A few weeks ago, the eighth and final season of Dexter started airing. I’ve been a Dexter fan for years and I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll wrap things up. The biggest development so far is the introduction of a new character, Dr. Vogel, played by Charlotte Rampling. Dr. Vogel is a psychiatrist known as “the psychopath whisperer,” who reveals at the end of the first episode that SPOILER!
In fact, there will be spoilers throughout this post, so stop reading now if you aren’t caught up and don’t want to know.
… Okay, good.
As I was saying, Dr. Vogel reveals that she is an old friend of Dexter’s adoptive father Harry. Not only that, she knows the truth about Dexter; in fact, she helped Harry come up with the code. Bombshell.
When Dexter finds this out, he calls Vogel his Dr. Frankenstein — an obvious comparison, and one I also thought of right away. Vogel is the mad scientist; Dexter is the monster she has unleashed on the world.
But there’s something of Victor Frankenstein about Dexter, too, with his creepy scientific instruments, freakish operating table, and tendency to cut people up (though he never puts them back together again). This makes sense: Victor and the creature are often seen as doubles, with the monster being Victor’s shadow self and acting out his darkest urges. Similarly, Dexter has created a separate identity, the “dark passenger,” for his murderous tendencies.
If Dexter is Victor, we can also see Deb as a double for Victor’s beloved Elizabeth. Like Deb and Dexter, Elizabeth and Victor have a weird incestuous vibe to their relationship: they are not blood-related, but were raised as siblings and eventually developed romantic feelings for each other. Sounds familiar — at least, half familiar, eh Deb? Elizabeth, of course, is murdered by the her fiance/brother’s creation on her wedding night. Does this bode ill for Deb’s survival or has Dexter’s dark passenger has already metaphorically killed her?
One of the great things about Frankenstein is the number of ways you can interpret it, and the parallel to Dexter is also very interesting if we turn things around slightly and look at Harry as the Dr. Frankenstein in this scenario. If you’ve seen Young Frankenstein, then you know the only reason the creature turned into a monster is that his father/creator rejected him, just as Harry became disgusted by Dexter after seeing him at work. In this case, Dr. Vogel, who after only two episodes seems to have praised Dexter’s “perfect” nature hundreds of times already, becomes the kindly mother figure who gives the monster Dexter the unconditional love he never got from his dad.
Apart from the multitude of Frankensteins going on, I see another, perhaps more unexpected, cultural reference at play in this season of Dexter: the title of this week’s episode, “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?,” is a reference to the 1993 Lasse Hallström film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which starred Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, and a young Leonardo DiCaprio, who received his first Oscar nomination for playing Arnie, Gilbert’s mentally challenged younger brother.
At first, the title seems like a terrible and also horrifying pun on the psychopath of the week’s penchant for eating human flesh (ewww). However, I think “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan?” is more than just a casual reference. The plot of the episode, if you really think about it, borrows a fair bit from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
In the movie, Gilbert Grape is a young man who feels trapped by his small town life and the pressure of taking care of his family. Gilbert’s father committed suicide, leaving Gilbert responsible for his three siblings, including the perpetually childlike Arnie, and his mother, a morbidly obese shut-in who hasn’t left the family home in years. Arnie enjoys trying to climb the town watertower, an activity that gets him into a lot of trouble: crowds gather to watch him, the police show up, and Gilbert ultimately has to talk him down. On one occasion, though, the police actually arrest Arnie for his hijinks and it’s Momma Grape who heads down to the station to retrieve her precious boy. Later on in the movie, Momma dies, and rather than go through the humiliation of having her body removed from the house, the Grape kids burn down their house with their mother’s body inside. It’s a cathartic moment for Gilbert in particular, who finally feels free of the massive weight (yes, it’s a bit literal) that has been tying him down.
Deb, completely falling apart at this point, is Dexter’s version of Arnie, the troublesome, out of control sibling who’s always getting into mischief. (It’s worth noting that Gilbert’s irresponsible behaviour is the cause some of Arnie’s problems: Arnie is traumatized when Gilbert leaves him in the bath overnight. And really, that’s probably not as traumatic as betraying everything you stand for by killing a cop to protect your serial killer brother.) She gets picked up by a cop for hitting a parking metre, then later heads to the police station and — yikes! — confesses to killing LaGuerta. Luckily, Quinn calls Dexter, who shows up with his version of Momma, Dr. Vogel, to take Deb home.
Now, obviously, Dr. Vogel is not exactly like Momma Grape. However, given Vogel’s curiosity about Dexter’s feelings towards Deb, it seems to me the writers may be leading up to a revelation that Dexter is not, as he has always been trained to believe, a psychopath, and that he was not beyond fixing until his training made him that way. He has lived with this weight of monstrousness on his shoulders his whole life thanks to his “parents,” Harry and Vogel. If this is the case, perhaps the show will end with Vogel — who, if you ask me, is way too into psychopaths not to be one herself — on Dexter’s table, and Dexter and Deb catching a ride out of town with Juliette Lewis.
Or something like that.