The Battle of the Antiheroes: White vs. Morgan
SPOILERS (just watch the shows already bruh)
I might as well preface this by saying that Breaking Bad is perhaps my favorite piece of fiction I have ever watched or read, and has surpassed Dexter in just about every possible category ever since a certain spouse bled out in a bathtub. While the BB writers continuously proved their brilliance by staying true to the storyline put into motion in the first episode, Dexter often introduced us to characters we never wanted to meet, events we never wanted to see, and plotlines we never wanted to deal with. I should also say that Bryan Cranston is in a league of his own as far as I’m concerned, and is one of the greatest TV actors I have ever seen (not an underhanded compliment). With no disrespect to the underrated Michael C. Hall, I’m not sure I can think of another actor that could convincingly get the audience to believe he was capable of causing harm to anyone who crossed him after they saw him running around the desert in his tighty-whities. But the point of this post is not to compare the shows, actors, or writers; it is to break down the strengths and weaknesses of their iconic protagonists (?). So without further adieu, let’s get into it.
RapGenius user Skizza306 put it best when he said:
Walter White starts out as a kind-of-okay guy and gradually deteriorates into an utter monster. Dexter Morgan starts out as an utter monster and gradually builds himself in to a kind-of-okay guy. The hero-arc of Dexter is, in and of itself, a little bit more interesting and impressive, because self-improvement is more challenging and shows a better level of growth.
Dexter is everything Walt wishes he could be; young, well-liked, good at what he does, and intimidating when he needs to be. But instead of needlessly asserting his dominance over others, Dexter spends most of the series trying to control his dark passenger and transform himself into an average human that feels just like the rest of us. On the other hand, Walt begins the series as in ineffectual character that gets bullied by his boss, dominated by his wife, and over-shadowed by his brother-in-law. The only way he elevates himself from this position of weakness is by developing a God complex and causing harm to everyone around him. While the latter often makes for better television, I give this category to The Bay Harbor Butcher. Why? It’s much harder for a serial killer to make himself into a likeable character than it is for a man that poisons children to turn himself into a monster.
With both of these characters, their intelligence is just as important as their strength. Sure, I’d give Dexter the edge in a fist-fight, but who wants to get into a battle of wits with Mr. White? Let’s just get it out of the way: Dexter could physically manhandle Walt in about every way possible. He’s younger, stronger, trained in hand-to-hand combat, and better with weapons. But you know what they say: the wheelchair bomb is mightier than the sword. Walter manages to stay one step ahead of his competition until we saw Executive Producer: Vince Gilligan flash across the scene for the final time. At risk of being replaced? Kill Gale Boetticher. Laptop inside of an evidence locker? Magnets bitch! Too weak to hold a gun straight? Attach a machine gun to the trunk of your car. This isn’t to say Dexter couldn’t think on his feet -- sticking a needle in Paul’s arm comes to mind – but oftentimes he relied on luck and other characters to get by while Mr. White left nothing to chance. Point Heisenberg.
It feels strange evaluating the moral compasses of a pair of sociopaths, but it is worth thinking about considering both shows often operate in the gray area of morality. Does killing your older brother to protect your step-sister make you a better person than someone who lets their friend’s girlfriend choke to death while claiming they are looking out for their best interests? Not an easy question, but I would say it essentially comes down to this: neither of the “bad” things each character does is truly justifiable, even though Dexter has better reasons. But the good that Dexter does for the world around him far outweighs Walt’s contributions to society. He is a better father, husband, and sibling than Walt ever was, and occasionally works within the law to help catch bad guys. You could feebly argue that Walt did what he did to provide for his family and deserves to be cut a little slack, but the finale makes it clear that this was all just a personal thrill ride for Walt, and the point goes to Dex – despite the larger trail of blood following him.
This could turn into a blood bath. While Walter White remained cool and calculated as ever until the very end, Dexter started to unravel as the series finale approached. Both realized towards the end of their respective series that it was time to pay the piper. They were both getting boxed in by outside forces and had no choice but to make last-ditch attempts to try to start new lives with the rest of their families. But when Walt realized this was no longer a viable option, he adapted his plan so that he could still come out on top. He found a way to get his money to them by any means necessary, worked to ensure his family would not have to pay for his crimes, and made the ultimate sacrifice to save his partner that was for all intents and purposes a family member at that point. Dexter’s inability to imagine anything but a happy ending on the beaches of Argentina cost him dearly, and ensured that Walt got the last laugh here. Dying alone in a meth lab after accomplishing everything you set out to do still beats out becoming a lumberjack while your son spends the rest of his life with a former criminal in a foreign country.
As you can see, things are just about even here; otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. But I’m going to make the (perhaps) unpopular decision and give the crown to Dexter Morgan here. What really gave him the edge in my mind was his ability to captivate the audience on his own. Most of the interesting Walt scenes dealt with how he interacted with supporting characters; whether it be his uneasy relationship with Jesse, mano y mano showdowns with Gus, or displays of intellectual dominance against badasses like Tuco, these scenes all relied on a supporting character to carry it. While Dexter was at his best creeping through the streets of Miami alone, fighting against his internal demons and letting us listen in on what goes on inside his head. So you can blame the Dexter writers for taking the series for a wrong turn, but I don't feel like Dexter himself worsened as a character throughout.
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