DEXTER. 9 p.m. Sunday, Showtime.
THE TIMING was prescient.
On Oct. 24, Showtime presented an episode of "Dexter" in which Julia Stiles, playing a woman who'd narrowly escaped being killed by a group of men who'd raped and tortured her, flinched her way through a pat-down from airport security, just a few days before the Transportation Security Administration set off a furor with a new policy calling for more travelers to receive "enhanced" searches.
On Sunday, the series wraps up Season 5, in which Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), single father and part-time serial killer, found a kindred spirit in Lumen (Stiles), an abuse victim so determined to fight back that she never got on that plane, and instead teamed up with Dexter to hunt down and dispatch the men who'd killed at least a dozen other young women.
None of it's been pretty.
Yet bloodless as it was, that scene of a presumably unenhanced search proved one of the most disturbing of the season.
"It felt like a meditation," Stiles said of the airport scene during a recent phone interview.
"I would imagine that kind of violation and then how it connected like my brain to the muscles in my body. It sounds so hokey, but it works," she said.
"We carry around memories in our muscles, and so in the scene where she's being patted down at the airport, for her to feel somebody touching her shoulder or back or her stomach, those muscles would flinch much more quickly and bring back memories that are deep-seated, much more quickly than for a person who has not been traumatized," said Stiles, who said she'd researched the responses of rape and torture victims, "but that to me was more intellectual . . . For a scene like that, it's really got to be something that I connect to, and it's much more emotional and kind of on a gut level."
Another important scene for Lumen, Stiles said, was when she finally tries to kill one of her tormentors, finds it's not as easy as she'd hoped and eventually requires Dexter's help.
There's "the whole debate that they have afterward about why she picked this guy and Dexter's starting to doubt that she picked the right person, when she says, like, 'I'm the proof,' she's very confident, she's just certain, even though she can't describe why, that she picked the right guy, and she's angry with Dexter for doubting her," Stiles said.
"That to me was very important, because it's the age-old debate of 'he said, she said,' and it played with the audience's ability to kind of question women's sanity and kind of question [their] judgment. Which is something I'm sure that happens a lot, unfortunately."
Playing a victim turned vigilante might seem like a departure for the star of "Save the Last Dance" and "The Prince and Me," but it doesn't feel like one to Stiles.
"I've spent a lot of time with this play, 'Oleanna,' by David Mamet," she said, referring to a two-character drama in which a college student seeking help from a professor eventually accuses him of abusing her.
"I've done a couple of different productions, and even though she's a very, very different character [from Lumen] and very unlikable to the audience, she deals with a lot of like issues of wanting revenge. And this rage that she feels about injustices that have happened to her. And so to a certain extent, I feel like it might be an extension of that, although in a much more sympathetic way, I guess," she said.
"When we first meet Lumen, she's very damaged, obviously, and has had horrible things happen to her, but I was excited by the idea that she doesn't remain a victim. There's a fighting spirit in her . . . I think I'm drawn to more powerful characters."
As for what drew her to "Dexter," "I really liked the show, and then I heard that they were writing a part for a young woman and I was really intrigued."
But with scripts not yet written, "I kept thinking that they were tricking me and that they were going to throw some surprise in there at the last minute," changing the ending. "I kept going, 'Are you sure there's not something you're keeping from me?' . . . They were very faithful, and I think in a really thoughtful, kind of great way. I was happy with how the season ends up."
Wherever that might be.
Reminded how many of Dexter's previous attempts at intimacy ended badly, Stiles agreed he's a dangerous guy to know.
But "I think we've already broken the format" this season, she added. "This is very new for Dexter, to have someone [as an accomplice] who's essentially a good person."
Showtime this week announced it had picked up "Dexter" for a sixth season.
Whether or not Lumen makes it to the end of Season 5 - I wouldn't tell you even if I knew - Stiles said she'd be open to working on Showtime again.
"I think I was very spoiled by working on 'Dexter,' in terms of television, but it's exciting to work with the same people for that extended period of time, which you don't really get on a movie unless you've worked together before." *
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