Dexter Finale vs The Breaking Bad Finale

The difference between the Dexter series finale and the Breaking Bad series finale is the difference between exposition and revelation. The Dexter finale was exposition, defined by various dictionaries as “writing or speech primarily intended to convey information or to explain; a detailed statement, description or explanation.” I would throw in a justification or excuse as well (more about that in a minute). The Breaking Bad finale was all about revelation, defined by various dictionaries as “something revealed, especially a dramatic or striking disclosure of something not previously known or realized.”

Dexter’s final season was filled with rather convoluted plotting and a lot of discussion about what a sociopath can and cannot feel, what is the nature of a monster, and the role of Dexter’s “dark passenger”.

It reminds me, on a lesser scale, of the husband of a friend of mine. This smart, handsome, funny man is a narcissist. He is consumed by the desire to look a decade or two younger than he is and he endlessly trots out of tales of his former glory days as a man about town and a minor player in music business celebrity comings and goings.

Every aspect of his life is in service to his vanity. He explains this by talking about his difficult childhood and his boyhood low self-esteem and insecurities. Or he charmingly says: “I guess I am just a selfish bastard.” Or- “I know I am such a narcissist.” It’s said with a wink and a nod or a shrug and a shake of the head. It is as if admitting this passes for real self awareness or actually excuses his behavior.

Meanwhile, his kids go to a sub-standard school because he overspends on luxuries large and small and the education budget is shot. He justifies the lesser school by saying he wants his kids exposed to a real cross section of life and not just well off entitled little brats. Meanwhile, his kids will suffer for having had  inferior schooling.

His work history is intermittent and he still has dreams of “making it” on a more glamorous stage than the one on which he currently lives. He and his wife took out a $15,000 credit card based home equity loan to pay for a much needed bathroom renovation. Circumstances intervened and the renovation was delayed and the money banked. When tax time came, he sheepish admitted he had been drawing on the loan with his own credit card and the whole amount was now gone. He had frittered it away on himself and small presents here and there to make himself feel better. No new bathroom and a new $15,000 debt.

How does this relate to Dexter? At the end of the day it isn’t enough that Dexter admits he is a monster or now that he has feelings he can’t bear them. He is a serial killer. He wants to kill. He might have channeled this through training and adherence to “the code” but it’s a compulsion like drink, drugs, or pedopfilia.

Dexter’s excuse or justification is that he experienced a childhood trauma and only kills bad people– oh, except those whose deaths directly or indirectly were caused by their getting too close to his secret or those who died mistakenly or accidentally. The truth is he enjoys killing.

He loves the building desire and the pent up release that comes from stalking and murder. He loves it more than he loves his son. He wants it more than he wants the woman he loves. He is more strongly bonded to it than he is bonded to his sister. Explaining this, justifying this, naming this, or intellectualizing about this is not revelation. It is exposition. Dexter is as self-deluded in the finale as he was in the first episode. Don’t get me wrong, much about this series was brilliant. But, like my friend’s charming narcissist husband, at the end of the day the justifications, excuses, and explanations just get tiresome and tedious. The Dexter finale feels empty because it is empty.

In contrast, Walter White has a revelation in the Breaking Bad finale. He realizes he didn’t do what he did for his family but for himself, for the thrill of living on the edge, and for feeling really and truly alive when in danger. I suspect that given the choice, even knowing exactly what the end would be, Walter White would do it all again. He is the worm that turned. Pushed around, cheated, and abused by the system, he rebels. White’s moment of clarity in the finale reminds me of the line from Paradise Lost— “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.” No excuses. No justifications. It was a fitting end to a brilliant series.


  1. Reply Christopher Lombard 11th January 2014

    Having watched both series from day one I was saddened but excited to see how both would conclude. But for me, the contrast in quality was miles apart… Starting with the bad – The final season of Dexter was very poor, in fact I would say the worst season of them all, and the finale was just dreadful. It all started with poor character development throughout the final season with a way below par antagonist thrown in for the last few episodes. But what got me was how Dexter took Deb out into the sea and dumped her body in the exact same way he did to all his scumbag victims. It was supposed to be an emotional finale but left me feeling Debra deserved better than to be laid to rest with the people we witnessed Dexter murder over the years – she surely deserved better than that! It concluded with Dexter as a Lumberjack, facing being alone for the rest of his life without the ones he loved. Along with most of the other fans that had been tuning in for the last eight years, I felt very short changed. A far cry from the glorious days of Season four and the brilliant Trinity!
    Now onto the good – Breaking Bad, a series that grew and developed with each season as we watched Walt descend deep into the dark side. I grew up fascinated by the Godfather and the demise of Michael Corleone, from “That’s my family Kay, not me” in the opening Wedding scene to a broken man who dies alone at the end part 3, it was great seeing the equal demise of Walter White. In the finale when Walt meets Skyler for the last time and finally admits the truth – “I did it for myself, I was good at it… it made me feel alive”, his character arc is complete. It was a pinnacle moment in the show’s DNA – a moment the writers had been working towards since the pilot, but a moment that was vacant from Dexter.
    Having faced death Walt found his true self through cooking meth, finding a new lease of life and was ultimately reborn. Granted he became a very bad person, his consequences affected everyone around him causing many deaths including Hank resulting in the ultimate loss his family, but Walt found something he was good not just good at, but the best at – a gift that made him feel so alive for the first time in his life. He wasn’t alive in the beginning, he was surviving, plodding along, then a life threatening illness propels him into action, becoming the man he always wished he was, then dying touching the tools that helped make that reality. For me a fitting end to one of the greatest stories to be told on our television screens.
    In conclusion, Dexter died long before its finale bowing out in a whimper, but Breaking Bad grew in stature and quality going out in style!

    I attended your Character Mapping Workshop today, got so much out of it I don’t know where to begin – thankyou!

    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 13th January 2014

      Thanks so much for your post. I totally agree. Glad you enjoyed the Character Mapping workshop! I hope to do more public events like this.

  2. Reply charlie 26th September 2017

    yes but….
    One of the cornerstones of Breaking Bad is the double (or tripple) charged scene…
    Does Walter let Jane die, because she is inconvenient or because he hopes that if she dies Jessie will stop descending into herion hell.
    BB had double charged this moment by making the love of Jessies life also be the force (through addiction) that could kill him

    In the End of BB there are several moments when Walt acts in the best interest of his family,
    -On the Phone with SKylar when he knows the FBI are listening (Later in captivity even Saul underlines this “that phone call was smart will help with teh jury but wont get her out of jail” paraphrase)
    -Wal goes to great lengths to get his money to his son in a way his son might accept
    -IN Maine he still says I did it for the family, But in Skylars house in last ep Walt takes all responsibility, and says he did it for him (and his reasons are true! but those are not the whole story) which absolves Skylar.
    -Walt wants revenge, but he also goes to free Jessie and saves Jessies life……. But what life

    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 26th September 2017

      Breaking Bad had such complex emotions– That’s what all screenwriters want to do is write simple stories filled with complex emotions!