The Movie-Book/The TV-Book Challenge: Dexter Season One vs Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Dexter Morgan played by Michael C. Hall

I have an unhealthy fascination with serial killer themed shows. Or at least, any drama involving murders. It began with CSI, I took a hiatus, and eventually I was drawn to CBS’ Criminal Minds and Showtime’s Dexter. Unlike FBI/CSI/CIA-centered shows, Dexter speaks from the opposite perspective: from that of a ‘vigilante’ serial killer.

Dexter Morgan is Miami PD’s resident blood spatter analyst. He is well accepted by his peers, save for the ever hostile Agent Doakes. Working with him in the department is his sister Deb, the complete opposite of Dexter but a complementary partner when it comes to crime-solving. His girlfriend is Rita, a dough-eyed mother of two recovering from a history of physical abuse and rape from her ex-husband. Rita’s kids have a special spot in Dexter’s heart. Dexter, by all accounts, appears to be a normal, functioning member of society. Decent job. Good girlfriend. A steady set of friends and respect from his workmates.

Appearances. The most intelligent human beings know how to keep them up consistently and manipulate them into an accepted reality. Serial killers are some of the best at doing this. And underneath his facade of ‘being normal’, Dexter hides an unresponsiveness to human emotion and a growing desire to kill.

But Dexter’s victimology doesn’t involve women, children, or random individuals. He’s a serial killer who gets rid of other serial killers or murderers who’ve never been convicted. For some, this end may not justify the means, but Dexter Morgan’s serial kills certainly make you question how strong you believe in this principle.

Dexter is adapted from Jeff Lindsay’s book trilogy: Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Dearly Devoted Dexter, and Dexter in the Dark. The show’s first season draws from Dexter’s dark dreaming–both on screen and in print, as he finds himself with fascinated with Miami’s very own ‘Ice Truck Killer.’ The Ice Truck Killer murders prostitutes, drains the blood off their bodies, cuts up their body parts and leaves them in public places. Unlike other murderers, he doesn’t want to kill this one; in fact, he wants to meet him since he feels a connection when studying the case and any of its victims.

Whether or not you’ve seen the TV adaptation, Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a book you can’t put down. It’s an exciting murder mystery that not only delves into solving who the Ice Truck Killer is, but also into who Dexter is as a ‘human being’. Why does he kill? Was there a trauma from his past that led to him being a cold blooded murderer? Does he struggle in keeping up a ‘normal’ appearance? How well does he cover up and how long until he gets caught? Do his killing acts make him any less of a ‘person’ as society so strictly defines?

The TV series stays faithful to Lindsay’s work, fleshing out the characters with the right casting and cinematography. Michael C. Hall does a superb job playing Dexter, with his perfect-for-narrative voice matching the book’s first person point of view. Jennifer Carpenter’s tough girl accent and unparalleled gorgeousness (I cannot name another TV actress who is just as beautiful, to be honest) are the perfect combination to bringing Deb Morgan to life.

Unfortunately, reading the book before seeing the show is not a practical idea. Anyone who hasn’t seen the show may have a hard time imagining the characters themselves while reading the book. Lindsay’s book focuses primarily on Dexter, and leaves out room for the reader to understand the supporting characters. The TV series actually provides a more complete picture, giving his officemates Doakes, Batista, Masuka, and his girlfriend Rita more significant roles in Dexter’s life. In the book, Rita only shows up for the first half of the book then is mentioned at the end as an after thought. Angel and Masuka only show up for a few paragraphs. It would be hard for someone who read the book first before seeing the series to get a clearer picture of all the characters and the dark, crime-infested world they live in.

The timeline for a TV series may be longer than a book, giving more opportunities for viewers to sympathize and embrace all of Dexter‘s characters. Having seen the series first, I felt shortchanged and expected more from his work. Unfortunately, Lindsay doesn’t use the novel medium to do this. His background as a playwright is obvious, since his book is dialogue heavy. And although his conversations did a lot of showing (rather than telling) about the characters’ traits, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses, the story still didn’t feel as complete as the series. Towards the end, it felt rushed and there were too many ‘deus ex machina’ moments written for the sake of a conclusion. I don’t want to spoil interested TV series watchers, but I’ll guarantee you this: the show’s writers improved on a lot, given Lindsay’s written ending.

Overall, Lindsay’s work wasn’t a waste of time. It was interesting to see where the show got it roots from and I could tell why the producers saw potential in his work. I intend on finishing both the books and the series, but I don’t want to heighten my expectations for the former. Nonetheless, I’m still excited to read both and see how Dexter’s strange story unfolds

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