Dexter: the OG sympathetic serial killer returns

A very angelic photo of Dexter Morgan – because all the angels I know have blood spatters for wings. On Being via Flickr

Eight years after going off-air, a new and improved Dexter is set to return to screens this week

The film and television industry has always had a fascination with serial killers. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that the North American audience has always had a fascination with serial killers, and these industries have simply followed the money. A quick Google search reveals no less than 24 TV shows about serial killers available on one streaming platform or another. This is even before we count thrillers, police procedurals, and detective genre shows that often have minor story arcs dedicated to the theme.

There is, however, one show that stands out in the minds of crime fans for two reasons. First, since this show premiered in 2006, it arrived on the scene some time before the entire industry seems to be taken over by the hype. Second, it was possibly the first show to feature the serial killer as the protagonist, the character you are meant to root for and empathize with.

Based on a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay, Dexter was a crime drama series about Dexter Morgan, a serial killer hiding in plain sight as a forensics analyst with Miami Police. His adoptive father Harry, who was a police officer, noticed the telltale signs in young Dexter. Instead of freaking out or trying to get Dexter to bury this aspect of himself, Harry then trains Dexter to become the perfect serial killer, the one who never leaves a clue behind and is simply uncatchable. The catch? In return, Dexter must promise to only kill those who deserve it: criminals and degenerates who somehow used their wealth and power to escape the legal process.

From here, the show essentially is just a series of Dexter’s murders, always with the backstory on why these victims deserved it. In the first season, his victims range from a child molester to a gang member who keeps escaping the law because no one dares testify against him. Soon though, the storyline gets more involved. We see glimpses into Dexter’s past and are able to slowly piece together the reasons for his deranged obsession. In nearly every season, we are also introduced to one other serial killer, sometimes an adversary to Dexter, and others kindred spirits if not mentors.

Interwoven with the tales of murder, police investigations, and Dexter’s frantic race to stay a few steps ahead of an FBI investigation, there’s the story of him trying to blend in. Initially, Dexter is dating and interacting with his coworkers simply because, as Harry taught him, not doing so would invite attention and scrutiny. But over subsequent seasons, maybe simply as fan service, we see his character grow, develop empathy, and form a few genuine connections. Will these last, though? Or will somebody in Dexter’s life notice the late nights, the blank look in his eyes at times, and his obsession with blood spatters? You’ll have to find out for yourself. Fair warning though, by the end of the eighth season you may find yourself more sympathetic to a serial killer than you would have originally thought possible.

The season 8 finale was aired on Showtime on September 22, 2013. While many ardent fans feel that the last season was a bit of a letdown, any TV show fan can probably think of a show that ended on a far worse note. You know, one whose title rhymes with “name of cones.” If, like me, you are a Dexter fan who never quite got closure, there is good news: Dexter is returning this fall with a ten episode limited series, and is scheduled to premiere on November 7 on Showtime. As fans who have seen the trailer may have noticed, it seems that all these years later Dexter has finally mastered completely blending in, playing the friendly neighbor that everyone has a nod and a smile for. Will it last? I, for one, cannot wait to find out!


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