Red_DragonFor Dexter fans the scene is familiar: the killer has his victim strapped to the table one second, and the next he's disposing of the body in a completely untraceable way. No need to worry about the police. He has once again outsmarted them easily without breaking a sweat, missing work, or even raising the suspicion of his babysitter. No need to worry about how he captured the victim, got them to the "kill room," or always manages to go unnoticed as he saws apart the corpse. How does he pull this off? The short answer–who cares?

In the first season of Dexter, we were given more detail about his methodology. Specifically, you may remember the third episode where we flashed back to Dexter's first kill. In the flashback, Dexter's dad (Harry) gives him permission to hunt a nurse who kills her patients with an overdose of morphine. This kill establishes Dexter's penchant for using a syringe containing an opioid to immobilize his prey. Dexter uses M99 (etorphine), which is a large-animal tranquilizer and classified as a Schedule I drug in the US. A little research suggests that M99 would be a terrible drug for Dexter to use on humans. First, it doesn't work instantly. The victim would have about thirty seconds of thrashing around before he settled down. Second, after the thirty seconds, the person would die and Dexter wouldn't get to do his "you can't escape from Dark Passenger justice" theater.

I know, I know, we're not supposed to worry about the details. We're supposed to suspend disbelief and just play along with Dexter's perfect crimes. After all, the M99 isn't even the most obvious problem with Dexter's modus operandi. How does he corner these people alone without being spotted? How does he get their unconscious bodies to his car? How does he chop up the bodies and package them so neatly in a reasonable amount of time? How does he move them to his boat in the middle of the night without arousing suspicion? We just merrily ignore the holes because the plot lies elsewhere.

BTW, Dexter orders his M99 using an alias: Patrick Bateman, M.D. My serial killer in The Vivisectionist also uses that alias in his written communication. I wrote that book a while ago, but it must have been after the Dexter mention. I'm currently debating if I should go back and change it, but who will notice?

There's a whole genre of serial killer fiction where the details are left to the imagination of the audience. Jigsaw from the Saw movies doesn't show his work, just the amazingly intricate results. And he's dying in most of those movies (I stopped watching, but I think he might now be dead). Other movies give you a taste of the work. For example, in the opening credits of Seven (or Se7en, if you prefer), you glimpse Spacey cutting the skin away from his fingertips. It's not much, but it hints at the sacrifice the killer makes to master his craft.

On the far end of the omniscient spectrum, you've got Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. These killers are unstoppable. It doesn't matter if the police can track them because they have paranormal abilities.

This brand of TV Show/Movie paints such a different picture from law enforcement procedurals like CSI. In those shows the killer will be caught–it's just a matter of time. No matter how smart the killer, the cops are smarter. They'll find some DNA or physical evidence somewhere and then trace it back.

One of the really interesting things about the more recent season of Dexter is that he's now portrayed as supernaturally good at solving crimes. He used to be clever, and sought after, but now he can recreate all the minor details of each crime within seconds. That makes him the only person in the Dexter universe who could possible catch Dexter. In Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris plays this line back and forth: only Will Graham was smart/lucky enough to catch Hannibal Lecter; only Hannibal Lecter could deduce the identities of the Tooth Fairy or Buffalo Bill. Lecter then plays live-action chess with the detectives and killers from his prison cell. At first, it seems that these books presuppose that good police work will eventually win. But in the end, the omniscient Lecter prevails.

What kind of killer do you prefer? The omniscient? The paranormal? The kind the cops will catch at the end? I guess I like the ones who are too smart to be caught. But perhaps when the show/movie/book is over and the lights are out, I vote for the third kind.

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