Dexter: Learning Not to Trust (Part 3)

This is a more difficult post to write than the first two, both because it’s tougher to put my finger on exactly why I liked the way the third untrusting female character was portrayed, and because this character’s experience is more based on generalized male privilege than it is on the much more salient and dramatic problems that come with recovering from acts of violence.

The woman is Lt. Esme Pasquale, and her story is that she’s worried that her fiancé is cheating on her, to the point that she’s used her access to police resources to check out his phone records. The reason it’s brought up in this episode is really because of Laguerta’s reactions to Pasquale, who has just been given the job that Laguerta wanted. While Laguerta displays some sympathy and solidarity at what Pasquale is dealing with (both with her husband and as a woman of colour in a position of authority), she also makes it clear that she is willing to exploit Pasquale’s weaknesses in order to further her own career. In one particularly effective scene between the two women, Pasquale’s face speaks volumes–she doesn’t trust her fiancé, but she can’t quite believe that she’s seeing herself doing what she’s doing. She’s afraid to be as insecure in her relationship as she really is, and she is desperately ashamed to know that Laguerta is right about her misuse of police resources for personal reasons. In one look, you can see how she has no idea how she became this woman, and just how much she is turning the problem in her relationship back around onto herself.

And call me crazy, but in a high-quality show like this one, I don’t think it’s coincidence that this incident is brought out in the same episode that focuses on the two women who have experienced violence (or in an episode that I now learn from IMDb is entitled “Waiting to Exhale”). To me, it highlights a similar message that women have internalized: strong women don’t do these things. Empowered, career-driven women either don’t have relationships with men who would betray them or find it easy to let go of those relationships if they discover betrayal.

Esme is a strong woman, but she’s still struck by doubt, and what male privilege entails in this context is that her lack of trust in her partner becomes self-doubt more than anything else. There’s a difference in how stories portray women in this situation in contrast to cuckolded husbands. I can see two prototypical male attitudes with respect to the thought that their wives are cheating–the jealous, controlling, unreasonably suspicious abuser, or the noble, wronged, trusting Arthurian type, who, when he discovers this completely out-of-nowhere betrayal by his wife, ends the marriage in righteous anger (á la Dr. McDreamy). Where I think male privilege comes into play in constructing these as “the way men are/react” is that neither of these types ever thinks he is wrong. He assumes he’s right about whether or not his wife is cheating, yes, but the stalwart knight who discovers he’s mistaken about doesn’t stop to think about all the signs he should have seen. Contrast that with Esme who cannot stop internalizing, questioning, wondering how she can stop being so suspicious and feeling like regardless of what he is doing, she is being completely unreasonable.

This one is far more subtle than the other two, and done in very few conversations and mainly with facial expressions rather than anything explicitly stated, but it ties back to an overall theme that I think the show is pointing out: society and life experience give women good reason not to trust men, then makes them question their rationality and judgment when they’re untrusting or anxious, and convinces them that it’s not okay to ask questions or require some security from the men they are with–that would be nagging. And that’s the impact that a world of male privilege on the lives of individuals.

Posts in this Series

  1. Dexter: Learning Not to Trust (Part 1)
  2. Dexter: Learning Not to Trust (Part 2)
  3. Dexter: Learning Not to Trust (Part 3)


  1. SunlessNick says

    … or the noble, wronged, trusting Arthurian type, who, when he discovers this completely out-of-nowhere betrayal by his wife, ends the marriage in righteous anger (á la Dr. McDreamy).

    Didn’t he cheat on her too?

  2. says

    Well yes, but only afterwards, so that seemed to make it okay, because he was a wounded puppy and his pride was fragile and all that rot. (I personally can’t stand that guy, and part of the reason is that I feel like he’s being portrayed as exactly this type)

  3. Gategrrl says

    I haven’t seen the series Dexter yet, and have only read the first book (which was fantastic, even though I could see what buttons the author was pushing to make Dexter sympathetic).

    It’s been a while – but is this the same female character, the Cuban-American woman police lieutenant no one respected in the book? She had something dreadful happen to her at the end of the first book, and she was NOT sympthetically portrayed; this sounds like the series is treating the women much more realistically than the first book did.

