"With the solve rate for murders at about twenty percent, Miami is a great place for me. A great place for me to hone my craft. Viva Miami."
"Tonight's the night. And it's going to happen again and again. Has to happen."
Dexter Morgan is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami police department. He has a loving tomboy sister who works as a cop in his department, a shy girlfriend with two kids, and a host of eccentric coworkers.
Based loosely on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, the first season of Dexter sees the titular character assisting in homicide investigations, dealing with his girlfriend's issues, assisting his sister in department politics... and cleaning up after the justice system. Adhering to The Code of Harry -- his adopted father, a police officer who saw the makings of a serial killer in him long ago -- Dexter confines his killing urge to those criminals who have gotten away with their crimes, and does it so carefully and cleanly that he is not likely to get caught.
When another serial killer begins sending special messages just for him in the crime scenes -- and in his house -- Dexter is pulled into a cat-and-mouse game that will force him to reexamine his chosen life...
Meanwhile, Lindsay continues to write Dexter novels. The book series so far consists of:
- Darkly Dreaming Dexter (2004)
- Dearly Devoted Dexter (2005)
- Dexter in the Dark (2007)
- Dexter by Design (2009)
- Dexter is Delicious (2010)
- Double Dexter (2011)
NOT to be confused with Dexter's Laboratory, though they're both good clean fun for the whole family. Dexter has yet to shout "Deborah! Get out of my laboratory!", but this is obviously a matter of time.
- AB Negative: Dexter's AB negative blood type, referenced in a flashback, leads to Dexter discovering the truth about his biological father.
- Aborted Arc:
- Season 5 has the department pursuing the murderous Fuentes brothers. After a stakeout goes awry, Carlos Fuentes is shot and his brother Marco escapes. With a brutal murderer still on the loose, the department proceeds to... completely forget about him.
- Early in the first season, Laguerta was flinging herself at Dexter, but this is dropped around half way through.
- Abusive Parents:
- Arthur was abused by his father, and in turn abuses his family in a number of ways.
- In Season 5, Dexter finds out that Astor's friend Olivia's step-father hits her. So he beats the ever-loving crap out of the guy and scares him into leaving.
- Rita's mother is shown to be emotionally and verbally abusive.
- Adaptation Dye Job: Blonde Book Deb is played by brown-haired Jennifer Carpenter.
- Adult Fear: Dexter Morgan's young son is kidnapped by the crazed serial killer Travis Marshall to be executed.
- Aesop Amnesia: The death of Rita in Season 4 supposedly showed Dexter that he needed to stop being so reckless with his killing - that he's going to have to choose between caring for his family and satisfying his urges. His actions in Season 5 can be mostly justified, but by Season 6, he's forgotten the lesson. He makes reckless decisions and gets way too involved in fighting a serial killer, turns his family into targets, just like what happened in Season 4. He faces the threats of death, his secret being revealed, and his son being murdered, and only avoids them thanks to ContrivedCoincidences. It's a good thing you learned that lesson about being careful, isn't it, Dexter?
- He also learns almost constantly that Harry was a very flawed human being and he needs to be his own person.
- About that one, Dexter might actually be psychologically incapable of fully integrating this lesson.
- He also learns almost constantly that Harry was a very flawed human being and he needs to be his own person.
- Affably Evil: Dexter.
- Alone with the Psycho
- American Gothic Couple: Dexter and Brian pose like this, complete with gothic style house in a poster on the back. Dexter had the bloody pitchfork.
- Amicably Divorced: Batista and LaGuerta.
- Amoral Attorney: Played with in Season 3.
- Anti-Hero: Doakes is a type III and Dexter is Type V.
- Anti-Villain: Dexter again. He seems to genuinely care about Debra, Rita, Rita's children, Harrison, Lumen, and certain of his coworkers.
- Anti-Villain Protagonist.
- Anyone Can Die:
- The show killed off Rita Morgan at the end of Season 4 in a very cruel rendition of this trope.
- Frank Lundy's death in Season 4 came out of nowhere and surprised a lot of people.
- Think Brother Sam will be a season-long guest star? Think again.
- Arc Words: "Tonight's the night."
- Aren't You Forgetting Someone?: No one in the Mitchell family says they are thankful for Arthur during Thanksgiving. He doesn't take it well.
- Arson, Murder, and Admiration: Dexter frequently displays a certain admiration for especially competent criminals, including several of the killers he goes after. The Ice Truck Killer from Season 1 is an example, as well as Trinity, until Dexter discovers that that his normal life is all a front.
- Ashes to Crashes: The main villain in Season 4 keeps the ashes of his dead sister on his mantelpiece when he isn't scattering them next to the bodies of his victims. They're smashed by his long-suffering son in a fight. Additionally, the ashes of Dexter's real father are in a plastic zip-lock bag. Dexter disperses them on a patch of grass in front of a bowling alley.
- Asshole Victim: Why the audience tolerates Dexter's hobby.
- Atomic F-Bomb:
- Quinn has a habit of keeping his normal tone, but shouting the word "FUCK" in the middle of the sentence when he is angry.
- Dexter gives one when the FBI is asking him about Rita's death. He says "Are you suggesting I killed my wife? Are you FUCKING SERIOUS!?"
- Authentication by Newspaper: Attempted by Little Chino in Season 2.
- Back for the Dead: Lundy in Season 4. He alerted everyone to the existence of the Trinity Killer and rekindled his romance with Debra, ultimately hanging around for four episodes before his untimely demise.
- Dexter, who's fought toe-to-toe with various tough customers on several occasions and come out on top.
- Doakes as well. Aside from being the resident Scary Black Man, he was former special ops, and is extremely muscular.
- Badass Bookworm: Dexter is intelligent, but in the few cases in which he has to get his hands dirty and rough someone up, he can. Later in Season 2, he even wins a more or less fair fight with Doakes while handcuffed.
- Bald Black Leader Guy: Doakes.
- Battle Couple: Dexter and Lumen in Season 5. This is lampshaded by the other characters. Masuka even compares them to Bonnie and Clyde. Dexter finds the analogy worrisome.
- Battle Trophy: Dexter takes a blood sample from every killer he's killed.
- Becoming the Mask: Arguably the most prominent theme. Dexter originally got together with Rita to make him seem normal, but he begins to realize that he actually cares as much for her and the kids as they do for him. But the audience notices way before he does.
- Berserk Button:
- Insulting or threatening to hurt Dexter's loved ones causes him to break his code on several occasions.
- Miguel Prado also has a big one, as lampshaded by Dexter himself at one point.
- Trinity is a pretty cool customer, unless you touch his sister's urn or accuse him of being a pedophile.
- Quinn doesn't take very kindly to being called a dirty cop.
- Best Woman: Deb is Dexter's "best man" at his wedding.
- Betty and Veronica: Lila (Veronica) and Rita (Betty).
- Be Yourself
- Big Bra to Fill: Book Deb is described as busty; Jennifer Carpenter isn't. In fact, in the TV show, she's lampshaded as flat chested.
- Big Damn Villains: In Season 2, Sgt. Doakes discovers that Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher. Dexter can't bring himself to kill him because he doesn't fit the code, and can't decide whether to frame him or confess. Lila resolves the dilemma by murdering Doakes herself.
- Big Screwed-Up Family:
- The Trinity Killer's home life starts off looking pristine and wholesome, but they're really quite messed up. Aside from the murderer father, there's the Stepford Smiler wife, the abused son, the Fille Fatale daughter who's frequently locked up in her room (which is decorated for someone much younger)... Not to mention Arthur's history with his own parents and sister. And then there's Christine, his daughter from some previous involvement, who's known about his murders since she was five.
- Dexter's own family is no better. He and his brother, the Ice Truck Killer were born to a drug dealing snitch. Both had the misfortune of seeing mommy get hacked to pieces with a chainsaw. Dexter's biological father was a career criminal. The Ice Truck Killer spent most of his childhood as an orphan, and grew up unhinged. Even though Dexter escaped that fate thanks to Harry, Harry molded him into a Serial Killer Killer instead of trying to do something more positive about his budding sociopathy.
- Aaaaaaand... now that Dexter is indirectly responsible for Rita's death, the chances that his new family will turn out anything resembling "normal" are slim.
- In the books, its stated outright that both of Rita's children are Serial Killers in larval form, though it was their father's torturous abuse of their mother (and the fact that they were eyewitnesses to it all) that caused it. Dexter decides to train them in the Code of Harry, just as he was trained.
- The Prado brothers have their darker sides revealed fairly early on in Season 3.
- Bilingual Bonus: Most of the Spanish is un-subtitled. The illegal immigrant boat that picks up Dexter when he's floating in the ocean in "This is the Way the World Ends" is called the Milagro--"miracle".
- Black and Gray Morality: Sort of.
- Black Comedy:
- In the fifth season premiere, when Dexter tells Astor and Cody of their mother's murder while wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Twisted.
- Let's not forget the first episode.
Dexter: There's something strange and disarming about looking at a homicide scene in the daylight of Miami. It makes the most grotesque killings look staged, like you're in a new and daring section of Disney World: Dahmerland!
- Or Season 2:
Dexter: A blind man. Not very sporting, I know. But I'm not one to discriminate based on race, gender or disability.
- Blood-Splattered Innocents:
- Dexter's flashbacks.
- Harrison sitting in Rita's blood in the Season 4 finale.
- Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: Season 3 finale. Better watch out, Rita.
- Blood From the Mouth:
- Lila, when Dexter stabs her in the chest in the Season 2 finale.
- Also Camilla when dying of cancer.
- Beth Dorsey, after her thwarted attempt at executing Travis Marshall's 'Wormwood' tableau (Season 6).
- Born Detective: Both of Harry's kids become cops, just like Harry himself.
- Bowdlerize: The CBS version of Season 1, aired during the 2007-08 writer's strike, which removed much of the sex, violence and bad language, and replaced it with advertisements.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter:
- Astor as of Season 4.
- Deb in some flashbacks.
- Break-In Threat: The Ice Truck Killer sneaks into Dexter's apartment several times, and leaves calling cards each time (dismembered dolls, smiley faces). However, Dexter's reaction to the intrusion subverts the trope: he realizes that it isn't a threat, but rather an invitation to "play".
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- At one point in Season 2, Dexter comments on how the voices in his head were gone. A scene later, he starts his internal narration and adds, "The voices are back. Excellent."
- Dexter looks at the camera.
- In Season 3, while Dexter is killing the Neo-Nazi, he mentions that he prefers to work alone and then says to no one in particular "...present company excluded." It could be interpreted as a statement to the audience.
- In the Season 6 premiere, when Jamie is first shown in Dexter's apartment, Dexter narrates saying, "It's not what it looks like."
- Broken Pedestal: Harry.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Lundy is a mild example.
- The Bus Came Back:
- The Ice Truck Killer, killed off in Season 1, returns as Dexter's Imaginary Friend five seasons later.
- Two years after the Trinity story arc, Arthur Mitchell's son Jonah pops up in Season 6.
- But Now I Must Go: Lumen.
- Butt Monkey: Masuka.
- Cain and Abel: Dexter and his brother Brian Moser.
- Call Back:
- Dexter: I'm just not used to checking the fridge for notes. (VO): Just messages from other serial killers (referring to the Ice Truck Killer in Season 1).
- During his investigation into Dexter, Stan Liddy makes mention to Quinn that Dexter went to Paris at some point, referring, of course, to the Season 2 ending.
- The shot at the end of Season 4, with baby Harrison sitting in his mother's blood, is a Call Back to the oft-repeated shot from Season 1 of little boy Dexter sitting in his mother's blood in the cargo container.
- Dexter: You don't know this about me, but I'm actually kind of a breakfast connoisseur (referring to the title sequence).
- In Season 6, Masuka's sexy intern/girlfriend is obsessed with the Ice Truck Killer, and she steals the mannequin hand with painted nails from Season 1.
- In Season 4, after Arthur Mitchell figures out that Kyle Butler is really Dexter, he greets Dexter at Miami Metro with "Hello, Dexter Morgan" (hence the episode title). In Season 6's "Nebraska", after Dexter tracks down Arthur's son Jonah, Jonah greets Dexter with the exact same line.
- In Season 6, a Fan Boy intern of Masuka's shows Dexter his video game which allows players to control various famous serial killers, including the local title for Dexter from Season 2, the Bay Harbor Butcher, upon mention of which we hear Dexter ominously think with a tinge of annoyance
Dexter: I AM the Bay Harbor Butcher...
- Calling the Old Man Out:
- Rita with her mother.
- Jonah Mitchell, in quite an epic one as there's quite a lot for his father to answer for.
- Astor to Dexter in the wake of Rita's death.
- Dex imagines his dead, adoptive father talking to him throughout the series. After learning that Harry had an affair with his biological mother, Dex imagined several of these moments in Season 2 and 3.
- Cartwright Curse: Deb suffers from this.
- Cassandra Truth:
- Dexter tells his therapist he's a serial killer. The therapist thinks he's joking. Of course, the only reason he was at the therapist's was because the therapist was his next victim.
Dexter: I'm a serial killer. Oh god, that feels so amazing to say out loud. I'm not joking. I kill people.
- Also, in that same episode: Dexter seeks out one of the therapist's patients to establish whether the shrink has an alibi for the time of his "suicide victim's" death. When the guy asks Dexter what he thinks of Dr. Meridian, Dexter replies: "Nah, I'm a sociopath, there's not much you can do for me." Cue the other guy not only taking this as a joke, but actually trying to hit on Dexter. "Cute AND funny. Let me guess. Taken."
- Character Development: Everybody gets some.
- In the beginning of the show, Dexter is somewhat disgusted by sex, believes himself to be totally emotionless, and tries to avoid personal connections at all cost for fear of being discovered as a monster. As seasons go by, he becomes a family man and has several romantic relationships with women.
- In the books, LaGuerta is an outright antagonist, described as simultaneously dumb, horny for Dexter, and unreasonably hostile toward Debra. In the show, she is referred to as being dumb in the pilot, but that is dropped soon after and LaGuerta is portrayed as quite competent. Her attraction for Dexter is implied a couple of times but dropped, and eventually her hatred for Deb is also dropped after the characters have a heart-to-heart. This is probably due to the decision to keep LaGuerta around, rather than killing her off as Lindsay did at the end of the first book.
- Chekhov's Gun: The coffin built by Arthur in Season 4.
- Chewing the Scenery:
- Miguel, especially on the rooftop. And it is awesome.
- Dexter himself has a couple of these moments in Season 2, especially during the confrontation with his mother's killer and the opening scene with Doakes in Season 2 Episode 11 "Left Turn Ahead".
- Chew Toy:
- Sgt. James Doakes. Early on, he finds the woman he loves shot to death in her home, and because her estranged husband was a police officer, he ends up "volunteered" as the bait in a trap to catch the man who ordered her death. In Season 2, he finally discovers Dexter's secret only to be caged up, blown up and posthumously framed for all Dexter's murders, so effectively that LaGuerta is the only cop who mourns his death. Somebody sure doesn't like Doakes being happy...
- Angel has it pretty bad. First season, he's separated, then divorced. Then he gets stabbed, which leads him to thinking his ex-wife would take him back. She doesn't. Then he is used by Lila to get at Dexter, including being framed by her for using rohypnol. Then he begins a relationship with LaGuerta, which eventually ends in another divorce. Then he loses a promotion to lieutenant to his junior, Deb. As a result, he has to deal with his partner Quinn, who holds the Idiot Ball for much of Season 6.
- Chiaroscuro: Would you expect a show about a serial killer to be well-lit?
- Chivalrous Pervert: For all his ribald jokes and wacky antics, Vince Masuka cares a great deal for the women in his life, and is very shaken by the sight of Dexter's neighbor putting moves on Rita.
- He is especially disgusted when he has to watch the rape DVDs.
- Let's not forget when he spots Rita in a blood soaked bathtub:
Masuka: I always wanted to see her naked, but not like this.
- Choke Holds: While Dexter prefers to sedate his targets, he's been known to strangle them into unconsciousness. Acceptable, considering what he plans to do with them doesn't really require them to be in the best health anyway. His brother was considerably more fond of the sleeper hold, although his goals were basically the same. The Trinity Killer also uses sleeper holds.
- Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Though Rita never has any serious competition as Dexter's love interest but there are a couple other women who have shown interest in him. Lila is killed by Dexter after she kills Doakes, allowing Dexter to kill her without breaking the Code. Lt. LaGuerta is a more unusual case. Early in the series she shows a romantic/sexual interest in Dexter. However, this simply fades away after a while.
- Clear My Name: Tragically subverted with Sgt. Doakes.
- Cliff Hanger: While previous seasons would end with dangling threads, Season 6 was the first to end with a true cliffhanger.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Lundy shows some signs due to being a bunny ears detective, such as when he's enjoying animal crackers during a homicide interview:
Lundy: "Is this a lion or a hippo?" *Eats*. "Tastes like a hippo."
- Cluster F-Bomb: Deb and Doakes in particular, but there are other offenders.
- Cold-Blooded Torture:
- The Skinner ostensibly tortures for information, but Dexter states that that's just a pretense and he does it because he enjoys it.
- The circle of rapist-murderers puts its victims through rape-and-torture sessions so shocking that even Dexter and Masuka, the resident pervert, are horrified by them.
- The Collector of the Strange: Dexter's box of bloody slides. Also, one character's fascination with cryptozoo-taxidermy.
- Continuity Nod: In the beginning of Season 6, we see Dexter's old prom date Mindy who we first met in a Season 1 flashback.
- Contrived Coincidence:
- At the end of the season, Deb walks in at exactly the right moment so that Dexter confuses her for Lila and jumps her from behind, kicking off Lila's final attempt at killing Dexter and the children.
- The only reason the cops find out the Ice Truck Killer's real name is because Angel is in a hospital room with a patient who got transferred from the psych ward.
- In Season 6, Dexter figures out who Travis is by 1) spotting him in the crowd at a crime scene (okay, forgivable maybe) and then 2) going to a museum, which just happens to be where Travis works, and then being lucky enough to see Travis' face in a film on art restoration shown to museum patrons.
- Country Matters:
- The normally stoic Dexter stabs a serial killer in the chest when he called Rita one.
- The Trinity Killer refers to a passerby, his wife, and his daughter this way.
- Deb calls Yuki, the Internal Affairs officer, one. Nobody likes HR.
- So, so many examples in Season 5 courtesy of the main antagonists.
- Creator Cameo: Jeff Lindsay pops up in Episode 3-10 as a cop.
- Creepy Souvenir: The bloodslides of his murder victims.
- Masuka's second intern in Season 6, apparently a wannabe serial killer, acquires the prosthetic hand that belonged to the Ice Truck Killer.
- Criminal Mind Games:
- The Ice Truck Killer leaves clues that only Dexter would recognize and appreciate.
Dexter: I suppose I should be upset, even feel violated, but I'm not. No, in fact, I think this is a friendly message, like "Hey, wanna play?". And yes, I want to play. I really, really do.
- Dexter himself does the same thing to the Miami Homicide Department in the second season. It backfires on him badly, though, helping the police to narrow down the list of suspects to people in the Department. And that's why, when you write a 'manifesto', you stick to one possible diversionary target instead of, say, 10.
- Greene the intern, who appears to be a wanna-be serial killer, mails the Ice Truck Killer's prosthetic hand to Dexter at the end of Season 6.
- Cute and Psycho: Zig-zagged with the Trinity Killer. We see his psychotic side first, then get shocked that he has a seemingly wholesome home life, then get shocked again when we see just how dysfunctional his homelife really is.
- Da Chief: Matthews, as of Season 4.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: Dexter himself. Season 1 final episode. Dexter realizes the Ice Truck Killer will probably come after Debra to make Dexter truly free, and then they can fight crime. Dexter lures the Killer into a trap with a dummy of Debra .... made of his own prosthetics.
- Danger Takes a Backseat
- Dating Catwoman: Dexter and Lila. It says something when Dexter is a serial killer and the girl he dates is darker than him.
- Daylight Horror: Many gruesome crime-scenes are shot around the sunny Miami locale.
- Dead All Along: Geller, the "main" villain of Season 6, turns out to have been dead for a long time, and Travis was only hallucinating him while doing all the killings himself.
- Dead Hand Shot: The Season 2 promotional poster.
- Deadly Gas: Travis's attack on the police station.
- Dead Person Conversation:
- Dexter has many of them, mostly with Harry, but briefly with Brian.
- As of Season 6, Travis also has these with Gellar, unbeknownst to the audience for much of the season. They stop shortly after it's revealed to the audience that Gellar was Dead All Along.
- In one episode of Season 6, Deb implies she has them with Harry as well.
- Death by Adaptation: The Ice Truck Killer, Doakes.
- Deceased Fall Guy Gambit: Dexter frames Doakes for being the Bay Harbor Butcher. Although unplanned by Dexter, Doakes is later blown up and posthumously takes the fall for Dexter's crimes.
- Detective Mole: More than once, most notably the entire plot of Season 2, when Dexter and the rest of Miami Metro are investigating the Bay Harbor Butcher--who is Dexter.
- Deus Ex Machina:
- The baby monitor in Season 5.
- At the end of Season 2, Dexter has captured Doakes, who now knows Dexter's secret. What to do? Eventually Dexter resolves to turn himself in because killing Doakes doesn't fit The Code. Lila blunders into Dexter's hideaway and kills Doakes for him.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Lampshaded memorably in the very first episode:
Dexter (VO): The only real question I have is why in a building full of cops, all supposedly with a keen insight to the human soul, is Doakes the only one who gets the creeps from me?
- Later, Quinn. But it takes Rita's death for him to start to suspect anything.
- Dirty Cop: Quinn.
- Dirty Harriet: Deb. She's actually called so at one point in the book.
- Ditch the Bodyguards: After the FBI suspect that Doakes is the Bay Harbor Butcher, Dexter is given a protective detail since they assume the Butcher will come after him. He slips away from them by climbing out the window of his apartment.
- Does This Remind You of Anything??:
- In the Title Sequence, Dexter's morning routine is shot to be reminiscent of his murders. And done very well. People are genuinely disturbed by the Title Sequence, some to the point of being unwilling to watch the introduction, despite the fact that they engage in similar activities frequently.
- This idea is played with a lot in the fifth season with Dexter and Lumen's relationship; it seems to be parodying a tradition 'courtship' in a way: he gives her the blood slide like anyone else would give flowers or something; he presents her with his knives and invites her to choose her favorite, like any other kind of gift; he gets all tongue-tied when he sees her in her killing clothes, saying she looks "perfect"; he takes her shopping and buys her a knife after she rejects a ring, like a man shopping for the perfect gift; they cuddle as they plan their next murder, like its their next romantic outing. Of course, for them it really kind of is their next romantic outing. It manages to be very sweet, and more than a little creepy.
- Don't Sneak Up On Me Like That: In Season 2, after her recent traumatic experience of being kidnapped by a serial killer, Deb punches a guy in the nose when he comes up behind her at a bar.
- Doom Magnet: Dexter is one of these. Just ask Rita.
- Double Consciousness
- Downer Ending: The Season 4 finale: Dexter finishes off Trinity only to find out that same night that Trinity took out Rita beforehand, leaving their son crying in her blood.
- Dramatic Irony:
- All over the place. Rita is a particularly bad offender, constantly saying things like, "Oh, Dexter would never hurt anyone."
- From the Season 6 Episode 10 preview: "Dexter is your safe place." Considering how well that works out for some people...
- Driven to Suicide:
- Christine, when Debra doesn't forgive her for killing Lundy.
- Harry, when he realizes what he let Dexter become. Or molded him into.
- Trinity's mother, which causes him to force other mothers of two to jump to their deaths during his kill cycles.
- Dexter catches a therapist doing this to his patients in "Shrink Wrap".
- Driving Question: Season 1. Who is the Ice Truck Killer?
- Drop-Dead Gorgeous: At the beginning of Season 4, a very attractive naked woman is murdered in a bathtub. We see another good-looking naked woman dead in a bathtub in episode "Shrink Wrap". In fact, Dexter does this quite often.
- Dutch Angle: Occasionally a straight shot of a normal scene is contrasted with a tilted shot of Dexter watching, to make him seem off kilter.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Lila, as a big part of her appeal. Angel notes that she's like a beautiful porcelain doll.
- Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Batista has a very subtle version of this, mostly due to his thick accent. It's actually not really noticeable unless you're listening for it.
- Enfante Terrible: Rather ridiculously, Dexter worries that Harrison may be this, despite the fact that Harrison was less than a year old when he witnessed a traumatic event.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Basically the entire premise of the show. In the first episode, Dexter tells the very first person we see him kill - a child molester who murders his victims after he abuses them - that he could never kill children because "I have standards." Other especially notable examples:
- Though Dexter feels no remorse about killing those he knows are not innocent, he cannot bring himself to murder Sergeant Doakes at the end of Season 2, because he knows that Doakes is genuinely a good man, even if he's his nemesis.
- Furthermore when Dexter accidentally chops an innocent to bits, who he thinks is guilty, he later has regret about what he did when he finds out the truth. Perhaps it's more than just Harry's Code keeping him in line.
- A particularly blatant example is in Season 5 when the main antagonists are 5 men who raped and murdered at least 12 women, and gang-raped another two. Dexter is horrified by their crimes. He actually says that even though he considers himself a monster, their evil comes as a shock to him. What really stands out is that Dexter considered the Ice-Truck Killer and the Trinity Killer to be Worthy Opponents, but these men just sicken him.
- Everyone Has Standards: When Quinn shows up at a party with a slutty girl, that girl is willing to put up with his Jerkass behavior, until she learns she's just there to make Deborah jealous.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Animals in general, and dogs in particular, loathe Dexter.
- Evil Counterpart: Predominately the Ice Truck Killer, but in some way every murderer and serial killer Dexter takes out could be seen as his evil counterpart. He even says as much: "You are all just unchecked versions of myself."
- Evil Matriarch: Rita's mother.
- Exiled to the Couch: Inverted, Angel exiles himself to the couch after getting an uncomfortable look at how far LaGuerta will go to keep her job.
- Michael C. Hall is a boring-on-the-outside workaday stiff who works with corpses and tries to keep a deep secret from his family and friends.
- Lundy is like Kyle Chutsky except with more screentime and no pinky ring.
- The Skinner is a torturer who mutilates his victims, similar to Dr. Danco.
- A marine biologist brought in as a consultant in Season 2 is named Manny and described as a "Prima Donna", similar to a conceited caterer.
- Tony Tucci and Neil Perry are Expys of a single character from the novels, Daryll, who works as a security guard, is arrested for the Tamiami killings, and confesses to them.
