Dexter: Why do we love bad guys?
Next week sees the UK DVD release of Dexter: Season 8, the final instalment of Showtime’s crime drama series starring Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, a blood-splatter specialist working in forensics for the Miami Metro Police Department.
All very admirable, but for those who don’t know, Dexter is hiding a dark secret: he is a serial killer and a self-styled vigilante. Though he only kills those who are not brought to justice through the established channel of the courts, his gruesome, clinical killings are as much a product of his addiction to murder as his thirst for justice.
Over the last 7 years, Dexter has enthralled fans with its twists and turns as Morgan repeatedly comes close to being found out, but always manages to escape the long arm of the law. Since the first series in 2006, Dexter has lived a precarious double life as he somehow keeps his secret not only from his work colleagues – including his sister, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), who is a Miami cop – but also his girlfriend and her two children.
This is due in large part to Harry’s Code. The Code is a set of guidelines created by Dexter’s stepfather, Harry Morgan, who recognises the murderous tendencies the young Dexter and grooms him in order to channel these urges and use them for ‘good’.
This moral code is perhaps what sets Dexter apart from other serial killers and, for the many fans of the show, is the probably the main reason why we find ourselves rooting for him throughout, in spite of his murderous ways. He’s not the only one, though…
In recent years we have seen a litany of anti-hero protagonists on screen who win our affections despite their highly questionable actions. We take a look at 3 of the best-known examples:
The lead character in AMC’s smash hit Breaking Bad, Walter (Bryan Cranston) manages to gain our affections despite his increasingly selfish behaviour, particularly towards his partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Maybe it’s the cancer diagnosis early on in the series that helps audiences sympathise with Walter, but make no mistake: this is a very bad man indeed.
Tony is the beloved head honcho of a New Jersey crime family and even before this year’s tragic passing of actor James Gandolfini at the age of 51, Tony Soprano was – and remains - one of the most popular bad guys ever to grace our screens. Tony is a menacing but complex character, and The Sopranos’ way of allowing his good-natured side to come to the fore is perhaps one of the main reasons audiences warmed to him. Hey, mobsters are people too!
Ok, V from V for Vendetta is kind of a special case; he has been rather harshly treated and is railing against a government that is Orwellian in its levels of corruption and totalitarianism. But he is still a terrorist.
That hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of our most celebrated anti-heroes though. His mask has even been co-opted by hacktivist group Anonymous as well as the Occupy movement and has become a global symbol of ‘the 99%’.