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Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which Dexter Divorces His Sister For Good

Dead Already


creator James Manos Jr.

It was an awkward situation, on a number of levels, when the titular character of Showtime's long-running serial killer comedy Dexter found his sister Deborah (Jennifer Carpenter) watching him stick a knife in the chest of Colin Hanks.

The most obvious discomfort arose from the fact that Deborah Morgan, head of Miami metro's homicide division now knew her brother was the fabled Bay Harbor Butcher, the killer of killers, murderer of murderers. The second level of disgust was that Ms. Carpenter was witnessing the finest performance of her ex-husband Michael C. Hall's career.

ew. gross. stop.

If you were not previously familiar with Michael C. Hall as the simpering brother of the worst actor in the universe, Peter Krause, on HBO's Six Feet Under, you would be forgiven for thinking he was the bloodthirsty blood spatter analyst for the police, so completely is Hall subsumed in the role. Granted, the part isn't exactly Richard III, although I would certainly pay my money to watch Hall take a crack at that, too.

Now that Dexter's sister-wife is onto him, she is going through the twelve stages of grief. I can identify with what she is experiencing because America just elected a guy whose chief qualification for the highest office in the land is the number of different anecdotes he unfurls on Leno and Letterman. Karl Rove lied to me.

brb getting my lawyer to improve my spousal support

At first Deborah Morgan focused on preventing her brother-husband from killing anyone else. This resolves soon dims to, in one hilarious scene, begging him not to interfere in police investigations. She makes Dexter promise, and after he agrees she says, "Are you lying to me right now?" "I don't know," he responds. (Expecting candor from a serial killer is of course a metaphorical analog for the IRL expectation of fidelity from a popular actor. Carpenter sued for spousal support, he got a new girlfriend who appears only slightly less annoying than his last.)

Jennifer Carpenter examines her ex-husband during her scenes with him as an eagle responds to a particularly runty member of her offspring before swallowing it whole. Because the distrust she shows for him is so real it on some level cannot be hidden through Stanislavsky's method, Dexter has become half drama, half true-to-life reality show. Some of the scenes between the two are so tense the possibility of sex between brother and sister (Dexter was adopted) is as plausible as cold-blooded murder. It's an exciting time.

they found out paula broadwell googled "Fucking a general"

Finely tuning the reaction of the most important person in his life to Dexter's obsession was not an easy task. Yes, Dexter takes lives on a fairly routine basis. Yes, wikipedia is the main resource providing evidence for his kills ("I googled poison! She's guilty!). On the other hand, if the general public were ever actually made aware of all the unbelievably nice things Dexter has done for the state of Florida, he'd be the most popular man in the state behind Marco Rubio. (I am not totally sure what stage of grief I am in now, but I am completely open to Latino options, that much is certain.)

Dexter's reaction to Deborah's reaction is itself complicated. He is very happy his sister finally knows him for who he is, because before now the possibility of anyone accepting his true self was merely a temporary fantasy certain to end in their death. But he also knows he cannot stop killing, and Deborah's involvement in his somewhat off-the-cuff plans, what I call killcations, complicates matters more than he would like. The real-life and fake-life conflict between the two has completely invigorated the show after a somewhat dull Sixth Sense-esque season in which Edward James Olmos fell asleep during one of his own scenes.

OKcupid profile reads, "Best feature: flaring nostrils, worst feature, dental hygiene"

As Dexter's seventh season continues, it has introduced Chuck's Yvonne Strahovski, an Australian actress who portrays a Bonnie-type character finally met up with Dexter's Clyde. After learning of this lovely woman's murderous ways (she uses roughly the same weaps as Poison Ivy), Dexter plans to murder her in Miami's only makeshift Santa's Village. "Do what you gotta do," she whispers to him. Instead of stabbing her, he cuts off the packaging tape binding her and has unprotected sex on his killing table while fake snow descends around them. Yvonne's teeth are the tragedy that makes her advances towards our hero completely resistible; her guilt and lack of compunction for her crimes are the nudge that tips the needle back in the other direction.

It was always thought that Dexter would have to, at some point, be caught. It is presumably how the show will end, and indeed there is such a preponderance of evidence against him that it is almost an inside joke no one has even so much looked in his direction for some time. The African-American officer who he framed for about forty murders and imprisoned in a cage is now many seasons dead. Race is an issue that hovers at the edge of Dexter, since if he were to demographically target those who commit violent crimes, he would surely find himself killing his share of Latino and black men.

There is one Latino male in the entire department and he frequents prostitutes and can't keep custody of his children. The black guy died.

