Monday 19 October 2009

Sketches - A Moment of Doubt, a Shadow of the Truth

Dexter, Season Four, Episode Three & Four: Blinded by the Light & Death Takes A Holiday.
Mad Men, Season Three, Episode Ten: The Color Blue.

At the end of "Blinded by the Light", after an entire episode filled with "Dexter deals with the creepness that is very tightly knit neighborhoods that feel the need to form a "neighborhood watch", finally something exciting happened in a show that hasn't really captured me so much recently: Dexter, completely unnerved by the fact that the constant monitoring of movement on his street kept him from fulfilling the needs of his "dark passenger", smashed the blinding motion-controlled lights in front of his entrance. We've grown so used to see him completely in control of himself, of every situation - and in an interesting twist, the person stepping out to observe what he was doing was Rita. I've had issues with her character ever since season one, and it possibly didn't help that Julie Benz' played Darla before, the opposite to Rita's naivity and apparent blindness to who her husband is. "Dexter" is a show that features strong female characters: there is Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), Dexter's foul-mouthed but good-hearted, ambitious cop sister, and Lieutenant Laguerta (Lauren Vélez), in command of the homicide division Dexter does bloodwork for. But Rita? She isn't a very strong female character. In fact, she is just plainly not a very strong character - we always see her through Dexter's eyes, and he wouldn't be with her if he considered her a threat.
Actually, Rita is a little bit like Don Draper's wife from "Mad Men", Betty Draper (January Jones). In a show that portrays a society changing in the 1960s, Betty is the character stuck in the past. The woman who wants to be protected and cared for, who does not demand freedom, but a nice home and an attentive husband - although she is neither a very good mom or a housewife, she is more like a child, not really grown up yet. The show portrays how working women fare in this new environment: Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) works her way up the career ladder in the advertisement form, the glamorous secretary (Christina Hendricks) is good at everything she touches (not that anyone notices, but still). Meanwhile, Betty sits at home, smoking, waiting for her husband to come home.
Now - "Dexter" and "Mad Men" share more than the character of the wife. Don Draper might not be career man by night, serial killer at night, but he has his secrets: like the fact that he assumed his identity during the Korean war and has built his entire life and career on this lie (literally a self-made man). And only a week after Rita stared at her (newly-wed) husband, seeing him for the first time with murder in his eyes (a scene amazingly well-acted: you could literally drop the fog from her eyes for the first time, getting a hint of the fact how much she does not know about Dexter), Betty Draper opened a box containing Don Draper's memories from the past: pictures from his childhood (when he was still Dick Whitman), divorce papers from the wife the man whose identity he took was married to. And all of a sudden, she realized her life was a lie: But, after waiting angrily for her husband who was meanwhile pursuing an affair with a sprite-like grade school teacher, she decided to put the box back where she found it, and keep up the facade. Just as Rita had done in the following episode of "Dexter" - forgetting about what she had seen for the sake of continuing a seemingly happy life, at least on the outside (Rita finding excuses: you are tired, etc, Betty putting on a nice dress so Don could show her off to his colleagues and bosses).
So weirdly enough, two completely unrelated tv shows, one a period piece about the 1960s, the other about a serial killer trying to figure out whether he can combine family life and killing, are now dealing with exactly the same theme: desperately dependent wifes on the verge of discovering all their terrible secrets, deciding about whether it is more important to know the truth or to continue with a life that they know (that is, in Betty's case, not even very happy, but something that allows her to remain child-like and protected).

No comments: