Both Dexter Morgan and Joe Goldberg could be described as anti-heroes that people root for to a degree that’s borderline unhealthy. Potential for toxic relationships aside, these two characters are similar in more ways than you’d expect.
They both had tragic pasts, and grow up to lead double lives, always concealing their true selves. They both had a relationship with someone who despite not knowing the real them, met a tragic end. And they both had a relationship with someone else (showing their true colors) which didn’t end well either.
The love obsessed stalker from New York and Miami-based serial killer also both see themselves as justified in doing much of what they do (which we’ll get to). So in the interest of our unhealthy obsession with both of these larger than life characters, we thought it would be fun to compare them.
While there are a variety of categories, ultimately, we’re looking to determine which is the more interesting character of the two. Not necessarily which one is better skilled or less morally corrupt.
Warning: Spoilers for Dexter Seasons 1-8 and You Seasons 1-3
Round I – Backstory
Unfortunately childhood was not a pleasant time for either character. Joe grew up with an abusive father that regularly assaulted him and his mother. This eventually led to him tragically having to pull the trigger to kill his father, in order to save his mother. And much like later in life, he saw this killing as an abhorrent thing he had no choice about.
At an even younger age, Dexter experienced his iconic “born in blood” moment. As traumatizing as shooting one’s own father, witnessing one’s own mother cut into pieces via chainsaw and spending days sitting in her blood is a tad bit more dramatic.
It’s a very difficult category to call but the slightest of edges has to go to Dexter. To Joe’s credit, he was a more active participant in his own “nexus event” so to speak. But Dexter’s was so overwhelmingly influential over him that despite blocking it out for years, it fueled his lifelong compulsion.
Round I Winner – Dexter
Round II – Hiding in Plain Sight
In order to avoid prison for the many felonies they’ve committed, both Dexter and Joe have mastered the art of playing a role for the public and evading capture and suspicion on many occasions (with a slip up here or there).
To be fair, Joe only has to hide in plain sight with regular people, while Dexter is in the middle of a homicide department. But we’re judging it on how they do in their prospective worlds.
Both Joe and Dexter arouse suspicion early on from someone who thinks they seem off. Whether it’s Beck’s friend Peach or the in your face Sergeant Doakes, neither character is able to fool absolutely everyone.
But we can’t discuss this category without bringing up Dexter’s recklessness when it comes to “don’t shit where you eat”. Over the course of 8 seasons, every serial killer that Miami Metro Homicide is after either disappears or mysteriously commits suicide. It’s such a pattern that sent Doakes after him in Season 2, Quinn after him in Season 5, and LaGuerta after him in Season 7..
Joe hasn’t been without his mishaps either. He definitely needs better hiding places, because Beck and Delilah both stumbled upon his misdeeds just by accident. Though to be fair, these seemed to just be coincidences and stemmed less from his own sloppiness. So it’s for this reason that the round goes to Joe.
Round II Winner – Joe Goldberg
Round III – Efficiency
Here’s the round you’ve really all been waiting for. Who’s the better killer? To start, we’ll look at the areas in which Joe and Dexter are similar. Both of them have high attention to detail and the necessary work ethic to throw away an entire day just dealing with their business.
They’re also both incredibly organized and prepared, always thinking of worst case scenarios and contingency plans in the event they happen. Joe’s wife Love seemed almost horrified by the idea that he just casually scopes the region out for a good place to dispose of bodies, and Dexter is known for his insane level of planning when it comes to doing a kill.
It would be fair to say that Joe on occasion can be a bit more impulsive than Dexter however. There have been times where he either killed, or locked someone in his cell without really having an endgame in mind.
Not to say that Dexter hasn’t acted on impulse before (who could forget that time he bashed Paul in the head), but his overall M.O. is one of carefully planning his target, and how and when he’ll abduct them.
What this round really comes down to is the fact that Joe kills only when he feels that he has to, so as a result, he doesn’t do it often enough to really develop regular habits about it. Dexter on the other hand has crafted a system that’s pretty efficient.
