Dexter Returned to Save Society Once Again, but This Time as a Cyber-Vigilante

Discover the striking similarities between Dexter and Elliot.

Dexter serial killer and Mr Robot cyber-vigilante TV show

When I watched the pilot episode of Mr. Robot a few weeks ago (I’m late to the party, I know), I was thrown back to the summer of 2013 — my Dexter-binge-watching days. Almost immediately, I noticed similarities between the protagonists of each show: Dexter Morgan (Dexter) and Elliot Anderson (Mr. Robot). At present, I have only watched the first series of Mr. Robot, but it is clear that both shows are rife with drama and suspense as a result of the extracurricular activities of these compelling protagonists, who suffer from childhood trauma, live double lives, share certain behavioural characteristics, and serve society by operating in a morally grey area.

Synopses of Dexter and Mr. Robot

Dexter is an American drama that ran between 2006 and 2013. The titular Miami-based serial killer (played by Michael C. Hall) hunts and kills other killers outside of his day job as a forensic specialist in blood spatter analysis for the Miami Metro Police Department. Mr. Robot is an American drama that ran between 2015 and 2019. A New York-based hacker named Elliot (played by Rami Malek) almost obsessively hacks people in order to either connect with them or blackmail them and joins a group of hacktivists called fsociety, all accomplished outside of his day job as a cybersecurity engineer for a company called Allsafe.

So, beyond surface-level plot similarities, what exactly are the parallels between these morally-grey vigilantes?

Externalised Internal Monologues

The similarity that is apparent almost immediately is that the audience of each show gets to hear the thoughts of the main character throughout; Dexter and Elliot regularly have conversations with themselves, as well as one-sided conversations with the audience, as the two shows revel in breaking the fourth wall. This allows for an intimate relationship to develop between the protagonist and the audience (Elliot even sometimes refers to the audience as his imaginary friend) and aids in character development (as in every scene involving the protagonist, we are continuously presented with their perspective).

This unique characteristic also allows for the aspect of mental ill-health to be highlighted. Past trauma, paired with the daily struggle to maintain their double lives and conceal their anti-social dispositions, manifests as dark humour, which is often demonstrated throughout their (external) inner voices. Dexter’s inner monologue is more of a structured, organised essay of thoughts about his past and/or the current situation, as opposed to Elliot’s often chaotic and tortuous monologue. This is to be expected, however, as Dexter is fully aware of his sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies (though which form of antisocial personality disorder Dexter has is not evident, resulting in an ongoing online debate) and was trained by his adoptive father to blend in and act in accordance with social norms. Elliot, on the other hand, suffers from various mental illnesses that are more difficult to hide and necessary to be exhibited in their true form.

Anti-social Misfits

Undoubtedly, as touched on above, both characters suffer from a type of personality disorder and thus possess an inability to form social relationships — most noticeably, perhaps, with potential love interests. Consequently, they wear social masks to shield their true selves; Dexter proves to be more successful at this as Elliot appears to also struggle with clinical depression, severe anxiety, drug addiction, paranoia, delusions, and dissociative identity disorder (although not all of these are explicitly outlined).

Damaged from Childhood

Dexter was adopted by a homicide detective after he was orphaned at three years old following the brutal murder of his mother by chainsaw, which took place in front of him and was at the hands of three members of a drug cartel — resulting in Dexter’s uncontrollable urge to kill, which he calls his ‘Dark Passenger’. Elliot continuously struggles with the death of his father, who died of leukaemia, which he developed after working at E-Corp — charging Elliot’s aspiration to take down the conglomerate. It is also later revealed that Elliot was sexually abused as a child by his father and mentally and physically abused by his mother. Both Dexter and Elliot have hallucinations of their dead fathers (in Dexter’s case, his adoptive father, who died when Dexter was a young man) and, to an extent, live in accordance with their fathers’ rules and desires. In addition, they both have one sibling, a foul-mouthed sister, with whom they have an unusual relationship, and at one point, even share an incestuous kissing scene.

Solve and Commit Crime

Ironically, Dexter helps solve crime at work and commits crime outside of work; similarly, Elliot protects systems from being hacked at work and hacks systems outside of work. They both also use their workplaces to discover and track their victims. In short, Dexter is a vigilante serial killer, and Elliot is a vigilante hacker. Dexter believes that the murders he commits are for the greater good and adheres to a strict code of conduct in order to avoid being caught and prevent himself from killing innocent people. Thus, albeit perhaps with a slightly warped morality, they both serve society; Dexter eradicates serial killers in the surrounding area and Elliot eradicates debt by destroying the data of one of the world’s largest multinational conglomerates, E-Corp (termed ‘Evil Corp’ by Elliot).

Trophy Collectors

Moments before each kill, Dexter extracts blood samples from his victims. Each blood sample is then dripped onto its own glass slide and neatly stored in a wooden box, which he hides in his air conditioner. At times, Dexter refers to his blood slides as friends. Similarly, Elliot burns data from each important hack onto CDs (which typically represents an ending) and, inconspicuously, gives each a music title before adding it to his CD case, which he hides in plain sight. Thus, one by one, Dexter and Elliot’s collections expand.

The viewership of Dexter reached three million on the night of its eighth and final series premiere. Considering the similarities put forward in this article, it is no surprise that Mr. Robot received critical acclaim, as, consistent with Dexter, Elliot is a multi-layered, troubled, and gripping character, which viewers are easily drawn to. In addition, many Dexter fans may have contributed to Mr. Robot’s viewership and ratings as they continue to express the great extent to which they see Dexter in Elliot. I must admit, however, after the first series, I am not as invested in Mr. Robot as I was in Dexter. With regard to the protagonists alone, although I appreciate Elliot, the creation of Dexter’s character — specifically, his calm exterior and the personal relationship he has with himself, which is exposed to the audience — I feel, is more captivating.

Of course, there are certainly differences between the shows, and they, undoubtedly, deserve credit in isolation for their individualness. Personally, the more I watch, the more the viewing experiences have become independent. Still, if you enjoyed Dexter for the whole rooting-for-the-bad-guy-because-he’s-not-really-a-bad-guy thing, Mr. Robot can provide a blanket of familiarity. I can only hope, however, that I can continue to avoid spoilers and that the ending of Mr. Robot does not leave me with — spoiler — the same disappointment that I was left with after Dexter‘s anticlimactic ending.