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Killer king: How Dexter became the anti-hero that captivated audiences

From the opening moments of Dexter, it was obvious this was no ordinary television series.

Launched in 2006 and starring Michael C. Hall fresh from the quirky hit Six Feet Under, the series introduced us to Dexter Morgan.

Out for revenge: Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan.

Out for revenge: Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan.

He was good looking and charming, but not too much, so we knew he wasn’t a Brad Pitt-style leading man with the world at his feet.

He was also quirky and a bit shy, but no wallflower, which meant he wasn’t a Napoleon Dynamite out to prove himself.

And he was good at his job – a forensics experts at the Miami police department – but not overly ambitious so we didn’t have an overlooked beta-male heading toward an inevitable moment where everyone finally realised how great he actually was.

It was a confusing few minutes for new comers as we tried to figure out just where this new kid on the TV block fit in… especially given his hobby.

Possible reboot: Hall hasn't ruled out Dexter making a return.

Possible reboot: Hall hasn’t ruled out Dexter making a return.

When he wasn’t enjoying the Miami sun and helping solve crimes, Dexter was a serial killer, hunting his victims remorselessly and murdering them in the most horrific ways imaginable.

So how on earth was Dexter the hero?

Simple. The drama, based on a character created by author Jeff Lindsay, just made sure that Dexter, for all his very obvious faults, wasn’t the worst guy in the room.

Sure, he was a cold-blooded killer, but we learned fast that he had a code, stamped into him by his police officer foster father Harry who had realised early that Dexter was a monster in the making.

If Dexter had no choice but to kill Harry reasoned, then he should only kill the real predators out there, the men and woman who had used legal loopholes or sheer cunning to literally get away with murder.

So sure, he might be a killer, but he was a killer on *our* side.

Calculated killer: Dexter's appeal is that he's never the most evil guy in the room.

Calculated killer: Dexter’s appeal is that he’s never the most evil guy in the room.

It’s a similar leap of faith we’re asked to make with Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Better Call Saul’s Saul Goodman and the man who is arguably the screen’s most inexplicable hero, the cannibal killer Hannibal Lector.

It works, explains Michael C. Hall, because as bad as these characters are, they’re hunting people who are much worse.

“You’re sort of kind of given permission to identify with the guy, to root for him even, because he’s taken a unique responsibility for his darker impulses in that he kills people who arguably deserve it,” Hall said after he visited Australia for the series launch.

“You could argue that he’s preventing more murders than he’s committing because he’s killing killer.”

Or as his series co-star James Remar, who plays Harry, summed up in an online question and answer panel for fans: “Dexter is cool, Dexter has morals, Dexter has a code of conduct and he’s a good guy.”

Which gave television something we’d never had before, a bad/good guy, an antihero and a monster to cheer for.

“That was the appeal of it, right from the beginning, could this actually work?” Hall later said.

But it certainly did work and Dexter – the man and the series – broke the mould of what was acceptable for a lead character and paved the way for Walter White and more.

Tone setter: Dexter paved the way for characters such as Breaking Bad's Walter White.

Tone setter: Dexter paved the way for characters such as Breaking Bad’s Walter White.

And it made for unmissable television.

As the body count in Dexter rose (keep an eye out for his “memory box” where he stores trophies from his hills, he’s well into double figures by the time we meet him and doesn’t slow down through eight seasons) the tension for fans was split between how he would survive each encounter and how he would escape the increasing police attention.

Through the drama’s run a series of officials, amateurs and even rival killers get perilously close to revealing our by-now-much-loved antihero’s secrets. Watching him deal with that became as much a part of the Dexter fun as cringing at his bloodthirsty habits.

And it pushed the series into becoming a huge success, with millions tuning in by the time the eighth season wrapped, almost every one of them still happily arguing over the eventual end to Dexter’s killing spree.

And there’s good news for Dexter fans.

Without giving away too much for those haven’t seen the finale, there is still room for the killer with a code to make a comeback and star Michael C. Hall has said he’s open to the idea – providing it makes sense.

“Maybe,” he said when asked about the possibility of bringing back Dexter at the launch of his new series Safe.

“It’s a possibility given how the show ended that we could revisit Dexter, I have just yet to imagine or hear someone else’s idea that makes it feel worth doing.

“But never say never.”

If you haven't caught up with the murderous magic that is Dexter, Stan has all eight seasons available for streaming now. Check it out here: https://www.stan.com.au/watch/dexter

Stan is Australia’s leading local SVoD service, providing unlimited access to thousands of hours of entertainment for the whole family. Get access to the biggest Hollywood shows, blockbuster movies, cult classics and popular kids content on your favourite device. Start your free 30-day trial at Stan.com.au.

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