The general Dexter character is distinctive because of his persona as a serial killer who only kills bad people, but the television version of Dexter is even more unique because he is an amalgamation of several writers’ visions.
The core concept of the character was created by author Jeff Lindsay, who has written a series of five books centered on protagonist Dexter and has a sixth book on the way. The ideas of Dexter’s dark past leading him to become what he is and adoptive father Harry teaching him how to channel his urges are the brainchildren of Lindsay.
The first season of Dexter almost identically followed the plot of Lindsay’s first book, but after that the television writers took over. The evolution of the TV version of Dexter was crafted by showrunner Clyde Phillips and head writer Melissa Rosenberg.
What has resulted is a rare case in which the television version of a character and story is better than the source material. Lindsay’s first two books were strong, but after that the narrative begins to fall apart. The third and fourth books have Dexter fighting supernatural forces, and the execution is just as ridiculous as it sounds.
But where Lindsay took a wrong turn, the TV writers took the right one. Instead of turning Dexter into a mystic, they made him more human. Dexter gradually becomes more concerned with and attached to the “ordinary life” that originally was meant only as a mask to hide behind.
The result is a much more relatable character to which the audience feels more emotionally attached. It also creates the odd feeling of rooting for a character that at times seems pure evil. Just as Dexter feels torn by conflicting desires, the audience is torn in how it feels about him.
The television crew also has done an excellent job of introducing new conflicts that help progress the Dexter character. The Trinity Killer story arc alone was enough to propel the show to elite status, but it was so great because it tied back to Dexter at almost every turn. The evolution of the character throughout Season 4 is some of the strongest I’ve ever seen.
Dexter remains so interesting in no small part thanks to the performance of Michael C. Hall, who has been deservedly recognized for his efforts. He has been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, and won a Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance.
Hall manages to play creepy and “normal” equally well. He is nightmare-inducing when he has his victims strapped to a table for their last moments of life, but still manages to be relatable when he’s trying to balance his home life with his darker proclivities. Not an easy task to pull off.
We now are sitting almost five years after the first episode of Dexter aired, and the main character is still among the most intriguing on TV. If the writing or acting had been anything less than stellar, the show likely would have stalled after the novelty of the character wore off. But luckily, that never happened.
Programming Note: The sixth season of Dexter will begin on Sept. 25, 2011 on Showtime. Seasons 1 and 2 currently are available on Netflix’s Instant Stream.
TV’s Top 10 Characters
10 – Stewie Griffin
9 – Sterling Archer
8 – Chuck Bartowski
7 – Manny Delgado
6 – Dexter Morgan
5 – Barney Stinson
4 – Don Draper
3 – Abed Nadir
2 – Phil Dunphy
1 – Ron Swanson
Honorable Mention – April 1