Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Ep. 10: “God of Forgiveness, God of Vengeance”
Directed by Paris Barclay
Written by Ian Brennan, David McMillan, Reilly Smith, & Todd Kubrak
* For a recap & review of Ep. 9, click here.
Chicago, 1977. John Wayne Gacy (Dominic Burgess) brought a young man over to his place for a job interview. Gacy was a contractor. The young guy immediately noticed an odd smell throughout the house, but John blamed it on a dead raccoon. Not an unfamiliar scene from Jeffrey Dahmer’s life. Gacy sat at the table for a cola with his young friend and soon the guy started feeling woozy. He took out rosary beads, using them to tie the young man’s hands together, then he hit the guy in the face. They struggle a bit until Gacy cracked the kid in the head with a frying pan. After that he used a belt to strangle the young man. Later, he was dressed in his clown costume and dunking the kid in a bathtub full of water. (In reality, there is no evidence Gacy ever dressed like a clown during his murders. A bit of the ole exploitation making its way in here.)
Glenda’s watching a report about Gacy’s soon-to-be execution at work. A woman talks about Gacy being “the worst of the worst.” Glenda disagrees, saying her neighbour Jeffrey was much worse, cooking people and letting the smell waft through the vents. In prison, Jeffrey tries to continue being a joker but it doesn’t sit well with the other roommates, all of whom know about his crimes. One inmate, Christopher Scarver (Furly Mac), really doesn’t like Dahmer or his antics. Jeffrey’s selling porno photos women sent him to other inmates. He’s generally using his infamy to try gaining favour in different ways around the prison. One day, Scarver gets angry with Dahmer. He doesn’t like Jeffrey’s “lack of remorse” and disrespect. He warns Dahmer to stop playing games.
Later, Scarver goes looking into Dahmer’s crimes more specifically. He’s able to get a look at newspapers which go into all the gruesome details about the cannibalism, as well as the fact nearly all of Dahmer’s victims were men of colour, many of whom were Black men. It paints an ugly, terrifying picture, especially when Scarver sees how the police effectively allowed Dahmer to continue on with the horror. And it haunts Scarver right away.
One day, Dahmer’s mopping up when he sees Gacy on the television showing off the art he’d done in prison and talking about religion. It’s almost unsettling to Jeffrey, seeing another killer “at peace” with himself and what he’s done. Then Dahmer goes to see the prison chaplain. They talk together in the prison church. Jeffrey wonders why so many serial killers are around nowadays. The chaplain thinks part of it has to do with “the interstate highway system,” and probably WWII/Vietnam bringing all kinds of trauma back to America. He also mentions a wide availability of pornography today; Ted Bundy’s favourite scapegoat.
Dahmer wonders about “just being evil.” He talks to the chaplain about going to church as a boy, and going as the Devil for Halloween, which made him feel good. He says he later made an altar to Satan. And that’s what he planned to do with lots of the body parts he kept from his kills, to make a larger altar out of them. The chaplain pushes deeper with Jeffrey. The serial killer mentions seeing the Gacy interview and how people consider them similar. He says they’re different because he admitted to everything he did, whereas Gacy still claims innocence. Jeffrey believes he doesn’t deserve forgiveness for his crimes. The chaplain says there is forgiveness for everything, recounting the story of Jesus on the cross and the two criminals hanging on their crosses next to him, urging Dahmer to accept Christ and find forgiveness through God.
In the outside world, Glenda’s at church. She’s talking about forgiveness with her pastor, too. She can’t forgive Jeffrey, even if it was a compulsion that couldn’t be controlled. “My heart is full of hate,” she tells the pastor. She’s not satisfied with seeing Dahmer in jail for the rest of his life. She wants the killer to suffer. She tells her pastor she has nightmares about herself torturing Dahmer herself to make him “beg for mercy.” She doesn’t want to live in vengeance anymore. Even if she can’t forgive Jeffrey, she wants to get to a place where the anger won’t burn her up to the point she no longer recognises herself.
Lionel visits Jeffrey in prison. They sit and talk through the glass, catching up. Jeffrey mentions being on Prozac and feeling better mentally, plus it helps that he isn’t drinking anymore. Lionel talks about his book and the feeling others had that he was trying to “profit off the victims.” Jeffrey then says he’s going to be baptised, which makes Lionel happy; as long as he can find somebody to do it. He wants to find a way to be forgiven, not only by God, but also by Lionel. He asks outright if his father could ever forgive him, and Lionel replies: “I will.” One of the Sinthaomphone boys is getting married and Glenda’s invited to the celebration. She sits with the proud father, Southone, at the reception and the two share a drink. Southone talks about trying to be strong for everybody. He hopes to be himself again, yet he wakes up every single day and remembers his son is dead while Dahmer remains alive. Glenda says maybe all they can do is pretend they’re strong and one day they’ll forget they’re even pretending. It’s the only way to survive something so awful.
