Every week in Slate’s Dexter TV club, Katy Waldman will have an IM conversation with a different Dexter fan. This week, she rehashes episode 7.5 with Dr. Christopher Ryan, a psychologist, contributor to Psychology Today and Huffington Post, and most recently the author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. Ryan’s essay, “Being Dexter Morgan,” appears in The Psychology of Dexter and is excerpted in Psychology Today.
Christopher Ryan: I watched the whole season (what’s available) in the last two nights. Lots of nightmares…
Katy Waldman: I’ll bet. Did any of them take place in bathtubs?
Ryan: ! Can’t remember.
Waldman: Deb’s bathtub dream from last week morphed and splintered this episode into a bunch of drowning images. What did you make of Dexter’s final lines about navigating the depths while Deb stays onshore?
Ryan: I think one of the major subtexts of this season is about marriage, differences between male and female sexuality, how couples deal with fidelity issues, porn, etc. The writers are doing a masterful job with these interwoven themes.
Waldman: Deb and Dex are standing in for lovers who keep secrets from each other?
Ryan: Right. But Dex gets caught and they go through many of the same steps couples often go through (in therapy or not). First, all the anger and public spats. “Not here!” Dexter keeps saying. They mirror the tension in marriages when an affair or porn use is discovered and man says “but I haven’t changed,” and the woman says, “but everything has changed, because you’re not who I thought you were.” Even Deb’s insistence on 24/7 total honestly mirrors many therapists’ approach to dealing with the betrayal. Then, after a lot of back and forth, Deb says, “I get it. I hate it, but I get it.” The irony and sub-text go very deep in light of the fact that Deb and Dexter are brother and sister acting as if they were lovers, and deeper still in light of the fact that Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter (who play Dexter and Deb) divorced in the previous season.
To finally get to your initial question, about the end of this episode: It ends with Deb asking about the blood report from the bodies uncovered. “Is there anything I should know?” she asks. He says, “no,” protecting Hannah, and betraying one kind of love (familial?) for another kind (erotic? shared darkness?). Then he lights fire to a photograph of…what? A wedding! He burns it while saying, “Deb was always better on the shore. From now on, I’ll face the depths myself.” Back to don’t ask, don’t tell.
Waldman: They’ve both found equilibrium in denial. Is that sustainable, do you think?
Ryan: I tend to agree with Dexter and Deb’s father that it isn’t, that it will wear her down, “like salt water on steel,” because it’s not her nature. So maybe we’re looking at the writers’ projections concerning male vs. female sexuality. On the other hand, I get the sense that Hannah McKay is brought in to balance that vision. She is a woman who “gets it” in a way that Deb never could. Man, I’d love to be in THAT writer’s room!
Waldman: For sure! I want to understand what you mean about the difference(s) between male and female sexuality. Hannah represents a more aggressive, masculine set of desires? (That detail about her “straddling” her victim was borderline erotic.)
Ryan: Yes, I suspect she’s there to show us that women are indeed capable of riding these animalistic waves, though probably not as typically as men. (How many serial killers are women?) But since the subtext is about sex, she’s super hot and all about sexual desire. Recall Dexter’s hand shaking as he tries to take the DNA sample from her mouth in Episode 3. In a wet, hot environment, no less. And Wayne Randall recalled his time with her, saying, “Every day was like an unwrapped present.” I think that line will come back.
Waldman: There is something sexy about all the unwrapping. But in your essay on Dexter in Psychology Today, you also make a very convincing case that his kills are coldblooded and mission-oriented. How do you reconcile that with season 7’s spiciness?
Ryan: I don’t think Dexter gets off on the killing in an erotic sense. In fact, I think previous seasons pretty clearly demonstrated that he is (was) asexual. He was faking it with Rita, for example. So I was surprised to see him getting nervous around Hannah. I think we’re going to see the awakening of his eroticism with her, in the context of his familial bonding with Deb. Hannah will be “the other woman” and Deb will represent the wife. The writers are really playing with the dissolution of the marriage of these two actors, which is pretty courageous on their part! And for the actors to agree to play with these themes, while no-doubt going through intense personal feelings around them … very interesting indeed!
Waldman: I love this reading of the Deb-Dex-Hannah triangle! (Not to mention the Carpenter-Hall intrigue). But is Hannah just a temptress? Might she be a better match for Dexter than Debra? I mean, on some level, to awaken his sex drive is to humanize him, right?
Ryan: Yes and no. This reminds me of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, one of the best novelistic examinations of male sexuality, in my opinion. Deb is Teresa: trustworthy, nurturing, safe, reliable (also, in TUBLOB, communism); Hanna is Sabina: sexy, dangerous, surprising, challenging (capitalism). Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I think this is the conundrum almost all married people face eventually. Chris Rock put it this way, “We have to choose between loneliness and boredom.”
Check out the Wikipedia entry for Hannah.“The Hebrew word ‘Hannah’ has many meanings and interpretations, including ‘beauty’ and ‘passion’,” it says. “In the biblical narrative, Hannah is one of two wives of Elkanah; the other, Peninnah, bore children to Elkanah, but Hannah remained childless. Nevertheless, Elkanah preferred Hannah.”
Our Hannah will offer Dex an escape. I suspect she’ll try to lure him into leaving Miami (going on another “spree” with her—maybe to Argentina, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and replicating Hannah’s original plan with Wayne Randall). But in the end, he’ll have to stay in order to rescue Deb—maybe from Hannah. It will be freedom vs. domesticity.
Waldman: And Isaak? Where does he fit in?
Ryan: I’m not sure, but what’s going on with him and Viktor? Was Viktor a son or lover? I’m thinking the latter. In either case, the relationship is secret. So maybe he’ll come to represent the danger of the closeted relationship? Or maybe he’s just a very compelling Bond-like nemesis with no thematic connection to what we’re talking about.
Waldman: Ha! He’s just, as Deb says, the Terminator. Although maybe he represents the dangers of surrendering to all sorts of passions, romantic and vengeful? “This is personal,” he tells Dexter, even though he should be a bureaucratic figure: the head of a large crime organization.
Ryan: I’m going to have to wrap this up. Final issues you wanted to cover?
Waldman: In your Psychology Today article, you cast Dexter as a hero a la Batman or Spiderman. That word got a real workout tonight, between Debra telling Dex “You were my hero” (heartbreaking) to Isaak describing his great uncle as a Red Army “hero.” (Of course, that great uncle died, to be avenged by his much more villainous-seeming brother). What makes a hero in the world of Dexter?
Ryan: That’s a complicated question. We do call those who kill or die “for us” our heroes. In real life, I find it strange that people who die in a bombed building are heroes but those who die in an earthquake aren’t. People who join the military and get hurt are considered heroes but those who get hurt building bridges or mining coal aren’t. I’m pretty cynical about the use of the term in that I think it’s often used as a way to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do.
There’s another thing that’s been eating at me. Earlier in the episode, Dex told Deb they shouldn’t arrest Isaak because “he’d talk,” but then they did, and he didn’t. Strange oversight by the writers. In any case, we haven’t seen the last of Isaak. Presumably, he can afford the best lawyers, who will get him out somehow.
Waldman: The Terminator…will be back. Schooner or later.
Ryan: That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Monday: What other writers and Slate commenters thought about Episode 5.