Dexter: The Ultimate Anti-Hero

This week we’re going beyond the bookshelf to look into other areas of writing, this time focusing on television screenwriting. Today I want to talk about one of my favorite character types, the anti-hero, and I can’t think of a better anti-hero than Dexter Morgan of Showtime series, Dexter.

I will admit that Dexter is such the anti-hero, I avoided the show for nearly four years. After all, who would watch a program that gets you rooting for a serial killer?

Me. That’s who.

All the hype and buzz that followed Dexter throughout its entire television run finally pushed me into taking the plunge. I rented season one, ready to return the disc without watching all the episodes it contained. I did return it… solely to rent the next disc, and then the next, and the next. This has to be one of television’s most compelling characters ever to massacre the airwaves.

From the very beginning we’re introduced to a man unable to control his desire to kill. Then we learn he does have some control. A control he learned from his adoptive father, Officer Harry Morgan.  Through “The Code” Dexter focuses his blood lust towards criminals and lowlifes that happen to escape lawful justice.

The first season is key in getting us onboard with Dexter. The first episode gives us just enough back story to understand Dexter’s situation. The depth of his character and history are gradually explored through each subsequent episode. All the while a serial killer investigation is going on that he’s working on.

The first season stands out in my mind as genius because unlike the rest of the seasons, Dexter isn’t trying to catch the bad guy. He believes he’s playing a game that only he and this unknown serial killer are in on. Sure, moralistic qualities are scabbed over a sick and twisted psychosis, but if it plays out in Dexter’s favor, does he find a killing buddy? I won’t give it away if you haven’t seen it. The revelations are too good to ruin for the new watcher.

The rest of the seasons pigeonhole Dexter more as the “unlikely hero” rather than the anti-hero. That doesn’t make them any less good, in fact it might have been necessary. An anti-hero can only go so far before the viewer (or reader) stops sympathizing with the protagonist. We have this hope that he’ll get “better”. We want him to feel emotion and love. See some character growth. If he remained the dead-inside killer, would we still want to watch him four seasons later? I don’t know.

With the fifth season due to start airing September 26th, I hope the writers continue to make Dexter a character I want to root for.

Even though there’s still a part of me that churns at the thought.