Mere Psychopath or Serial Killer? Dexter’s Natural Inclinations in 802: “Every Silver Lining…” & 803: “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?”

Jennifer Carpenter as Debra Morgan in Dexter (Season 8, episode 2) - Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime - Photo ID: Dexter_802_1408

The Brain Surgeon has picked his next victim, compelling Dr. Vogel to recruit Dexter for his help in tracking down who she believes to be one of her former patients. After Dexter goes poking around Lyle Sussman’s hunting cabin, the Brain Surgeon discovers that Dexter is Vogel’s partner in crime, placing them both, as well as Dexter’s family, in jeopardy. Debra continues to fall apart and attempts to confess to Quinn that she killed LaGuerta, but he simply loves her too much to allow her to blame herself for the Captain’s death.

Harry Morgan’s Choices

For the first six seasons, Dexter blamed his actions on the Dark Passenger, which Harry encouraged Dexter to channel. In season 7, Dexter justified to his sister that Harry was on board for his creation. In our eighth and final season, we learn that Harry is not entirely to blame. The only thing that has consoled Dexter as of late has been the ability to place blame onto someone or something else. Once Dexter discovers that Dr. Evelyn Vogel had consulted Harry on the formation of the Code, this frees him up to chastise Vogel for making him into what he is, which also allows him to say that indirectly, she is responsible for what has happened to Debra. While this may be true, Hannah McKay cleared up for Dexter last season that blaming his actions on the Dark Passenger was a ridiculous tactic. Dexter once dipped his toes into the pool of thought that he was entirely responsible for his actions, but Vogel’s reappearance has provided him with yet another excuse for his behavior.

Flash Back

The videos that Vogel produces from roughly 25 years ago allow us, and Dexter, direct access to the site of his birth as a serial killer. He and Debra have been parentless for roughly 15 years; now that Vogel has come into the picture claiming to be Dexter’s “spiritual mother,” he is now given the ultimate opportunity to do what he has been seeking since the day of his second birth in the shipping container: a chance to save his mother (and the Oedipal complex I have brought up is magnified when the Brain Surgeon sends Vogel “his and hers” boxes of brain parts, suggesting a secret affair of sorts between the spiritual mother and son). In a way, Harry was also Dexter’s spiritual father in that he was not blood related, though blood certainly brought them together. Considering  Harry’s track record with his confidential informants and his job, it seems as though there is a suggestion of an affair, but not quite a romantic one. Vogel claims that Harry couldn’t turn to his wife with his inner turmoil about Dexter. Rather, his affair with Vogel was one of the mind. Just as he could not get past the idea that Dexter could be a vigilante force of justice, he also could not pass up the opportunity to learn how Dexter could be molded.

It has always been a puzzle to me why Harry’s wife, Doris, was not a bigger part of the Dexter story line. Perhaps thematically her presence would have eradicated Dexter’s deep-seeded need for a mother figure. Her absence from the overarching plot suggests an emotional distance (one which indubitably existed because of Dexter’s supposed emotional incapacity) that could  never fill the void that Laura Moser’s murder left inside of Dexter. This emotional distance may or may not have existed for Debra; however, the fact that she so desperately sought Harry’s approval suggests that there was adequate comfort and support from the maternal half of  her home, and an absence in the paternal. As I have suggested before, if Dexter and Debra are halves of a greater whole, these maternal and paternal absences, respectively, create their shared orphanage, seeing as both of their parents died when they were still relatively young, though leaving profound and lasting imprints on their lives and psyches. Both of the Morgan siblings ache for their lost parents, and when Dr. Vogel shows up, it is as if the floodgates of past family dysfunction are opened back up. The neuropsychiatrist offers these siblings the opportunity to have a family therapy session that they never had.

Dr. Evelyn Frankenstein?

“I wanted to be the artist.”

There has been considerable debate regarding Dexter’s true psychopathic impulse. What cannot be denied is the presence of psychopathic traits in his behavior; however, his inclination to actually kill things other than animals is debatable. Dr. Vogel’s repeated discoveries of Dexter’s true nature remind us that she was mistaken in taking Harry’s word for his foster son’s impulses, although Harry is partially to blame for this. He forbade Vogel to meet Dexter in person for fear of making Dexter think that there was something wrong with him (a lot of good that did…). The fact that Dexter appears to be a psychopath without clear-cut tendencies indicating that he was naturally headed down this path startles, yet intrigues Dr. Vogel. Like a true psychopath, Dr. Vogel takes pride in her work and believes her creations/patients are above human nature. Whereas she claimed to have “believed” in Dexter when Harry was doubting his future, it seems as though she was self-interested all along, a psychopathic trait she accuses Dexter of possessing.

Vogel

“I helped create you.”

The first therapy session we see within the first few minutes of 802 could have been of any parent in America whose child plays violent video games. However, Dexter’s psychopathic symptoms reach beyond the desensitization to blood: Dexter remembers “want[ing] to be the artist” of the picturesque bloody crime scene. Dexter’s stolen trophy, a shard of broken glass stained by blood, strongly suggests that Harry and Vogel advised Dexter wisely, but his “innate sense of justice” that manifested in his desire to show his victims photos of their victims suggests a deeper sense of morality that would have been absent in other serial killers. Furthermore, the fact that Dexter was seeking emotional connection after Harry’s death casts further doubt onto the severity of his psychopathy. From what we have seen thus far, it is safe to assume that Dr. Vogel was tragically incorrect in her diagnosis of Dexter, even though he has been able to do everything asked of and imposed upon him. Dexter highlights that Vogel basically treated him as an experiment; however, Vogel implies that the “framework for survival” is what a true mother would provide him with.

“I don’t take requests.”

The biggest indicator that Dexter was clearly sent down the wrong path is the fact that when Debra caught him in the act, he didn’t kill his sister. The number one rule of the Code is “Don’t get caught,” yet he violated the Code in favor of keeping his sister, whom he loves, alive.  Even when Vogel tries to disprove Dexter’s feelings of love for Deb in suggesting that the things he loves about her (having steaks and beer with her; she’s always there for him) are things that she does for him, selfish things. Though she illuminates that selfless love is difficult for the typical human, her argument seems to hold weight, which should cast doubt upon everything we think and feel about Dexter and his relationship with his sister, which we (I) once thought was pure. The fact that Debra is Dexter’s crutch does in fact support the idea that the necessity for Deb’s presence in his life is a selfish one.

However, we do have some evidence that Dexter is selfless. An example of this is his season 5 rendezvous with Lumen Pierce. This season serves two functions: 1) it suggests that Dexter is not a serial killer in the truest sense of the term, for they never use accomplices, and 2) he merely wished to restore the serenity to Lumen’s life. However, if Vogel were aware of this relationship, she would suggest that he used Lumen to ward off his guilt for Rita’s death, thus rendering him a selfish being.

Vogel reports that psychopaths have an inherent need to be right and to feel superior. In this case, many parents classify as psychopaths regarding their children, as do Harry and Vogel. However, Dexter does tend to take on a parenting tone with Debra, especially since her discovery of the Dark Passenger.

Other than to stir up every belief Dexter (and we) ever had about him(self), Vogel’s true motivation for showing back up into Dexter’s life is to “cash in” on providing Dexter with that framework for survival when she believes that her life is in danger. While Dexter had denied Deb’s request to take out Hannah McKay, Dexter is resistant to Vogel’s request until he realizes that she is the only window to his past that he has left. In learning more about his creation, perhaps he can learn to move forward with his life.

Brains

The Brain Surgeon

Dr. Vogel believes that one of her former psychopathic patients is the most likely suspect for the Brain Surgeon, considering the fact that various brain parts, such as the anterior insular cortex and occipital lobe, keep appearing on her doorstep. Since Dexter is the only patient of hers to have received the Code by which to live, and because she has used several “unorthodox methods,” many of which are “illegal,” Vogel has no option but to turn to her spiritual son for protection.

