I’ve been watching some of this show called Dexter recently. This is the fourth season, but the first one I’ve watched. I didn’t see the whole season, but the last little group of episodes drew me in, and I just saw the season finale. We know the star (Michael C. Hall) from his role in the sort-of-similarly-themed Six Feet Under. Mr. Hall is experienced playing a caring ghoul, and does so with a great deal of savoir-faire and on screen humility.

DEXTER (Season 2)The basic premise is a CSI/Law and Order show; the twist is that the main CSI we follow (Dexter) is a mass-murderer. The viewer feels privileged to witness Dexter and the team building relationships and catching crooks, Dexter taking the law into his own hands, and Dexter balancing these two worlds.

We get to know the character of Dexter through dialogue, but also through the lead character’s brutal and sensitive narration. The show has Hannibal Lecter appeal; he’s your friendly neighborhood worst nightmare. It’s a similar, but less assuming and serious, posture to (for instance) Dead Man Walking.

This season’s climax revolved around an investigative and personal crisis: Dexter’s capture and execution of another murderer (guest star John Lithgow), and the question of whether or not Dexter has any more control of his life than the older murderer (Lithgow.) The shine on Dexter is that we see his misgivings, his sense of being trapped by his past and ‘the dark passenger.’ This season’s climax further connected the viewer to his personal struggle, and the price he pays for it.

dallas-who-shot-jr-poster-194All of these theatrical tools do invite us to empathize. When characters are well written, and well acted, it’s easy to become playful with one’s boundaries, and Dexter challenges us to maintain our independence, and judgment. How does crime spiral through generations? Who is served by punishment? Can good ever win against evil?

Fiction provides us a means to investigate the deeper truths that pass un-noticed in our daily lives. I’m not saying Dexter is all that. The Iliad it ain’t. But then again, neither was Dallas. I wrote this post feeling a need to write… a sense of restlessness eased by the work of writing. I don’t have any illusions about achieving major impact or insight, and I sort of doubt that the writers of Dexter do either. Which is part of the show’s appeal — the feather brush of an ax passing by with a giggle.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.