There’s one more stranger-than-fiction detail to add to the litany of such things we discussed after the previous episode of Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. After drifting from high school to college to the military to a deli in Miami to a deli in Wisconsin to a blood clinic in Wisconsin, that famous friend to children everywhere Jeffrey Dahmer got himself a job in a literal chocolate factory.
And there’s yet another example of Jeff’s ability to skate past consequences that would befall other, less fortunate members of society. (Not that Jeffrey considers himself a part of society, but you get the idea.) After his arrest for sexually molesting a 13-year-old Lao boy (the brother of the kid who’d later escape from Dahmer’s clutches only to be dutifully returned by racist, homophobic cops — one of whom regained his job and back pay after the incident and became the cop union president for Christ’s sweet sake), Jeff is granted a generous work-release program by the judge in the case. This judge also shuts down the testimony of the boy’s father, claiming he can’t understand him through his accent, and additionally shuts down the translation provided by an older son, simply having the father’s letter to the court entered into evidence instead.
Jeff, as it happens, reminds the judge of his grandson. The immigrant family from Asia reminds him of nothing. Case closed.
The race of Jeffrey’s victims comes up repeatedly in this episode, and the conclusions we are to draw from the results are left deliberately ambiguous. It’s hard not to share the outrage of his interrogator Detective Murphy (Michael Beach), a Black man, that Jeffrey’s victims were predominantly from minority communities, or to share his suspicion that Dahmer deliberately moved into a poor Black neighborhood because it made for a more amenable hunting ground. But after his capture at least, Jeffrey does not seem like much of a dissembler — he honestly appears to be struggling to understand and articulate why he did everything he did — and so his surprised reaction to these allegations, and his claim that he selected his victims purely on the basis of physical attraction rather than race, have to be taken into account as well.
I get why people might not want to do that. And the bottom line is that nearly all of Dahmer’s victims were not white, though the pivotal first two, as well as a teenager whose grave he tried to dig up in order to molest a corpse without murdering anyone, were. I don’t begrudge anyone the belief that Dahmer deliberately selected his victim pool and his eventual staging ground.
But I think it’s somehow worse if Dahmer just fell bass-ackwards into a life of murdering, raping, and devouring almost exclusively minority men and boys. It’s worse if society is structured in such a way that a person like Jeffrey could become a professional killer of not-white people within a community of not-white people without even really setting out to be one, just because doing so enabled him to half-ass his way through fifteen murders and cover-ups he would otherwise get cold busted for.
I mean, look at the poor piece of shit: He never did anything right!
Near the end of this episode, as Lionel drives away from his final “family dinner” with Jeff and Grandma prior to Jeff’s incarceration, the broken man relives all of the “red flags” he’d previously ignored.
Discharged from the military? Oh, that was just for drinking.
Busted by Grandma for stealing a mannequin? Oh, that was just a dare.
Arrested for indecent exposure at the Wisconsin State Fair? Oh, he was just peeing.
Arrested for molesting a literal schoolboy? Oh, he was just taking photographs.
And Lionel doesn’t even bring up the absurd devil-worship altar that Grandma uncovered in Jeff’s room; elsewhere in the episode he dismisses it as cartoony, horror-movie shit, not once wondering if the dark urges it expresses are somehow being made real, or if it has any connection to the horrible smells that seem to plague every place Jeffrey lives.
And Lionel also doesn’t connect it to Jeffrey’s questioning over an incident where he drugged some poor guy named Ron (Dyllón Burnside) who was just hoping Jeff would give his dead car battery a jump. If it weren’t for the vigilance of Grandma, Ron would have been killed just like the other three victims Jeff murdered while staying with her. Of course, the cops take Jeff’s word over his, even though Jeff has a criminal record and Ron does not.
(I’ll take a moment here to commend the powerful performances of Evan Peters and Richard Jenkins as Jeffrey and Lionel. Jenkins plays a man constantly on the verge of breaking down over the truth that’s staring him in the face, only to collect himself and give it the old college try once more; Peters’s slow gait, slow smile, and soft voice lend a sinisterly soporific rhythm to the entire show.)
It’s only cruising through life on Easy mode due to his race and gender — despite his outcast status, despite his closeted sexuality, despite his unspeakable urges, despite his overall taciturn and unlikeable demeanor — that Jeff got away with everything he got away with for as long as he did. Looked at with clear eyes, his life is just one long chain of fuck-ups. If he were a different color, if his victims were a different color, that chain might have been cut short much, much earlier.
Instead, Jeffrey winds up renting an apartment on his own, far from his mother and father and grandmother’s prying eyes. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.
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