‘There’s something strange and disarming about looking at a homicide scene in the daylight in Miami. It makes the most grotesque killings look staged, like you’re in a new and daring section of Disneyland – Dahmerland.’ – Dexter Morgan
Michael C Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Desmond Harrington, CS Lee, Lauren Velez, David Zayas, John Lithgow, Charlotte Rampling
Identikit: Dexter Morgan uses his job as a blood-spatter analyst for Miami Metro Police as cover for his secret compulsion to murder people like himself – serial killers.
HBO bosses were horrified when Tony Soprano, star of the show, committed his first onscreen murder in episode five of The Sopranos. The boundaries of the TV anti-hero were pushed to breaking point in a short time, seven years later, with the arrival of Dexter. The premise is unhinged. Dexter Morgan is a Miami police blood-spatter analyst and closet serial killer, the drama’s hero/antihero. Dexter follows ‘the Code’ set out by his father, Harry, who wanted to keep him from murdering the innocent. This decreed that Dexter’s victims had to be murderers who killed without any justification. He must also, like a comic-book superhero, avoid having his secret persona exposed at all costs, forever to ape normal emotions and pretend to be normal. The series pushed the premise to breaking point by suggesting that a psychopath might develop certain feelings for those around him (his baby son, his step sister). His ‘feelings’ always seem open to question (Dex doesn’t know who he is, so our fascination with him centres on our own attempts to puzzle him out). There is usually enough ambiguity about Dexter’s motivations to keep the tension bubbling, and by toying with the reality of the serial killer’s cold mentality, the series successfully explored the mind of these modern bogeymen. Dexter is something of a subversive social commentator – being so phoney, a ‘near perfect hologram’ of a man, he can easily spot the insincerity and machinations of those around him. And of course he is always way ahead of the cops in predicting a serial killer’s next move. Inspired by Jeff Lindsay’s slightly camp novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter, its distinctive features were black humour, chilling tension and gruesome violence, and it successfully continued to ‘entertain’ for eight seasons. We’ve seen him stalk and be stalked by the Ice Truck Killer and the Trinity Killer, evading detection as the Bay Harbor Butcher, dispatching his evil brother Rudy, marrying and having a child with Rita, who is then murdered, leaving Dex as a single parent and with certain surprising feelings he never knew he had. Michael C Hall’s deadpan performance and narration have been key to its success. But it has been controversial, receiving criticism for its empathy with a killer. Always a minority taste, Dexter is TV on a knife’s edge, so to speak – a lurid and provocative take on a modern obsession and contemporary life.
Music: the main theme is written by Rolfe Kent.
Classic episode: The Getaway, the finale to series four. The writers had the courage to dispatch one of the show’s popular and best developed characters, Rita (Julie Benz). Dex believes he has got Rita to go ahead of him on a belated honeymoon, only for him to find her dead, along with Harrison sitting in her blood, fearing the boy will be traumatised as Dexter was in childhood. It appears Rita is the victim of John Lithgow’s Trinity Killer, whom Dexter has killed, but too late – he realises he had feelings for Rita and blames himself for her death. Season four is one of the most highly regarded series, and viewers were rocked by this finale. Michael C Hall and John Lithgow both won Golden Globes for their performances.
Watercooler fact: Jeff Lindsay was inspired to create the psychopathic vigilante when watching an audience of businessmen. He says,’I was speaking to a businessmen’s lunch. I was sitting at the head table and watching them smiling when they didn’t mean it and handing out business cards, and the idea popped into my head – serial murder isn’t always a bad thing. Not that I wanted to kill all these people, but it occurred to me that technically you could justify it. I started technically justifying it on the back of napkins and by the time I went home that day I had an outline for the first book and the idea for Dexter himself… I think it’s important that Dexter kills people who, according to his code, deserve it, and it’s a code that we can all agree with, to some degree at least. I wanted Dexter to be likeable. I wanted people to catch themselves rooting for a killer, and hopefully pause and go, Huh, is that right?’