Dexter, Season 7

Dexter 7.8: Was Harry Morgan the Real Psychopath?
Talking television.
Nov. 18 2012 11:13 PM

Dexter, Season 7

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Did Harry Morgan make Dexter a psychopath?

Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan in 'Dexter.'
Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan in 'Dexter'

Photo by Randy Tepper/Showtime.

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 7.8 with Dr. Marisa Mauro, a forensic psychologist and former blogger for Psychology Today.

Katy Waldman: It’s back! This episode surprised me in a lot of ways, but maybe the most shocking part was the resurrection of the Deb-loves-Dex storyline. When Dexter admits to seeing Hannah McKay, Deb explains that the relationship hurts her so much—maybe even more so than the Dark Passenger—because she has romantic feelings for her brother.    

Marisa Mauro: I was surprised to see this storyline again as well. I had thought they might have decided to ditch it. I think that the writers are trying to spotlight Deb's inner conflicts this season. They have been exploring her sense of morality (versus just “following the rules”) by looking at her vacillating acceptance of Dexter as a serial killer. Maybe giving her a second transgression to wrestle with—incest—helps develop that theme.

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Waldman: Yes! Though in past seasons Deb has been unstable in other ways, she’s always struck me as a reliable moral compass. But increasingly, season 7 is presenting her as morally ambiguous, not to mention obsessive, controlling and deeply messed-up.

And perhaps not coincidentally, the show's sympathies seem to be shifting towards Hannah McKay. She is helpful and supportive to Dexter, counseling him about Isaac and reminding him to appreciate his family. She even offers her vulnerable side to Deb (“For some reason I care what you think…I’m sorry.”)  

Mauro: I've heard from others who have read the Dexter books that his children eventually became his accomplices to his murders. As that seems like a bit too much for the show's viewers to swallow, I have been wondering if the writers might be trying to groom Hannah's character so that she might become Dexter's killing partner.

Waldman: Do you find her sympathetic?

Mauro: I do not. I am not buying into that whole impressionable teenage girl in love thing. You?

Waldman: I don’t believe she was “in over her head” when she committed murder with Wayne. But she’s winning me over in other ways, which is odd, because I was so firmly on Team Deb going into this episode! Hannah’s desire for a family sounded sincere and made her seem…pure and loving. But you are the forensic psychologist! Can psychopaths dream of domestic bliss?

Mauro: Sure, I think that's possible. Dexter shows similar instincts with his kids. But unlike non-psychopathic people, that yearning for family might be based in more self-serving reasons.

I know you’re considering joining Team Hannah, but the thing about Antisocial and Psychopathic people is that they are extremely manipulative and charming. They also tend to be very perceptive of others. This allows them to victimize others with great ease.

Waldman: Is Hannah victimizing Dexter?

Mauro: I'm not sure yet. She could be because he is on to her. But it could also be that she does have some real feelings for him.

Waldman: Then there’s that other charmer, Isaac. We saw a much more sympathetic side to him when Dexter confronted him in the gay bar. He even suggested that he and Dex might have been great friends…if only Dexter hadn’t slain his lover. The parallels between Isaac-Dex-Victor and Dex-Trinity-Rita are undeniable. Plus the poor guy was recently expelled from the Koshka Brotherhood and has all manner of hit men/Avon ladies after him.

Mauro: It's like a whole season of "Murderers have feelings too." I was thinking that Dexter might just spare Isaac. We did see the Ukrainian packing up at the hotel later on, so maybe he will get home unscathed. I also thought that the bar scene demonstrated that both Dexter and Isaac are capable of empathy—perhaps even love.

Waldman: With Isaac gone, who would fill his shoes as chief villain? George Nabokov still seems like a small fry to me—nowhere near interesting or evil enough to challenge Dexter.

Mauro: What about LaGuerta? She seems to be uncovering Dexter's tracks.

Waldman: Yes. She was sleuthing around his kill-boat as the closing music played. That’s bad news for both Morgans.

Episode 8 is called "Argentina." It struck me that our three main killers—Isaac, Dexter and Hannah—all yearn for some kind of utopia, where I guess they are unconditionally accepted for who they are. Hannah wants Argentina. Isaac wants Micronesia, or interstitially the gay bar. Dexter wants …Hannah’s house, I suppose? We’re drawn in and rooting for them. But this is crazy, right? I mean, it’s actually nuts for the show to analogize Isaac’s homosexuality with Dexter’s urge to kill people.

