a question

What is it with the writers of Dexter and incompetent female police lieutenants who only got their jobs for political reasons?

LaGuerta lied to earn her promotion, flirts with her subordinates, allows her a priori dislike of another female officer to hamper the progress of an investigation, and generally has the sole redeeming professional quality of being a media darling. It wouldn’t bug me so much if her replacement were an improvement, but no — Pasquale’s even worse. Granted, the chief of police is a jerk who makes plenty of his own mistakes, so it isn’t like women are being singled out as bad leaders. But the ep I just watched had the chief saying Pasquale “set back women in this department by twenty years,” while the only alternative the show has yet offered me is LaGuerta.

And the only other female cop shown in detail is Debra Morgan, who is sometimes so stupid and clueless and clumsy in her interactions with people that I want to kick her in the head. (Seriously, Debra — you’ve been a Miami cop for how long, and yet your Spanish is worse than mine?) Yes, she sometimes does things successfully, and so does LaGuerta — but it feels like those things happen despite the characters’ manifest incompetence at basic aspects of their job.

I’d like there to be one woman on the police force, in a leadership position or otherwise, who’s decent at her job the way that Doakes and Angel and Masuka are. The men’s character flaws don’t make me question their fitness for the job. And given that women in male-dominated fields generally have to be more competent to earn respect and promotion, the scenario Dexter presents me with feels all the more implausible.

0 Responses to “a question”

  1. d_c_m

    Yes. I agree.

  2. tooth_and_claw

    In season 2 and 3, especially 3, you see a bit more of the ladies stepping up to the plate and the guys stumbling, so it balances a little batter later on.

    • Marie Brennan

      LaGuerta’s been improving, so I was kind of hoping that would be true — though the revelation at the end of this particular ep, what LaGuerta had to do with Pasquale going away, did NOT make me happy.

      • tooth_and_claw

        Oh Jesus no. That was appalling.

        I always feel weird in places like this. Because on one hand, lord is that awful, why are the women doing this, what is wrong with these people/the writers? On the other . . . I know women who would do this. I think a lot of us in these creative/geek communities forget that, in the “real world” behaviors like this are supported.

        Of course, they are supported in part because of media representations portraying the behavior, so . . .

        That’s why, in the end, I’m pleased the guys are all fuck-ups, too. I can handle it if *everyone* is an asshole– sometimes, that’s going to be in unpleasant and, to our eyes, unfamiliarly gendered ways.

        • Marie Brennan

          I would freely accept the excuse of “some women act that way” if the show also presented counter-examples. But when all three of the female cops often act like unprofessional fuckups, then I’m less willing to excuse individual cases of bad behavior. (Especially since, as I said, women in male-dominated fields are usually required to be hyper-competent in order to get by.)

          The guys are messed up, too, but in most cases I don’t feel like it’s the kind of messing up that reflects on their ability to do their jobs. Like, okay, Angel’s gone all hippy-dippy, but he’s still a good cop — and when he loses it and blows up at a woman, a) he figures out his error without anybody else having to point it out to him, b) he goes and makes amends without anybody having to tell him to do so, and c) he ends up getting good intel as a result. Doakes has a hate on for Dexter, but doesn’t decide to ignore Dexter’s good ideas because of that hate. Masuka’s got some serious lack of people skills, but he’s in a position where that doesn’t matter, and he’s certainly good at forensics.

          Dexter is his own special kind of messed up, and gets a pass from this kind of analysis. 🙂

          Honestly, the most competent female character is turning out to be Rita, thanks to some admirable character growth. In general I’m glad the show has multiple important recurrent women, who genuinely influence the plot, but I could wish for better quality in the lot.

  3. pentane

    You are obviously watching Season 1. Each of your positive examples has real problems in season 2 (which, for the record, is much worse).

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m a couple eps into S2 — just far enough to see what LaGuerta did to Pasquale, not far enough to see the guys take any particular turn for the worse.

  4. carbonel

    This is one of the reasons I liked Kay Howard (played by Melissa Leo) in Homicide: Life on the Street. She ws unfailingly competent and professional while still being human.

    I also thought she was teh hawt, but that appears to be a fairly minority opinion.

