Is Professor James Gellar real?

With eight episodes down and four to go in Dexter’s sixth season, it’s time to take the question head on: is Professor James Gellar real, or the imaginary projection of Travis held by most viewers?

I don’t think Gellar is imaginary. I think that’s what the show writers have gone out of their way to make us believe, perhaps a bit too obviously, in order to set us up for a twist that may not pay off so well.

Unlike The Sixth Sense and Fight Club where the imaginary reveal comes as a surprise, and later more than sooner, Dexter has been sledgehammering us from the get-go with the idea that Gellar is to Travis as Harry is to his son: the shades of dead father-figures who counsel from the great beyond. The problem is that despite the avalanche of clues pointing in this direction, each clue can be rationalized on the assumption that Gellar is real, and there is actually a clue that does indicate that Gellar is real. Let’s consider all the evidence.

In favor of Gellar being imaginary:

* In general, no one ever interacts with Gellar except Travis. This is the prime selling point for the idea that Gellar is like Harry: once a mentor, now dead, but still mentoring inside the pupil’s head.

* In particular, when Travis and Gellar are at a restaurant (episode 4), the waitress pours a drink for Travis and talks to him but completely fails to acknowledge Gellar in any way. On the other hand, the waitress does know Travis, that’s why she’s so chummy with him, and Gellar could have already said that he’s not ordering anything.

* When Travis and Gellar are out in public (episode 5), no one notices Gellar despite the newspapers broadcasting his photo as the Doomsday Killer. On the other hand, Gellar does acknowledge that he should get out of sight, and who pays attention to tabloids anyway?

* Travis abducts victims by himself (the Horseman of the Apocalypse, the Angel of Retribution, the first potential Whore of Babylon), or with Gellar remaining in the car (the snake victim, the second potential Whore of Babylon), but never with Gellar getting his fingers dirty. On the other hand, this is typical of cult leaders who manipulate their followers to take the biggest risks.

* Gellar is inconsistent on the matter of free will. In episode 4 he assures Travis that people have free will, while in episode 7 he disdains the idea, declaring that people’s wills don’t matter. This makes sense if Travis is conflicted about predestination and is having internal arguments with himself. On the other hand, Gellar does not exactly say there is no free will in episode 7, only that free will has no power to stop God’s overarching plans.

* Gellar evades Dexter by escaping from a second-floor window of the church (episode 8). But there could be another way down which we (and Dexter) haven’t seen yet, or Gellar could just be hiding. And we know that Travis is really chained to the floor.

In favor of Gellar being real:

* Gellar spies on Travis through a door crack when Travis is having sex with the angel of death victim (episode 4). Travis is oblivious to this, implying an objective reality on Gellar’s part. Certainly Harry never appears without Dexter’s awareness — that’s the whole point of being inside someone’s head.

I’m nervous about the upcoming reveal that Gellar is real, because we’ve been yanked too strongly in the opposite direction. The result is that, in retrospect, all the scenes of Gellar not interacting with the world seem forced and rather unfair to the viewer.

But if it turns out that Gellar is indeed imaginary, then that’s even worse, for the entire season has been reduced to a banal exercise, when Dexter has always been more reliable about supplying surprising twists. On top of that, the writers haven’t played fair ball: the spying Gellar in Travis’ sex scene implies an objective reality.

UPDATE: Episode 9 makes plain that Gellar is imaginary, that he’s been dead for some time. So we went through all those episodes of the obvious to get to an unsurprising twist, with an unfair scene in episode 4 that implies Gellar is real. I’m nonplussed.

18 thoughts on “Is Professor James Gellar real?

  1. But there's nothing on screen to suggest that Gellar is on Travis' mind. We don't see any anxious look from Travis towards the door, not even a fleeting guilty expression on his face. That's why this scene isn't fair on the assumption that Gellar is imaginary.

  2. Funny thing, I didn't think for a second that Gellar might not be real, until I saw ep. 8. The ending seemed to hint at that. I then googled it, and found websites like this one, with claims that Gellar might not be real. I thought I was ahead of the curve in my conclusion. I bet the writers thought nobody is going to think about that either.

    I think he's not real. The real Gellar might be already dead, killed by Travis or whoever, who knows? I think that the writers (who are particularly bad this season) thought nobody would raise that theory even after the obvious hint at the end of ep. 8.

    It would also be interesting if he's both imaginary and real. Meaning: The Gellar we saw is imaginary, but the real one is somewhere out there, and he'll return, and maybe even team up with Dexter to try to stop Travis and his imaginary Gellar. I mean, if Gellar isn't real, where the hell is the real one? My guess is they'll just find his decomposing body somewhere, but it'll be awesome if the original Gellar is alive.

  3. I just wrote that last long comment, but forgot to add:

    Sins of Ommission…. That's some name for an episode. They might be refering to their own sins of not telling us that Gellar is real. I thought about it when I watched Sixth Sense (even though I didn't know the twist, I did guess from the get go that he was dead because I knew there was some twist). So as I was watching it, I thought about the fact that Shamalan never lies to us. He never tells us “they can't see Willis”. He just makes us jump into rational, and ultimately false, conslusions, such as the conclusion that anyone on the screen is visible to everyone else.

