There are two types of people Dexter Morgan cares about: those he thinks might understand him, and those he hopes never will. The first category includes all the fellow twisted souls he’s encountered, from Lila Tournay to Miguel Prado to his brother Brian Moser to Trinity. These are the characters whom he perceives as irretrievably damaged, just like himself. The second category includes the innocents in his life: Deb, Rita, Astor, and Cody. Characters Dexter idealizes as representations of the innately human qualities he thinks he lacks: empathy, emotional vulnerability, a sense of morality. Dexter has long struggled to choose between these two groups, between the excruciating isolation of upholding the code and the decadent bliss of sharing his secret.
As season five unfolds, the show is once again honing in on that central question: Would Dexter rather be good or be understood? There are two new people in Dexter’s life — Harrison and Lumen — whose status as intimates or innocents has yet to be determined. Both are close to Dexter in unique and unprecedented ways. Harrison is Dexter’s only biological child and witnessed the gruesome murder of his mother, just like Dexter did, and Lumen is the only still-living witness to one of Dexter’s crimes. And yet both are also undeniably innocent and in need of Dexter’s protection. With his influence, each of them could become unique confidants, protégés, even, but for now Dexter is maniacally focused on keeping them as far away from his true self as possible. For now, he would still rather be good.
“We all have something to hide. Some dark place inside us we don’t want the world to see. We pretend everything is okay, wrapping ourselves in rainbows,” Dexter says at the opening of the episode. He’s the lone single father at a Mommy and Me gathering, playing that parachute game we all remember from elementary school. “I want to believe that smile,” he continues, looking at a beaming Harrison. “That watching your mother die hasn’t changed you the way it changed me.” This picture of parental bliss is broken by an irruption of tears. Somebody scratched one of the kids on the cheek. Dexter immediately assumes it's Harrison.
Is he fucked up like me? That question consumes Dexter’s thoughts. He examines Harrison’s fingernail for trace evidence. (Nothing.) He asks the nanny if his son ever displays any aggressive tendencies. (He doesn’t.) When he finds out Deb and Quinn have been hooking up, his major concern is Quinn’s negative influence on Harrison. “I don’t want him around my son,” Dexter shouts. But it’s really Dexter that’s the bad influence. He’s the serial killer! And even though he can’t stop thinking about keeping Harrison from following in daddy’s footsteps, he’s behaving as if he would like nothing better. In past episodes, Dexter’s taken Harrison bloodstain hunting and used him for cover. This episode he plops the kid on his lap while going through Miami Metro databases, all the while narrating his plans to track down Boyd’s accomplices. Harrison is the one person Dexter talks to about his Dark Passenger. If watching his mother exsanguinate didn’t plant the seed, all these early childhood chats with daddy certainly could.
Similarly, Dexter’s insistence at keeping Lumen from seeking revenge seems quaint, futile, and totally hypocritical. In what way is Lumen really different from Dexter? She experienced an inhuman trauma, the details of which we still don’t totally know. At the very least she was gang-raped. And locked up bruised, scraped, and half-clothed for who knows how long. She asks for his help, but all Dexter gives her is a plane ticket home. He’s actively tracking the same guys she’s after, but he refuses to bring her in on it, supposedly for her own benefit. “I need to kill him so Lumen doesn’t have to,” Dexter says of their shared suspect. “I don’t want her down that road.” But isn’t it too late for that? Hasn’t she already turned down that road? How does it help her to keep her from the release he himself lives for?
In between tracking Lumen’s every move and monitoring Harrison, Dexter is also back at work. All of Miami Metro is busy with the Santa Muerte case. All except for Quinn, who has covered up his suspension by claiming he took some vacation days. At home in his bathrobe, Quinn has even more time to scheme, and when he’s not wooing Deb he’s drinking tequila shooters with another disgruntled member of the police department and convincing him to investigate Dexter.
Deb questions the hostage from last week and he remembers an eye-shaped marking on his captor’s wrist. Assuming it’s a tattoo, she and Masuka question an in-the-know local artist. The woman doesn’t remember the tattoo, but we will never forget the sight of Masuka’s leopard thong and dragon lady back piece, which depicts the “dualities of [his] inner warrior.” When another pair of bodies turn up, bug-eaten and half-mummified, it seems like the cops have only just now stumbled upon the killers’ earliest victims and are way behind in the chase. But Deb spies a poster for a local club that features the giant eye marking and realizes it wasn’t a tattoo, it was ink from a rubber stamp at the venue. This is a major lead!
Meanwhile, this Internal Affairs investigation plotline is getting even more convoluted. Commenters rightly pointed out that at the end of last episode, IA guy Jim McCoy implied he’d accept one of LaGuerta’s famous blow jobs in exchange for dropping the charges against Batista. And indeed, all episode, that seemed like what had happened. Suddenly he’s in her office all the time, she’s working lots of late nights, she’s evasive when Batista asks her what’s up, and there’s one particularly witty close-up of LaGuerta seductively applying lipstick. But it turns out it’s not his wife’s skills in the bedroom that got Batista off the hook. LaGuerta is working a sting with IA. In the inevitable scene where Batista catches her, alone in a hotel room with McCoy, buttoning her blouse, she acts like his outrage is totally unjustified. Dude! What was he supposed to think? I still don’t follow this entire plotline. Why do we need rancor in the LaGuerta-Batista union when we have Lumen and Harrison turning into apprentice serial killers, Deb actually starting to sort of fall for slimy Quinn, who is still pursuing the connection between Dexter and Kyle Butler, plus Masuka around for penis jokes?
Anyway, back to the most important issue raised in this episode: Why is Dexter so panicked about the ways in which Lumen and Harrison remind him of himself? Aren’t good people allowed to be bad from time to time?
No. Not really. Not in Dexter’s world.
All the other damaged people Dexter’s known were fucked up before he met them. Whatever horrific event warped their psyches took place entirely out of his frame of reference (except for his brother, but in that case, their mutation was shared). Dexter never had to see them as good (or at least, normal) people turned bad by circumstance. And therefore he never had to deal with the parts of them that were still good, the undamaged bits that remained. But if he has to watch someone transform from sweet Midwestern blonde to vengeful murderess, if he has to watch his own son turn from innocent child to proto-serial-killer, Dexter has to consider the possibility that the line between good and evil is sometimes diffuse. And that realization puts at risk the entire mental infrastructure that’s been supporting him since he started strangling puppies as a kid.
“Rainbows are an illusion, refracted light to make us think something is there when it’s really not,” Dexter says, back at Mommy and Me in the episode’s closing moments. “Is there darkness in Harrison or is it my own fear being reflected back?”