Zach Hamilton is taken on as Dr. Vogel and Dexter’s spiritual son once it becomes clear that Miami Metro has no evidence to incriminate him for Norma Rivera’s murder. Debra, upon being drugged by Hannah McKay, inadvertently gives Dexter an ultimatum: choose safety for yourself and your family, or choose Hannah McKay.
Spiritual Families: Zach Hamilton and the Morgan Legacy
“He treats blood like a swimsuit model.”
Zach Hamilton is Dexter’s second victim to be cut out of his saran-wrapped asylum, despite the fact that Hannah McKay (the first) turned out to be a huge mistake. The first time Dexter’s faith in the Code faltered was when he discovered and subsequently gave into his insatiable attraction to the fatal florist. Whereas Hannah promised Dexter a life of being uniquely himself, sparing Zach promises Dexter a specialized opportunity to impart his wisdom unto a spiritual son. He will be able to father Zach and connect with him in a way that he will never be able to with Harrison (although his lying about the broken remote calls attention to the fact that he will likely see through his father’s smoke and mirrors sooner or later). Though Zach does not promise Dexter a full-fledged normal life, as Hannah did, the potential that he and Vogel recognize within Zach is a legacy he will lead, a way of living freely outside of himself.
Upon watching season 8 as it aired live, I assumed that this grouping of episodes marked Dexter’s subconscious decision to give up killing, but to pass the responsibility on to Zach. If he must give up his vigilante lifestyle, he feels as though someone must carry on his work. As idealistic as this would be, Zach has already killed, and he is already in different situation than Dexter himself was as a child.
Much of Dexter’s life (that we have seen on-screen) has been spent trying to uncover his past while simultaneously rewriting the decisions his father (and Vogel) made from him long ago. In season 2, Dexter already showed signs of diverting from his father’s Code once he discovered that Harry had lied to him about having a biological brother (Brian Moser, revealed to us as Rudy Cooper the Ice-Truck Killer). Dexter has also spent all eight seasons trying to rewrite his past, specifically in his choices of women to keep ignorant from his darkness, to protect and love. Now that Dexter has met his spiritual mother, Dr. Vogel, it is only logical (judging by Dexter’s previous patterns) that he wants to lash out at her (for her indiscretions that led to who he has become) but also protect her, as he has done with all other women with whom he has been romantically involved. Although I have made numerous Oedipal suggestions over the course of these past two years, the only relationship that has partially fulfilled this Grecian tale was Rita and the birth of their son, Harrison. Dexter’s decision to father a spiritual son with Dr. Vogel, however, is the full-fledged version of the Oedipal arc in this series, for she is not only the right age, but she had a strong hand in his upbringing.
Although Dexter has tried and failed to rewrite his past and escape the sins of his father, he has gone on to repeat Harry’s misgivings as to Zach’s ability to change or channel his urges in a different fashion. Instead of being the father Harry should have been, Dexter repeats his father’s mistakes by deciding to take Zach under his wing. Though he is the kind of father that understands Zach more than Harry ever understood Dexter, he is still failing to realize that he has become his father, as detestable as that may seem. Dexter said in the season 3 finale to Ramon Prado:”the sins of the father [get passed down] from kid to kid to kid, unless . . . someone chooses to end them” (312); however, he fails to diagnose this problem in his own circumstances.
Dexter’s decision to delve into Zach’s psychology also serves to remind us of Dexter’s previously failed attempts at taking on a disciple: Jeremy Downs in season 1 and Miguel Prado in season 3 (as visually alluded to by the number of Zach’s photography loft pictured above). Dexter has regarded himself as a serial killer to end all serial killers, the alpha and omega of serial killers if you will, and this thus accounts for his reluctance to learn from his mistakes, as well as his insistence that he and Zach are “nothing alike” (though this becomes questionable when Zach attempts to murder his father wearing a kill suit nearly identical to Dexter’s). While I have compared him to an anti-Christ as well as a Christlike figure, and Harry as an anti-God and Godlike figure, I have yet to factor in the ethereal portion of the Christological paradigm: the Holy Spirit (or ghost, depending on your generation). While Harry (the Father) has influenced Dexter to take his path, Dr. Vogel was also an indirect and unseen influence all along, making her the Holy Spirit; however, since God is all, we should roll Vogel and Harry into one being as the overseeing Parent and therefore make the biological and sociological factors of the psychopathy gene and traumatic experience the Spirit or Ghost of what propels Dexter forward, thus complicating Dexter’s creation and existence.
In the 2010 collection of essays, Dexter: Investigating Cutting Edge Television, Douglas L. Howard states: “Harry is really more Victor Frankenstein than Ward Cleaver . . . another man who would be God through the act of creating, and Dexter becomes yet another cultural variation on the Frankenstein myth” (61). However, two years short of the revelation of Dr. Vogel’s involvement in Dexter’s raising only skews Howard’s argument. It is thus Vogel who becomes Frankenstein, Harry relegated to the role of Igor; however, Howard’s argument for Harry as Frankenstein regarding his emotional reaction to the reality of his creation is more fitting of Harry’s response. Howard summarizes: “Victor nevertheless subconsciously realizes that he has not created life from death, but, instead, has turned life, in all its beauty, into death and brought the reality of his mother’s loss literally back home with more horrifying clarity” (62-3). Though Harry’s not horrified by his own mother’s loss, he is terrified by his own decisions, leaving Dexter to grapple with his mother’s death on his own.
