Sometimes, there’s a very fine line between good and bad. These days, the hero doesn’t necessarily wear white and the villain isn’t always the guy in the black cape.
Nowhere is this more evident then on cable TV dramas. One of the most popular TV characters of the last fifteen years is Tony Soprano, and he’s no angel. In fact, you could argue that he is the worst kind of villain, killing just for the sake of killing and making others do the same on his behalf. He murders at will and would put out a hit on his own family if it meant protecting his own skin. And he did all this with very little guilty conscious and went about his family and personal business as if there was nothing unusual about his way of life.
On the other hand, there’s Dexter Morgan. Dexter is a bad man. He kills people. Regularly. Violently. Ritualistically. Close to 70 of them by my count but I’m sure there’s more. He may be a self-proclaimed monster, but is Dexter Morgan a villain?
First, there’s the fact that Dexter only kills those who deserve to be killed. He takes the law in to his own hands to rid the world, well at leastMiami, of those the justice system has skipped-over or ignored. Like other well known fictional vigilantes (Batman, The Green Hornet, or even Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey in Death Wish) his killings are not random and always serve a purpose – in his mind, the greater good.
He’s also a family man. Over the course of five-plus seasons we’ve seen Dexter kill to protect his sister, rescue his girlfriend’s kids from a fire, kill to avenge the wrong done to others and attempt to find love and gain acceptance from everyone around him. He’s human.
What makes the Dexter character so likeable is the fact that he just seems like a regular guy. His shortcomings in many ways remind us of ourselves – his awkwardness around the people at work and in his personal life remind us of the awkwardness in our own lives. We all have an inner alter-ego that we wish would come to life around the office jerk or the attractive girl. How many times have you said to yourself, “If only I’d of said…” or “next time I see her I’m gonna…”.
When Dexter’s ‘dark passenger’ comes to life there is nothing he can’t do and his confidence is immeasurable as he takes on men twice his size – just like a modern-day superhero. The difference is Dexter doesn’t trap them in a web or freeze them with his breath. Dexter kills them by drugging them, wrapping them in plastic and then exposing them to their sins just before dismembering their bodies and tossing them in the Miamiharbour. Ordinarily a heinous series of events, but in this case of Dexter, the apex of many episodes and a cheer-worthy moment most Sunday nights.
So the question remains, is Dexter a villain or a hero? I would put him in the tortured hero category as he knows what he’s doing isn’t necessarily right, but he truly believes that he is bringing his victims to justice. While many serial killers believe they are justified in their actions, in many ways, he actually is.
To see what a true villain looks like, check out Season 4 of Dexter for an incredible Golden Globe and Emmy winning performance by John Lithgow as Arthur Murray, The Trinity Killer – he is probably the creepiest and most chilling character I’ve ever seen portrayed on TV or film.