Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Ep. 8: “Lionel”
Directed by Gregg Araki
Written by Ian Brennan & David McMillan
* For a recap & review of Ep. 7, click here.
* For a recap & review of Ep. 9, click here.
Lionel Dahmer’s had time alone in the interrogation room to compose himself, then he goes back to speak with the detectives for a moment and asks if he can see his son. He’s brought to a room where Jeffrey, in chains, comes to meet him. The end result of all the troubles Lionel’s watched his son go through. Quite tragic that this is one of the few times, maybe the only time, we’ve really seen Lionel actually embrace his son; not that it would’ve made much difference. It goes to show how much Lionel’s been broken by Jeffrey’s crimes. They sit together awkwardly. Jeffrey asks about grandma and the air conditioning unit, like it’s meant to be a normal conversation. Lionel says: “I didn‘t realise how sick you were.” He’s convinced something can be done for his son. He starts talking about how he raised Jeffrey, as if he did anything to really raise him. He wants answers about why his son committed these crimes. Not for the victims, but for his own sake, and for the family’s sake.
When Jeffrey brings up the roadkill experiments Lionel immediately gets defensive, saying it won’t be laid on him and claiming he was a “good dad” which is far from the truth. All Lionel’s concerned with is how this reflects on him and the family. “I didn‘t do this,” he says. Meanwhile, Joyce Flint, formerly Joyce Dahmer, is getting swarmed by the news media like vultures swooping all over her. She heads into work where she’s got to give a young Black man his HIV test results; thankfully a negative. She cries with him and he wonders why. She’s letting out her own pain. There’s also something interesting about seeing Joyce give good news to a man of colour while her son’s been busy devastating communities of colour.
At home, Shari finds Lionel sitting up in the middle of the night alone. She’s worried about him being up all night. She wanted him to see a doctor and that set Lionel off about how pills “started all this,” believing Joyce is at fault because of the medication she took while pregnant. It’s pretty awful to see Lionel screaming about how everything is Joyce’s fault, unwilling to take any kind of responsibility for his own. Even Shari questions Lionel about where he was the summer Joyce left Jeffrey at home. Lionel didn’t even know. It’s starting to dawn on Lionel that he’s part of the problem, right down to his genetics. He tells Shari he used to have bad thoughts when he was younger. He once made bombs and even took one to school once. He believes he had fantasies like Jeffrey once, about a girl who lived on his block. He also says he once thought of what it’d be like to kill someone, then had nightmares about it, too. Shari tells Lionel that David turned out “a nice, normal kid” so that has to mean something.
Poor grandma’s house is now a crime scene. Worse still, she has dementia, she still thinks Jeffrey’s living there. And none of the cops care at all, only concerned about digging the place apart to find any evidence possible. Jeffrey’s horrible crimes continue to have far reaching effects on everybody, including his own family. Elsewhere, Rev. Jesse Jackson is walking with the families of the victims and people from the communities, later preaching for a congregation in Milwaukee. He wants to force accountability by the institutions of Milwaukee. He wants authorities to accept their faults and how they treated vulnerable communities. He made clear to the police that they weren’t going to accept a bunch of rhetoric, they want action. On Geraldo Rivera’s show, Tracy Edwards talks about his experience with Dahmer. Then there’s a supposed person named Nick, whose face is hidden, claiming all kinds of lies about Jeffrey, including that Jeffrey apparently claimed to have been molested by Lionel. These are the side effects that come along with serial killers because there are always people who’ll want to add on to the story, sometimes to get notoriety for themselves.
In prison, Lionel visits Jeffrey to talk about how the media’s presenting things. Jeffrey wants to die, so he doesn’t care who else wants to kill him. But Lionel still cares about his son. He wants to get Jeffrey appropriate help, hoping to convince the judge his son’s insane. Jeffrey just considers what he did “a compulsion.” And he doesn’t remember certain things only because he was blackout drunk due to his alcoholism, not because he was possessed or insane. Lionel refused to listen to it. He and the lawyer came up with a legal precedent to use, involving the case of infamous killer and cannibal Ed Gein. They want to use Gein’s case in conjunction with Jeffrey’s case to show that Jeffrey is insane. That would help land Jeffrey in a psychiatric hospital rather than a prison. Jeffrey mentions reading a horror comic about Ed Gein once. Lionel and the lawyer latched onto that as a kind of root cause. Yes, the ole fiction defence.
But a judge didn’t accept the insanity plea, giving the families some hope. At the court, Joyce and Lionel run into each other. He wants to talk about responsibility, mad he was seemingly taking the brunt of the blame for everything in the media. Joyce brings up the roadkill before she walks off while Lionel rages at her about pills, and it’s just the ugliest kind of scene.
Joyce goes to see one of the victim’s families. She speaks with the grandmother of one of the victims, who wonders why she came. She tries to ask them to speak on behalf of Jeffrey, to ask the judge to give her son psychiatric help. But the grandmother, though understanding why Joyce wants to be heard, explains: “But maybe now is time for you to listen to somebody else‘s truth.”
In court, Southone Sinthasomphone, the father of Konerak, speaks about the effect Jeffrey’s had on their family. As does Shirley Hughes, Tony’s mother, speak to the court about the hurt Jeffrey’s caused them. She reads an emotional poem written by one of Tony’s friend. More and more family members get up to make their stories known, some angrier than others. Rita Isbell (Da Shawn Barnes) gets up and lets loose on Jeffrey, screaming at him and swearing at him: “This is out of control!” She rushes towards Jeffrey and threatens him before cops grab her. (The real moment with Rita can be seen here. Bless her.)
And eventually it’s time for Jeffrey to get up and read a statement. He talks about understanding his mental illness. He says he understands the harm he’s caused and says he feels bad for what he did to all the families. He knows why the families of his victims hate him. All the while Lionel zones out, listening to his son’s statement, barely hearing any of it. A while later, Jeffrey’s sentenced to fifteen consecutive life sentences in prison. Everybody in the community and the families rejoice at the news.
Afterwards, Lionel and Shari go see Jeffrey, who’s pretty nonchalant about his fate. Lionel tells his son he’s to blame for everything. He feels terrible for all the roadkill experiments and for not making Jeffrey feel like there was somebody to come to about what was going on psychologically. He admits to having awful thoughts himself: “I gave you that part of me.” He says he wasn’t a good father or a good husband. Even though Lionel should feel bad, he didn’t make Jeffrey into a serial killer or a cannibal. Either way, it’s far too late for any of this now. “I won‘t leave you again,” Lionel says while the cops take his son away.
At home, Joyce is writing a suicide letter that doubles as taking responsibility for her part in the life of Jeffrey Dahmer. She admits to failing Jeffrey, and she feels terribly for the families of his victims. Then she prepares the oven, tearing off the gas hose, and letting the place fill up until she fades away. Not long later while Lionel’s writing a book about his son, he gets the news about Joyce’s attempted suicide; Joyce survived and she’ll be fine. Just more tragedy for the Dahmer family collective to endure. And yet Lionel ignores his other son David to keep on writing about his other neglected son. Absolutely brutal.
Nothing with the cops change. The two cops who let Konerak go back to Dahmer and get murdered have been reinstated. Rev. Jackson hears the news and sighs, looking ahead to the next fight, and the one after that, and the ones after that… nothing ever really changes, does it?