This is a lovely nod toward the promotional photos for season 8 with Dexter behind his own plastic wrap.
This is a lovely nod toward the promotional photos for season 8 with Dexter behind his own plastic wrap.

“You’re not evil, Dexter. You’re actually making the world a better place.”

Unfortunately for Dexter, he has never been able to dance to the beat of his own drum, for his life was molded by his spiritual parents before he had the capacity to decide for himself. The Brain Surgeon is playing this song as he is coaching Lyle Sussman on how to kill his next victim. Much like Sussman, Dexter was guided by Harry and Harry by Vogel on how to handle their situations. Interestingly, Dexter observes that Sussman “was never a real killer. He’s just another victim,” which could apply to Dexter in that he is a victim of Vogel and Harry’s design for him.

“Vogel was right. I am perfect, but only at one thing.”

The last time Dexter truly grappled with his origins and the guilt of watching his mother die before his eyes was in season 1 when we were dealing with the crooked psychiatrist, Dr. Emmett Meridian, and Dexter’s biological brother. Eerily, season 8 mirrors this pattern with Dr. Vogel as the crooked neuropsychiatrist, the Brain Surgeon as a serial killer with a proclivity for using butcher paper (just as Brian Moser did to wrap the dismembered body parts, also a nod to Dexter being the Bay Harbor Butcher), and Dr. Vogel claiming to be Dexter’s spiritual mother, whose life is also in danger, not to mention the Brain Surgeon’s kinship with Dexter regarding their parentage and their serial killing. Just as in season 1 when Brian Moser used Tony Tucci to do the dirty work, the evidence for which was left behind in a video recording, the Brain Surgeon is using Lyle Sussman as an accomplice. While Tucci was cut to pieces, he lived to tell the tale; Sussman is not so lucky, with his brain bits being splattered all over the wall in a staged suicide. It seems only fitting that we are coming full-circle at the end of the series.

“Cuts you up faster than a chef at Benihana.”

Ron Galuzzo

Ron Galuzzo is next on Dexter’s list of possible Brain Surgeons, which introduces once again the idea of Dexter’s Dark Passenger as obfuscation for his theoretical homosexuality. Dexter was assumed to be “empty,” devoid of all human emotion, empathy, and innate morality; however, Vogel and Harry filled him up with conventional beliefs, a Code to survive, and a plan to create the facade of a normal life to ward off suspicion. Disclaimer: What I do not wish to do is conflate homosexuality with psychopathy or serial killing, nor do I wish to suggest that homosexuals inevitably become psychopaths. Rather, I am borrowing Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s train of thought regarding her seminal work, Epistemology of the Closet, which is a discourse on the various kinds of “closets” that people hide in and the lengths to which they go to “pass” in mainstream society. Ron Galuzzo is a man eater, literally and figuratively. Dexter finds him on “Friend Zone,” which could be Showtime’s stand-in for Facebook, or a clever nod toward popular apps for hooking up, such as Adult Friend Finder, Plenty of Fish, or Tinder. Though Galuzzo is eventually believed to be sizing Dexter up for his next meal, we initially assume homosexual tendencies of Vogel’s former patient. I have had the thought that perhaps Dexter offers a strand of commentary on society and conformity. Dexter, and people in general, can only survive and thrive in a community if they follow societal expectations and fit in. Whether or not Dexter is heterosexual or homosexual, asexual or what have you, is irrelevant; what stands out is the idea that no other identity, whether it is his gender or sexuality, or something as basic as the essence of who he is as a person and his proclivity for serial killing, could have been explored under the Code. Harry and Vogel literally strangled and butchered the chance for Dexter to become his own person or anyone other than the one that his parents expected him to be. Amanda D. Lotz, author of Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the Twenty-First Century, similarly explores this theme in Dexter and other cable television programs.

“I’m just like you. I consume everyone I love.”