- False Rape Accusation: Lila falsely accuses Batista of rape (in actuality, they had consensual sex before she took a dose of rohipnol and injured herself in order to frame him) in order to pressure Dexter into getting back together with her, implying that she will drop the charges if he does so.
- False Reassurance: Dexter does this just about every single time a loved one says something ironic about his true nature. That's pretty damn frequently.
- Fan Disservice: One might have hoped that John Lithgow would have had some sort of, I dunno, Alba-esque moral objection to doing nude scenes. Sigh.
- Fanservice Extra: The chick at Dexter's 20th anniversary high school reunion who decides to give Dexter a blow job and to take her top off while doing it.
- Femme Fatale: Lila. Also, Lumen, who is considerably more likeable.
- Fetish: The Ice Truck killer (i.e. Brian Moser/Rudy Cooper) has one for amputees. Dexter's fascination with blood spatter also verges on this, something James Doakes remarks on with much disgust. It's arguable that both Brian and Dexter's particular interests are a direct result of the chainsaw murder of their mother when they were kids.
- Filk Song:
- Finger in the Mail
- First-Person Smartass: Dexter is a charming, amusing sociopath, whose twisted outlook on himself and the world around him emerges as dryly hilarious. For example, in one scene when he is particularly irritated with his sister, he thinks:
Dexter: I will not kill my sister. I will not kill my sister...
- Foot-Dragging Divorcee: Rita's first husband, Paul, initially refuses to sign the paperwork, despite the fact that she had him sent to prison for domestic abuse. She later gets him to finalize the divorce, threatening to have his visitation rights to his children revoked if he doesn't sign.
- Foreshadowing: Plenty. One example is from Miguel's jovial bachelor party speech:
Miguel: Why don't you just stab a pal in the ventricle, hey? *laughs*
- Friend to All Children: Dexter: Serial Killer. Has quite a soft spot for kids. Or maybe just hurting them is a Berserk Button/Even Evil Has Standards moment, considering his origin.
- Friend to Psychos: In many seasons, Dexter becomes friendly with the Big Bad, only to later realize that they need killing after all.
- Full-Frontal Assault: The Trinity Killer in the Season 4 premiere. Super creepy.
- Functional Addict: Dexter is certainly "addicted" to his "hobby", but doesn't necessarily let that addiction rule his life.
- Fun T-Shirt: Season 5 Episode 3: Dexter borrows an apron from a victim that reads "Natural Born Griller."
- The Gadfly: Dexter is this to Cody, making up outlandish Noodle Incident stories with a straight face just to entertain him.
Cody: How did you get that ugly scar?!
- Giant Mook: Little Chino, the only person thus far to ever escape from Dexter's table.
- Good Is Not Nice: James Doakes is an anti-social Jerkass with a penchant for violence, but a damn fine cop and a good person at the end of the day.
- Gratuitous Spanish: Lots, given the highly Latino population of Miami. LaGuerta is a major offender. Angel isn't much better. Miguel also throws Spanish out there every once in a while but he was usually speaking to a Hispanic American character.
- Grey and Grey Morality: This applies to Season 2 with Dexter and Doakes. The antagonist of every other season have been serial murderers with multiple kills under their belt, at the very least.
- Gross Up Close-Up: The opening credits.
- Hannibal Lecture: Dexter to The Skinner. Dexter's victims try this occasionally, but it never works. Neil Perry tries this on LaGuerta, but fails pretty hard.
- Hello, Nurse!: Masuka's sexy intern draws interest in Season 6 from not just Masuka but most of the men in Miami Metro Homicide.
- Hero Antagonist: Doakes, though his morality is called into question a few times.
- Hidden Villain: The Ice Truck Killer in Season 1 and The Skinner in Season 3.
- Hired to Hunt Yourself: Dexter is sometimes put in the position of having to investigate his own crime scenes.
- Hitler Ate Sugar:
- On Dexter's advice about Cody's school assignment:
Rita's mom: Dexter does drugs. He is wrong.
- On Lundy's walking style:
Masuka: That's exactly how Hitler walked.
- Hollywood Genetics: Rita and Paul are blond, but their kids Astor and Cody are brunettes.
- Hope Spot: Just when it looks like Doakes is going to be able to put out the stove in time to keep the cabin from exploding... boom.
- Horrible Judge of Character:
- Rita. A violent junkie, a serial killer, and another marriage we know almost nothing about but presumably ended badly. Dexter lampshades it and thinks the effect it would have on her is a major reason to not get caught.
- Deb also gets into some ill-advised relationships.
- Hot Chick in a Badass Suit: Deb, once she gets on homicide.
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Dexter hunts people as a matter of course, but his idea of a really good time is to go after a killer who is hard to get at, able to put up a fight, or expecting a visit from him (e.g. a cop who killed her husband and daughter, a public figure with lots of bodyguards, a neo-Nazi currently in prison but still giving orders to his minions on the outside, his friend and co-killer the district attorney, etc).
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: Camilla begs Dexter to kill her in Season 3. Dexter dutifully does.
- Idiot Ball: Passed around from time to time to insure Dexter's survival.
- Oddly, Dexter takes firm hold of the Idiot Ball in Season 6 after being a quite meticulous killer in previous seasons. Totally misjudging Travis, attempting to jump Travis while dizzy from the aftereffects of being gassed, setting up a kill scene in a room that Deb knows he will be in, c'mon, Dex, get it together.
- If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Dexter, to Rudy. Better known as The Ice Truck Killer. Dexter follows through. Threat nullified in the books.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Dexter often monologues that he wishes he could feel like everyone else, stripped of his own drives to slaughter. He even uses this to get closer to Rita after asking a couple about the secret of a successful relationship right before he kills them.
- The Illegal: A source for both a few-episodes B-story and a Victim of the Week or two.
- Imaginary Friend: Harry Morgan starts out as a Posthumous Character shown in flashbacks but eventually becomes this, with Dexter having lively chats with his imaginary dead father in almost every episode.
- Dexter's brother, Brian Moser the Ice Truck Killer, fills this role briefly in both Season 2 and Season 6.
- Prof. Gellar for Travis in Season 6.
- Indy Ploy: Dexter is very, very good at improvising when he has to convince somebody that his more suspicious mannerisms definitely aren't those of a homicidal sociopath.
- Inelegant Blubbering: Deb when she returns to the place where Frank Lundy was killed.
- Informed Flaw: Some judgments Dexter makes might be the result of his personal biases.
- Dexter justifies his hobby in part by claiming that Miami police won't or can't do its job right. But as the show unfolds, we see them only a few steps behind the perpetrators, and Dexter only manages to stay one or two steps ahead of them because he's head-deep in just about anything they're investigating. He even suppresses evidence or won't share with them to artificially slow them down.
- Dexter describes Boyd Fowler as being rather dumb, yet Boyd has already made several very observant remarks that throw Dexter for a loop. He sees that the raccoon Dexter killed was not a real roadkill and notices that Dexter has recently taken off a wedding ring.
- Instant Sedation:
- Dexter frequently uses this to get his targets to a more secure area. It takes the form of a syringe with Norpropoxyphene, an animal tranquilizer, and inevitably works instantly. Admittedly, he always gets them in the neck and he's not terribly concerned about long-term health effects. For hopefully obvious reasons.
- Played with in the Season 6 finale. Did you think that Dexter went down a little too suddenly when asked to inject himself? Yes, he did.
- Ironic Nickname: Little Chino, who's an absolute giant of a man.
- It's Personal: Miami Metro makes the Law and Order SVU cast seem like level-headed, impartial observers by comparison. Is there a major crime they investigate where one of their own isn't related to, sleeping with, or being the perpetrator?.
- Vince is a bit of a jerkass and prone to making rude comments, though he's also a Butt Monkey at the same time. In Season 3, he gets softened. No one turns up to a conference he speaks at or reads an article he gets published and he begins acting polite for a while. The other characters apologize and say that they preferred him before. This is further developed in Season 4, when he agrees to keep Deb company for Thanksgiving and shows genuine dismay at having to keep a secret from Dexter about his marriage.
- Doakes, especially in Season 1, most clearly in Episode 1. It doesn't matter if a coworker gives you the creeps, berating them and yelling profanity at them as you demand they do something for you is behavior that would be likely to get you fired if you weren't best buds with the boss. He becomes gradually more sympathetic as the show goes on. In Season 2, he even got a Pet The Dog moment about his failed marriage so that his death would be more tragic, making Lila less sympathetic.
- Karma Houdini:
- Dexter. While it's all in the service of the community (as he sees it) and while it gives him no end of trouble, he does kill people and avoid getting caught. He even got to pin most of his murders on Doakes.
- Marco Fuentes is still on the run, and Cira Manzon got away with setting Deb up to take the blame for his escape.
- Karmic Death:
- This show plays heavily on this trope. It's about a Serial Killer Killer, what else can you expect?
- Santos Jimenez kills Dexter's mother with a chainsaw. Guess how he meets his end...
- Dexter ultimately kills Arthur with a claw hammer, the same way Arthur killed innumerable others, including his last ritual victim.
