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My Response to EW’s “Why is Dexter the Only Good Character on ‘Dexter’?

October 18, 2010

Margaret Lyons of Entertainment Weekly published an article yesterday: Why is Dexter the Only Good Character on ‘Dexter’?

I considered leaving a comment, but why do that when I have a perfectly good apple crate right here?

Here is my answer Margaret.

Dexter is a strange beast of a show, starring Michael C. Hall as the title character. Many people consider Dexter an anti-hero. To them, he is the Robin Hood of serial killers dispatching other murderers before they can kill again. He lives by an honorable code that doesn’t allow him to harm ‘good’ people. I disagree with this anti-hero label. Dexter is a murderer. He is the antagonist of this tale, his tale, and he is telling us his story from his point of view.

Dexter is very similar to Psycho. Hitchcock wanted to do something different with that film. He wanted to tell a tale from the villain’s point of view. He never suggested that the villain was the ‘good guy.’ Far from it. Norman was the epitome of evil. He was a man with a dark pit in his soul that was filled by his Mother and her over zealous protective ways.

Dexter isn’t an ensemble show.

Dexter is a show about Dexter.

You're the only one I can talk to dad. It's so weird that you're dead!

The other characters are peripheral.  They really don’t matter unless they are adding something to the puzzle that is Dexter.  I think Lost was similar in that respect.  It seemed like an ensemble, but in the end was really just about Jack Shephard.   Jack was a wonderfully flawed character who never wanted to be a hero.  But, he WAS a hero and filled that role in the same way that Dexter fills the role of a KILLER.  No matter how hard these characters try, they can’t be anything other than what they are.  Additionally, both of these characters feel like they are possibly  “Fantasy” characters for their respective creators.  They are fantasy in that they represent what their 35 to 50-year-old male creators wish they could  do sometimes.  Jack is the guy that reacts.  He sees a burning building and rushes in to save the babies who were left sleeping in their cribs.  Dexter is the man that allows his rage to take complete control, but he focuses it.  Looking at it from that point of view, I think I’d rather hang out with the writing staff of Lost, because I’d be afraid of pissing off the Dexter writers.

Can't you leave me alone now that you're dead dad?

As characters Jack and Dexter have a lot in common.  They’ve both killed a lot of people in the name of some ‘grand scheme goodness’ that only they can really perceive.  The phrase ‘God Complex’ applies to both characters with ease.  They both have very similar Daddy issues, and even converse with their deceased fathers on quite a few occasions.

By deciding to go with a first-person voice-over on Dexter, what we end up with is a show being told by Dexter, through his eyes and in his words. He tells us how to think about the other characters as they pass before his and our eyes. He tells us how to feel about Laguerta, Batista, Deb, etc. As I think about it though, I find myself rationalizing myself and the show into a crazy corner.  Is the character Dexter an unreliable narrator? Are the versions of the characters that we are seeing (i.e. Dexter’s family, friends, co-workers, victims) one-dimensional because that is how Dexter sees them? Are we seeing the world through Dexter’s eyes?  Is the show being told from his delusional point of view? It would be pretty amazing if it was.  We too would be victims of Dexter’s delusions, and that would be pretty cool.

How do you like that Margaret?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Apryl permalink
    October 18, 2010 3:05 pm

    The point you’ve made about the show’s POV is an excellent point.

    “Is the character Dexter an unreliable narrator?” Um… YES! “Are the versions of the characters that we are seeing (i.e. Dexter’s family, friends, co-workers, victims) one-dimensional because that is how Dexter sees them?” Probably. If not an intentional “device” of the creators, a fascinating lens to view the show through.

    Time and time again we see Dexter’s father, (and Dex for that matter) tell us how his responses to normality are off-kilter. Therefore, as you’ve eluded to, the peripheral characters don’t need to change. Dexter can’t process the complexities of human existence from those that encompass his life, nor does he want to since they aren’t in his line of vision towards accomplishing his goals. (Murder.)

    The serial killer is a self-absorbed, dissociated creature. He sees Masuka as the wisecracking, fun loving perv. He sees Deb as a woman with serious issues of father-abandonment that translates to her messed-up relationships, workaholic tendencies, and tough girl exterior. Only when those characters “interfere” or act upon Dexter’s singular world will they be able to, allowed to show change.

    If all the characters had very well-rounded arcs as Margaret Lyons seems to want, wouldn’t that just be another soap-opera disguised as hour long drama.

    • October 18, 2010 3:15 pm

      Thanks for the wonderfully thought out response. I agree with all of your points, which agree with my points. We agree.

  2. Angela permalink
    October 19, 2010 4:03 am


  3. October 20, 2010 10:36 am

    Hey very nice blog!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds

  4. October 21, 2010 2:49 pm

    You are absolutely right. Because we see the show through Dexter’s point of view, that is why people “root” for him. Meaning, you get to see this complex character and all the different levels that made him who he is and you understand why he is doing what he is doing. Therefore you can almost empathize with him. We as the viewers believe, Dexter has a code….he doesn’t kill good people, only bad (which is why he had that inner turmoil about killing Doakes in Season 2…Doakes didn’t fit his code.) And if Dexter is a loving husband (now widower), a good father and brother, a loyal friend, and he kills all the bad people that go free, he can’t be a bad guy…right?

    This is why I think this is one of the BEST writing staffs in TV. They have found a way to make a serial killer, likable. And not only that, the “hero” of the show. How crazy is that? And there will always be the conversation about how Dexter is viewed by the audience…good guy with an evil core or bad guy learning how to actually care about people.

    • October 21, 2010 4:17 pm

      Last season was one of the best seasons of TV that I’ve seen in a long time. Lithgow was amazing as Trinity.

      “good guy with an evil core or bad guy learning how to actually care about people.” – pretty much sums up the show, but the writers keep it interesting, which is what keeps me coming back. The moment that they jump the shark will be when Dexter is finally ‘outed’ to his family, friends, and co-workers. Until then, I look forward to the ups and downs of a Miami Serial Killer raising three kids.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. December 8, 2010 12:44 am

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