The Ego Did It: A Spiritual Reflection on Last Week’s “Dexter”

dexterOne thing we’ve learned from watching Dexter over the years is that things often don’t work out well for Dexter’s antagonist/allies:  Dokes, Trinity, Dexter’s own brother Brian.  So the demise of Dr. Evelyn Vogel shouldn’t have come as a great shock to anyone.

Still, when I turned to my partner moments after Evelyn’s son did the grisly deed, I found poor Kim wearing the saddest expression.  Even though I’m comfortably assured my adult son is well-adjusted enough to refrain from slitting my throat, matricide is a pretty disturbing subject.  So in an effort to comfort Kim and detach from the image on the screen, I said, “Evelyn was like a tragic Shakespearian figure.  She was destined to come to a violent end.”

Just like MacBeth and King Lear, the tragic flaw that tripped up Evelyn in the end was her prideful, small sense of self, a/k/a the ego.

Once Evelyn discovered that her eldest son Richard had not perished in a fire at the psychiatric hospital where she had committed him as a teenager, her maternal instincts were all aflutter.  She yearned to be a mother to him once again.  Even though the reason for Richard’s internment was the fact that he’d murdered Evelyn’s youngest son, Daniel, the doctor’s guilt over her childrearing  failings seemed to shift her allegiance from her adopted son Dexter, to the lad who shared her DNA.

It seemed at first that Evelyn’s intention to mother Richard after all these years was based on the shame of having abandoned him, and the hope that she might grow to love him.  Her true motivation, however, was revealed in the scene when she implored Richard to once again accept incarceration.  This made little sense to Richard, or the viewer, as Evelyn had previously championed the salvation of The Code to both Dexter and Zack.  Clearly the best chance for both Richard’s and her survival for him to become that high-functioning psychopath depicted in her life-long body of work.

The reason Evelyn couldn’t teach her own son The Code was not because she feared he would continue killing innocent people.  Richard was clearly interested in settling down, even having a relationship with Evelyn.  Why not harbor the hope that he could limit his victims to those whose deaths would benefit society?  It’s also hard to imagine that a doctor of Evelyn’s intelligence and experience believed that Richard could change, or be helped in any way by psychiatric treatment.

The real reason Evelyn could not share The Code with her son was the same reason why she’d rejected him as a teenager.  Dr. Vogel couldn’t accept the fact that she had given birth to a monster.

It was this egoic attachment to the identity of good person/good parent that initially drove her to prove there was a place in the world for monsters; that like great whites, the perfect killing machine could serve the greater good.  Ultimately, this original ego defense collapsed when it was time to apply her theory to her own progeny.  Overly identified with her role of competent, educated woman of merit, Evelyn’s ego would not let her accept Richard for who he was.  And this is why she had to die.

In many tragic tales, there is a moment — a turning point where the hero has the chance to overcome his or her tragic flaw and change their fate.  What might that moment have been in Evelyn’s life?  They say there are two portals to awakening: awareness and compassion.  If Evelyn could have forgiven herself for the death of Daniel, perhaps she could have fostered the capacity to truly accept Richard as he was.  If she could have embraced the humanness of her own imperfection, Evelyn could have accepted herself as the woman who spawned a monster.  But then, she would have lived, and with two episodes remaining, Dexter has to have someone to kill. This is, after all, Miami.

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