Yuck

The closer Dexter gets to Vogel and the more he learns about her involvement in his “creation,” the closer  he comes to the realization that despite his superior moral Code, he is no different from any other serial killer who thoughtlessly takes lives. This disenchantment with who he is  just before he kills Galuzzo will ultimately lead to the same realization in the series finale; however, Dexter will continue to live in denial until the worst thing imaginable happens to his sister.

What’s Eating Debra Morgan.

Deb feels a similar kind of guilt when talking to Jacob Elway about Andrew Briggs’ death. Just as Dexter is responsible for dozens of deaths, Deb’s actions led to the serious injury of Anton Briggs, the death of Frank Lundy, as well as the murders of Maria LaGuerta and Andrew Briggs. As Dexter’s (now metaphorical) slide collection grows, so does Debra’s. While it is easy for Dexter to justify their deaths as either being deserved or interfering with his purposes, Deb has a difficult time allowing Elway to justify Andrew Briggs’ death in the same way. Although these deaths were all against her will, or to protect her brother, Deb killing Javier “El Sapo” Guzman, was not the first time that she has killed and not felt guilty. When Deb shot a man wielding a gun in that restaurant (I believe this occurred in either season 5 or 6, which was the reason why she started seeing the therapist that unearthed her true feelings for Dexter), she had no guilt whatsoever, or so she thought. When she kills El Sapo, it is clear that this version of Debra is broken. She immediately seeks vengeance on the man who beat the living daylights out of her just moments before. Interestingly enough, the cut she gives him on his cheek when wrestling with him oddly resembles the cuts that Dexter intentionally inflicts on his victims. Whatever natural instinct Dexter inflicted upon Deb through trauma clearly has expressed itself in this incident. She clearly has snapped, even if El Sapo “deserved it.”

el-sapo

“I never really belonged there [in the Lieutenant’s office].”

Deb may tell Dexter that he is lost, but she has been walking through her life like a spiritually homeless ghost, working merely to afford the drugs and booze that keeps her moving forward. She used to believe in her father, her principles, the function of her job as Lieutenant, and her brother; however, her decision to kill Maria LaGuerta effectively killed the former version of Debra Morgan that we had come to love.

Jennifer Carpenter as Debra Morgan and Sean Patrick Flanery as Jacob Elroy in Dexter (Season 8, episode 2) - Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime - Photo ID: Dexter_802_1175
Jennifer Carpenter as Debra Morgan and Sean Patrick Flanery as Jacob Elroy in Dexter (Season 8, episode 2) – Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime – Photo ID: Dexter_802_1175

“That person is dead. [I’m trying to figure out] what took its place.”

Last season, Deb did everything in her power to protect her brother. Now that her own fate is up in the air as Joey Quinn questions her in order to investigate El Sapo’s murder, Dexter is unsure of whether she is continuing to protect him, or merely acting in her own interests. Debra also seems to be attempting to cash in on a favor from Dexter when she discovers that her gun was logged in as evidence from El Sapo’s crime scene. Dexter swaps out her gun, which is the least he can do to help her out considering the fact that she is only in this situation because of her brother, but miraculously he is still concerned with his own fate as well as Debra’s. Though Dexter’s every action intends to protect his sister, on a deeper level, he is also protecting himself and Harrison.

“I’ve destroyed Debra. She’s gone.”

Dexter has always identified himself as being a loner with an elaborate disguise. We now see Debra in a similar predicament, but not handling it as gracefully or as willingly. She barely makes it to work on time, and even then she checks in infrequently and hardly respects her boss, Jacob Elway. She is hesitant to spend time with others, and even passes up a good time at Papa’s, Angel’s new restaurant. She has nobody she can (well, wants to) confide in, even though Joey Quinn is willing to hear her out. Her situation makes her feel entirely isolated. If we had a first-hand look into her mind, perhaps her mother is the phantom in her mind that she can consult, just as Dexter consults Harry; however, there seems to be  no source or potential for solace in Deb’s life, which makes her a loose canon liable to kill and spew truths that could damage herself and her brother.