- Kavorka Man: Masuka, it would appear. He always seems to get good looking girls, and it crossed a bit of a line with the girl he brought to Harrison's birthday party.
- Killed Mid-Sentence:
- The Ice Truck Killer.
- Also the used car salesman who insulted Rita while Dexter had a very sharp knife near his throat.
- Killed Off for Real:
- Sergeant Doakes in the final episode of Season 2. They even show his disfigured torso.
- Rita Bennet as of the end of Season 4.
- The Killer in Me: In Season 6, Professor Gellar is a split personality of Travis after he killed the real one.
- Knife Nut: Dexter.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Doakes, Harry.
- Knight Templar: Obviously, a few characters are this to some to degree, but especially Miguel.
- The Lab Rat: Dexter and Masuka are often called this.
- The Ladette: Debra. "Ugh, me in a dress... I feel like a transvestite." Also Lila and, to a lesser extent, Maria LaGuerta.
- Lampshade Hanging: During Season 5, Dexter says things to himself only to be repeated by Jordan Chase out loud. Dexter lampshades this himself the second time it happens.
- In the Season 6 premiere, Angel refers to how great of an idea it was for him and his sister to get the apartment next to Dexter because it lets him slip in and out day and night without anyone knowing. Considering the whole premise of the series, there is no way this was accidental.
- Last-Name Basis: Almost all the characters in Miami Metro, unless they're particularly close to each other (Angel Batista and Maria LaGuerta during their marriage, siblings Dexter and Debra Morgan, etc). This sometimes leads to confusion when a character calls out for "Morgan" when Dex and Deb are both present. Subverted to great effect by Doakes to Dexter in Season 2 Episode 11 to reflect that in addition to capturing a killer, he now also wants to help Dexter by turning him in.
- Lighter and Softer: Compared to the books, the show is downright tame in regards to violence. This falls partially in the Pragmatic Adaptation zone, as some of the books' content would be unsuitable even for Showtime.
- Lonely Funeral: Due to the fact that everyone assumed him to be the Bay Harbor Butcher (instead of Dexter), Sergeant Doakes has a funeral attended only by his mother, his two sisters, and his former partner. Emphasized when the former partner suggests starting up a memorial fund in his name, and everyone looks at her like she's high.
- Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places: Oh, Deb. Her book counterpart luckily has Chutsky.
- Lovable Sex Maniac: Masuka. To a point. Deb certainly thinks he's better as one.
- Magical Nanny: Sonya in Season 5, and Jamie in Season 6. Dexter never, ever has a problem getting his nanny to look after Harrison, no matter how late he is out murdering or how unpredictable his schedule is.
- Magical Negro: Brother Sam in Season 6.
- Male Gaze: To be fair, Deb did take her shirt off, and any red-blooded straight male would be distracted.
Debra: Jesus, Masuka, they're just tits.
- Sgt. Batista gets one of these from one of Masuka's (female) forensics students in the Season 6 premiere.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Lila, with serious emphasis on the "manic".
- Manipulative Bastard:
- The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: Dexter has relationships of varying lengths with Rita, Lila, and Lumen. Due to his double life, none of them end well.
- May-December Romance: Deb and Lundy.
- Meaningful Echo: "It doesn't matter what I do, what I choose.... I'm what's wrong."
- "Hello, Dexter Morgan." Spoken to Dexter by both Father and Son (The Trinity Killer and Jonah) to show that the son is following in the Father's footsteps. Later subverted however that Jonah actually wasn't evil, having killed his mother in revenge for her vehemence leading to his sister's suicide.
- Meaningful Name:
- In Latin, Dexter means right and is the opposite of left, which is Sinister. The main character must follow the Code of Harry so as to appear as Dexter and not let on that he is Sinister. Dexter also refers to quickness, skill and grace, which are traits that Dexter must always display to stay alive.
- Lila is Hebrew for "night". Lumen is named after a unit of light (i.e. the opposite of Lila).
- Midlife Crisis Car: In Season 6, Batista gets a Trans Am.
- Mirror Scare: Appears in the Season 4 opening, as the Trinity Killer claims his first on-screen victim.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Done at least twice:
- In Season 2, when Dexter and Rita were about to, er, do the deed, Dexters' NA sponser calls... and mentions their road trip, where he confronted his mother's killer, and then they slept together (but did not have sex). Unfortunately, he let the machine get it, meaning Rita heard everything... and thus, suspected he was cheating. Later on, Lila (the sponsor) and Dexter do have sex, but only after Rita says that their relationship is over.
- And played with in Season 3. At first it's played straight when Miguel's wife suspects him of cheating... when, in fact, Miguel can't say where he was because he was committing a murder. Then later his wife catches when he did actually decide to rekindle an old romance, albeit for ulterior purposes.
- Mistaken for Junkie: When Dexter is caught in his web of lies at one point and thinks he is going to be exposed as a serial killer, instead it is assumed that he is a drug addict. He goes along with it.
- Mood Dissonance: The morning breakfast-and-grooming routine never looked so sinister.
- Moral Dissonance: An unusual case of this, as Dexter is an antihero at best. But early on, Dexter drummed into the audience that he follows Harry's Code strictly and only kills murderers. He also told one of his victims that his standard of proof is higher than that of the justice system. However, we saw him kill no less than three innocent people. What's more, each successive innocent kill was less justifiable than the previous one. The first was a child molester who appeared to be targeting Rita's daughter, but never killed anyone. The second was a mistake on Dexter's part: it was actually his assistant who was the murderer, and Dexter's judgment was clouded from trying to put off killing Arthur. The third was just a random guy who was slightly mean to him when he was in a bad emotional state after Rita's murder. At this rate, he'll be killing girl scouts by next season.
- In Season 6, Dexter kills a man for attempting to extort money from him and looking like he'll kill him afterwards anyway (so this could be excused as self-defense), but then later in the episode spares [the Trinity Killer's son] Jonah's life, despite Jonah's actions of committing murder against his mother fitting Dexter's code perfectly.
- In the Season 6 finale, Dexter gets rescued from being lost at sea by a boat full of illegal immigrants on their way to Miami. A man who pulls out a gun and attempts to rob the frightened illegals earns a harpoon through the gut for his trouble, courtesy of Dexter. It's assumed that since the only witnesses were all illegal aliens and he was helping them out anyway, that Dexter doesn't have to worry about the incident getting found out.
- In Season 6, Dexter kills a man for attempting to extort money from him and looking like he'll kill him afterwards anyway (so this could be excused as self-defense), but then later in the episode spares [the Trinity Killer's son] Jonah's life, despite Jonah's actions of committing murder against his mother fitting Dexter's code perfectly.
- Morality Pet: Astor, Cody, Deb and Rita.
- More Than Mind Control: In Season 5, Jordan Chase seems to be adept at this, especially on Emily Birch.
- Morning Routine: The famous opening sequence.
- Ms. Fanservice:
"Pardon my tits."
- Christine the reporter from Season 4.
- Ryan, the intern of Masuka from Season 6.
- My Friends and Zoidberg: First season, second episode: "Crocodile".
Dexter: "Unlike the other guys down at the station, I love coming to court to rub shoulders with the good people of the sunshine state..." *scruffy guy bumps into him* "... and Sasquatch."
- My God, What Have I Done?: Harry doesn't say this line, but he clearly thinks it, reeling in horror in a Season 2 flashback when Dexter's training culminates in Dexter bringing a kill home.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits: Without ever stating it out loud, Batista heavily implies this to Louis when he starts dating Batista's little sister Jamie.
- Necessarily Evil: Partially subverted, since Dexter is not so sure whether he really is necessary.
- Neck Snap: Dexter kills the Skinner and Dan the Dentist this way.
- Nerds Are Sexy: Dexter is seen as very nerdy in his day job but also gets hit on quite a bit.
- Never Suicide: Played with: the victims actually were suicides, but their therapist drove them to it.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The teaser for the last episode of Season 5 strongly suggested that Deb would find out about Dexter's "hobby". She doesn't.
- Nice Hat: Angel has a collection of nice hats.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dexter has done this a lot.
- In Season 2, Dexter's criminal career, and his hesitation to turn himself in when Doakes urges him to, gets Doakes killed and blamed for Dexter's crimes.
- In Season 3, Dexter's mentoring of Miguel gets Ellen Wolf killed.
- In Season 4, Dexter's season-long game of footsie with the Trinity Killer gets Rita killed (as well as leaving the Trinity murders officially unresolved, with the FBI chasing a dead man).
- In Season 5, Dexter's hunt of Jordan Chase and the Barrel Boys gets Emily Birch killed.
- But Season 6 is the worst example of this for Dexter. He keeps screwing up in his attempt to catch the Doomsday Killer before the police. This allows the killer to get away from the police just as they are closing in. If Dexter did not withhold evidence, Debra would have probably caught the killer by the middle of the season and prevented all the additional deaths.
- Nightmare Fetishist: Dexter shows shades of this in Season 1. The first time he shows sexual interest in Rita is while talking about a victim of the Ice Truck Killer.
- Nineties Anti-Hero: When Dexter's dump site is discovered to be filled with multiple murderers that have slipped through the cracks, Miami artists quickly immortalize him as "The Dark Defender".
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Miami's hockey team is the fictional "Miami Blades" rather than the real-life Florida Panthers.
- Nosy Neighbor: Sergeant James Doakes.
- Not Blood Siblings: Masuka suggests this to Debra, when he asks if she was jealous of Dexter's marriage.
- The show finally goes here at the end of Season 6, when, with the help of a curiously enabling therapist, Deb comes to realize that she is romantically in love with Dexter. Whether or not she will act on this remains to be seen.
- Not So Different: Until Lila killed him, former Army Ranger Doakes was regularly compared to Dexter; Good/Bad People doing Good/Bad Things for Good/Bad Reasons. Doakes actually performs a Vigilante Execution - a Tonton Macoute he recognized from his operations in Haiti. Soldiers in general are implicated as well; another Ranger talks about how killing, even in the line of duty, naturally turns people into sociopaths.
- Of course, this particular one killed his own wife when she tried to leave him.
- Except Doakes acknowledged that he was married at one time, but left her because he was afraid if he didn't he'd have killed her.
- Of course, this particular one killed his own wife when she tried to leave him.
- Not So Stoic: Dexter likes to think he's The Stoic, but really who's he fooling here?
- Not What It Looks Like: Inverted with the first lines of "That Night, A Forest Grew".
- Oblivious Guilt Slinging: When Cody has nightmares of the Bay Harbor Butcher, Rita tells Dexter she hopes that the Butcher is found and hurt badly. Followed by:
Rita: Anyway, have a nice day.
- Obstructive Vigilantism: Basically the whole point of the show.
- Off the Rails: Starting from the second season the show leaves the books for original plotlines.
- Oh Crap: The Oh Crappiest Oh Crap that ever Oh Crapped ends Season 6, when Debra catches Dexter in a murder.
- Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: In the Season 5 finale, the other characters (all police officers) treat Quinn this way when he requests to speak with an attorney when it's likely that he might be implicated in a crime that he didn't actually commit.
- Outlaw Couple: According to Masuka, Dexter and Lumen.
- Pac-Man Fever:
- Prominent enough throughout, with first-person shooters accompanied by the beeps and whistles from Galaga.
- Perhaps most notably in the Season 3 premiere, when Freebo is playing an obvious Wii bowling knock-off and we still get 80s-era bleeping.
- Later in Season 3, Dexter is playing Halo 3. On a computer. With no mouse. With sound effects from the 70s clearly dubbed in.
- Papa Wolf: Letting Dexter think you're a potential threat to his stepkids or Harrison, his biological son should probably qualify as assisted suicide. Letting him think you're a threat to Rita, Deb, or Lumen is nearly as bad an idea if you want to survive the experience.
- Parental Abandonment:
- Deb feels this way about Harry.
- In Season 4, Christine feels this way about her father, Arthur Mitchell (the Trinity Killer). She killed Lundy and shot Deb, hoping she would gain approval from him for protecting him from their investigation.
- Parent with New Paramour: Rita with Dexter. She trades a wife-beater for a serial killer, who is ironically a big improvement.
- Pay Evil Unto Evil: Harry's code.
- Perma-Stubble: Dexter himself. He's shown shaving in every opening sequence, but we see no more than a few swipes at his neck, so he apparently cultivates the look intentionally.
- Poetic Serial Killer: Dexter, every once in a while.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: Constantly flirted with in LaGuerta. She was promoted more for political reasons (in part her Twofer Token Minority status) than for her skill, and is often shown to be more interested in her career than good police-work. She starts showing much better judgment later in the series, but forfeits a lot of her sympathy after blaming Debra for her own screwup.
- Poor Communication Kills: Doakes finds proof positive that Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher by locating the blood slides in the air conditioner. He removes the evidence illegally and has it tested behind the department's back, thereby making it inadmissible in court, rather than alert anyone at the department about its existence to begin a legitimate investigation. Ultimately, by keeping the department in the dark, they posthumously pin the murders on him.
- Posthumous Character: Dexter's foster father, Harry. For the first two seasons, his only appearances were via flashbacks - scenes showing him grooming a younger Dexter to be a vigilante in order to slake his blood lust. From Season 3 onwards, Harry is more of an Imaginary Friend giving Dexter advice about following The Code.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The first season cuts out some of the more questionable plot elements while fleshing out the supporting cast and making Dexter more human.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Dexter has made this into an art form.
- Precision F-Strike: Dexter rarely swears, so when he does, it's jarring.
- But when Doakes starts really messing with him...
Dexter: Back... the fuck... off!
- He drops a small Cluster F-Bomb in Season 1 Episode 3. Apparently there are Evil Detecting Alligators in Florida. Who knew.
- When Arthur finally shows Dexter that he knows exactly who he is, Dexter drops one in his internal monologue.
- The ending of Season 6 Episode 12, after a several discussions of Dexter's lack of religious faith, is followed by a revelation that surprising him. His reaction:
Dexter: Oh, God!
- Product Placement: Lots of it, most notably for José Cuervo Silver and Nokia.
- Psycho Psychologist: In a first-season episode, one of Dexter's victims is a therapist who was driving his patients to suicide for kicks.
- Then there's Deb's terrible, terrible therapist in Season 6, who bizarrely encourages her to acknowledge and act on romantic feelings towards Dexter.
- Lila acts like this as Dexter's "sponsor" for his (non-existent) drug addiction in Season 2, by warping the Narcotics Anonymous 12 steps.
- Psychotic Lover: Lila.
- Put on a Bus:
- Partial example: Lundy for Season 3. Partial because As an FBI agent, he was only in Miami to investigate the Bay Harbor Butcher, as soon as the case closed he would be gone. It was clear from the beginning his character would only last the season, it's actually a surprise that he's back for Season 4.
- Lumen in the Season 5 finale.
- Put in the back of a car: Astor and Cody, after their mother died–they went to live with their grandparents in Orlando. They take a bus back from time to time–Astor twice (one episode centered around her), Cody once with getting face time only in one shot.
- Pyromaniac: Lila.
- Rage Against the Reflection: In the Season 5 finale, when Lumen tells him that she needs to leave, Dexter sees his reflection in a dinner plate he's holding.
- Rape and Revenge: Basically Lumen's whole plan in Season 5.
- Rape as Backstory:
- Dexter mentions in the pilot episode that Rita's ex-husband repeatedly beat and raped her, presumably for years.
- Lumen is introduced as a kind of sex slave, and is ultimately revealed to have been repeatedly raped and tortured by five men for approximately a month.
- Emily Birch has a similar backstory to Lumen, but the future Barrel Gang's members didn't kill her.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Dexter is appalled by the crimes of the Barrel Girl Gang.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Generally averted. Characters stutter, pause to think, etc. Some less than others, obviously, but it's still there.
- Really Gets Around: Debra becomes a serial monogamist after the first season, with roughly 5-6 bed buddies throughout the span of the series, in part due to the difficulty she has getting close to people and the demands of her job.
- Red Herring: Sonya the nanny from Season 5 (played by Maria Doyle Kennedy from Showtime's The Tudors) gets a pretty good amount of screen time and it seems as if she will eventually be important. She isn't.
- Reflective Eyes: Lumen in Season 5 when she's watching her own rape/torture video. It is mercifully discreet.
- Rescue Romance: Kind of with Dexter and Rita, since he's her refuge after her abusive relationship with Paul. Played straight with Dexter and Lumen.
- Retired Monster: Santos Jimenez. Trying to come out of retirement does not go well for him.
- Right Behind Me: Deb has a problem running her mouth.
- Rooftop Confrontation: With Miguel in Season 3 and Travis in Season 6.
- Room Full of Crazy: Lumen turns her motel room into a tragic version of one.
- Running Gag: Deb's total inability to speak Spanish, despite being a homicide detective in Miami. Babies who watch Dora the Explorer know more en español than her.
- In Season 3, she's thrilled when Anton writes a song for her called "Puta Flaca Mala". Go look that one up.
- Sarcasm Failure
- Sarcastic Confession: Dexter, of course.
- Sassy Black Woman: Doakes' entire family, which consists of his mother and sisters. Deb gets along with them wonderfully.
- Scare'Em Straight: Dexter's father once took him to witness an execution by electric chair to show him the importance of following The Code. "Keep your wits about you, son, or this is going to happen to you."
- Scary Black Man: Doakes when he's angry, which is permanently.
- Scoundrel Code: The Code of Harry.
- Scream Discretion Shot: The tapes that the Barrel Girl killers made of them torturing their victims. Virtually nothing is shown (mercifully), but the screams are terrifying.
- Serial Killer: Miami is lousy with them.
- Serial Killer Killer: Dexter, the whole point of the show.
- Sex Equals Love: Deb and Quinn in Season 5.
- Shaggy Dog Story: The dirty cop Stan Liddy spends Season 5 covertly gathering evidence on Dexter's crimes only to get killed rather anticlimactically by Dexter. It remains to be seen whether anything comes of this plotline in the following seasons.