A comic called Jeffrey Dahmer vs. Jesus Christ is out and the Hughes family are, once more, appalled. Shirley wants to take more action, but not all the family feels the same, not wanting to go through losing in court again. She insists they have to remind the world Dahmer is “not a superhero, he‘s a serial killer.” She doesn’t want Dahmer’s victims, including her sweet Tony, to be seen as objects, or forgotten as merely victims, but rather be remembered as the whole people they were, with ambitions and families who loved them.
On the same day Dahmer’s to be baptised, Gacy is scheduled to be executed. Quite eerie. Jeffrey’s request for baptism is granted and facilitated by the prison, but not all the inmates, like Scarver, think it’s such a great thing, though some cheer him on. He’s dressed in white robes, made by some fan of his from Oklahoma, and then he gets into the small baptismal pool while Scarver’s in his cell going off the deep end. The chaplain baptises Jeffrey, pushing him beneath the water while praying over him, as an eclipse occurs outside in the sky, and Gacy is injected with the drugs that will stop his heart.
As Jeffrey basks in the glow of his baptism and embrace into “the family of God,” Scarver is on his knees in his cell seeking answers from God, asking the Heavenly Father for directions on what to do. Another day, Jeffrey’s sent to work duty where he’s cleaning up in the gym with another inmate. After a while, the guard on duty also goes to get Scarver for work duty, too. When Scarver arrives he joins Dahmer and the other inmate cleaning. Eventually the guard leaves them alone to do their work. Jeffrey quickly feels unsettled. A couple moments later, screams come from the nearby bathroom where Scarver’s killed the other inmate, Jesse, with a mop handle; seems Jesse tried to pin his wife’s murder on two black men. Now, Scarver confronts Dahmer about the crimes the latter committed, seeking some kind of answers for what happened. “I turned away from God,” says Jeffrey. He says he feels changed since his baptism. Scarver says his God is “the God of vengeance” and that he’s been sent to take vengeance against Jeffrey. Then Scarver proceeds to beat Dahmer to death with a barbell, repeatedly cracking him in the head with it.
Lionel receives the news of his son’s beating over the phone, then he gets to the hospital to discover Jeffrey’s dead. He goes to see the body, shocked and heartbroken at the state of his son’s face. He tells Jeffrey: “I loved you since the day you were born, and I‘ll love you till the day that I die.” He cries and hugs his boy’s corpse.
Some time later, Lionel and Joyce are in the same room again for the first time in ages, now having to deal with the aftermath of Jeffrey’s death. Joyce wants Jeffrey’s brain to be donated to science so people can study it, and Lionel’s wondering where his son’s brain has been kept all this time, not wanting it to be donated but instead cremated like the rest of the body. Joyce wants it to be studied so they might find a reason for why Jeff committed such terrible crimes, however, Lionel insists it’ll turn out like Gacy, whose brain was studied and nothing was found. She’s determined to get it done and that meant they had to go to court. A judge wants to move on from an “evil chapter” in human history, ordering Jeffrey’s brain destroyed rather than kept and studied. He says people want to know why someone like Dahmer is that way, but that there is “a danger” because there “are no easy answers.” Yet that’s a bit dismissive, particularly if the brain’s not studied then there are definitively no answers because they didn’t bother to check. (Fact: many serial killers have been found to have damage to their frontal lobe at some point in their lives; the frontal lobe is where the right-wrong morality in our brain comes from.)
Glenda’s looking for answers about a memorial to the victims. She finds out it’s a lot of bureaucracy tied up in the city and their construction and permits. She gets honest talk from someone at the city who says there are very few people who want to build anything on the old lot of the apartment building. That still makes Glenda mad, because not everyone can just move on from the Dahmer situation; some folks, like Glenda and the victims’ families, have no choice but to linger in the horror and the trauma. She says she’ll wait however long it takes to get the memorial completed.
There was never a park or memorial built for the victims. They are only remembered by their families and friends. But we should remember them, too. That’s one great thing about this series, Ryan Murphy & Co. really put the victims first, to the point of often telling the story through any eyes other than Dahmer himself. Some say this series was exploitative, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. This was a carefully crafted piece of work that paid more respect to Dahmer’s victims than any other piece of serial killer media in recent memory has done for other victims and their families.