Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The true colors of Dexter

I've just finished watching the first season of Dexter. Holy cow, I was riveted. One of the things I love most about the show is the theme of nature vs. nurture. You know the theory, right? Some people believe that how a person is raised, or nurtured, determines who they become as an adult. Others believe a person becomes who they are because that's the way they were born -- that's their nature.

(If you haven't seen the first season of Dexter and plan to watch it, please be aware that there are MAJOR spoilers ahead. Turn back now!)

For the entire first season of Dexter, another serial killer plays a game with our hero. The so-called Ice Truck Killer taunts Dexter with clues about who he is (and about who Dexter is, though Dexter doesn't realize that). Dexter is fascinated by the Ice Truck Killer and enjoys the game. It's a puzzle for him to solve. There's an underlying theme about blood -- Dexter is a forensics specialist of some sort who works with blood and the Ice Truck Killer drains the blood of his victims. You find out the significance of that at the end of the season: The Ice Truck Killer is the brother Dexter hasn't seen, or remembered, since he was 3, when they witnessed their mother's horrific slaughter then spent three days trapped in a cargo container in her pool of blood. Hence, the focus on blood -- they're literally blood brothers.

What's so incredibly cool about the nature vs. nurture theme of this storyline is this: Yes, Dexter is a serial killer. But he kills only people who are also killers. He was raised by his adoptive father who recognized Dexter's "nature" and helped him to deal with it in a way that has both protected Dexter from discovery and forced him to have standards for who and why he kills. So Dexter's "nature" is to kill, but his father "nurtured" him to develop the way he kills.

Dexter's brother, Brian, on the other hand, had no such "father" to nurture him. His nature is to kill, like Dexter's, but Brian has become a serial killer with no qualms about killing innocent people -- probably like most serial killers. Because, you know, I know so many.

The game between Dexter and Brian reaches its climax when Brian kidnaps Dexter's half-sister (who Brian has also wooed into being his lover) and wants Dexter to help him kill her. Now, Dexter is a sociopath, so technically he's not supposed to feel any emotions. But he has to make a choice: kill his sister, who's kind of annoyed him lately with all her demands that he open up to her emotionally, or kill his newly discovered brother, who totally understands who Dexter is and why. 

But Dexter can't bring himself to kill his half-sister, because, as he says, "I’m fond of her." Brian has no problem with killing her, even though he's developed their relationship all the way up to a marriage proposal. So while Dexter is technically a sociopath, he still feels affection for his sister -- because of his nurturing upbringing by his father. Brian had no such nurturing upbringing. So when Dexter makes the choice -- his sister, who doesn't have any idea who he really is, or his brother, the only person alive who does know who he is and understands him -- it's devastating. But nurture wins over nature.

Another reason this theme speaks to me is that I explore it in my new release, True Colors. In that, the villain, Butch Magee, is "trained" from a young age by another serial killer. Butch already had serial killer tendencies, what with dismembering small animals as a kid and such. So his "nature" is already established when the serial killer kidnaps him and starts the training. The heroine, Alex, has the psychic ability to "flash" back on another person's most traumatic episodes, which she experiences and feels as if they actually happened to her. When she gets kidnapped by Butch, she starts flashing on all the things that happened to him as he grew up with his kidnapper, the things that "trained" him to be a serial killer. When Alex escapes, she worries that she's somehow damaged, because she experienced the same things Butch did, and at a very accelerated pace. But the hero, Logan, points out that being a killer is not her nature and the way she was raised, or nurtured, will prevent her from losing her sense of right and wrong.  

It was an interesting theme to explore, so I was especially thrilled when the same theme popped up in Dexter. Now if I could just get Showtime to make a series based on my True trilogy!


  1. Joyce, Dexter is one of my favorite shows, too!! Great writing and flawless characterization :) You have a great blog - just dropping by with a MERWA hello :)

  2. Hi, Cessie!
    Thanks so much for stopping by! Sending a MERWA hello back at ya. :)
    I'm desperate to get to the second season of Dexter but haven't had time. Soon, though, and I know I'll be hugely entertained.
    Take care!