“We are all good and we are all evil.”
It’s not exactly sound Biblical theology, but neither is it totally false. After all, many protestant Christians affirm both total depravity and common grace. But somehow I don’t think that’s how the writers of Showtime’s Dexter intend the statement to be taken. Dexter after all is a crime dramedy about a forensics specialist with the Miami PD who has a particularly gruesome late night hobby: serial killing. This theme, that we are all good and evil, is a recurring one throughout the series. It makes for some interesting television, but the message itself seems flawed when we consider who is communicating it.
Dexter Morgan is the lovable yet unsettling serial killer and main star of the show. The plot line revolves around his struggle to deal with his internal demons and to hide them from his closest friends and family. That story is compelling to watch and disturbing. But that story often gets mixed in with the related point that like Dexter, we all have masks that we wear. Repeatedly Dexter’s voice-over reminds us that he’s not the only one wearing a mask. First and foremost are nearly all of his victims, who though they appear like normal and decent people, are actually secret murderers themselves. Take for example the car salesman who rapes and murders potential female buyers; or look at the junk yard manager who holds refugees and illegal immigrants for ransom. But beyond those “bad guys” there are the other regulars on the show who wear their own masks.
Deborah, Dexter’s sister, hides her low self-esteem behind a veneer of bravado and a foul mouth that boasts of confidence. Dexter’s boss is struggling to hide her career mishaps since she accidentally landed in the position of lieutenant. Then there is Dexter’s co-workers who each respectively hide their divorce or their military background. In short, Dexter would have us believe that we are not all so very different from him. We all have our demons and our dark places. We all wear our masks and conceal who we really are. We all, like him, play the game of polite society.
I actually like the show, though it should be said that it is not for the squeamish or the easily terrified. It also contains excessive foul language and an occasional nude scene. Nonetheless Dexter is a brilliantly crafted dark comedy. But that one theme just doesn’t seem to fit with the story. I’ll be the first to admit that we are indeed all sinners. But while Dexter is telling me that I have a speck in my eye, he’s got a massive log sticking out of his own and I just can’t get past that to hear his moral counsel.