“Bet [the Bay Harbor Butcher] never thought he’d be a role model.” – Frank Lundy (206)
Dexter’s downfall, therefore, will not only be his pride in his ostentatious method of killing and his ability to survive despite all odds, but his inability to recognize the horror of it all. Although Debra is visibly falling apart and edging toward utter destruction (despite her recent rock-bottom blow), Dexter believes he has made it through once again. Just as he celebrated his victory in escaping Frank Lundy’s keen eye in season 2 by taking on Miguel Prado in season 3, he is once again repeating his own mistakes, as well as Harry Morgan’s.
Debra’s Doubts and Other Family Conundrums
Debra is slowly making her way back to post-murder normalcy; however, her relationship is still visibly strained with her brother. Their steaks might taste like “asshole,” but at least they are trying to return to where they were now that they are in their new, more open place of mutual understanding. Deb’s advice to Vince Masuka upon his request to investigate his daughter, Niki, conveys that she is willing to ride out the Dexter storm for as long as she’s allowed to: “Enjoy the company [while you can].” Deb still stubbornly advocates ignorance in favor of enlightenment, even though she is still working her way through her surprisingly dark enlightenment to the other side of that hellish tunnel.
Deb’s decision to leave Miami Metro and begin working for Jacob Elway has allowed her the time and distance from her brother to work past her own disquietude with her brother’s and father’s decisions and actions, as well as come to understand the other side of her predicament. Elway conveniently shares a similar relationship with his own father and sister; in getting to know her boss, she is slowly coming to realize how deeply her own brother cares for her, despite their distance.
“Will it always end the same way, like this?”
Dexter, on the other hand, is not learning from Debra’s struggle with PTSD and her recent revelation. In persisting in his ways and in taking on Zach as his “intern,” he is not changing the way he thinks or acts. In many ways, he is just as innocent and tries to be as blameless as a child. While Harrison is only five or six and can get away with breaking the remote and lying about it, Dexter is a 41-year old man who blames his problems on his childhood and the ways in which Harry and Vogel decided to rear him. What remains glaringly obvious is the fact that Harrison lives within Dexter’s den. It is becoming increasingly likely that he will discover what else his father routinely “takes out [in] the trash,” just as he discovered his blood-stained stuffed dog. His love for his son, his overwhelming desire to let his son know that he makes mistakes and lies, as well as his need to please his son compromises his (and his family’s) safety in that this piece of evidence linking him to the Andrew Briggs murder will now remain in his apartment for as long as Harrison is attached to “Doggy.”
It is precisely Dexter’s inability to choose family or his ability to camouflage and avoid suspicion that will drive anyone and everything he loves into danger. Whoever gets close to Dexter will inevitably end up in a pool of their own blood, just like Laura Moser, Rita, and now Cassie.
It’s a Vortex! It’s a Black Hole! It’s Hannah McKay!
Harrison: “Hannah is here?”
Debra: “Both of you? Jesus, really?”
Just as Debra is disgusted with Dexter and Harrison’s unwavering affection for the femme fatale of season 7, I was similarly disappointed with the writer’s decision to bring Hannah back and use her the way they did. I will try my best to set my feelings aside to try to see what she symbolically means to Dexter at this point in the series.
The biggest concern with Hannah McKay’s ominous return is whether or not she is still in love with Dexter, which ultimately determines whether or not he will go unpunished and if Harrison will go orphaned. While Harrison is almost entirely not a major factor in season 8 (to my dismay), Dexter is concerned with Deb and Harrison’s well-being only when there is a direct threat posed to him.
Hannah returns to Miami as Maggie Castner, wife to the $700,000,000 casino giant, Miles Castner. Where it seems as though she is quite content, we discover that she has returned to ask for Dexter’s help in taking out her possessive and controlling husband. Despite her clever way of disposing of her previous husbands and victims, she is reluctant to take out Miles for his family has the ability to reveal her for who she truly is. Not wanting to compromise her freedom yet again, she comes to Dexter, despite what he did to her, for help. It is Hannah’s sudden decision to forgive Dexter that is uncharacteristic of the florist we came to fear last season.
Whether or not Dexter was to kill Miles for Hannah is up for debate; what is certain is that Miles knew enough about Dexter’s betrayal to be a real threat to his midnight hobby, and thus he was going to be taken out whether or not it was for Hannah’s safety or happiness. When Hannah takes care of him herself, however, Dexter’s decision to help her dispose of the body effectively allows Hannah back into his life, despite the great danger she poses to himself and the little family he has left.
The troubling thing about Hannah’s reappearance is the fact that Debra admits that Hannah herself was the catalyst to her downward spiral. What is even more troubling is the fact that Dexter is willfully helping Hannah literally and figuratively clean up her mess of a life in spite of what he knows about Debra and her desires to rid her from their lives altogether. This decision to bring Hannah back into their lives, yet again, is one of Dexter’s final poor decisions that leads us to the heartbreaking conclusion to the series.
Flashback to 2013
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.
Howard, Douglas L. “Harry Morgan: (Post)Modern Prometheus.” Dexter: Investigating Cutting Edge Television. Ed. Howard. New York: I.B. Taurus, 2010. 61-77. Print. Investigating Cult TV.