Having a protagonist who is also clearly evil makes for a very interesting story. You typically want your readers (or in this case, viewers) to root for your protagonist and from episode one we are on Dexter’s side. Mostly because in season one there’s someone way worse than him on the loose. Any reasonable person would react with revulsion to someone like Dexter. But he becomes the lesser of two evils and so we start to hope that he will win. We also notice that Dexter has a good side as he helps his girlfriend and his sister, and the people he kills are all murderers, so they had it coming, and so we are drawn in. Suddenly, we’re ambivalent about the bad guy, even leaning towards liking him, simply because a writer broke with the evil villain stereotype.
But where it really got interesting is in season two. In the first season Dexter’s antagonist is a killer even worse than he. In season two, enter FBI Special Agent Frank Lundy. Lundy is truly a good guy. From a writing perspective the character is maybe a bit flat, but he reminds one of the old heroes of the Wild West, riding into town to save damsels and put an end to lawlessness. He’s nice to Dexter’s sister (which after the end of season one is kinda a big deal) and he doesn’t like Doakes (I’ll get to him now). All of this makes him a character that we cannot help but like. The problem is, for him to win, Dexter has to be caught, and by now we like Dexter way too much for that to be an option.
Then there’s also Doakes. Technically we’d call him a good guy, as he’s not a murderer like Dexter (though he has a bit of a dark past that is never fully revealed). Doakes is also an ass. He is constantly on Dexter’s case and is the only person whom Dexter cannot charm. He knows Dexter has a secret and is determined to uncover it. In response, Dexter set out to frame Doakes for his own murders. We definitely don’t want Doakes to win, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to go down for Dexter’s crimes (nor what eventually happens to him).
All these character dynamics made for a nail-biting second season. By simply mixing up our traditional ideas of good guys and bad guys this show’s creators have managed to create a series where it’s very hard to predict the plot and where you are never sure which character you want to win. I can’t wait to see what surprises season three will hold (no spoilers in the comments, please 😉 )