Dexter, Season 7

Dexter 7.4: Shouldn't Adopted Siblings Feel An Incest Taboo? 
Talking television.
Oct. 21 2012 9:45 PM

Dexter, Season 7

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Isn't there an incest taboo for adopted siblings?

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Every week in Slate’s Dexter TV club, Katy Waldman will have an IM conversation with a different Dexter fan. This week, she rehashes episode 7.4 with Laura Helmuth, Slate's science and health editor. 

Katy Waldman: I’m so glad you could make it, Laura. It means more to me than pizza.

Laura Helmuth: Aww. Dexter is secretly heart-warming, isn't it? And he gets better at expressing affection all the time. Possibly feeling it, too? In the first season (and in the first book), one of my favorite lines by him was: "If I could love anyone, it would be Deb." And by Season 7, he clearly loves her.

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Waldman: I was surprised at the shift in their dynamic this episode. Usually we have Debra chasing Dexter, while he plays the secretive, brooding guy. But now that, to quote Dex, "everything's changed," he’s desperate to recapture Deb's love and acceptance, and she's the one holding back. I think she really wounds him when she asks whether he is "capable of love."

Helmuth: That whole exchange in the alley was classic Dexter (the show, not the guy): snappy, surprising, funny. When she asks him that question he says, "I love you" and that he's still the same guy he was before she caught him stabbing creepy Travis. "Nothing's changed!" he says.

Waldman: Which maybe just means, “I don’t want anything to change, even though it has.” Dexter had a pretty good thing going. A beautiful son, a loving sister, a career he’s good at, and the freedom to pursue his nocturnal “hobby” without arousing suspicion.

Helmuth: One thing that hasn’t changed is that, on Dexter, it’s a really bad idea to get into a bathtub. Deb's dream started out sort of erotic but quickly turned horrorshow. I wonder if the "Deb, will you be mine" line she dreams Dexter saying presages a return of the misguided incest theme of Season 6.

Waldman: I worried about that too! Especially given the strange exchange of vows between Dexter and Debra later in the episode. Deb says she's not sure she feels the same way she once did about her brother and Dexter replies, "I do." Then Deb echoes him, before adding, "But I don't, too."

Helmuth: Relationships are complicated, aren't they? Especially with your adopted brother / love interest / serial killer / competitor for catching bad guys. Deb and Dex have some superstrong bond. Did the “Deb, be mine” line mean that Debra might soon join her brother in murdering people?

Waldman: Well, we should also remember that Dexter repeatedly calls Ray Speltzer "mine." In the bathtub, Debra could be an accomplice, a lover or a victim.

Helmuth: Yes! Dex is very passionate and jealous of his conquests, which makes for some real confusion around love and violence. And Deb is definitely wrestling with a lot of fears and temptations right now.

But I have to say, although I'm willing to accept a Minotaur serial killer building elaborate mazes in Miami's warehouse district, Deb's sexual attraction to Dex is just too implausible. He was adopted as a two-year-old, and she would have been a newborn, so they would have had just as much of an incest taboo as any biological siblings, thanks to the Westermarck effect.

Waldman: Ooh! Fact checking Dexter. What's the Westermarck effect?

Helmuth: That's the phenomenon that children raised together, as in the early Israeli Kibbutzes, don't become sexually attracted to one another once they hit puberty. It seems like there are incest taboos that work the same way in all kinds of species--if you spend too much time together in childhood, that means you're related, which means it's a really bad idea to mate.

Waldman: Another reason to despise the Dex-and-Deb-forbidden-love subplot!

Helmuth: Speaking of children, how about the different models of fatherhood explored in tonight's episode? Poor Alex gave the last full measure of devotion to his kids, killing himself for them. Isaac turns out to be Viktor’s dad. (Why did they make that relationship so secret?) Dexter refuses to give up Harrison when Deb pressures him to turn over custody to Rita's parents. What do you think--Selfish? Or is he really a great father?

Waldman: I think the show badly wants us to consider Dexter a warm, loving father. (He has sentimental attachments to Harrison’s toys, at least.) And to be honest, I’d be thrilled to have such a bad-ass dad. But maybe I’m not giving the dark passenger his due.

Helmuth: Dex is certainly a sentimentalist! Look no further than his boxes of blood slides. But I think Deb makes a good point that Harrison could get exposed to Dexter's dark side. He does his best to keep his serial killing hidden, but Deb figured it out, and he wasn't able to protect Rita--so she’s right to point out that Dex could get killed or arrested before Harrison is old enough to go off to college.

Waldman: I was sort of fascinated by the way Dexter ended up acceding to so many of Deb's demands, perhaps without realizing he was doing it. She gave him grief about the slides, and one episode later, he consigned them to the flames. She tells him to send Harrison away, and he does (even though he justifies it to himself by saying it's only for a few weeks.)