Mauro: Could the analogy be that in Isaac's mafia subculture his homosexuality makes him a target, while in Dexter's police department subculture his murderous ways make him a target?

As to your other point, it is certainly crazy to root for them, but I think we do because of the focus on their vulnerabilities. Most of us empathize with the vulnerable. And the show capitalizes on that fact—that most of us are capable of empathy. We are capable of connecting, if just in some small way, with even the most seemingly heinous of people. That doesn't mean that we excuse or accept their horrible actions.

Waldman: Or boneheaded actions—I’m thinking of Joey Quinn. George has a recording linking Quinn to the disappeared Sirko evidence. What do you see happening with that subplot?

Mauro: I think that Quinn's love for Nadia and fear of getting caught somehow by Miami Metro will keep him cooperating with George until he is caught or George some how disappears.

Waldman: Somehow disappears?

Mauro: Killed or set up maybe? Maybe even by Quinn to put a stop to it and free Nadia.

Waldman: I was fascinated to see Aster and Cody resurface, maybe to drive home the theme of family. Aster is experimenting with pot, and the show draws a connection between this small vice and Dexter's larger one. Also, through counseling Aster, Dex is able to communicate to Deb that her newfound bloodlust is a bad idea.

Mauro: Yes, Deb did seem to back down after that. But did she back down because she realized it was a bad idea or because she felt that Dexter was concerned about her wellbeing? In other words, did she internalize the idea that it would be wrong for her to turn to murder, or was her backing down really just her reflecting Dexter's wishes?

Waldman: Good question! Do you buy Dexter as a great father? He talks about childproofing Debra's home and he seems very skillful with a sullen teenager.

Mauro: Yes I do. I think Dexter is capable of a lot of positive qualities, which he has a hard time seeing in himself. But I also believe that Dexter was made a serial killer. By Harry.

Waldman: His stepdad?!

Mauro: Dexter had some symptoms of Conduct Disorder as a child (really just one—killing animals) that could have been treated. Not all children with symptoms of Conduct Disorder become Antisocial Adults. Instead of getting Dexter help, Harry fostered it, turning Dexter in to a tool to accomplish his own selfish desires. I think Harry was the real psychopath here. From what we know about him, he seems to have more psychopathic traits than Dexter. He is glib, grandiose, cunning and manipulative, and a pathological liar. He does not take responsibility for turning Dexter into a killer. He had promiscuous sexual behavior: cheated on his wife. He doesn't have real empathy for Dexter or Deb, just sees their vulnerabilities and exploits them. He doesn't feel remorseful for the things he has done to his family or the murders he helped Dexter to accomplish. Through Deb and Dexter's childhood flashbacks, we know he had some problems controlling his anger.

Waldman: You’ve written a lot about narcissistic families. Does Dex come from one of those?

Mauro: In the sense that a narcissistic family is one whose needs center on the parents, yes I do. The needs of this family centered squarely on Harry. His need to be seen as a good cop and crime-stopper, if you will.

Waldman: How would you treat Dexter if he showed up in your care?

Mauro: I think that he should have been treated as a child. For any possible PTSD or at least the experience of witnessing his mother killed and also for killing the animals, which could have been from PTSD. I think that play therapy might have helped him to process the killing as a little boy. When he was older and caught killing the animals, maybe processing the thoughts and feelings leading to that behavior and teaching alternative coping skills. Family therapy would have also been a must to teach Dexter how to use available social support and to work with the family on their response. Obviously, parenting education was also in order.

Waldman: Are he, Hannah, and Isaac unsalvageable by now?

Mauro: I can't say for sure, but age certainly helps! Antisocial behavior decreases with age.

Waldman: Maybe they’ll all wind up together in a few years, living a quiet domestic life in Argentina. Here’s hoping!

Monday: What other writers and Slate commenters thought about Episode 8.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

Dr. Marisa Mauro provides forensic evaluations, therapy, psychological assessment, and media consultation in Texas and California. She blogged for Psychology Today and is the author of The Psychology of Dexter's Kills.

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