Plenty of awesome things starting on US TV at the moment, and plenty of awesome things returning, so I missed that an intriguing show I read about in the paper months back had started – until Graham supplied the pilot. Played by best-thing-about Six Feet Under Michael Hall, Dexter’s a sociopathic compulsive serial killer with a day job as a forensic analyst for the Miami police, specialising in blood-splatters. And killing murderers. It’s not about him taking out the guys the police can’t prove their case against, it’s about him desperately needing to sate his bloodlust and deciding to at least restrict himself to the more deserving victims. And it is, of course, superb.
Dexter fakes normal, happy life with aplomb, making the atmosphere absurdly sunny and upbeat. His boss fancies him, his sister depends on him, and he has a doting rape-victim girlfriend he dates because neither of them are interested in sex. Forensic science is a world in which everyone has to be ghoulishly indifferent to murder just to get through the day, joking about corpses over donuts, so Dexter’s bona fide ghoulishness blends in seamlessly. Only one cop thinks Dexter’s a sick freak barely attempting to hide it, and loathes him violently and openly. Dexter is relentlessly nice in response, and inwardly slightly saddened that only one person seems to have noticed.
The joke, of course, is that Dexter has a superb insight into the workings of a serial killer’s mind, and has to actively try not to catch them in his official capacity in order to keep himself in potential victims. In the pilot, he comes across an ongoing case in which all victims are found neatly dismembered and entirely drained of blood, a style Dexter admires so breathlessly that he has trouble maintaining a professional veneer when he first sees the body – “Why didn’t I think of that?”. His usual distaste for the killers he kills is completely eclipsed by his awe at this man’s style, and the two of them are starting to become fixated with one another – the killer stalking Dexter in the most chilling way, which Dexter takes as a friendly hello.
Really the remarkable thing about him is not that he’s a serial killer, it’s that he’s a well-written sociopath. Like Highsmith’s Ripley he fakes his civilised persona so well that even you are won over by it, and like Ellroy’s Terror his compulsion is so compellingly depicted that you empathise with it almost as much as Monk’s OCD. It proves that a protagonist can be sympathetic irrespective of his crimes if his personality is appealing enough, and you couldn’t ask for a more delicious twist on the traditional ace-detective archetype.
The comments hereafter may be spoilerific for anyone not up to date with the latest episode aired in the States.