Killer Thursdays

A Tale of Two Dexters – Dexter Morgan, Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of this Dexter Morgan series. In Part 1 we talked about how Dexter came to be so dashing and deadly and, in Part 2, we talked about Dexter, the family man. For the first two parts, we focused mainly on the Dexter and Jeff Lindsay’s novels but there are two Dexters. How do these two Dexter’s stack up against one another?

In this corner, weighing in at six novels, with a penchant for white silk masks, high-test fishing line and slow dismemberment, the original Tall, Dark and Deadly, Dexter Morgan.

And in this corner, weighing in at six seasons with at least two more on the horizon, with a fondness for plastic wrap, M99 and stabbing, the Showtime Dexter Morgan.

The Showtime series is based on Jeff Lindsay‘s first Dexter novel, Darkly, Dreaming Dexter but, by the end of the first season, the two Dexters embark on very different paths. While some of the story elements and characters remain the same (or very similar) others are completely different and radically alter the feel of the story

Both novel and TV Dexter are charming and naïve (yes, I just called a serial killer naïve) but novel Dexter is somewhat more socially dense, consistently missing social cues (his encounters with amorous ladies provide much hilarity) and struggling to maintain his “mask,” especially when he’s in danger of missing a meal. Novel Dexter is also fond of euphoric interior monologues with Lots of Capitalization and is less proactive against the major antagonists in the novels.

Both Dexters have similar relationships with foster parents Harry and Doris Morgan (deceased), foster-sister Deb (Deborah and the novels and Debra in the series) and wife Rita.

The key differences between the two Dexters lie with brother Brian Moser and stepchildren Cody and Astor.  Both Brians secretly engage Dexter in a twisted game culminating in an attempt to convince Dexter to kill Deb, the “fake” sister, but Novel Dexter lets Brian live while TV Dexter does not. While TV Cody and Astor are mostly ordinary children (if a little subdued), Novel Cody and Astor are budding serial killers and Dexter, feeling that he is their “spiritual” father, decides to rear them with the Harry Code

Dark Passenger
Much more prominent in the novels than in the series. Novel Dark Passenger (DP) is portrayed as a separate, conscious entity that lives inside Dexter and drives much of Dexter’s Need to kill. It’s described as being able to enter a person who has experienced a severely traumatic event, especially as a young child. While some feel this “possession” element of the novels spoils the storyline, I think it adds an interesting supernatural element and allows for more storytelling freedom.

In the novels, Dexter is not the only one with the DP and the DPs can sense one another. This means that Dexter can often pick out a killer in a crowd and that others, however unconscious of the DP, can sense the darkness and Dexter. This is why Novel Sgt. Doakes (Albert in the novels) senses that Dexter is a killer without any proof. And this is also how Dexter determines the Novel Cody and Astor are serial killers in the making.

In the series, the DP is more a convenient label for Dexter’s urge to kill, though various killing partners act as a kind of personification of the DP.

In the novels, Brian, Deb, Cody and Astor know Dexter’s secret. Brian would like Dexter to kill with him as part of a team but Dexter declines. Cody and Astor are eager to learn from Dexter and, though Dexter is determined to bring them up with the Harry Code, he struggles with his growing conscience.

In the series, Harry play a kind of hallucinatory Jiminy Cricket role to Dexter. Dexter also partners with various other killers (which generally doesn’tt end well for the partner). In Season 6, brother Brian “returns,” encouraging Dexter to embrace his spontaneous side.

Both Dexters generally select victims according to the Harry Code. Aside from the differences in the story arcs, there are some other differences in how the two Dexters choose their victims. Novel Dexter is inclined to only go after killers with multiple victims, especially if the victims are especially vulnerable (children, the homeless, etc), who who evade the justice system. TV Dexter seems to have slightly looser requirements for his victims and has, at times, manipulated evidence to make sure his chosen victim stays out of prison and within Dexter’s reach.

Kill Ritual
Both Dexters elaborate kill rooms and clean up thoroughly afterward.

Novel Dexter usually hides his face with a white silk mask and subdues his victims with high test fishing line. He prefers to take his time killing and thoroughly enjoying the process (which comes through much more darkly and more disturbingly than in the series). He disposes of the bodies in a variety of ways, once even dissolving a victim in acid.

TV Dexter forgoes the mask and subdues his victims with an injection of M99, etorphine (an elephant tranquilizer). He favors enormous amounts of plastic wrap (one wonders where he acquires so much saran wrap on the down low… Costco? Walmart? Amazon?) and quick kills with a single stab of the knife. He dumped the bodies in the same place in the ocean until they were discovered in Season 2. Now, he dumps them so the tides wash all the evidence out to sea.


The match is over but is there a champ? Not in my opinion. Both the series and the novels offer something different and can be seen as as two alternate Dexter universes. And both can be enjoyed for their unique merits.

What do you think? How do the two Dexters stack up? Is there a champ?


Do we love Dexter too much? Stay tuned for Part 4.

The Friday Stumble is moving to bimonthly biweekly status. Look for it again on 5/4.

Photo Credit
Image via Random House (fair use)
Image via Wikipedia (fair use)
DSC_2827 by M Glasgow, on Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

5 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Dexters – Dexter Morgan, Part 3

  1. This is one of the best breakdowns I’ve seen between a book and movie/TV show. So well written! I’ve only seen the first two seasons of Dexter, and haven’t read the book. Loved your review!

  2. Wow! Thank you so much! Usually I find differing visions between a show/movie and a novel frustrating but I love the differences here. I’ve had a lot of fun with this series so far.

  3. I just discovered this series today and absolutely love it. I quit reading the Dexter novels after the third one because the differences in the plot lines kept me confused. Once the series is over, I plan to reread the novels.

    I’m running into the same thing with True Blood, for what it’s worth. If Queen Charlaine wasn’t about to wrap up the series, I’d pick either the novels or the series and move on.

    I love the way you’ve done this and the amount of thinking it must have taken to put all this together. Good job!

  4. Yeah, I probably wouldn’t want to read the novels and watch the show at the same time. I saw the first season or two of the show first and then read as many novels as were available during the breaks.

    My mom’s a big fan of the True Blood novels but hated the changes in the show. The novels are on my to-read list.

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