Instead, the individuals Dexter targets are overwhelmingly white. The reason is for this is obvious: if Dexter hewed closer to reality, he would not only subtly seem like a white supremacist, but he would be dealing out justice for crimes that occur in urban areas and are somewhat less clear morally. Dexter himself has already proved that even killers can be sympathetic if their stories are presented in the right light; after all, the Navy Seals and the president who killed Osama Bin Laden have done nothing but brag about it since.

"Let's have them talk on the phone as much as possible." "Roger that."One thing you rarely see in Dexter is the inside of a prison. The staggering number of incarcerated individuals is the chief way the crime rate became so low this past decade. Jailing criminals is effective at preventing crime, we can be relatively sure, but the financial cost is absolutely enormous. It impairs the government's ability to fund a public television station that, despite costing millions to a country that can't afford it, is apparently the justification some need to steal wealthy people's incomes.

The approach Dexter wields to the problem of crime is actually far more humane. If someone has committed a crime that deserves death, Dexter provides it for them in as painless a fashion as possible. If the individual involved does not at that moment deserve death, Dexter allows them to go on living, but he will often tail them in his car until he can get more evidence, or enter their name in AskJeeves and nod approvingly at the results.

"Deb, you obviously didn't see 'That Thing You Do'."

In practice, this could be accomplished with a simple monitoring bracelet instead of degrading imprisonment. If the shame and anger we felt when Dexter imprisoned Doakes is any indication, savages jail their ne'er do wells, civilized people either kill them or fine them a sum appropriate to their offense. Instead of paying to house and feed the worst elements in our society and creating monsters in the process, we could be letting them go free, watching them closely, and spending the money on more important things, like diplomatic protection for honorary generals and airtight security while the president plays another round of golf.

In the meantime, Guantanamo continues operating. The left is more concerned with a secession movement than reforming the justice system. Holding anyone accountable except for the businesses that create actual jobs is anathema to them. Sending Michael C. Hall just a few miles south to Cuba remains the most cost-effective option.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Downton Abbey.

"Weird Friends (We Don't Even Live Here)" - P.O.S. (mp3)

"Lockpicks, Knives, Bricks and Bats" - P.O.S. (mp3)


In Which We Submit To The Fantasy Of Vertigo

In the Realm of the Senses


dir. Alfred Hitchcock
128 minutes

Love me for as I am, for myself.


We forget that Vertigo is also a love story. Its love narrative is a twisted Calvary road, undermined by death, splintered by betrayal, and a film that twice kills off its female object of desire is perhaps not the most appealing of romantic studies — yet, there are few films that recreate so powerfully what it feels like to fall in love.

Vertigo recently took the top slot at the BFI Sight & Sound poll of greatest films, displacing Citizen Kane. Some would say there are many others better made, including others by Hitchcock, but what is unforgettable about Vertigo is how it resonates with the senses: how it compels through its use of sound and stillness, the human face and figure, story and symbol, light and color and camera movement. As a movie experience, it is hypnotic, disorienting, and works with a logic loosed from linear or rational constraints. Its magic — its sheer gorgeousness — is that its logic is purely that of the cinema: of the senses, of the artifice of attraction.

When you look at the premise that Scottie, Jimmy Stewart’s retired police detective, has been sold, it is terribly wonky. A girl believes she is a ghost. She succumbs to fugue states after which she does not remember what she has done. She wanders San Francisco, driven by memories that could not possibly be hers. Her husband, unnerved by worry, hires Scottie to make a study of her and arrive at a set of foregone but impossible conclusions.

Scottie is a rational man, a man who has made his living through investigative, evidence-based reasoning. He is dry, educated and affable; it seems unlikely that he would be so gullible, so ripe to consume the strange plot spoon-fed to him by Madeleine’s husband. But he swallows the story without skepticism, mouthful by mouthful, until it consumes him. Both consumed and consuming, with childlike wonder and a grown man’s sexual obsessiveness, Scottie opens himself fully and is possessed.

Surely, what madness is this? We believe it is Madeleine who is mad, yet it is Scottie who sinks inexorably into madness as he succumbs to an experience that has been scripted for an audience of one, an experience designed to prick his particular senses and loosen his particular mind. His friend Midge tries to pull him back into the rational world with gentle affection and by pointing out the dissonances in the Carlotta Valdes story with irony and wit, but the task is impossible.

Love — the kind of love born out of irreducible desire, not the kind founded on OK Cupid stats, good conversation and shared history — itself is a kind of madness. What Gavin Elster — who assumes (like the Great Oz) the role of the little man pulling levers behind the curtain and thus becomes a proxy for the director himself — achieves is the willing suspension of Scottie’s rationally functioning self. He is unraveled, undone.

