Television shows face the challenge of being interesting and abnormal without being completely outside the realm of belief. A show that’s too much like real life would be boring — that’s why the bar on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” never goes bankrupt. But journey too far into the absurd (sorry, “Lost”), and you’ll lose your audience. The characters have to resemble real people, at least emotionally, or it’ll be impossible to connect with them.
“Dexter,” in my opinion, is one of the best-written shows on television precisely because it has mastered this tricky balance. The show has developed the main character — a loveable vigilante assassin — successfully and artfully, altering Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) and making his growth interesting and intriguing.
Dexter has transformed from the soulless person of Season 1 into a committed father who is dealing with the consequences of his developing humanity. This smooth evolution in Dexter’s personality has made him more relatable; his choices are influenced by more than just the “dark passenger” — what Dexter calls his desire to kill — as he has to consider the consequences of his actions for his friends and family. He’s managed to maintain a facade of normalcy in his life because he has an outlet for his impules.
We’ve followed the journey of our unlikely hero and have a special insight into his inner workings and thought process that other characters do not. We have witnessed his moral and emotional faculties develop from an child like blank slate to a very pragmatic morality guided by his adoptive father and finally to a more nuanced and outward-looking ethic. Despite the shady moral implications of his actions, we can’t help but feel that Dexter’s motives are pure. For one, it seems that his actions deserve merit on some level — he doesn’t kill at random because he has a careful selection process and only kills those who have fallen through the cracks of justice.
Dexter does what we all wish we could do: take justice into our own hands. Let’s be honest here — it would be great to punch someone who was bullying an innocent and defenseless person and not be charged for assault. This is what makes it possible to relate to such a strange and unique character, although I assume not many Georgetown students are guilty of murder.
The fact is that there’s darkness in all of us. In Dexter’s case, this is amplified by the tragic circumstances of his childhood. In real life, we have our own demons and commit our own sins, even if they aren’t as dramatic as the ones we see on television. After all, no one is entirely good.
That’s the way real people are, too; it’s easy to view people we don’t know in simple, black-and-white terms. “Dexter” is a show that makes us confront the nature of evil and the complex motivations people actually have. The truth is that good and evil can overlap, as sometimes an immoral action creates a net good.
Our motives and our reasoning are not always understood or accepted — even if they make perfect sense to us. However, if we believe in the good that can come out of our actions, we continue despite the social ramifications or potential judgment. This is exactly what Dexter does. Even though he has an urge to kill — an urge that has been with him his entire life — he focuses this drive on those he feels deserve it.
This season is pivotal for Dexter, as the last string that connects Dexter to his almost normal livelihood is tense and ready to snap. Dexter faces a struggle to be understood and to overcome the imbalance caused by hiding such a huge part of his personality. It’ll be intriguing to see how Dexter and the other eccentric characters on this show handle these pressures. And who knows: We might even learn more about ourselves from it.
Eduardo Gueiros is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. BEHIND THE SCREENS appears every other Friday in the guide.