The acclaimed Showtime drama “Dexter” made history in February 2008 by being the first premium television show to be picked up by a network. CBS executives made the decision to air the edited version of Season 1 when the writers went on strike in November 2007. They came under fire from parental advisory groups, who didn’t want the show to air at all, and compromised with editing and by adding an advisory to the beginning of the program. The CBS version of the show has been edited to remove the gory murder scenes, as well as the sex and foul language that can be found on the Showtime version. The imagery of Dexter actually killing people is left out of the CBS version, though we do see him dump bodies into the ocean. The lighter version of “Dexter” is holding its own among the regular TV fare. So what’s so special about this program?
“Dexter” is adapted from “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”, which is the first in a four part series written by Jeff Lindsay. The main character, Dexter Morgan, is a serial killer who happens to be employed by the Miami Dade Police Department. His colleagues like him and have no idea what he does on the side. He is excellent at his job, which is analyzing blood splatter from crime scenes. And when he kills he does so with precision and without feeling. In voice-over narration he admits to feeling “hollow” and wondering what emotions must be like. While he’s picking his victims, the audience is shown two sides of this conflicted man as he helps bring criminals to justice in his own way. What happened to Dexter to make him so cold?
When he was a small child he witnessed something so horrible that his young mind blocked it out, but which changed him forever. Harry Morgan, who adopted Dexter as a 3 year-old, taught Dexter to only kill those who “deserve” it as well as how to act out real emotions. As he grew to manhood, Harry also taught Dexter how to fake emotions and pretend to enjoy sex. He wanted his son to appear normal and to be able to harness his homicidal tendencies in a positive way. He taught his son how to prepare for a kill and how to avoid getting caught. He explained to him that he must have evidence to prove that his victim is guilty and that killing innocent people is never permitted. Dexter knows that something terrible happened to him as a boy but can’t remember what it was. Because we’re watching the show through Dexter’s narration we don’t know either. All we know is that Dexter has “urges” to kill and gives in to those urges only when he knows that his victims are on the wrong side of the law.
The biggest difference between this show and other police dramas is pretty obvious. The show is incredibly edgy and it’s hard to get a firm grasp on who the bad guys are. The audience knows who the hero of the show is, but that idea is incompatible with the knowledge that the hero regularly kills other people. Do we want him caught or are we rooting for him? This aspect of “Dexter” is what makes it as good as it is.