Skip to content

Breaking Dex: Dexter Morgan vs. Walter White

Ryan Ghuman, 3L

*Warning: Do not read this article if you have not watched the final seasons of Dexter or Breaking Bad

This past September many of us were forced to say goodbye to two good friends; Dexter Morgan and Walter White. As both Showcase’s Dexter and AMC’s Breaking Bad decided to conclude their long and successful runs at roughly the same time, I thought it would be a fun idea to compare and contrast the conclusions given to my two favourite anti-heroes. While both Dexter and Breaking Bad are responsible for what some critics have dubbed as television’s second golden age, only one of these shows was able to conclude on its own terms and at the peak of its critical acclaim. Before we can discuss why Dexter was so bad, we should first look at why Breaking Bad was so good.

Breaking Bad told the story of a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher named Walter White, who with the help of his former student, entered the world of methamphetamine production. With a stellar supporting cast by his side, Bryan Cranston was able to transform from the loveable Hal we knew from Malcolm in the Middle into the intriguing megalomaniac known as Heisenberg. The final season of Breaking Bad was broken up and shown to us over two years, and when it finally returned for the final 8 episodes on August 11th, the writers wasted no time in giving us what we wanted. Showrunner Vince Gilligan crafted a satisfying final season that told the downfall of Walter White, all while resisting external pressure to extend the series for a few more seasons. When Breaking Bad concluded, there is no doubt that it was at the height of its critical acclaim and mass appeal. With that in mind, it would be difficult to blame those with a vested financial interest in the show, such as AMC, from ordering more episodes and capitalizing further on its success. However, what separated Breaking Bad from the competition is that the producers of the show knew when to stop. I was very satisfied with the conclusion of Walter White’s story and while I admit that the show could have likely continued on for several more seasons, I am glad that those in charge elected to end the show when they did. Returning to his home as a man with nothing to lose, Walter White was able to tie up loose-ends, admit to his wife that everything he did was for himself and not his family (a delusion he maintained throughout the show), and defeat his enemies one last time. The show gave its viewers a final moment of catharsis before finally riding off into the pantheon of television greatness. Continuing the show past its logical conclusion would likely have had the effect of retroactively degrading our memory of the greatness that was the first 5 seasons. Success like that achieved by Breaking Bad will be difficult for many subsequent shows to duplicate, and by agreeing to end the show when they did, AMC preserved the integrity of Vince Gilligan’s story and ensured that it will be fondly remembered as one of the best television programs of all time.

In contrast to my satisfaction with the conclusion of Breaking Bad is the bitter taste left by the final season of Dexter. Dexter Morgan; the mild-mannered serial killer brought to life by Michael C. Hall was for a time my favourite character on television, and that is partly why I was so disappointed with what Showtime did to him. Dexter told the story of a man haunted by his childhood and although he tried to blend in with humanity he also had to satisfy an inherent need to kill. Popular opinion is that Dexter peaked at the conclusion of Season 4, when the Trinity Killer murdered Dexter’s wife and forever changed the dynamic of the show. While the death of Rita was both sad and shocking, many fans were excited at the prospect of Dexter finally experiencing tangible consequences caused by his double-life. However, instead of building on this concept, Showtime elected to turn Dexter into a glorified soap opera in the hopes of extending the show for several more seasons. After teasing fans with the possibility of Dexter’s life unraveling and his secret being exposed, new showrunner Scott Buck elected to make Dexter somewhat invincible and immune to all police suspicion. With the possibility of him ever being completely exposed seemingly ignored during the final few seasons, the show suffered a massive dip in quality. Even during its final season, the producers elected to waste time with unnecessary side stories that served no purpose in getting to the final resolution. Whereas Breaking Bad was focused and driven towards its conclusion, Dexter lacked direction. While most fans were emotionally content with Dexter trading in his blood spatter kit for life as a lumberjack, I for one was disappointed with the inconsequential and drawn-out way that he got there.  Dexter Morgan realized that his desire to experience the emotions associated with humanity consistently led to those around him suffering. While Dexter learned to experience things such as love and affection, he was unable to cope with loss and sadness. While it ultimately made sense that he would give up his family and choose to live the remainder of his life in seclusion, I felt as though it was a lesson that he learned too late. The prolonging of the show served no purpose other than to expose its flaws and degrade the strong legacy it had built over the first 4 seasons. In my opinion, Dexter will be remembered as a missed opportunity for greatness.

As the final season of Breaking Bad got better, the quality of writing in the final season of Dexter got worse. Furthermore, this contrast in quality between the two shows was greatly amplified by the fact that they both shared the coveted 9pm Sunday night timeslot on their respective networks. Had Dexter been allowed to conclude when its writers had intended, perhaps the show would have left a stronger legacy. Unfortunately the decision to extend it for several seasons after it should have reached a logical conclusion will negatively impact how the show will be remembered. In comparison, Breaking Bad will be the gold standard that all future cable dramas will be held towards.