801: “A Beautiful Day”

Original Air Date: June 30, 2013

For the final season premiere of Dexter, I was rather shaken up by the possibilities offered in just the first few scenes. Between Deb’s emotional nosedive and the delivery of Dr. Vogel’s demonic scrawls, I didn’t know what startled me more — not to mention that I hadn’t been this grossed out since the season where victims were found with their heads chopped off, tongues and eyes cut and scooped out, and their faces carved joker-style. There’s just something about brains and heads carved up like watermelons that gets to me. While avidly watching season after season of Dexter and living off of the possibilities that laid ahead for the characters, I find now that we are winding down closer and closer to the end, I catch myself questioning and doubting the show at every step of the way. The ending needs to be right. It needs to be fitting. If it is right and fitting, even if terribly disturbing and anxiety-raising, it will be perfect. Regardless of how I feel, here is my treatment of “A Beautiful Day” (Season 8 Episode 1).

Warning: This post contains spoilers for episode 1 of season 8! If you do not want anything ruined for you, do NOT read on.

It seems only appropriate to start at the beginning: I have always loved Dexter for all of the clues and puns that the writers strategically hid within the script, whether or not they were intentional. With the level of writing as it is, I would not be surprised if many of these things came about just out of the genius of the depths of the writers’ minds. The exposition shows Harrison launching off a candy apple red kite against the melancholy periwinkle sky. I took this as a symbol of Dexter letting his freak flag fly. Dr. Vogel asserts that the Bay Harbor Butcher would “have to be [a psychopath] to masquerade the way he did. But he was an odd one, that’s for sure.” Does his masquerading make him a psychopath? Michael C. Hall has mentioned in numerous interviews over the years how Dexter seems to want to get caught – to want his secret to be found out, all the while trying to blend in. Perhaps this is a testament to Dexter wanting justice to be served, even if it is unto himself (The evolution in Dexter’s character will be discussed later on.). Dexter certainly seems to want to blend in, and his shirt is noticeably the color of the sky, letting him almost disappear into the landscape. This perhaps nods toward the idea that Dexter is constantly trying to blend in, or I could be reading into this too much. I don’t exactly think it is by accident, however. (My mind goes to Dexter’s bowling team shirt that reads “Bowl ‘Til You Bleed” – he’s part of a team, and he’s the blood guy. Understandable, right?) Now is when you notice Harrison’s candy apple red shoes. They don’t exactly match his outfit, but they do serve to foreshadow how Dexter starts to mix home life and his Dark Passenger. The blood is no longer contained to just Dexter – it is seeping and oozing its way out and onto everything around Dexter. Debra was his first victim.

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It is now Harrison’s turn, as we see when Dexter brings him to the Pink Motel. Harrison’s white dog — which coincidentally looks like a lamb for the majority of the shots up until the point when Dexter frantically tries washing the blood – Briggs’ blood – from the dog (my mind cannot help but draw a connection to a frequented Christian hymn about Christ, the lamb of God, relieving his people of the sins of the world). This show has touched on religious themes before, despite the show’s air of agnositicsm. Certainly this show has been the subject of a homily or two, how American culture leads people away from God. Let’s not forget how Season 6, the season of the Doom’s Day Killer (DDK), threw Christians into a psychopathic light. (What a way to throw this show in the devout’s faces.) Harrison’s dog, the stuffed creature that he likely brings with him wherever he goes (despite the fact that it’s bleach white – if this were real, the dog would probably appear repulsively dirty) emphasizes Harrison’s whiteness, his purity, and so the dog appears brand new … that is until Dexter gets Briggs’ blood all over it. It is now soiled and contaminated, as is Harrison. There is an ongoing argument that Harrison is already contaminated from birth – his genetics ought to doom him. There is also the other argument that his environment contaminated the child– sitting in a pool of your mother’s blood does that to you. The difference lies in the fact that now Harrison is older and, therefore, will remember this incident. We were told that Harrison was too young to be impacted by witnessing his mother’s brutal murder, but certainly now it is clear that Harrison can comprehend what his father may or may not be up to.

