The editorials for this Saturday and next Saturday will be about two of the best fictional bad men or anti-heroes (depending on how fervently you cheer for your villains) that television has ever produced.
This Sunday, the series finale for Dexter airs on Movie Central. Next Sunday, the series finale for Breaking Bad hits the screen on AMC. Dexter Morgan and Walter White are horrific men, evil geniuses willing to kill to support their principles and further their goals.
More on Walt next week.
Dexter is the walking, talking answer to the question "can a serial killer be good?"
The short answer is yes and it's right there in his name, based on the Latin word for righteous and skilled. Dexter is both of those in his passion for killing other killers. In the eight seasons of Dexter, more than 100 people have died on his table (boy, Miami sure has its share of killers...), but it's likely he saved more than 100 human beings from becoming victims of these other murderers.
Dexter works under a "code" provided to him by his father, a police officer who taught him how to elude detection and find the men and women who deserved a permanent sentence for their crimes but had eluded more conventional forms of justice.
Dexter, both the man and the program, has lost its way over the past few years. The first, second and fourth seasons were particularly strong. Dexter took pride in standing alone from the rest of humanity. He knew he was different, he knew he was special and his lack of patience in human customs made him a more attractive character. He was a deadly version of Data and Spock from Star Trek - cool, cunning, logical and hopelessly inept socially.
Those early seasons, despite their bleak subject, had plenty of humour, and not just his sister Deb's constant swearing. Dexter made the same kind of public missteps everyone has made on the way to maturity. He understood everything, particularly the mind set of other killers, but "normal" human behaviour was a complete mystery.
Unfortunately, the last four seasons of Dexter have been less satisfying. In the same way that Data's progression towards emotion on Star Trek: The Next Generation (or Pinocchio becoming a real boy) made him suddenly boring, so has Morgan's "growth." His whining about his feelings and his devotion to his son is as insincere and dull and just plain wrong as a wolf crying the blues about an ingrown toe nail.
To suggest that Dexter was lonely or wanted to be understood, which has been the recurring theme of the past three seasons in particular, was to ignore the core of the character fans fell for in the show's first two seasons. Dexter started out portraying a benevolent monster, who weeds out the other monsters in our midst without us even being aware of either him or the monsters. His benevolence wasn't because he cared about people but because he wanted to live free among them, so he could keep doing what he liked doing (chopping people up and tossing their parts in the ocean).
He didn't care for people, he tolerated them, especially the most important people in his life, because they were simply decoration, pieces of furniture to disguise his true self.
So the show limps to a finish, a shadow of its once promising self. The character, however,remains a problem, a reflection of the slippery morals and doublespeak of the early 21st century and the willingness of a society to surrender its rights to dark forces on the perimeter in order that we may all stay in the light, safe and oblivious. Dexter is the human embodiment of covert military operations, drone strikes, secret prisons, enhanced interrogations and the endless war on terror.
Whatever his fate in Sunday's finale, the character lives on in modern America except the real-world Dexter Morgan has yet to show any crisis of conscience.