Culture > Television

Killer instinct

Television | Dexter asks viewers to identify with the very darkest impulses

Issue: "The surge is on," Feb. 3, 2007

Showtime's Dexter counts on an appetite for gore and a fascination with discovering why a Miami police department blood spatter expert (Michael C. Hall of Six Feet Under) would moonlight as a serial killer himself. Of course, he's only killing bad guys, but it's nauseating to hear voiceovers that reveal Dexter's glee in finding blood and dead flesh as part of his "day job."

The show has won high praise for being well-acted and well-written-all true-but what's wrong is that it proposes at its core that Dexter is just doing what he has to do. It darkly whispers that he's not responsible for his behind-the-scenes murders. Some unresolved trauma in his past gives him license to kill, he believes, because he can't erase history, and his awareness that he's sociopathically unable to feel remorse or compassion gives him another out. Hannibal Lecter killed innocents for pleasure , but Dexter just wants to save the prison system a few bucks by swiftly disposing of the criminals. He protests too much, so maybe that makes him more human?

It's as if Dexter asks us not only to identify with the darkest impulses but to rationalize them away. It may be a seductive premise, but only the most ardent Hannibal Lecter aficionados will find this show appealing.

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