What Vertigo, as a cinematic experience, achieves is similar. Mesmerized by our senses, we submit ourselves wholly to the machinery of the movies: to Bernard Herrmann’s circling score (now lush & moaning, now skied & skittering; always vibrating bones and belly with vertiginous sensation.); to the marble whiteness of Kim Novak’s face (as Judy, she is merely voluptuous; as Madeleine, she is simultaneously voluptuous and yet her face and body cold & hard like marble); to that shallow San Francisco light which filters and obscures through its foggy radiance; to dizzying camera movements that make what is far near and what is near far again; to the revolving door of chromatic schema, textured with rich shadows, smeared colors, symbolic shadings; to a world in which passages ever open upon other passages, a world where the self can never be still…

Vertigo’s signature camera movement — the dolly zoom (zoom forward, track backward) — echoes the movements of love, madness and memory. We hurl forward while simultaneously pulling back. Things are not as they appear. Rooms, chords, pupils, hearts dilate & contract before us… Similarly, this is representative of the way that cinema itself works, of the kind of double vision that is necessary in order to fully possess the movie viewer. A film must seduce — must pull you forward — with all the tricks of lighting, mise-en-scene, make-up, wardrobe, camera movement, etc. At the same time, it must allow the rational mind to stretch and wander, to pull back and observe its own experience with fluid curiosity. Vertigo creates this easy slippage between the conscious and the unconscious, the rational and the sensual, the material and the ineffably ideal. In doing so, its dissonance becomes irreducible: impossible to collapse, to render into the realm of the ordinary.

We love movies because, for a brief moment, they allow us to live in a world in which things are not as they are but as we want them to be. Vertigo achieves this in a double way: not only does the subtle manipulation of cinematic syntax draw us into Scottie’s interior, a lovely but haunted place increasingly dominated by an obscure object, but Scottie becomes a proxy for the way we — as viewers, as lovers, as flawed and fragile human selves pushed by the surging pulse, by the blundering mind — allow ourselves to submit to fantasy. In this hunger for astonishments, Scottie and audience are twinned.

Juxtaposed against Vertigo’s grand themes of love and death and obsession and castration anxiety and the construction of femininity, this theme of how the language of cinema is the same as the language of desire perhaps feels small, unremarkable. Yet it is impossible to talk about movies, particularly Hitchcock’s movies, without talking about the male gaze. There’s been a lot said about the camera’s capacity to render the female as a passive body, blank and willing, ripe for possession by a penetrating gaze. But perhaps, like Scottie, we long to be possessed. Perhaps this desire, this gaze is what also nourishes an immense & myriad self. Perhaps, sometimes, we awaken only by submitting. Perhaps we all, if but for a moment, long to go mad —

Late in the film, after Scottie has endured the tragedy of Madeleine’s demise, survived its traumas, (re)discovered Judy/Madeleine and embarked on the project of remaking Judy in Madeleine’s image, we are given a glimpse into Judy’s interior. We learn that her desire for Scottie is a mirror of his for Madeleine. Despite the reservations of her practical Kansas upbringing, she also forsakes what is “safe” and chooses to submit to a fantasy of what could be versus what reality suggests there is.

Hoping for completion, she asks that Scottie “forget the other and forget the past,” that he “love me for as I am, for myself.” But, if anything, what Vertigo tries to tell us is that loving a thing for what it “is”— this abstracted, Platonic notion — is an order of experience which the self which is obscured to itself fumbles to achieve. How can you love what you do not know? How can you know what you cannot see? Always the senses veil the object, and always the veil reconstitutes the dream.

When Judy, in her final lines, before the fall, says, “I let you change me because I loved you,” she defines how the artifice of attraction becomes the logic of attraction itself. Her artifice is what Scottie loves; her artifice exists because their love does.

I am always bothered by Vertigo’s ending, its achingly fateful final scene. Scottie’s nagging intellect finally discovers the deception, rends the veil and pushes violently back against the betrayal. The motivations and machinations of Judy/Madeleine are laid bare, and we long for an ending in which both see each other for who they are and embark on something—whether alone or together—founded on evidential truths. Instead, there is the scream and the fall and the clamor of bells and the nun. Again, Vertigo eludes rational reconciliation by flooding the senses. What did Judy/Madeleine see? From where the nun? Why the scream? The orchestral strings thicken, the camera tracks backwards, framing Scottie in the hollowed white drum of the Mission… We will never know.

We are left with the not-knowing — and that is where Vertigo locates the heart’s own vertiginous commotion. Movies, madness, love. All so irreducible. Abide these three.