  4. Oh, and one last, last, last comment…

    I think they supplied this twist for a very interesting Dexter dilemma.

    If Travis isn't guilty, and the imaginary Gellar is… then you have two people sharing a body. One of them is innocent in Dexter's book (he did let Travis go) and the other one is guilty. It would be like Predator 2 in which the predator spares an armed woman because she's pregnant with someone who is unarmed.

    Frankly, I always thought Travis is still guilty, back when I believed Gellar was real. I mean, if you're a part of a serial murder team, you killed these people. Just like the time Dexter killed a husband and wife murderers in season 1 or 2. It doesn't matter which one does the deed if they're both causing death together!

  5. Yeah, but this season you have Dexter talking about “the light” and Brother Sam gave him a new perspective.

    Forgiving Travis is a way for Dexter to pay the help of Brother Sam. Because Travis, unlike the guy who killed Brother Sam, feels regret.

    So, Dexter thinks there's a way to guide him toward the “light”.

  6. There is plenty onscreen to suggest that Gellar would have been on Travis' mind while he was having sex with the angel of death. The story shows over and over again that Travis experiences tremendous guilt whenever he fails to follow Gellar's (and by extension, God's) wishes. That guilt would have been in full effect while Travis was boning the angel of death, and would have manifested in Gellar's appearance. The fact that Gellar goes unacknowledged by Travis is explained by the fact that Travis is trying real hard to enjoy himself and to not seem crazy in front of the girl. Even so, Gellar is always lurking in the recesses of Travis' mind.

    This is perfectly consistent with Travis' subjective reality. The fact that it initially reads as objective reality is part of the game, and it isn't unfair just because you were fooled by it.

  7. There is plenty onscreen to suggest that Gellar would have been on Travis' mind while he was having sex with the angel of death…

    “Would have been” begs the question. Everything you go on to say imposes inferences derived from elsewhere. The point is that there is not a single hint during this scene to provide a fair clue.

    There's nothing wrong with trying to fool the viewer, but as you note, it's part of a game, and games have rules, implicit or not — which the writers didn't play by in this scene. Unlike films like The Sixth Sense, which completely fool the viewer, but completely fairly, Dexter dropped the ball (or just cheated) on this point.

    And the real kicker is that it didn't even really fool me. Until episode 8, I was fully convinced that Gellar was imaginary (and that this scene from episode 4 was just sloppy), and I only pulled back because it was getting to the point where it was ridiculously obvious — surely there was going to be some dramatic payoff? If the show writers want to consider me fooled, by all means let them. But that's one hell of a hollow victory!

  8. I agree with Loren. The show broke its contract with the audience long before the great reveal, to the extent that “being fooled” by any of this is rather meaningless. I was yawning by episode 6 and still am.

  9. “Everything you go on to say imposes inferences derived from elsewhere. “

    From elsewhere in the story. That's how storytelling works. When Debra is agitated with Dexter because of his behavior in an earlier scene, for example, the audience can reasonably infer why she's still upset, even if the current scene doesn't explain the cause of her agitation all over again. Likewise, when the story demonstrates repeatedly that Travis feels guilty whenever he defies Gellar, it's perfectly reasonable to infer that Gellar would be on Travis' mind while doing something that he knows Gellar would disapprove of.

    I think the real problem is that the scene, on first viewing, seems to suggest that Travis is unaware of Gellar's presence, even when there's no onscreen evidence that Travis lacks that awareness. If you assume that Travis didn't know Gellar was watching, then you are the one imposing an inference on the scene. It's a reasonable inference, and one the writers were clearly counting on the audience to make, but ultimately it is an incorrect inference, and that was clearly the intended effect. Again, it isn't unfair just because you were fooled by it. It is fully explained by the events of the story, but clearly, you are determined not to see that.

  10. Again, it isn't unfair just because you were fooled by it.

    You're not listening. Being fooled isn't the problem, nor anything I would object to in itself. Like anyone else, I love dramas that overturn expectations cleverly and fairly (and wish there were more of them), but that isn't the case here. Appealing to the intertextuality of general storytelling doesn't cut it in key scenes like this, and I think you know better. The story sets up Gellar as a potential Harry-equivalent, and there should be some tip-off, however obscure, that this is in fact the case. Lacking any visible awareness on the part of Travis would only work if there were at least one scene in the entire history of Dexter where Harry appears on screen without any awareness on Dexter's part, but that's not true.

  11. BULLSHITT, Prof. Gellar was real because Dexter could interact with him ( see him ) he worked in an UNversity . BUt Travis killed him . and all that stuff in the church was Travis' imagination !

  12. Proffessor Gellar is real you can tell in sin of omission cuz travis sister is killed as the who're of Babylon and at that point travis is chained

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