When most people think of a serial killer, we envision monstrous people who feel we have nothing in common with. Serial killers are most often labeled as unstable, psychotic, and troubled. In the Showtime series Dexter, we are introduced to a very unique type of serial killer. In this series, Dexter Morgan leads a secret life as a serial killer who chooses victims who have themselves violated the justice system in some way. What makes this series so unique is the narrative that is displayed throughout each episode that enables the viewer to hear Dexter's deepest thoughts. The narrative structure in the Showtime series Dexter resonates with viewers in that we feel as though we can relate to Dexter, and we feel sympathy towards him despite being a serial killer. Furthermore, enabling viewers to hear Dexter's deepest thoughts allows us to see him as more of a hero rather than a villain.
|Dexter Morgan: father, blood spatter analyst, serial killer.|
Given what we know about Dexter, how can we so enthusiastically embrace him and his monstrous nature? One critic claims that America enjoys morally complex lead characters that challenge our notions of right and wrong. “Most of us would agree that murder is “wrong”, and serial killers are “abnormal. We as “normal” citizens do not commit crimes, nor can we relate to those who do” (Donnelly, 2012). What she is arguing is that American's are unconsciously looking for ways to confirm this ideology. Furthermore, we watch shows, like Dexter, on those who commit crime to reinforce the concept that these beings are “others” and we are not similar to them (Donnelly, 2012). While it is fairly clear why we might ?nd serial killers disgusting and horrifying, it
is less certain why we ?nd them so compelling and interesting. Dexter allows us to identify with the “best” sides of a serial killer; he is a trickster, father-figure, an outlaw artist, an alienated outsider, has an undeniable sense of humor, and who, despite his “legitimate” violence, adheres to a strict code (Smith, 2011).
I believe that it is the first-person narrative structure that attracts viewers to the show in that we get a look inside the mind of a serial killer. Dexter offers us an uneasy place for us to identify with a serial killer, however, he justifies his actions as only killing those who have killed others, therefore we sympathize with him and do not feel what he is doing is wrong. Given that Dexter offers us a personal look into each victim through his thoughts, and we only see him murder those who have themselves violated the system, we label his actions as justified. Dexter's kills in the first season are clearly meant to win over the audience’s sympathy, if not approval; a serial rapist, and a snuff film killer who is shown specifically killing “good” women - those who are married, pretty, and has children (Smith, 2011). Dexter's character and his personal narratives show the audience how vulnerable and unsure he really is. Viewers know that Dexter is, “very unsure of how to be, how to feel, or even if he can feel; he tells us several times in Episode One, he does not have feelings about things and he feels empty inside” (Smith, 2011). Viewers feel as though they can relate to Dexter's character by learning about tragic life events in his own words through his thoughts.
nature and his non-serial killer/super hero alter ego is disarming and friendly in that, viewers see Dexter Morgan as more of a superhero rather than a villain. Dexter presents audiences with a clear reason for his madness (forced to witness murder of his mother at a young age)” (Donnelly, 2012). Dexter's actions and deepest thoughts are what enables us able to identify with him.
It's through the use of Dexter's private and deepest thoughts that allow the viewer to relate to him despite his identity as a serial killer. Viewers of the show feel sympathy towards Dexter, and we begin to see him as more of a hero rather than a villain. Through the use of narration, we're able to get inside Dexter's head and find out his deepest thoughts on life and why he does what he does. Whether it is hearing his thoughts on a recent blood spatter case at work, or hearing him justify the reasons why he is killing someone, we're able to feel a connection to Dexter by hearing his personal thoughts as narration.
Donnelly, Ashley (2012). The New American Hero: Dexter, Serial Killer for the Masses. Journal of Popular Culture, 45:1, 15-26.
Smith, Victoria. (2011). Our Serial Killers, Our Superheroes, and Ourselves: Showtime's Dexter. Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 28:5, 390-400.