cheek by jowl

Dexter vs. Hannibal: Battle of the TV Serial Killers

Photo: Showtime/NBC

Showtime’s flagship series Dexter returns for an eighth and final season this weekend, mostly limping to the finish line after a brilliant start and some strong work along the way. Weep not, serial killer aficionados: There is an heir to this gory throne, and it’s NBC’s Hannibal. It’s even more twisted than Dexter, if that’s possible. How else do they differ? Let us compare TV’s most revered murderers, from killing style to creepiness to love of art-directed murder scenes.


Tell me a little something about these shows. Dexter, about hidden-in-plain-sight serial killer Dexter Morgan, is starting its eighth and final season on Sunday. Hannibal, about iconic serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter, just finished its first season.
Is the killer the real star? Oh, completely. No one else is anywhere close to as interesting as Dexter. Luckily, many of his associates die off. Only sort of! Hannibal is obviously a very interesting character, but FBI Agent Will Graham is a surprisingly interesting spin on the wacky genius model, and the rest of the supporting cast (particularly Gillian Anderson and Caroline Dhavernas) is really good.
Does the killer seem to have more access to all forms of police work than someone in their position really should? Yeah. Dexter's a blood splatter analyst, but he seems overpresent at interrogations and arrests. Just put it in the file, Dex. Yep. He's a psychiatrist. What is he doing at crime scenes?
Is the star serial killer creepy? Dexter's pretty good at blending in. He doesn't seem to inherently trigger anyone's alarms — except for his former co-worker Doakes, whom Dexter framed for murder and then killed. Only in the fanciest, most erudite way. But yes, he's very creepy.
How are the high-profile guest stars? Great, usually: Keith Carradine and John Lithgow were fantastic. Charlotte Rampling, who guests this season, is also fabulous. Not that high-profile in the scheme of things, but if you like Bryan Fuller's other shows, you'll be happy to see familiar faces (Dead Like Me's Ellen Muth, Pushing Daisies's Ellen Greene, Wonderfalls's Dhavernas is a regular.)
Is murder sensual? Not really. Dexter's go-to kill moves are pretty utilitarian, and most of the serial killers he hunts down are more concerned with covering their tracks. THE MOST SENSUAL THING IN THE WORLD IS EXQUISITE MURDER. Most of the radically disgusting murders on the show are not actually Hannibal killing people, but we do see him lovingly prepare and cook and consume organs.
Is there a lot of blood? Yes, a tremendous amount. Yes, basically infinity tsunamis of blood.
Is it gruesome? Often. Jesus, yes. So gruesome.
What does this show ultimately teach us about the human condition? Darkness resides in us all. Some of us just tame it better than others. MURDER IS ART, ART IS MURDER, OUR BODIES ARE MERELY CANVASES, WOULD YOU LIKE TO EAT SOME HUMAN FLESH, IF YOU SAY NO IT'S BECAUSE YOU CAN'T APPRECIATE BEAUTY AND DREAMS.
Dexter vs. Hannibal: Battle of Serial Killers