“I think the truth is overrated.”

Whereas Dexter blames his Dark Passenger, his father, and Vogel for his actions, Deb has taken responsibility for herself for far too long to be able to place the blame entirely on Dexter. She hates Dexter because he opened up her Pandora’s box of darkness, one which she cannot close back up. She does blame Dexter for forcing her to compromise her values, but if she could fully reassign that blame, she wouldn’t be a walking time bomb.

What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?

“This is all my fault.”

Dexter is aware of the fact that Debra’s collapse is bound to backfire at some point; however, the more he interferes with her to try to help her, the worse he makes the situation. Just as Debra has trouble accepting the fact that she is a good person despite her actions, Dexter has difficulty believing Vogel when she tells him that he is a necessity to mankind. How can he be “perfect” when he has hurt Debra so deeply. His guilt prevents him from moving forward and being who he always was.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan and Charlotte Rampling as Dr. Vogel in Dexter (Season 8, episode 2) - Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime - Photo ID: Dexter_802_0395
Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan and Charlotte Rampling as Dr. Vogel in Dexter (Season 8, episode 2) – Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime – Photo ID: Dexter_802_0395

“You’re exactly what you need to be. You’re perfect.”

In attempt to control the chaos in any other realm than on a crime scene, Dexter comes to the rescue when Deb is attempting to confess about LaGuerta and drugs her with M-99. Debra’s steady decline toward ruin began in season 1 when Brian Moser set her up on a kill table much like Dexter’s own. It took an additional five seasons for her to learn the truth, and another season and a half for her to be M-99’d. Debra was always Dexter’s victim, whether or not he cares to admit it to himself at this point in time.

Denial has been a bigger part of the Morgans’ lives than they ever realized. Debra’s love for her brother allowed her to live thirty years without ever suspecting her brother’s truth, and Dexter’s denial has allowed him to shirk responsibility for his actions as long as he has been killing. I have previously discussed how Rita’s denial of Dexter’s darkness allowed him to be who he is until the day she was murdered; we now see this same effect in action with Quinn as he loyally defends Debra’s own innocence and goodness to her when she is trying to confess. His love for and idolization of Debra allows her heavy-hitting confession to pass in one ear and out the other, preventing Miami Metro from ever discovering the truth.

“Why?”
“Because I love them.”

Quinn and Dexter refuse to let Debra crumble because she is the constant source of light in their lives. They both attempt to prop her upright and sober her up so that she returns to her old, lovable self; however, they fail to recognize that the damage done to Debra cannot be undone. Just like Harrison’s inclination to eat all of the blood-colored ice pops, Quinn and Dexter consume Debra and nearly smother her because they love her and will do anything and everything to see to it that she is alright. While Dexter’s attachment to his sister is selfish and childlike, Quinn clearly deeply cares about Debra and her well-being, placing his own relationships and needs at the very bottom of his list of priorities. Despite Dexter’s God complex, he gains enough clarity for just a moment to realize that he is no “gift” to Debra; he has virtually destroyed her.

Harrison Popsicle

Dexter: A Comedy

Deb: “What is that shit? It looks like horse piss.”
Elway: “Electrolyte replenishment formula. You look dehydrated.”
[Later]
Elway: “Just be careful.”
Deb: “If I fuck up, you can always ply me with that electroshite solution.”

Vince: [Hugging Deb] “If I could cop a feel right now, it wouldn’t be sexual harassment anymore.”

Vince: “Ah, suicide. Makes our lives so much easier.”
Detective: “You should put that on a t-shirt.”

[Elway mixes up another remedy for Deb’s hangover.]
Deb: “What is that, a fucking shit shake?”

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: 10
Entertainment: 9
Xtremity:  8
DEX-Factor: 9

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5 thoughts on “Mere Psychopath or Serial Killer? Dexter’s Natural Inclinations in 802: “Every Silver Lining…” & 803: “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?”