Helmuth: As a bossy sister myself, I am all for her bossing him around.

Speaking of assertive women, I’d like to see more of the officer who accompanied Quinn to the strip club. When Quinn and Nadia made goo-goo eyes at each other, she snapped: "Do NOT tell me you are fucking her." I hope she's being groomed to replace whoever gets knocked off this season. Maybe even Quinn himself. Who, by the way, is apparently even more crooked than we know. George Romanov’s allusion to the dirty old times is a detail that should pay off nicely in the future.

Waldman: Yes! Poor Quinn. I also have to ask you: What on earth was going on with the Ray Speltzer interrogation?

Helmuth: It was great to see Deb at the top of her head-game during that scene. I wonder how much of Batista's good-cop routine had an element of truth to it, though. Perhaps he's still smarting about being passed over for promotion.

Waldman: That's an interesting point. Every episode of Dexter, Batista seems a bit more defeated. His heartbreaking line about a twice-divorced cop staring down the barrel of retirement made me wonder if he's about to leave this world.

Helmuth: Defeated is exactly right. His last attempt to put his life together was the purchase of a muscle car. I think you're right that he might be looking at lights-out. Especially with a fuck-up like Quinn as his partner. 

Waldman: But back to Speltzer, I just found the interrogation tactics so unconvincing. We were supposed to think that he killed women because he desired his mother? Seriously? Couldn't they have dreamt up something more creative?

Helmuth: I agree that the interrogation was a little melodramatic. There must be too many Freudians on the writing staff. Listen up, Freudians: Sibs don't lust after one another and an Oedipal complex isn't really as strong or deadly as you think it is.

Also, somebody who can build that elaborate a maze and kill for so long without getting caught probably has a little more self-control.

Waldman: Ha! So true. What did you make of Deb's murderous impulses when it came to Speltzer? Did they seem in character?

Helmuth: I think Deb was sort of being used as a moral compass in this episode, channeling emotions the audience has or should have. It does make sense, given her temperament and past frustrations, that she also feels a desire to kill bad guys. Who doesn't sometimes? But I thought it was also interesting that she voiced what we guilty-pleasure audience members don't, which is: Dexter! You kill people! And, even more damning, you let Rita be killed.

Waldman: Was that a fair charge?

Helmuth: It was awfully harsh, but it does have some truth to it. If Dex had cooperated with Deb, maybe they could have gotten Trinity earlier. I am waiting for her to accuse him of not acting in time to stop Trinity from killing her love interest Lutz.

Waldman: The criticism struck me as unfair—How could Dex have known what Trinity would do? But I suppose it makes sense in the context of Dexter's own worldview. He says, "Everything is in my control."

Helmuth: Yes, and his control just keeps slipping. He doesn't make many mistakes, but each one ends up getting somebody killed.

Waldman: He is ever-so neat! I thought it was odd and intriguing when he mocked Speltzer at the graveyard by imitating his shouts. He seemed completely deranged, getting in Speltzer's face and screaming, "Fuck!" Then he said, "It feels good, doesn't it?" What do you think that meant?

Helmuth: The deranged "Fuck" I took as Dex waiting too long between killing episodes—I think he was really jonesing for a fix.

Waldman: To me, it echoed Deb's crazy attack on Speltzer at the victim's funeral and bound the brother-sister duo together.

Helmuth: Ah, yes, those Morgans and their tempers. That was a nice symmetry.

Waldman: Right. I wasn't surprised to see her car in the parking lot in the scene after Speltzer’s murder.

Helmuth: And her sort of flattered comment when he pointed to the smoke: "Did you do this for me?"

Waldman: And I thought he so clearly had! He even told Speltzer he hoped his relationship with Debra could rise from Speltzer’s ashes. That said, I didn’t know how to read the ending. Did Dexter finally bring Debra around? Was that the moral-compass-to-accomplice turning point?

Helmuth: Wasn't it thoughtful? My brother never killed any of my enemies and cremated them in the middle of the night. And I think you're right that it was a turning point. She seems to be coming around to Dexter's point of view. I'm eager to see what happens next week—will she agonize some more? Punish him emotionally? Break down? Pretend not to notice what he does? Send victims his way like Harry did?

But we should go! We have to celebrate another thrilling week of Dexter. Can I buy you a bloody Mary?

Waldman: I don't drink. I make other people drink.

On the other hand, I will drink if someone comes after me with a delicious cocktail.

Monday: What other writers and Slate commenters thought about Episode 1.

Laura Helmuth is Slate's science and health editor. 

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

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