  5. Anonymous

    They’re incompetent at their jobs because they got their jobs by being competent at a different job. One makes “detective” in the first place by being a good (-enough) beat cop; one gets “promoted” to homicide by demonstrating good performance in other non-beat-cop areas. It’s all founded on the assumption of transferrable skills and mindsets… and anyone who has ever looked at the history of military officers and promotions could refute that assumption pretty easily. As an obvious historical example that isn’t too far out of time period, consider the history of Tony McPeak as USAF Chief of Staff — he didn’t get the difference between leadership/planning/training in a purely reactive, peacetime environment and media relations when preparing for conflict in Gulf War I, but he became the USAF Chief of Staff as much by being a media darling as anything else. In that way, he was much closer to Pasquale’s personality than anyone who wasn’t waaaay inside the OODA loop would be comfortable asserting.

    Sadly, the problems with supervision in Dexter are really a reflection that there is no perfect in police departments: The transferrable-skills assumption, as bad as it is, is better than the alternatives. Promoting someone — either by advance in grade/position or by in-grade transfer to something “harder” or “more prestigious” — is, at best, a crap shoot.

    During the early days of women being promoted to field-grade officer (major/lieutenant commander) in the US military, the Pasquales and LaGuertas were much too common, at least in part because of what they’d had to do to survive before promotion was a realistic possibility. My contemporaries were better; I suspect that the officer generation after me, and now the second generation after me, were each better still.* The third generation is just now coming up for initial consideration for field grade, and has the lovely career background of having virtually their entire careers take place in this century.

    I think this also reflects, unfortunately, that the writing community really doesn’t have all that much experience in hierarchical organizations… because a writer’s mindset really isn’t compatible with the Byzantine personal dynamics of promotion systems. But that’s a hijack-the-topic essay for my own blawg.

    And last, but far from least, Dexter doesn’t have a particularly reliable narrator or narrative voice… OTOH, I lament that “normal people are so hostile” myself… <vbeg>

    * Point of reference: An “officer generation” is about eight years. And I’m from the very first class of officers whose commissioning oath did NOT include the word “gentlemen,” as it took a couple of years for the news that women were graduating from the military academies to alter some of the administrative stuff.

    • Marie Brennan

      I don’t think the situation can be chalked up to an unreliable narrator, especially not given that the show regularly gives the viewer scenes that Dexter isn’t present for at all. When LaGuerta and Pasquale are having closed-door conversations in the lieutenant’s office, I don’t see any evidence that I shouldn’t take what I see as being actual unvarnished truth.

      I think you’re right, though, that the writing community isn’t very accustomed to that kind of hierarchy. The two most common motifs I can think of for fictional military dynamics are “mindless obedience” and “evil jackbooted discipline,” neither of which, I imagine, are terribly nuanced views.

      • Anonymous

        I agree that the unreliable narrator/narrative voice isn’t so dominant that we can “chalk up” the situation to that; I’m only saying that the unreliable narrator/narrative voice undoubtedly makes things seem worse than they are. Even though we see those closed-door meeting between LaGuerta and Pasquale without Dexter’s presence, Dexter’s weltanschauung has set up that meeting and our expectations for it (and for its effects). “Accurate recitation of facts” is not the same thing for a narrative as “unvarnished truth.”

        • Marie Brennan

          Hmmmm. I’m not sure Dexter’s perspective has any particular effect on those kinds of scenes for me — but then, I tend to hold him at mental arm’s length to begin with, not for unreliability but just for who he is.

      • pentane

        I was going to reply to your reply, but I like the thinking here. I didn’t see LaGuerta as being really a bad (or unconvincing character), and I view the ‘unreliable narrator’ in this case as the thrust of the plot being around solving crimes. Someone who is in the management heirarchy is perceived the same way as LaGuerta is, but that doesn’t mean they’re not competent at their job, because it’s not focused on their job.

        I think the ‘camera’ tended to sneer at LaGuerta for, as you say, just being a media darling but let’s face it, it’s an essential role. It’s a reviled role, but if you’ve ever seen the results a good political operator can get, you learn a certain grudging respect (I do at least) for what they can do for you or, more importantly, what not covering your ass politically can cost you.

        I know plenty of people like her, and I don’t find it a “bad role” as such.

        • Marie Brennan

          But where we see LaGuerta and Pasquale doing their jobs, we see them screwing up in some pretty indefensible ways. Not just “bad judgment call on what to do with X suspect,” but “diverting forensic guy from working on a serial killer case to have him analyze your husband’s shirt for evidence he’s been sleeping with another woman, then having a public breakdown at him in the middle of the office.” LaGuerta being a media darling isn’t a bad thing; LaGuerta mishandling her subordinates is. If she was just a PR person, or was a decent lieutenant as well as being a great PR person, I would have no problems with her whatsoever.

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