Shahirah Majumdar is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Argo.

"Scene D'Amour" - Bernard Herrmann (mp3)

"The Necklace" - Bernard Herrmann (mp3)

"The Rooftop" - Bernard Herrmann (mp3)



In Which We Plan Murder And Deceit

Something You Can't Have


creator Gideon Rath

The body count of last week’s episode of Homeland was high after Abu Nazir’s well-armed men opened fire on the Gettysburg tailor shop being searched by the CIA’s forensic team and recovered the trunk of explosives hidden there. This week, the show focused on the psychic costs of battle — on injuries sustained and sustaining that are left on the ledger after the initial fight is over. As shown in the lessons the Waldens and the Brodys tried to pass down to Finn and Dana respectively, it is a balance sometimes repaid by the next generation. The episode was a somber fit for its Veteran’s Day air date.

In the opening scene, the odious journalist Roya Hammad intercepts Brody, dressed in Lululemon, during his morning jog to let him know the Big Terrorist Plot is going to start moving very quickly. Until then he needs to keep Vice President Walden happy during an upcoming fundraiser.

Meanwhile, Saul pays a visit to one of the few known members of Nazir’s network still alive, Aileen Morgan, the fugitive who surrendered to him in Mexico during the last season and is now being held in solitary confinement at a supermax prison in Pennsylvania. She hasn’t taken to her incarceration well.

Back in D.C., the vice president’s motorcade makes its way to the big fundraiser. In the backseat of one limo Dana guilts Finn into agreeing to confess to their hit-and-run manslaughter, while in another Brody confronts Jess about Mike’s last visit to their house. Unfortunately for Brody, the visit was an attempt to expose his role in the death of Tom Walker and win back the heart of Jess, who makes her weekly plea for the truth from Brody. He cops to it — but as an order from the CIA, not Abu Nazir. “Tom lost his way,” says Brody, obviously talking about himself. “He just went through too many things and he couldn’t get right again.” And in turn, Carrie tells Mike to stop his amateur investigation into Walker’s death while also letting him know the CIA is wise to his former affair with Jess. “It’s hard wanting something or someone that you just can’t have,” says Carrie, obviously talking about her feelings for Brody.

In this episode especially, stories parallelled each other. Aileen in the Waynesburg penitentiary was a correlative to Brody as a prisoner of war, with Saul playing the sympathetic provider role that Abu Nazir acted out during his mind games with Brody. His visit grants her respite from her underground cell and a day with natural sunlight. Aileen agrees to share what she knows about the Gettysburg murder-squad mystery man Roya met with if Saul can get her room with a view.

While waiting for her request to be granted, the pair indulge in reminiscence of their cross-country roadtrip over bread, cheese, and Argentinian wine. Aileen gives a name and Newark address, too bad it belongs to a music studies grad student. While Saul rushes out to give the info to Quinn, Aileen uses a pair of reading glasses left in the room to slit her wrists. Saul and Aileen may have been using each other, but their interaction attests to a subtle tenderness not usually found between opposing sides at war.

Back at the fundraiser (which has me wishing the writers would have taken the opportunity presented by the episode’s country-estate setting to really go all in with a Rules of the Game homage), Brody sees the man he could have been in Rex Henning, the Vietnam vet hosting the event. The two knowingly scarred men have a heart-to-heart, after which Carrie calls requesting a rendezvous in the clearing behind the stables. Reminded of the last time they were alone in the woods together, they make-out. It all seems very sincere and self-destructive. Dana and a drunk Finn interrupt the ladies’ croquet game with their big reveal. Cynthia Walden tries to explain to the naive Brody household how things are done inside the Beltway. No one is saying anything and Estes is assigned to tie-up any loose ends.

Worried his wife's warning may not be heeded, Veep Walden pulls Brody —  who, like the injured stable horse Amelia, has just taken a rehabilitating swim in the cobalt waters of the manor’s pool —  aside after the fundraiser’s big toast insisting he follow his lead in the old Potomac two-step. Brody gives his best  ”I’m sorry, Mr. Vice President, I don't dance" retort and hightails it to the police station with daughter in tow. Their mission to get Dana arrested is thwarted when Carrie shows up to remind Brody that if he doesn't play stoolie and get them Nazir, he's going to prison for treason. Brody’s morality was reinvigorated by his poolside baptism, but it looks like for now his legacy is still one of murder and deceit.

Well done, Homeland!

Helen Schumacher is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find an archive of her Homeland reviews here.

"Transgender" - Crystal Castles (mp3)

"Kerosene" - Crystal Castles (mp3)