Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Ep. 3: “Doin’ a Dahmer”
Directed by Clement Virgo
Written by Ian Brennan & Ryan Murphy
* For a recap & review of Ep. 2, click here.
* For a recap & review of Ep. 4, click here.
Joyce Dahmer was taking medication. She was pregnant with Jeffrey. She was at home, but some time later her husband Lionel found her at a bus stop in the snow. So they obviously went to the doctor, who attempted to assuage their concerns. Lionel was worried about all the anxiety drugs and other pills being prescribed to Joyce. But Lionel, and the doctors, seemed to treat Joyce like it was her fault when she was only doing what the doctors ordered. Joyce simply wanted to get through the pregnancy. There’s a bit of misogyny that went on between Lionel and the doctors when it came to Joyce. Shows how difficult things were for women and mothers in the 50s; they were being prescribed drugs, told to take them to feel better, then they were being chastised for being addicted and for the effects the drugs had on them. Ridiculous.
Skip to 1977. Jeffrey and Lionel were fishing together. Dad was showing his son how to put a worm on a hook. Yet another weird moment. Even weirder when Lionel says that it might be “a girl worm” and so it’s just, y’know, like penetration. Gross. Also ironic, given that Jeffrey knew at that time he was gay, and Lionel had so little a clue about his son’s life and experiences he wasn’t able to see the real Jeffrey, in any way, shape, or form. Something I like about this series so far is that Lionel’s not being presented as a perfect parent. So often in the media Joyce has been portrayed as a neglectful, drugged out, zombie mother when Lionel is just as much to ‘blame’—and neither of the parents are ultimately to blame because they didn’t abuse their son, they simply neglected him/gave him the wrong attention.
Another tragic moment seeing Jeffrey desperately trying to masturbate to hetero porn, to no result, giving way to him hearing his parents arguing yet again. Joyce picked up a knife until Lionel got her to put it down. She was raving about UFOs and he was telling her she was crazy. When Jeffrey wandered in he was just told to go back to his room, where he once more started masturbating. But this time Jeffrey jerks off thinking about sticking his fingers into the dead flesh of the fish he and his father caught; that’s what really gets him off.
At school, Jeffrey was only popular with the cool kids at school because they liked laughing at him, not with him. He was known for “Doin‘ a Dahmer” which mostly consisted of Jeffrey trashing around strangely and yelling out like he has Tourette’s. When Jeffrey’s partner in science class tried to complain about dissecting a pig, he told her to shut up and it briefly impressed one of the jocks, Chazz. So when he got his science teacher to give him an extra pig to dissect he tried to ask Chazz to join him after school, getting rejected. Life for Jeffrey was a continual sense of rejection, by his parents and by others at school.
When Jeffrey was seventeen his parents finally split up, so Joyce took the younger brother David, and she was fine letting Jeffrey fend for himself at that age. Lionel wasn’t quick to have Jeffrey stay with him, either. Again: rejection. Nobody wanted Jeffrey, whether at home or at school. He was longing for connection and it just never seemed to find him. Yet Joyce never wanted connection, even though she claimed to, screaming at Jeffrey in the driveway before she drove off about how he never asked her to help in the garage with his dissections then immediately yelling that she wouldn’t have helped anyway. A snapshot of the mental illness that was debilitating Joyce and how it further reflected onto her eldest son.
Jeffrey spent his time at home alone lifting weights and looking at men’s magazines. Then he’d take a drive and drink some beers. He kept seeing a hot guy running along the same road every so often, watching him closely each time. At home with no structure or parental surveillance whatsoever, teenage Jeffrey was falling into the destructive combination of alcoholism and a dark fantasy life that plagued him the remainder of his life. Everything Jeffrey knew about life was fantasy, coming out of a magazine, from the body he was attempting to sculpt for himself to the male bodies that attracted him, to the perfect family he was only ever able to imagine.
One day, Jeffrey decided to take fantasy into reality. He brought a baseball bat with him and hid by the roadside where he knew he’d soon seen the hot jogger run by, but when he popped out of the bushes he was too startled to do anything. He and the jogger just stared at one another in shock. Later on, Jeffrey brought the jogger back to his place, telling him his situation with Joyce and Lionel. They started bonding over a beer. This didn’t actually happen, of course. Just another figment of Jeffrey’s imagination. We see the jogger run off and Jeffrey standing alone at the roadside. (What actually happened when Jeffrey did this in real life: he said the jogger didn’t show up that day.)
We see Joyce working at a counselling centre where she helped women with arts and crafts classes, giving all sorts of love and attention to strangers rather than her own son. She was asked to take over as a counsellor when one of the counsellors was leaving. Perfect for Joyce, whose own oldest son Jeffrey was drinking beers in the back of class and being sent to his own guidance counsellor at his high school. The guidance counsellor tried to get in contact with Joyce and Lionel but, as expected, no luck. She then tried to get to know Jeffrey and what he was interested in. Jeffrey told her: “I don‘t think everybody gets to have a dream.”
While driving down the road, Jeffrey picked up a guy named Steven Hicks (Cameron Cowperthwaite), who was hitchhiking to a Pegasus concert. He asked Steven to go back to his place for some beers and some weed before the concert. Good deal for a dude hitchhiking on a random day, so Steven obliged. The two of them went back to Dahmer’s place and hit the weights. Jeffrey enjoyed the body contact they shared briefly, albeit in a much different way than Steven. Except Steven wanted to go and Jeffrey didn’t want their time together to end. When Jeffrey tried to kiss Steven it didn’t go over well. He played it off as a joke, but Steven wanted to go right then, calling Jeffrey a “faggot” among other things. That’s when Jeffrey attacked Steven with a weight, bashing him in the head. This left the hitchhiker in a bad way, so Jeffrey strangled him to death.
This was the first murder Jeffrey Dahmer committed in June of 1978.
But Jeffrey almost treated it as the fantasy life that he’d been developing. He was shocked that Steven was actually dead, like it wasn’t meant to be real. He went mad and screamed at himself, realising the gravity of what he’d done. After some time though the reality set in and Jeffrey knew he had to dispose of Hicks’s corpse one way or another. To get the job done he had to start drinking more, eventually getting up the nerve to gather the necessary tools and start working.
That night when Jeffrey was driving to dispose of Steven’s dismembered corpse in several trash bags, he was weaving all over the road and cops stopped him. This could’ve been the moment Jeffrey Dahmer went to jail. Instead the teenage murderer spun a story about emotional turmoil over his parents’ divorce and taking out the trash that fooled the idiot cops in spite of Jeffrey reeking of booze. Race played a big part throughout Dahmer’s life, from this murder to the eventual serial killings of young Black boys and men, because imagine if that was a Black teenager in America being pulled over drunk with trash bags in the backseat; the cops would not have let him go. This all gave Jeffrey the extra boost he needed to destroy and dispose of every last part of Steven’s body.