- She Is Not My Girlfriend: "Teenage Wasteland". Though to be fair, she really wasn't his girlfriend at the time.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The entire fourth season: Agent Lundy's entire career and 4 years of Rita Bennett/ Morgan; All Dexter's efforts to get close to Trinity in order to learn from him are wasted, as Arthur has nothing to teach him about raising a family. Frank Lundy will never receive public vindication, Deb will never get closure, and the FBI will waste innumerable man-hours because Trinity is already dead. Rita's efforts to build a loving home for her children and a happy life with Dexter fail, as 4 years of Character Development are of little use when you are dead in a bathtub.
- Dexter uses the name Patrick Bateman as an alias to procure tranquilizers. He states he chose it because it sounded "so wholesome, so inconspicuous".
- Opening Shout-Out on more than one occasion.
- There are a few references to the books in the Season 4 finale: Dexter driving like crazy in Miami traffic and extra emphasis on the moon.
- "Dexter? He spends all his time in a laboratory for God's sake!"
- This is almost positively accidental, but the name of the last movie that Doakes' actor was in before Dexter is the same name as the book Deb's boyfriend is writing in Season 2.
- In Season 1, Rita shows up at Dexter's apartment on Halloween in a Lara Croft costume.
- In Season 5, after concluding that the Barrel Girl Gang members are being killed by a pair vigilantes in love, Dexter and Lumen, Masuka compares them to Bonnie and Clyde. Considering how they ended up, Dexter finds the analogy worrisome.
- The title of Season 6 finale "This is the Way the World Ends" is both a nod to the apocalyptic delusions of the Big Bad and a Shout Out to T. S. Eliot.
- Single Tear: Brian lets one out when Dexter makes up his mind to kill him to protect Debra.
- Sir Swearsalot: Debra. While most of the cast swears pretty liberally, in one conversation with Dexter in the third season, she manages to use every single obscenity in the English language, excluding racial slurs.
- Sociopathic Hero: Pretty much the premise of the series.
- Sorry That I'm Dying
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Subverted, as Dexter beats up an abusive parent a cheerful sounding Spanish song plays. It's Mac The Knife in Spanish.
- Spared by the Adaptation: LaGuerta.
- The Sponsor: Lila in Season 2, though she is initially unaware of just what Dexter is actually addicted to.
- Stepford Smiler:
- Dexter puts on a cheerful facade while internally lamenting his hollowness.
- Arthur Mitchell's family has elements of this. Despite being very messed up, they project an image of wholesomeness to the outside world that initially fools Dexter even when he's looking for signs of dysfunction.
- Stockholm Syndrome: Emily Birch for Jordan Chase in Season 5.
- Stuffed Into the Fridge: Subverted since Dexter killed Arthur before he knows Rita is dead.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: When confronted about certain of his possible activities, Rita assumes Dexter is a drug addict rather than a serial killer. Dexter enthusiastically goes with the deception, and it turns out to be useful on several other fronts as well. Because his homicidal tendencies are very much an addiction, his NA speech is very convincing.
- Happens in the Season 6 premiere:
Dexter: It'd be good to catch up with some of the old friends.
- No prizes for guessing why he's really going.
- He does get a blowjob for his trouble, so really he gets the best of both worlds.
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Sergeant Doakes.
- Sympathetic Murderer: Dexter himself.
- Take That: In the episode "Let's Give the Boy a Hand", Cody is shown wearing a George W. Bush mask while Dexter narrates "People think it's fun to pretend you're a monster."
- Talking Through Technique
- Tap on the Head: Dexter whacks Paul over the head with a frying pan after he threatens Rita and the kids. Paul survives with only a slight skull fracture (a slight subversion) despite having had no medical attention and then being shot up with heroin.
- Tattooed Crook:
- Dexter's biological father had a prison tattoo, not to mention plenty of the people Miami Metro drags in.
- Zig-zagged with Quinn, who sports tattoos, is a cop, and has stolen from a crime scene.
- And one of Dexter's victims early in the series - a valet who liked snuff films.
- That Came Out Wrong: To LaGuerta.
Dexter: "If you need something under the table, I'm your guy...That didn't come out right."
- Thirteen Is Unlucky: Lumen, meant to be the thirteenth Barrel Girl brought very bad luck indeed.
- Title Sequence: An award winning title sequence.
- Took a Level in Badass: Dexter, starting in the latter half of Season 2.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Quinn in the sixth season. He had already stolen from a crime scene earlier in the show, but he rapidly spirals out of control after Deb rejects his proposal and says that she never really loved him. He starts getting drunk, neglecting his job and acting like a total douche to everyone. His negligence almost gets his partner killed. The only reason he doesn't get fired is because he exploits a loophole intended for alcoholics.
- Total Eclipse of the Plot: Season 6 finale "This is the Way the World Ends".
- Trailers Always Lie:
- Trailers for the Season 5 ending showed Debra pointing a gun at what appears to be a bloodied Dexter. What they omitted was the plastic covering standing between the two, meaning all Debra saw was silhouettes. She did not even suspect it was Dexter.
- Another example was the trailer for an episode earlier in the season which showed Dexter chasing an escaped victim apparently followed by a shot of a surprised Deb in the same location saying, "Dexter?" While in the actual episode these two shots happened about five minutes apart, giving Dexter just enough time to kill the victim and quickly arrange the scene to look as if the man had killed Dan the Dentist.
- Tranquillizer Dart: Used in nearly every episode. Although in this case, they reveal the name of the sedative, which is an animal tranquilizer that really does work that fast. It also causes significant damage to the kidneys and frequently stops hearts, but given these people won't be alive for long...
- The one time it takes the tranquilizer longer to work, the target is an animal control worker who is holding a tranquilizer gun loaded to take down an alligator. He has enough time to shoot Dexter with it before he collapses. Dexter also has a bit of time to pull the dart out before losing consciousness. They both wake up in an ambulance with some really worried EMTs.
- TV Telephone Etiquette: Debra does this a lot. In Season 6, she ended a phone call with Batista with just a "got it". Click.
- The Unfair Sex: Poor Angel falls victim to this in Season 5. He thinks Maria is cheating on him, but she's actually doing an undercover sting operation. Of course Angel gets yelled at for not trusting her when she goes sneaking around late at night and makes up clearly fake excuses as to why.
- Maria plays it straight, but the show subverts it, since the viewer is led to believe that she really was cheating on him, even if only to get the case against him dropped and save him from jail time.
- Unreliable Narrator: Dexter narrates his story, but he does so through a filter of his own biased perceptions. One notable example is Dexter's constant assertions that he has no emotions and is a complete monster. As the series progresses, we see that he does have emotions, a conscience, and cares for the people around him in spite of the relentless bloodlust he also experiences.
- Unstoppable Rage: For a guy that appeared in only one episode, Rankin sure managed to really piss Dexter off. An emotionally confused Dexter with a anchor doesn't go well with a disrespectful angry dude; seen as Dexter's rare moments of anger can make him completely disregard The Code.
- Victim Falls For Rapist: Oh boy, the Barrel Boys' first victim, Emily, apparently has this for Jordan Chase. It is a subversion in that he never raped her himself, but rather orchestrated others to do it.
- Victim of the Week: Played straight in the first two seasons.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: An intern has developed a video game where you get to play a serial killer and wants Dexter's opinion on whether the blood spatter mechanics are realistic. Dexter refuses to even look at the game and tells the guy that making that type of game is just wrong.
- Possibly a reference to the real life Serial Killer Roguelike hoax that was supposedly based around the same concept: https://web.archive.org/web/20130127105747/http://www.roguetemple.com/forums/index.php?topic=1298.0
- Vigilante Man
- Villainous Breakdown:
- Miguel Prado has one when he realizes that Dexter killed his brother Oscar.
- Jordan Chase becomes slowly more unhinged as Dexter and Lumen kill all of his "rape buddies" and elude capture. When they have him on a table, he loses it completely.
- Happens quite frequently when Dexter captures any Victims of the Week.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Miguel Prado and Jordan Chase. Also Dexter Morgan, especially from Sgt. Doakes' point of view.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Miguel Prado seems extreme when compared to Dexter. And perhaps Dexter himself is an extremist when compared to Doakes.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Debra had this kind of relationship with Harry, even following in his footsteps as a cop to gain his attention. It's not that he wasn't proud of her, but honing her brother's extra-curricular activities (to which Deb wasn't invited for obvious reasons) meant that he couldn't spend as much time with his daughter. Likewise with Christine Hill, the daughter of Arthur Mitchell/Trinity, who even killed Frank Lundy to gain her father's approval. She doesn't take his disownment of her, after she accidentally put him at risk of being discovered, well.
- We Want Our Jerk Back: After Quinn tells Masuka that the reason nobody came to his speech on his newly-published work is because of how perverted he is, he starts dressing nicely and cleans up his act. This freaks out Debra immensely. It's only after they stand up for him in front of Miguel's brother that he eventually returns to his normal self.