  4. Ide Cyan says

    Gategrrrl: the Cuban-American lieutenant from the books is LaGuerta, and her story was significantly altered for the TV series.

    Esmé Pasquale is a different character, who was introduced at the end of Season 1.

    Purtek: you still haven’t watched the next few episodes, I take it?

  5. says

    No…feel free to expand with spoilers on how horribly wrong I am based on what comes afterwards. :)

    I actually stopped watching partially because I’ve been *extremely* busy, and partially because these quality presentations of women’s reactions to gendered violence were hitting pretty darn close to home for me. So maybe if they go way off the rails in the next few episodes, I can just roll my eyes as i usually do at the TV and it will all be a lot easier.

  6. Ide Cyan says

    WARNING: big spoilers for episodes 2×03 and 2×04 of Dexter ahead!!!

    In episode 2×03, “An Inconvenient Lie”, there’s a scene where Captain Matthews calls in LaGuerta to talk to her about Lt. Pasquale:

    “Should I be worried about Pasquale?”
    “Pasquale? Why?”
    “You can cut the crap, Maria. I know she’s been AWOL on personal matters. The press fuck-up is huge. And now I’m beginning to hear rumors about erratic behavior.”
    “And you’re asking me because?”
    “Because you’ve done the job. So, she’s out, that means you’re back in. That makes you her harshest critic, and I want it straight. So, take your shot, Maria.”
    “Hm. You know what erratic means? It’s code for non-male. And it’s the same bullshit sexism I put up with when I was in charge. I won’t dignify rumors, Captain. Pasquale’s fine.”

    Then she walks out on Matthews.

    In the *next* episode, 2×04, “See-Through”, Pasquale has a breakdown at the police station. She asks the lab tech Masuka, in front of a room full of officers, about a report she’d asked for on her fiancé’s shirt:

    “What is this shit? I told you to find a smell. How fucking hard can that be? It smells like another woman. I can smell it, why can’t you?” She throws the report at him, then addresses everyone around: “This man is ruining my life, and you all go on like nothing is happening.”

    She starts to cry, and LaGuerta goes to confort her, and leads her back into her office. This is Pasquale’s last scene for the entire season.

    Later, Captain Matthews congratulates LaGuerta on her professionalism (and her solidarity to Pasquale), and puts *her* back in charge of homicide. He says:

    “Pasquale just set women in the department back 20 years. It’s up to you to turn that around.”

    And later still in the same episode, at night, we see LaGuerta in bed, breaking up with Pasquale’s fiancé, telling him to go back to Pasquale.

    “You get your job back, you’re through with me?”
    “Look, don’t play the victim, you knew what this was from the beginning.”
    “You are one cold-hearted bitch, I’ll tell you that.”
    “No, you don’t get to tell me anything. I’m not the piece of shit fucking another woman behind his fiancée’s back. You try and judge me, asshole!”

    He puts his clothes on and leaves. LaGuerta looks troubled, guilty, and says sadly to herself, “you don’t know the first thing about me.”

    The show sets up LaGuerta with this great feminist demonstration of solidarity, then BAM, twists it around in the very next episode to show that LaGuerta has been manipulating Pasquale from the very beginning in order to get her job back.

    Lauren Velez plays LaGuerta subtly enough that she comes off as conflicted, and unhappy about her methods, but wow, way to portray the ambitious Black woman as a back-stabbing, adulterous liar with that whole plotline, and to destroy all the workplace solidarity (against sexist and racist bosses) that Pasquale and LaGuerta had been building since their first introduction to each other at the end of S1.

  7. says

    I haven’t seen this show at all, and that makes me homicidal. I’m afraid I lack eloquence right now, so rather than attempt to elaborate, I’m just going to go buy some fireants and look up the address for the production staff.

  8. says

    Seriously. This is what I get for having a positive attitude toward something?

    “You knew what this was from the beginning” kills me. Not only is she a scheming, manipulative bitch willing to viciously throw another woman over in order to get ahead, she’s also “sexual with ulterior motives”. I hate seeing sex depicted as a tool women use to get other things, never as just…what they want. I mean, that’s kind of the least of the problems here, but…gah.

    Homicidal. Which works, since this is Dexter.

  9. Gategrrl says

    Thing is, that is consistent with the portrayal of the character in the novel, so this isn’t surprising to me.

    In the book, she’s self-serving, glory-hounding, out-for-number-one,and not a good detective at all.

  10. says

    Basically, the messages I’m getting are that women may talk solidarity, but we’re really all back-stabbing sluts.

    That the way for a woman to get/keep a job is by doing the same thing she did before we were allowed to have jobs: sexually service a man.

    And that’s without delving into the race issue, which I don’t have the confidence to attempt. At the very least, it’s a double-whammy because people of color are also frequently portrayed as incapable of solidarity, as if to say, “See, that’s why white men are on top and you’re not – we’re team players!”

    Except… not. White men go around backstabbing and screwing one another like crazy on a routine basis, but when they do it it’s called politics and “survival of the fittest.”

  11. Ide Cyan says

    Gategrrl: the TV series has been doing a great job of humanising the character, from the racist cliché that she is in the book, into someone complex, emotionally-layered and competent enough to learn from her mistakes and merit her successes, as well as showing the cost of her ego and ambition. This narrative twist was an awful backslide, and a specifically anti-feminist one, as they still continue to otherwise expand on her character throughout the rest of the season. (I suspect that they even set it up so as to create emotional symmetry with Pasquale’s situation for LaGuerta towards the end.)

    And if you think this is bad, wait until you meet Lila. Who’s White, and so not a victim of racist clichés, but is more problematic in just about every other way.

  12. SunlessNick says

    This narrative twist was an awful backslide, and a specifically anti-feminist one, as they still continue to otherwise expand on her character throughout the rest of the season. – Ide Cyan

    Coming right after this:

    Hm. You know what erratic means? It’s code for non-male. And it’s the same bullshit sexism I put up with when I was in charge.

    … I don’t see how it could be interpreted as anything but deliberately anti-feminist.

    I wonder if Pasquale’s guy will “redeem” himself by coming clean about it all all, wrecking La Guerta’s career and being painted the hero for it?

  13. says

    I actually didn’t have a problem with LaGuerta’s portrayal in that episode – LaGuerta is set up as not having very many choices. She lives in a world where things are accomplished by manuevering. I think it highlights the way society is set up to put women at odds with each other. What could have been an opportunity for solidarity, instead turned into yet another chance to drive a wedge between women by giving them no choices.

  14. Patrick says

    I just finished watching the first season, and this is very disheartening, because LaGuerta has been one of my favorite characters. She’s very flawed, but believably so.

  15. says

    I’m looking forward to hearing what you think about the Lila plotline, if you should choose to share that. My reaction to that whole situation was…. messy. It certainly didn’t paint a very feminist picture of women and sexuality.

    The issues surrounding co-dependency, addiction, and S&M certainly got me thinking about a lot of feminist issues, though I doubt it would do so for someone who wasn’t already watching through a feminist lens.

  16. SunlessNick says

    I’ve seen seasons 1 and 2 of this show now – sorry for the necromancy – and I was surprised by disliking the resolution of LaGuerta and Pascale less than I expected. I did dislike it, for all the reasons that have come out in the thread – and maybe I just feel better than I thought I would because I knew it was coming.

    But a couple of things do mitigate it. One is that line of LaGuerta’s, “No, you don’t get to tell me anything. I’m not the piece of shit fucking another woman behind his fiancée’s back,” coupled with the fact that that’s the last we see of him too; the blame isn’t made out as all the woman’s for once. Second is that once she has her job back, LaGuerta seems to take it seriously and do the best she can at it (better it seemed than before she lost it); which seemed to dovetail with the guilt and conflict she showed at her actions.

    Mitigated, not negated. I still didn’t like it, and LaGuerta could have followed much of the same development without doing anything so treacherous. But I was able to get my regard for the character back, which I didn’t expect. Although I suppose in a show where one of the other characters in a serial killer, I might just be relaxing my moral standards.

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