Everything from his evidence gathering, to studying his victim’s routine, to setting up the kill room, and ultimately disposing of the body. There’s a reason Dexter excelled at what he did for so long.
Round III Winner – Dexter
Round IV – Personal Relationships
But of course, both Dexter and Joe lead a life outside their nefarious extracurricular activities, and that life includes both friendships, as well as romantic partners. Both characters have had huge successes and failures in this department.
When it comes to romantic relationships Dexter and Joe both had one that never saw the real him (at least at first). Dexter’s entire relationship (and marriage) to Rita was free of her ever finding out what he really did when he always said he was working. She definitely helped keep him grounded and tended to bring out the best in him.
She was the perfect foil to his true self, and she not only allowed him to lead a double life for as long as he did, but Rita was also very much the heart of the show. All until her very untimely death, which Dexter brought about indirectly.
Ultimately, Rita would have been perfect for a Dexter who learned to live without killing, and his habit not only created a strain on their marriage when he was never around, but it eventually cost Rita her life.
Joe on the other hand was very much the direct cause of Beck’s death, when she discovered his stalking habits and he saw no other choice. The issue with his and Beck’s relationship was, he was only really in love with an idea of her. She was just an innocent woman caught up with a psychopath.
We see Dexter attached to people like Lila (who was just a toxic dumpster fire from the start) and Lumen (who was really only attracted to Dexter for the duration of their “mission”). But his true soulmate comes in the form of Hannah McKay, a woman that he can be his true self with.
Aside from a few trust issues early on, Hannah was the only one that truly understood Dexter, and was a willing partner in his life. Not only was she a great partner to him, but she made a really good stepmother to Harrison. The only tragedy of their relationship was the Dexter did what he did in the series finale, ruining what would have been a great life.
And of course for Joe, there’s Love, a woman whom we discover is just as buried in secrets as him. At first, they seem like the perfect couple, as they’re both pretty unconventional and agree that this fake suburban existence is for the birds. However, their relationship gets increasingly toxic with Joe very quickly getting bored of Love in favor of his stalking habit, and Love literally murdering anyone that Joe looks at. And let’s not forget how he tried to kill Candace as well.
The fact that Joe’s killed two of his lovers really doesn’t bode well for him in this round. In addition, Forty winds up hating him and getting killed over it, and while he did protect Ellie by sending her away, she resents him for destroying her life. Compare that to Dexter’s lonstanding friendships with Masuka, Angel, and his sibling bond with Deb (which withstood her finding out what he was) and it’s just no contest.
And as a bonus mention, they’re both terrible fathers who abandon their son. This is the single fact I dislike most about both characters!
Round IV Winner – Dexter
Round V – Growth
At this point, it’s sadly impossible for Joe to win this, but we can’t have this comparison without discussing how each character has grown over the arc of their respective series. To be fair, You is still running, and Dexter: New Blood has recently premiered, so neither character is completely done growing yet, but we’ll look at where they are now.
Dexter spent years in Miami channeling his killer urges into removing other killers from the streets. But he had some pretty spectacular failures along the way, especially when he prevented the police from catching someone just so he could kill them instead. Not only did this violate the Code of Harry (which was meant to target those who beat the system), but it led to Rita’s death among many others.
To his credit, Dexter finally learned his lesson and allowed Deb to arrest Harold Saxon. Unfortunately, he randomly killed her in a very contrived moment of TV drama that was only done because it was the series finale, but he gets credit for moving on. Until of course we get to New Blood, in which he seems to be getting back to his old ways.
In a similar vein, Joe seems to have learned very little in his journey. Granted, he saw himself in young Ellie and did what he could to protect her, but when Season 3 ended the exact same way Season 1 did (with Joe killing his romantic partner and starting over in a new city), it just lends itself to a very vicious and toxic cycle.
Round V Winner – It’s a Draw
Overall Winner – Dexter Morgan
Do you agree with our choices? Which character do you think is more interesting? Let us know in the comments!
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