- Wham! Episode:
- Season 4 Episode 9, arguably. There were hints of Arthur's mask slipping before, but this time you get to see how messed up his family life really is.
- The Season 4 finale.
- The Season 6 finale. Ooh boy...
- Wham! Line:
- A pretty minor one but clearly one that sets up a story arc: "Boyd wasn't the only one."
- In "Hungry Man", Christine talking to Trinity at the end: "Hi, Daddy."
- What Happened to the Mouse?:
- In the first episode of the series, it's both shown and mentioned how LaGuerta has a romantic interest in Dexter. It's never mentioned again (this was a plot point from the first Dexter book, which the show dropped).
- Angel's interest in vague mysticism in Season 2 was quietly dropped before his character came to the fore.
- Rita's teenage marriage is introduced as if it will be a major plot point. Then it's forgotten.
- Angel spends the better part of Season 3 trying to win the heart of another cop, named Barbara, and by the end of the season, they're happy together. Come Season 4, Barbara is nowhere to be seen (and Angel is in love with La Guerta).
- What If the Baby Is Like Me?: Of course, it's too early to tell how Harrison's going to turn out.
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?
- Liddy snarks about what a stupid name "Dexter" is, as does Quinn even earlier.
- Several people remark that "Lumen" is a weird name.
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Dexter takes a special interest in those who harm children.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Both Lila and Dexter use this tactic in Season 2, Lila to gain sympathy from Dexter, Dexter to make it look as if Doakes simply has an unreasonable and irrational hatred of him.
- Not that it took much work, as everyone already could see that Doakes clearly hated Dexter well before he had a reason to.
- Worthy Opponent: Dexter explicitly calls Lundy this, and views some of the various seasons big bads to be this. The barrel girl gang are a notable exception, Dexter is simply appalled by their actions.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: In Season 6, Dexter thinks he understands what type of killer Geller is and how to best get to him. Turns out that he completely misinterpreted the situation and is in fact in a completely different serial killer story. It puts him in serious danger and gets multiple people killed.
The books provide examples of:
- Alliteration: See Purple Prose below.
- And I Must Scream: The Yodeling Potato.
- Author Tract
- Big Bad: In order, The Tamiami Slasher, Doctor Danco, IT, Brandon Weiss and Alana Acosta.
- Breaking Bad News Gently
- Brought Down to Normal: In Dexter in the Dark, the Dark Passenger leaves Dexter for a while, leaving him emotional and a lot less intuitive.
- Canon Discontinuity: Averted. The fourth book does mention Moloch in passing.
- Chew Toy: Doakes, though whether he gets it worse in the books or in the show is up for debate, as the books have him end up with his feet, hands and tongue chopped off by a very vengeful sociopathic surgeon.
- And poor, poor Deborah.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Deb's language is no prettier than her TV counterpart's. Doakes, in addition, has "Fuck you" as a macro on his voice simulator after losing his tongue. And "I'm watching you, motherfucker".
- Deadly Doctor: The main antagonist in the second book.
- Drives Like Crazy: According to our Anti-Hero, everyone else in South Florida. Depending on when you drive, this may be Truth in Television.
- Dumb Blonde: Deke, Deb's new partner, is thought to be this.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Taken very literally (i.e. "The Code").
- Fair Cop: Deb, primarily. Deconstructed, as it just means she gets to dress up like a hooker for stings.
- Deconstructed even worse in the 4th and 5th book, in which he consecutively asks Dexter to kill a perpetrator.
- The Family That Slays Together: The book series has Dexter training Cody and Astor in the ways of serial killer killing. Uncle Brian turns up and gives Cody and Astor a lesson in the fifth book. At this rate, even Deborah may be joining any time soon.
- First-Person Smartass: More so than the TV series, arguably.
- Genre Blind: Deborah, to an extent Dexter lampshades once that "she hasn't watched much TV."
- Genre Savvy: Dexter often wonders how he gets suckered into half of the things that happen to him (marriage, expensive caterers, cases, etc) but he is far from Dangerously Genre Savvy.
- Genre Shift: The third book suddenly moves the story from psychological crime into supernatural fantasy, and the fourth switches it back just as suddenly.
- Handsome Lech: Invoked by Dexter. When Brian turns up in the fifth book, he's also like this, but Dexter considers him a big fake. There's also Deke.
- I'm a Humanitarian: The bad guys in the fifth book are like this. The main victim actually wants to be eaten because her father told her fairy stories about princesses being eaten by ogres, including playfully chewing on her arm. Deke, however, doesn't.
- I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Some of Dexter's excuses sound like this when he's leaving in the middle of the night "to take some papers from the office", but Rita takes these as Going to the Store stories. Bonus points for the kids actually realizing (and gleeing at) what he's up to.
- Informed Ability: Like stated in the series folder, on Dexter saying the police is powerless and stupid at times, but less noticeable here, because the books expands on his close to supernatural abilities at "hunches" and other things he just doesn't show in the series.
- Jerkass: Once again, Doakes.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Deborah asks Dexter to kill someone. Twice. The first time he doesn't succeed due to circumstances out of his hand (sort of). The second, he finally gets around to do it, even if he was reluctant at first.
- Mood Dissonance: Jokes mixed with homicide.
- Multiple Narrative Modes: The first two novels are written entirely in the first-person, from Dexter's POV. Round three mixes it up when the reader gets intermittent third-person visits from Dex's stalker.
- Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: Dexter in the Dark reveals that all sociopaths are really possessed by the children of Satan.
- Oblivious Younger Sibling: Rita, if not enough that her children are monsters-in-the-making and her husband kills and will teach her children to do that, too, while she's playing Mama Bear and constantly shouting out how bad are the killers she sees on TV, now she's basically living with four monsters under her roof (Brian included), feeding their lies, out of which at least one (Brian) doesn't see her more than a bug that he can squash if he thinks it would improve or make more fun his relation with Dexter or the kids.
- Only Sane Man: Ironically, Dexter. When he isn't busy doing or talking about what he does he often questions how he gets dragged into half of the things that happen to him.
- Parent with New Paramour: Rita, and Dexter's a big improvement over her ex. In a subversion of Papa Wolf, Dexter realizes that the abuse that the children suffered at the hands of their father has them so disturbed that Dexter sees that they need to be trained, as Harry trained him, to only kill those who deserve it.
- It only appears to be true with Cody, who actually kills someone who was threatening Dexter and Astor at the end of Dexter in the Dark. Astor still seems to be genuinely showing emotions, and even Dexter says she might just be going along with it because she's so close to Cody.
- Pretty Woman: Played with; Deb starts the series being used in prostitution stings, much to her disgust.
- Purple Prose: In particular, the Devastatingly Daft Diction abusing a certain Device, of which the titles are only the beginning.
"Moon. Glorious moon. Full, Fat, Reddish moon, the night as light as day, the moonlight flooding down across the land and bringing joy, joy, joy."
- Secret Identity: Used. Until Deborah finds out.
- Shocking Voice Identity Reveal: Brian as Dexter's savior from the vampire-cannibals in Dexter is Delicious.
- Sociopathic Hero: Well, yeah.
- Spider Sense: Dexter's Dark Passenger acts like this to him, warning him of danger (usually from other predators).
- Status Quo Is God: Averted most of the time regarding the story's evolution, played straight regarding Dexter's actions. After the third book, he gets back to normal relations with his Dark Passenger. After the fifth, he seems to have forgotten his struggles to become "human" and "not a killer" and goes out to give Deb "a shower present".
- The Stoic: Doakes and, to a lesser extent, Debra. Dexter himself, as he claims to feel no emotion.
- Doakes practically radiates waves of seething hatred at Dexter, especially after he gets his hands, feet, and tongue lopped off.
- Supreme Chef: Dexter heaps praise on Rita's cooking.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Dexter keeps saying the he doesn't expect the world to be a fair place. And he keeps saying, and he keeps saying... until he admits he doesn't like the world not being a fair place, and that it should be.
- Too Dumb to Live: Deke, Debra's new partner; it's definitely bad to be one in a Dexter book. Deborah too shows some emotional Genre Blindness that almost gets everyone killed.
- Torture Technician: Dr. Danco, the main villain of the second book.
- Unreliable Narrator: Dexter. He seems to be more human than he lets on (maybe) but he is still less emotional than in the TV show.
- Vigilante Man: Sometimes, Dexter's targets/victims slip through the cracks in the legal system. Let's just say there is a lot of overlap when it comes to Dexter and all the Anti-Hero related tropes.
- Wham! Line: Samantha telling Dexter she wants to be eaten. Of course, from the way things proceed, and the Foreshadowing of making Dexter repeat "I kept thought it was the drugs", "Drugs will do that to you" etc, her confession becomes almost obvious.
- What If the Baby Is Like Me?: Of course, it's too early to tell how
HarrisonLilly Anne's going to turn out...
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: With the Dark Passenger, comes the need to kill, but also the "power" to be somewhat beyond the human status and those silly things called human emotions.
- Yandere: Lila will do anything to make Dexter love her.
- And the previous five seasons.