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Anyway – I digress. If you’re not convinced that the red shoes and the red kite are meant to remind us of Dexter’s dangerous double life, we are hit with a cut to Dexter’s “laboratory” with him in his apron, face shield, his blood spatter simulation equipment, and a satisfied smile on his face. This is the smile of a victor – of a man who thinks he is invincible, although several times before we have been reminded that he is just as vulnerable as any other criminal, despite how “neat [of a] monster” he believes himself to  be. The lines are blurring between his socially acceptable life and the one of his Dark Passenger. He is getting sloppier – he’s bringing Harrison to do his dirty work (although he didn’t seem to intend on killing anyone the night he went to go warn Deb); he’s not being as careful with his Dark Passenger as he used to be (recall him cutting off a man who cut him off and then attempting to strangle him while the man’s child was in the backseat of the car). I got a good chuckle over Masuka chowing down from behind the glass of the spatter room. It’s a good way of saying that Dexter is not the only one that can stomach this kind of stuff over a good meal … which brings me to the very interesting conversation of Dexter’s character evolution.

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The Evolution of Dexter’s Character

I’ve noticed that Dexter has progressively become more human as each season has gone on. At first I was under the impression that Dexter did not feel a single thing. I remained under that impression until the end of season 4 when he walked in to Trinity’s crime scene – his crime scene – Rita in a bloodbath and Harrison in a pool of his mother’s blood. You cannot tell me that Dexter was not scared, remorseful, and legitimately crushed when he walked into that scene. There is just no way that Dexter did not feel anything. He even got a nice guilt trip from that, too, which permeates throughout the series. The old saying is true: “Fake it until you make it.” That’s what Harry told him to do, and look where he is today. Dr. Vogel insists that “from the firing of neurons, something intangible emerges. Emotion. Trust, morality, love. Unless you’re a psychopath.” Dexter clearly trusts Debra. She’s still alive, even after he told her his secret. He trusts many others around him who do not know his secret, but it is important to focus on his relationship with Debra because if he were a psychopath, and he could not trust, Debra would have died like all of the others who found out he was a killer (except for Lumen. What a disaster of a season that was). Dexter has some form of morality – he has his code. In the very first season – the very first episode – we see Dexter killing a man (I believe he was a minister of sorts) who killed children. He expresses his revulsion to killing children. This is his morality. Yes, Dexter was “ruined” as a child, but still. He does not want that harm inflicted on any other children. Love – yes, he loves Rita and Harrison and Astor and Cody and Debra – even Hannah, although he can’t exactly put a label on his emotions. That is very clear, for the aforementioned reasons. If he was faking his love for Rita, we would not see him cradling Harrison in a pool of her blood. He would not have stumbled out of the house saying “It was me.” If he faked his love for Hannah, why would we see Dexter gazing at the blood-spatter plant Hannah suggested for him while he has a perfectly naked woman right in front of him?

Dr. Vogel says that Doakes could not have been a psychopath because Dexter described him as “angry” and as having a “short fuse.” Psychopaths are “not quick to anger.” Strangely enough, we see Dexter in one of the following scenes suddenly explode at Harrison for shattering the vase that Angel gave to him (from Maria). Dexter similarly exploded when he received this vase – Maria didn’t “so tragically die. She died because she wouldn’t leave things alone.”) Oh, and let’s not forget Dexter cutting off that guy and nearly choking him out in the middle of the highway. I’d call that quick to anger. Is this the mark of a psychopath? Furthermore, Dexter has been particularly caught up with finding Debra, getting her to come home, and helping her. I’ve never seen Dexter more emotive before than when he’s been trying to convince Debra that she should talk to him, and that he wants her around. In order to want to make someone better or to improve someone, you need to feel something.

