dexter television show on Showtime. I needn't have worried. Michael C Hall nicely captures Dexter's mix of fake emotion, goofiness and cold murderous need. If you are not familiar with the books, Dexter is a oddball. He has a girlfriend, He works as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami PD. For fun he hunts and brutally kills the criminals that the justice system can't catch. In episodes 1 & 2, a child murderer, a rape snuff film maker and a serial drunk driving killer come to unpleasant ends.

He chooses these bad people because his foster father realized early on that something was not quite right with son. He trained him to follow the code, which sets rules for who Dexter can kill and who he cannot. He calls his need his Dark Passenger and he is unable to resist.

While his need to feed his Dark Passenger is a core component of the show, most of the show is spent with Dexter either amazing his colleagues with his insights into the criminal mind and dealing with people trying to get close to him. On the positive side, he has a girlfriend who is inching closer to sex, an intimacy Dexter neither wants nor understands. On the other, there is Doakes a policeman who understands that Dexter is something out of the ordinary. And not in a good way.

The Dexter stories neatly elude some of the core problems of the vigilante story. Most feature either vigilantes collapsing under the moral weight of their acts (Munich,) an avoidance of killing (Batman) or simply devolving into parody (Death Wish.) Dexter can go on killing until they catch him. Because he researches so long, he makes absolutely certain of the guilt. Collateral damage is hinted at, but rarely touched upon. It's clean and just. And funny.

The emphasis on black humor lets the reader or viewer hide from the bleakness of the underlying message. It also lets them vicariously enjoy the deaths of people who really deserve it.

No comments: