Dexter and Film Noir: Lila the Femme Fatale

Curator's Note




Dexter (to Lila): You are more dangerous than my addiction will ever be

(“Resistance is Futile,” 2.9)


Dexter mines film noir tropes with glee: the male antihero, detection narratives, flashbacks and voice-overs represent the black heart of the series. Season 2 extends the noir remit to include the femme fatale, played by Lila. Her role is signaled by her knowing, mocking glances at Dexter in the Narcotics Anonymous meetings, her skimpy clothing, and her ever-present red or black bra strap drooping loosely on her shoulder. Beautiful, devious, intensely sexual and needy, Lila evokes Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity and Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Lila lures Dexter with the promise of understanding his “addictive” personality. She plants long, slow kisses on Dexter’s lips after only their second meeting, the illicit action promising imminent transgressive sex.

 Lila exhibits a number of character switches and, with each reincarnation, grows more dangerous. She moves from caring mentor in “An Inconvenient Lie” (2.3), to sexualized mother figure in “The Dark Defender” (2.5), holding Dexter in her arms as he sobs after confronting Jimenez. Her actions escalate: she progresses to bunny-boiler in “Morning Comes” (2.8), appears at Dexter’s office after he has ended their affair and then breaks into Rita’s house. She then fakes being a rape victim in “There’s Something About Harry” (2.10). She is also revealed as a multiple arsonist. In “The Dark Defender,” she admits that she burned down her boyfriend/drug dealer’s house when he was inside; she torches her apartment in “That Night, a Forest Grew” (2.7); and in “The British Invasion” (2.12), she blows up the cabin containing Doakes, then sets her apartment on fire (again) with Dexter, Cody, and Astor trapped inside.


The clip shows Lila’s death in “The British Invasion” (2.12). Her demise is inevitable: she is a dangerous, volatile, and sensual woman, and patriarchal society will not allow her to escape her misdemeanors. This ideology creates a rather conflicted and unpleasant viewing experience: we are encouraged to root for Dexter as he stabs Lila in the heart, the same heart she has given over so completely to him, and yet his crimes far outweigh her own. Lila is ruthlessly dispatched in a way that confirms her femme fatale status. Like Phyllis, Cora and the rest, the femme fatale only has three options by the text’s conclusion: death, marriage, or a prison sentence. Whatever the outcome, her threat is contained.



Ally - a really excellent post with so much to discuss! The noir aspects of Dexter are made so explicit in your piece here – many thanks for these new insights.  Dexter’s treatment of Lila is, as you mention, disturbingly gendered… You mention that Lila takes on a maternal role early on in her relationship with Dexter in the sense that she acts as Dexter’s sponsor in a Narcotics Anonymous Program and holds him in her arms while he sobs after confronting his mother’s killer.  Unlike Rita then, Lila is dominant, assertive, and an illegal alien in the visible and audible sense— tall, slender, ghostly white with dark hair and a distinctly British accent. She lives, we also find out, as an illegal alien in Miami under an assumed identity.  Your mention of her sexual power and her black/red bra strap motif also perhaps links into televised representation of the gothic or vampiric as well as the femme fatale. In fact, Dexter’s sister Deb remarks that she is “obviously a vampire. A gross, English titty vampire” (2.8).  When I watched the clip you posted to accompany your piece I was also struck by the fact that Dexter says to Lila before he executes her “You don’t need to feel this”.  I’d not picked up on this comment before - and it sparked the recognition that Dexter in this same episode had accused Lila of lacking any feeling at all.  If then when murdering her he recognizes that she does indeed have some ability to feel, the audience could infer that Dexter here acknowledges (as you note) that Lila’s only feelings are in fact directed entirely toward him – she has given him her heart.  Also, as Lila was earlier seen in the maternal role, it also raises questions about whether Lila might symbolically represent Dexter’s ‘bad’ mother – Laura Moser the addict and other woman of Harry who he feels some sort of primal desire to kill.  Rita alternately, could be seen to represent the ‘good mother’ – Laura the mother, Laura the victim…


A great post and some interesting things to discuss here.  What you say about Lila reminds me of David's comments about disavowal and the contrast between the "good" serial killer Dexter and the bad ones that he has faced over the years.  Lila definitely contrasts with Rita, as Beth points out--as "bad" mother and as "bad" woman. (Even her dark hair contrasts with Rita's light blond.) Where Rita's concern for Dexter is genuine without being destructive, Lila instead malevolently schemes to get him and pries intrusively into all aspects of his life--from his relationship with Rita to his work as a killer of killers, an act on the show that always comes with dangerous consequences. As an outsider and a killer herself, she is able to see him in a way that Rita, generally, does not. (That she finds Doakes at the cabin is no accident; they both have intuitively suspected and picked up on Dexter's inner darkness.) As his wife now, though, Rita has already started to get suspicious about all of Dexter's lies and secrets.  What happens when she, too, discovers what lies beneath his well crafted exterior?

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