Debra’s Character Evolution

Although what we once knew Debra Morgan to be is pretty much dead and buried (perhaps chopped up into even sections, wrapped in black hefty bags, and dumped into the ocean), they do a good job at reminding us of what we’ve lost. “FUCKINGPASSWORD” is still comical, despite the fact that we may never enjoy the sudden deluge of good-natured curses ever again. I hope that we get Debra back – although she won’t be the same, nobody says “fuck” like Jennifer Carpenter. Am I right?

At first I thought Debra’s down-spiral was drastic. And then I remembered she shot and killed Maria LaGuerta. Jennifer Carpenter’s acting is spot on and incredible. I sense great things will come out of this last season of Dexter, award-wise. I’m hoping that her downfall is not indicative of a decreased involvement of her character within the plot, but that does not seem to be so, since she is the female lead.

After Dexter takes out Briggs, Debra grabs keys out of his pocket. I don’t know if any of you caught onto this, but there was an 8-ball on his keychain. If I’m not mistaken, 8-ball is like a street name for Cocaine or something – maybe a name for its measurement. I think it could be both, but I’m not sure. I don’t do the stuff. The only reason why it popped into my brain is because people call my brother “8-ball Billy” at work because he’s always snorting. Looks like he does cocaine. Anyway – this was yet another clever bit on behalf of the writers, or whoever put together that keychain.

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Dr. Evelyn Vogel

The “Psychopath Whisperer,” as Masuka so comically names her, is stirring up quite the chaotic mess this season.

The way Dr. Vogel reveals herself to Dexter could have been handled better. They seemed to come out of nowhere, and there was a general lack of explanation as to whether they were his drawings from when Harry worked with Evelyn back in the day, or whether she had made them up herself and put Dexter’s name on them, or if another psychopathic child drew them (although Dexter’s name was on them, so it seems to suggest that Dexter drew these when he was younger). The simple addition of one of Dexter’s famous voice-overs would have easily clarified this, though the way this was handled seems to suggest that these were his drawings from when he was a kid, and that she got her hands on them somehow.

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It’s been suggested that Dr. Vogel may try to get Dexter to work with/for her and convince him that she is trustworthy, and then turn around and turn him in to Miami Metro.  Perhaps this is even an inside job – maybe Matthews put Vogel up to it. As he said, “when free help is offered, you take it.” Maybe Matthews is second-guessing his decision to ignore LaGuerta’s leads on Dexter as the Bay Harbor Butcher. A woman like Evelyn Vogel – a scientist like her – would never do anything to compromise a case study or a chance to study a psychopath up close and personal – hell, she’s getting her interview with the BHB every minute she spends with Dexter, and she knows it, too. As Michael C. Hall suggested in a recent interview, Dr. Vogel is the Dr. Frankenstein of Dexter. If you recall, Dr. Frankenstein compromises his morality and humanity just to be able to complete his experiment and study the unthinkable. Dr. Vogel toyed with human nature in her office as neuroscientist/psychiatrist, attempting to see if she could master the beast that is the psychopath. She created what she believed to be a structured environment for Dexter with Harry’s help.

I do not think she will turn Dexter in, nor do I think she is out to get him. She may be using Dexter to make more money and gain more fame off of him. Perhaps she will write a book on him and make millions. Of course, by doing this, she will have to play dumb to the fact that he is a psychopath (which would be dumb because she knows all of the hallmarks of a psychopath) or she will have to play a part in turning him in and then claim that she made all of these observations after he’s been locked up or put in the chair. I do not think she feels indebted to Harry in any way. If she is to feel indebted to anyone, it is to Dexter, for she is his “spiritual mother.” I don’t even know why Vogel is bringing this up to Dexter – technically what Harry said to her was in confidence. Also – why were these sessions recorded, anyway? Was this by Harry’s request? This is also left unanswered. The last time we encountered a therapist who recorded sessions, he ended up on Dexter’s table. He is likely to be consumed by the new information on his past to even think to answer this question. Dexter probably leans toward trusting Dr. Vogel because Harry trusted her enough to tell her about Dexter. What other option does he have, really? Harry’s ghost tells him that this is all the more reason to keep Dr. Vogel close – because he doesn’t trust her fully just yet.

