Moviemakers, television producers, and authors have made it their life’s work these last twenty or thirty years to humanize vampires. Ever since Anne Rice’s ‘Interview With A Vampire’ we have seen a plethora of stories in which the vampire is struggling with their humanity and their insatiable appetite for human blood. The strange this is that while vampires are being de-fanged, there has arisen a series of television shows in which the monstrous side of human beings is put on display. Two of the best examples on television are Dexter and Breaking Bad. In the first, Dexter Morgan, blood spatter analyst for the Miami police, is a serial killer. In the second television show, Walter White is an overqualified chemistry teacher who turns drug manufacturer after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. When asking a simple question about which of these man is worse, one might want to say that a serial killer surely trumps a drug manufacturer, but does he? Is Dexter Morgan more monstrous than Walter White? This is a question not so easily answerable.
To quote from another popular book-turned-tv series, Game of Thrones: “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words.” In George R.R. Martin’s world, these words are used by Eddard Stark as he carries out the King’s justice, however they could have easily been placed in Dexter’s mouth. With very few exceptions (Miguel Prado, Lumen Pierce) Dexter carries out his own brand of justice himself. Walter, on the other hand, delegates most of the dirty work to his partner Jesse. Sure there are instances where Walter does act on his own, but those are few and far between. It is far easier to order the killing of someone than to do it oneself.
Questions of ethics around the code Dexter kills by are outside the scope of this post, however one could argue that as far as it is right to murder, Dexter is doing right by only killing criminals. Walter’s methods, on the other hand, have seen not only drug dealers die, but otherwise innocent people have died or been injured by association. It does not seem likely that Jane Margoles, Jesse’s girlfriend, would have died of an overdose had circumstances not been what they were. Jesse likely would never have met her if Walter had not approached him to be partners. Likewise, Hank would never have been shot. And of course there is the product itself. Walter decided to use his considerable talent as a chemist to produce a product that has disastrous effects on people’s lives, criminal or not. And while his reasoning might have initially been noble, as his ’empire’ grows, his reasons become more and more selfish.
And then we have those families themselves. Dexter spends a great deal of time telling himself and us viewers that he is a selfish serial killer who is just faking his emotional attachments to his parents, sister, and girlfriend. As time goes on, however, we see that he develops a true attachment and care for them. Walter, on the other hand, goes the opposite way. He might have started out caring for his family and saying that he wanted to do right for them, but as he starts to see the negative effects his choices have on his family he comes to disregard them. Most specifically his relationship with Skyler.
There is at least one other arguable question, that of choice. One could argue that Dexter is a psychopath, someone inflicted with an incurable condition and that the best that could be hoped for him was to direct his murderous urges into killing bad people, whereas Walter was not a psychopath, but was led to psychopathic behaviour by a selfish choice. Certainly Walter did not chose to have cancer, he never smoked or did anything of the sort, however he did choose to cook crystal meth, and to get involved in the drug lifestyle. While we are arguing, it is true that he obviously did not have a good working knowledge of what went down in the drug world, but even after some harrowing experiences with Tuco he still chose to continue. Walter was not without options. He could certainly have taken the money offered by Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz and then he would not have had to resort to sell – sorry, ‘manufacturing’ drugs. It is not a far stretch to say that someone who choses to commit heinous deserves to be called a bad person more so than if a person has no choice.
Neither Walter White nor Dexter Morgan could truly be held up as great examples of good people who made the right choices, but one more than the other had the option to make things right. It all boils down to the old nature/nurture debate. One could say that Dexter was either born, or made into the monster he is, that his genetic or psychological makeup was fused together in such a way that he cannot stop killing, regardless of what treatment he has. We could fault him or his parents for not getting him help when he was younger (better help than Dr. Vogle in any case), but given the lack of sustained success in psychological treatment for psychopaths, one could glean a tiny bit of understanding about why Harry made the choices he did with Dexter. Walter on the other hand, was made purely of nurture, for lack of a better word. Other than some pointed allusions to a tough mother, we are given no reasons to think that Walter’s biology could have played any part in his decision to become a drug manufacturer. His choices were purely circumstantial, and therefore did not have to be made in the first place. Who is worse, I ask?