Today I did something utterly uncharacteristic. I’m not really much of a TV watcher. I’ve liked the CBS Monday night lineup (How I Met Your Mother, Rules of Engagement, Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory—though the latter has moved to Thursdays) but if I missed it, no big deal. I don’t watch reality TV. I cannot bear to watch real people really humiliated. I can’t even watch scripted humiliation. I hated Meet the Parents. I found that movie excruciating, and it wasn’t even real. I’m unwilling to dedicate myself to a TV show, so that scrapped Lost, 24, and the like. I was pretty adamant about watching Stargate SG1 when it was on. That was my last TV addiction at any level.
Then, last summer, my son got Netflix, and I got to stream two seasons of a show I’d heard a lot about—Dexter. I devoured the two seasons available there and got the third at Blockbuster—bitterly cursing the nitwit who kept getting each disk just ahead of me and keeping it the entire week. My son went back to school, taking his Netflix account with him, so we ditched Blockbuster and signed up for Netflix. The season 4 finale of Dexter was on its own disk. Wait three days for that disk to arrive in the mail? Hell no—I downloaded it for $4 from iTunes. Ah…instant gratification.
So tonight is the season 5 premier, and we get basic cable. Correction. We got basic cable. As of this afternoon, having been impelled by a force beyond my control, we get Showtime.
The funny thing is, I’m the last person you would expect to like this show. I’m not a revenge flick chick. I mean, I don’t mind revenge flicks, but they aren’t my favorite genre by any stretch. I am highly empathetic; I feel fictional people’s fictional pain. I don’t generally like movies with a lot of blood and gore. I often actually cover my eyes. So why would I become completely addicted to a show with all kinds of brutality and literally buckets of blood? Perhaps more pertinent, why would a woman who has known and loved several people who were, in real life, murdered by a psychopath feel drawn to a character like Dexter? Is it because I knew and loved the friend who committed those murders with him? There is something so tantalizing about the possibility of redemption in someone irredeemable. It’s not that I think Dexter’s murders are redemptive acts simply because he commits them against predators like himself. After all, I am vehemently opposed to capital punishment. I don’t feel satisfaction when he kills a homicidal pedophile, though I am always relieved when he kills whatever kindred spirit has been trying to turn the tables on Dexter, a staple of every season’s story arc. I just always feel like he’s on the verge of going from a sort of twisted Pinocchio to a “real boy.” It’s always heart-breaking though, because a code is not the same thing as morals. The show can’t help but make you wonder about that line, the one between an ethic and genuine morality. Is empathy the key?
Of course, it also brings out the age-old question “who are we without our dark selves?” We all have that side. Is it as much a virtue as a vice? I’m reading the Dexter novels, too, and in those Dexter’s “dark passenger” is actually a manifestation of a timeless being, something outside of Dexter himself. I enjoy the books, but I kind of hope they don’t do that with the TV character. Honestly, I sort of like having to grapple with my reaction to Dexter, having to ask myself why I feel for a character who, if he were real, could not feel for me.