Other General Comments

I’m not sure if Angel Batista receiving Maria LaGuerta’s belongings made all too much sense. Does she not have any family willing to take the shit off of his hands? Why did he get the stuff in the first place? Regardless, he seemed to receive the stuff so that they could show Angel on camera shredding the search warrant for Dexter and Debra’s call logs for the night of the church burning, the ones that would prove Debra’s involvement with DDK’s murder. Dexter’s lucky in this way – this counteracts the terrible luck he’s had in past seasons.

I certainly think that this series as a whole has been trying to shed light on the debate of Nature v. Nurture. This episode particularly brought into focus the idea that Dexter may not be a psychopath, as we were told to believe. The more I think about it, the less and less psychopath-like Dexter has become over the course of these seven, and now eight, seasons. I think Dexter is neither normal nor a psychopath. Perhaps he is somewhere in between. I think we perceive him as a psychopath because of what we think – maybe this show is meant to bend and twist and affect how we think of psychopaths and good and evil. As Dexter has said before, he’s not “totally evil.” Perhaps Dexter did not have to go down the path that he did. Perhaps all of this is Dr. Evelyn’s fault. She and Harry nurtured that part of him and formed him into a vigilante of society. That’s the “nurture” for you. In addition, this part of Dexter may have a lot to do with what he saw in the shipping container – watching his mother be sliced and diced by a chainsaw. The same thing happened with Brain Moser, Dexter’s brother the Ice Truck Killer. There is another option we’re not considering; rather, we have considered this indirectly. Dexter was worried about having Harrison because he was worried he’d pass his serial killing genes onto his child (yet another piece of evidence pointing toward the fact that Dexter has a sense of morality and concern – oh, sweet emotion!). Perhaps Dexter and Brian got their serial killing urges passed down to them from their father and/or mother. If my memory serves me correctly, Dexter’s biological father served jail time, but for what I cannot recall (this is something I am going to have to re-watch season 1 for). Perhaps their father was a murderer in his own right. Because these two conditions exist (or do they?) we cannot conclusively state that Dexter’s condition is either nature or nurture. We must simply accept the fact that it is a combination of the two.

Hannah McKay will be reappearing this season. She has to – she escaped from jail, and she left a black flower plant on Dexter’s doorstep at the very end of season 7. Besides, I know for sure she’s got one hell of a vendetta against Dexter for choosing Debra over her. Perhaps she’ll try to go after Deb again. I wouldn’t be surprised. She will most likely go after Harrison or Dexter himself, because clearly Debra knows what she’s up against this time.

To neatly bookend this episode, we see Dexter glance over, while sitting on the Captain Maria LaGuerta memorial bench, at a rainbow kite that has crashed in the bushes. Playtime is over. Perhaps this kite is indicative of the fact that there are other people out there “flying their freak flags.” This one’s of a different color than Dexter’s – which could mean he’s up against an entirely different animal, which is Dr. Evelyn Vogel. Perhaps the multi-colored flag indicates that there are more than one issue or “beast” to deal with – definitely more than one person is of concern for this season (Debra, Hannah, Vogel, and the list goes on and on).

Overview

And now to put a “number” on this episode. Dexterity (neat-handedness, puns, trickery, clever sayings, placements, etc.) will judge all of the small things that I pick up on. The higher the score, the more fun I had picking apart the episode for hidden clues. Entertainment (how much I laughed and enjoyed the episode) will judge how excited I was on average throughout the episode, as well as after it for the upcoming episodes. Xtremity (how dramatic, but also how believable the episode was, edge-of-the-seat, white knuckles, the “holy shit” factor) will judge just how jaw-dropping the episode was.

Dexterity: 7

Entertainment: 8

Xtremity: 10

DEX-Factor:    8.3            

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