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Jeffrey Dahmer

The Jeffrey Dahmer biography, “Dahmer — Monster,” Ryan Murphy, Netflix, rewatch, rewatch

The latest miniseries about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, whose role is performed by Evan Peters, continues the streaming service and its creator’s obsession with them.

 

Netflix’s Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is an irritating mishmash that was withheld from critics, most likely so that co-creator Ryan Murphy could safeguard the viewing experience for viewers without access to Wikipedia, recent television, or semi-recent history. (I’m not going to use that title again; it’s one of many things the Netflix brass ought to have had the guts to stop.)

 

Even though the 10-episode series is haphazardly structured, never strikes a balance between exploration and expectation, and probably wouldn’t have existed if The Assassination of Gianni Versace hadn’t received such positive reviews, one can respect the performances in Dahmer, particularly those of Richard Jenkins and Niecy Nash, as well as Evan Peters despite an overabundance of familiarity in his turn.

 

Versace wasn’t unapplauded, but the majority of reviewers—including myself—compared it unfavourably to the season before, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Years later, I’ve really come to appreciate the arguments Murphy and Versace author Tom Rob Smith were putting out as well as the character study’s relative beauty made possible by the series’ inverted narrative. Murphy and co. wouldn’t have felt the need to say, “Look, you didn’t get my last fragmented 10-hour interrogation of the intersection of serial killing and race, focused on reclaiming the names and identities of the victims from the perpetrator’s notoriety — so I’m going to try again with more hand-holding,” if we had all been properly appreciating the season, I’m sure.

 

Similar to how Assassination started, Dahmer starts at the very end, in 1991, when serial killer, necrophile, and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer (Peters) picks up Tracy Edwards (Shaun J. Brown) at a gay bar in the Milwaukee area and takes him back to his run-down apartment, where everything is a warning sign: Blood-stained equipment, a tank of dead fish, a rotting odour, a mystery blue shipping drum, and The Exorcist III on VCR are all there. Historical spoiler alert: Tracy manages to flee and call the police, and it’s soon learned that Dahmer had murdered and done horrific things to the bodies of 17 young men over the span of three decades, mostly young men of colour.

 

From there, we follow Jeffrey’s development from antisocial small boy to dissection-obsessed teenager to serial killer (played to perfection by Josh Braaten), though never in chronological order since, as we all know, chronological order belongs in squares and Wikipedia. His interactions with his loving but distracted father (Jenkins’ Lionel), his unstable and mistreated mother (Penelope Ann Miller), his barely developed stepmother (Molly Ringwald’s Shari), his religious grandmother (Michael Learned’s Catherine), various victims, and the neighbour (Nash’s Glenda) who kept calling the police about the smell but kept getting ignored are all shown to us.

 

I’d describe Jeffrey’s behaviour “increasingly horrific” throughout the course of five episodes, directed by Carl Franklin, Clement Virgo, and Jennifer Lynch, but once the story is told in a somewhat random order, you lose any sense of the character development meant by “increasingly.” Therefore, everything is just a nightmare-but-monotonous nightmare in which Jeffrey drinks cheap beer, obsesses over someone, masturbates inappropriately, and then does something terrible. At least the show keeps us guessing as to what terrible thing he’s going to do. This building of suspense through questions like, “Is he going to devour this victim?” and “Is he going to have sex with this victim?” turns viewers into ghouls and is an indictment of viewers who watch with their mouths open. If it weren’t coming from the production team behind countless seasons of American Horror Story and the network behind scathing longform documentaries on every imaginable serial killer, I may find it more credible.

 

In the second half of the season, beginning with the episode “Silenced,” smarter observations begin to emerge. Written by David McMillan and Janet Mock and directed by Paris Barclay with more empathy than voyeurism, “Silenced” relates the tale of Tony Hughes, played here by the great newcomer Rodney Burnford, who is suggested as possibly the only victim with whom Jeffrey had even the slightest connection. Uncomfortably sweet and depressing for an hour, it’s unquestionably the best episode of the series and should have served as the model for the entire thing. Tony was deaf, and by making a Black, deaf, gay character the protagonist of the story, the show gives a voice to someone whose voice has all too often been silenced in gawking serial killer images.

 

It’s clear that Murphy and Brennan want it to be the main lesson viewers learn from Dahmer, but unlike When They See Us, which had a similar message of giving “The Central Park Five” names and personalities, Dahmer only does it with two or three of the non-Jeffrey characters. The second part of the series is meant to be that, but the programme is unable to overcome its own obstacles. For instance, there are needless, protracted, and deceptive asides about Ed Gein and John Wayne Gacy that consume more screen time than at least ten victims. That undermines multiple series themes and is merely pandering to those who are obsessed with serial killers. I would also add that focusing on such things and reducing the majority of the victims and their families to their suffering is closer to exploiting that suffering than it is to paying tribute to any memory.

 

Or consider “Cassandra,” the episode centred on Glenda Nash (the actress simultaneously avoids the comic cadences that made her a star and delivers two or three lines of incredulous dialogue that will have some viewers cheering). Due Nash is so good, it’s a good episode, but it only manages to make an impression on Glenda because of a side story involving Jesse Jackson (Nigel Gibbs), which serves to clarify concepts that the writers are unsure of having already established.

 

The issue is that. I am aware of the philosophical justifications behind many of Dahmer’s actions. I only wish it had faith in its own capability to complete them.

 

The first half of the season is repeated in part because the writers want to emphasise how many various opportunities there were for Dahmer to be apprehended or have his appetites diverted. Lionel Dahmer bemoans, “All those warning signs.” It’s true! Could there have been two episodes instead of five to tell the true story? Why yes, especially in a show that claims to be about the stories we don’t know since those five episodes are essentially the story we do know, with Peters serving as the star and delivering a performance that is full of unsettling, dead-eyed horror but, aside from “Silenced,” is never unexpected. It’s back to the performance you anticipate in Dahmer after Peters earned a well-deserved Emmy for eschewing the oddities and affectations of the Murphy Cinematic Universe in Mare of Easttown, albeit one with an unreliable Midwestern accent.

Himanshu Mahawar

Himanshu Mahawar is the Editor and Founder at Flaunt Weekly.

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