Warning: Spoilers for Dexter, which ended six years ago, ahead.
Earlier this week, Netflix felt the need to speak out. The streaming service had finally had enough — simply too many people on Twitter were calling mass murderer Ted Bundy hot. The unsettling social media storm followed the Friday, January 25, twin release of Netflix's four-episode Ted Bundy Tapes docuseries and the trailer for the Zac Efron-starring Sundance film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile. All of a sudden, the Twittersphere was powered by extreme Bundy thirst, leading Netflix to tweet, “Would like to gently remind everyone that there are literally THOUSANDS of hot men on the service — almost all of whom are not convicted serial murderers.”
The pointed shade reminded many of Gossip Girl alum Penn Badgley’s disturbed reaction to the horny public reception for his character Joe Goldberg, the brooding fictional serial killer murdering his way through You. From the moment the sexy thriller — and You definitely is sexy — arrived on Netflix in late December, viewers were lining up to excuse Joe’s string of slayings and kidnappings out of reverence for his purposefully dreamy looks.
But before internet denizens were shrugging at the alleged “sexiness” of Ted Bundy in his Tapes or theorizing Joe Goldberg is too good for Beck (Elizabeth Lail) or marveling at the “perfection” of Darren Criss’ Andrew Cunanan in American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace (newly on Netflix, leading to the quietly mounting interest), there was another supposedly sexy serial killer taking up our TV screens. Specifically, Dexter’s Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, now leading Skittles Super Bowl ads), who now also lives on Netflix. The OG Showtime serial killer is the forefather of all of this murder-adjacent thirst — and the antidote.
From the jump, Dexter, which began its eight-season run in October 2006, wants viewers to not only root for its leading man, but to lust after him. Dexter, a Miami Police Department-employed forensics technician, is shirtless within the first 10 minutes of the series premiere. The moment reveals the part-time serial killer has broader shoulders than anyone would expect a “lab geek” to possess and a toned torso to match. Dexter’s signature super thin henley tees hug his muscular frame in a fashion the Teen Wolf boys would recognize.
But Dexter is banking on more than star Michael C. Hall’s unassuming hotness. By the time viewers see Dexter half-naked, the show has already tried to convince us he is a “neat monster,” a descriptor the serial killer himself uses in voiceover. Much of his pristine murdering is owed to the code he set up with his late father Harry (James Remar), a former cop: only kill bad people when you find hard evidence. Although Harry is dead, he still appears in scene-setting flashbacks that slowly unveil Dexter's horrifically traumatizing past. While we can never know Dexter's initial destiny, the show suggests he only picked up his bloodthirsty “Dark Passenger,” as the series calls Dex's dark side, from a gruesome childhood. It's a biographical detail and narrative insinuation he shares with You's Joe and ACS's Andrew.
Dexter's connections with the women in his life work even harder to make him look like a covetable partner. His relationship with his sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) reveals he’s a ceaselessly good big brother. He also has a girlfriend named Rita (Buffyverse dazzler Julie Benz), a single mom of two who still bears the emotional scars of an abusive relationship. By dating Dexter, a man initially uninterested in sex, Rita is afforded a caring partnership without the demands of sexual intimacy. As the first season of Dexter reaches its crescendo, Dexter puts everything on the line to protect both of these women, saving them from the respective “worse” men in their orbit.
Dexter posits its lead might be a monster, but at least he rids the world of bigger monsters — with rock hard biceps no less.
Yet, Dexter is not the ultimate savior of these women — he’s their ticket to the grave. In season 4, Dexter becomes fixated on a serial killer named Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow), who is known as the “Trinity Killer.” Arthur is the man Dexter, now married to Rita and a new dad, wants to grow up to be. By day, the Trinity Killer is a father of two, husband, and suburbanite. In his spare time, he mass murders. Dexter works to get close to Arthur so he can learn the blueprint to his “success.” Unsurprisingly, this game ends horribly, with Arthur murdering Rita to punish Dexter. Rita’s story closes with her body in a blood-filled tub, her baby with Dexter gore-splattered and sobbing on the floor.
“It doesn’t matter what what I choose,” Dexter says as the last words of season 4. “I’m what’s wrong. This is fate.”
That is why Dexter’s much-hated series finale ends with its eponymous character in self-imposed exile far from the sunny beaches of Miami after he is forced to mercy kill Deb and drop her body in the ocean. With a farewell like that, the drama confirms a prolific murderer like Dexter was never a sexy vigilante — he was a violent predator who ended up ruining (or ending) the lives of everyone around him. If you’re still not sure that message was Dexter’s goal, know that former showrunner Clyde Phillips, who exited the Showtime saga in 2009 (it would run for four more seasons), wanted the series to close with Dexter getting caught and executed for his crimes while his many victims flashed before his eyes.
“That's what I envisioned for the ending of Dexter,” Phillips told E! News ahead of Dexter's 2013 finale. “That everything we've seen over the past eight seasons has happened in the several seconds from the time they start Dexter's execution to the time they finish the execution and he dies.”
In a world where stan culture is constantly begging their sexiest faves to spit in their mouths and run them over with a truck, it’s no surprise the internet has been openly thirsting for serial killers for well over a decade with no end in sight. If only we could hear what Dexter’s finale silence was trying to tell us: men like Dexter, Joe, and Bundy, aren’t a fantasy. They’re a cold, stark nightmare.