  1. I’m not going to take Vogel’s word for it when she attributes Dexter’s feelings for Debra to be purely selfish in a way that is not normal. Every relationship we have is selfish – essentially, we love those who love us (and sometimes others who we simply want to love us, like Quinn does to Debra, which makes his love for her also “selfish”.) Has Dexter manipulated and used his sister all his life? Absolutely. He’s a serial killer who wanted to keep his secret from her. To me it’s because he wanted to protect her from what just what is happening right now (at this point in your narrative).

    Dexter chose Debra over Brian when it would have been easier to become a killer without reason or regret – because he loved her. He turned in Hannah, who he considered to be the woman who could change his life, because he thought she was a threat to Deb – if he didn’t love Deb, he could have just left with Hannah. He didn’t make plans to kill LaGuerta until he realized she was closing in on Debra – it was Deb who inserted herself into the situation and created her horrible choice, and even then he offered himself up to her. This is bound have been on Dexter’s mind when he retorted, “do you think it’s easy being your brother?” in their “This Little Piggy” family therapy session.
    To me, Vogel is coming from a place of self-interest: she doesn’t want Dexter fretting over his sister when he should be concentrating on catching the Brain Surgeon before he kills her. That’s selfish! And Vogel also has made assumptions about Dexter that the show ultimately demonstrated were not true.

    Dexter is a bad man whose choices ultimately killed his wife and his sister along with many others. But I don’t have any doubt that he loved his sister in a ‘deep-seeded’ way and wanted to protect her. Frankly, it was virtually his only redeeming quality (he had a deep fondness for his son but spent time with him only when his killing schedule was free). The tragedy of the show, to me, is that these two messed-up siblings became so co-dependent that his doom became hers.

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    1. The first time I watched the series, I defended Dexter while also feeling protective over Deb. This time around, however, I am finding it hard to like Dexter at the end of the series, which makes its tragic ending even more deserved and fitting.

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  2. Dexter was a bad man and Debra was a good woman, but I don’t see it in terms of either/or because one without the other is a lot less compelling. It is unquestionably very sad that Deb, who I loved, could only love Dexter and that he was bound to break her heart and ultimately get her killed. But it was her unconditional love for this irreparably-damaged person that made her all the more lovable to me. As for Dexter, the premise that he was a monster who longed to be human but was always a threat to everyone he loves also tugged at my heartstrings despite my lack of sympathy for his sociopathy. And the fact that he loved his sister – if he had killed Deb at the end of season 1, I would never have made it to season 2 or read one word of what you’ve written. That would probably be a loss on my part.

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    1. Having said all that – being a guy whose primary interest in the show was the Dexter-Debra relationship, I really disliked Dexter between Episode 7 and Episode 10 of Season 8 (after Hannah re-entered the picture.) The writers had him treat Deb worse during this period, in my view, than at any point in the series. For me, all of those episodes featured more than the show’s normal amount of wheel-spinning, extraneous and pointless side-plots and characters doing dumb things. I really, really, really disliked Hannah as a ‘damsel in distress’ and Dexter as her doe-eyed ‘prince charming.’ I know a lot of fans couldn’t accept the last episode of “Dexter”, but to me the last episode was the only good episode of Dexter in its final half-season.

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      1. I just finished watching 807 “Dress Code,” where Hannah reappears and turns into that damsel in distress. At this point in rewatching, it seems as though Hannah is here to complicate Dexter’s choice. Will he ultimately choose family loyalty over his selfish interests? It’s difficult to watch Hannah as a victim because it is so untrue to her character. I simply justify these bizarre plot decisions as being metaphorical – Hannah was the victim of Wayne Randall and she will always be a victim, as is Debra. Dexter must choose between his two victims in a way that suits himself and his needs as a human being. The next piece will be up late – typing it up now.

        And I agree about the last episode. It gave Dexter what he deserved, although it was incredibly painful to watch Debra be confined to a hospital bed.

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