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by Luis Prada
Shows about sociopathic murderers trying to blend in with normal people are such a successful genre for premium cable networks that if you’re ever unemployed, just pitch something about a killer struggling to raise his three daughters to Starz, and you’ll have a job for at least a decade. Barry might only be one season in but it’s already hunting down Dexter to knock it out of its spot as the best example of the genre. But if they were to actually try to kill each other, could Dexter lure Barry into his ritualistic plastic-sheeted kill cathedral? Could Barry snipe Dexter as he steered his boat to the open ocean to dispose of a body? Which murderous crazy person who wants to have it all would prevail?
Let’s find out by measuring them against the tropes of their genre ...
The Reason They Kill
The difference between Dexter and Barry is the difference between nature and nurture. That is the only bit of poeticism I will allow for the rest of this article about fictional murderers. But it’s true. Barry was a Marine whose penchant for killing was harnessed by his boss and only friend, Fuches, who turned Barry into a ruthless contract killer. Fortunately for him, he’s pretty good at it. But his motive isn’t pure. The money’s good and he likes that he finally feels like he has a purpose. It’s too bad for Fuches that acting makes Barry feel more alive than killing people. Who’d a thunk it?
Dexter was practically born into murder. His adoptive father was a police officer who found him sitting in a puddle of his own mother’s blood after a drug dealer shredded her with a chainsaw in a shipping container. You know, that old trope. It was only a matter of time before his adoptive father Harry found Dexter killing animals and just generally being a tiny miniature psycho. So, Harry took the murderous intent that was already in Dexter and focused it onto other killers who would likely get off scot-free in Miami’s broken criminal justice system.
The Round Goes To ...
Dexter. No contest. Dexter is a dedicated serial killer with a strict ethical code and an elaborate murder ritual that isn’t complete until he walks away with a trophy in the form of a drop of his victim’s blood on a microscope slide. You know you love murder when you devote that much time and effort to the little details. Barry prepares, but Dexter makes him look like the slacker at the back of the class, disrupting the teacher with fart noises.
Even his apartment looks like a classroom. NEEERRRRRDDD!
The Prized Victims
The people Dexter has killed reads like a list of Hall of Fame inductees if there were a Hall of Fame for serial killers ... which there should never be, and I cannot stress that enough. Tons of them are serial killers so prolific the media has given them their own catchy moniker. Dexter, himself, was even known as “the Bay Harbor Butcher”.
The Ice Truck Killer, The Skinner, The Trinity Killer, The Doomsday Killer, The Barrel Girl Gang, The Brain Surgeon.
By killing a bunch of people, Dexter is somehow raising the life expectancy for all of South Florida.
Barry kills whichever poor sap happens to be attached to the name on Fuches' contract. He flies off to some frozen hellhole somewhere in the Midwest to off some nobody, then goes back to his crappy apartment to play video games. Throughout the course of the first season, he kills a series of Chechen mobsters who might be a part of a large LA-based criminal organization ... but it’s honestly surprising that they somehow get out of bed every morning without tripping on a pistol and blowing their own heads off. Everyone he kills is just a way to clean up his own mistakes.
The Round Goes To ...
Dexter. To be fair, Dex has the unfair advantage of having the perfect combination of bloodlust and ethical code for a city where every third person is a mass murderer. There is opportunity for a serial killer of serial killers. But it’s that exact confluence that puts Dexter way over Barry. Sorry, Barry’s Los Angeles. You just don’t have enough high-profile psychopaths.
Fortunately, he has a drug that knocks them out in one tenth of a second.
The Better Double Life
When Barry isn’t killing people, he’s performing scenes from Tarantino movies in a dingy LA acting studio. When Dexter isn’t slicing people apart in elaborate murder rooms that must take forever to set up, he’s living a peaceful suburban family life in a quiet Miami neighborhood.
Most of us would probably choose Dexter’s life except for Dexter himself. Until he eventually learns to actually like his family, the house with a white picket fence and the 2.5 kids is just an elaborate cover. Barry finds an opportunity to reinvent himself as an actor even though he’s as emotive as a sedated Vin Diesel. Still, anything seems like a better alternative when your day job is killing people in the frozen tundra of the Midwest.
The Round Goes To ...
It looks like Dexter may be going for the sweep, here. He may not have a genuine appreciation for his non-murdery life at first, but that doesn’t mean hiding in plain sight isn’t a brilliant strategy. Who would suspect the family man who works as a lab geek for the Police Department is also a prolific serial killer? All of us, probably. But it’s better than a life spent butchering Shakespeare and tanking auditions.
You don't want him teaching your kids how to handle bullies.
The Cops On Their Tail
A fictional murder is only as interesting as the cops force him to be. If they’re not barely slithering out of the grasp of the police force that’s chasing them, who cares?
Dexter is so relentlessly pursued that he has to fake his own death by steering his boat into a hurricane ... then spend, presumably, the rest of his life as a bearded Northwestern logger. Once the bodies Dex had dumped in the ocean are discovered, all of his cop friends make his homicidal hobby a little more difficult to enjoy. Cops in these kinds of shows and movies are always a little dim, so it takes them a little longer to figure it out than any of us would. But Sgt. Doakes (whose beautifully cheesy delivery of the line “Surprise, motherf*****!” has been immortalized as an all-time great NSFW Vine meme) has Dexter pegged as something a lot darker then a forensic science dork from his first seconds on screen.
The cops on Barry’s tail are bumbling idiots. All of them. That includes lead detective Janice Moss. At first, she seems like she’s the only competent cop drowning in a sea of buffoons until you realize she’s more like Luke Wilson in Idiocracy -- she only looks competent by comparison. There might be a good detective in her, but it’s all rendered irrelevant the second she falls in love with Barry’s acting instructor, Gene Cousineau. Even though it’s through her relationship with Gene that she finally pieces together that Barry is the suspect she’s been looking for the entire time, it’s purely coincidental and has nothing to do with police work.
The Round Goes To ...
Dexter. Again. Man, he’s really running away with this thing. And well-earned. Barry would’ve gotten caught by the second episode if he’d been chased by Miami Metro in Dexter’s universe.
“Surprise, motherf- BLUUGH!”
Best Inner Thoughts
You’re just not an interesting murderer if we can’t take a peek into the inner workings of your mind to determine just how crazy you are. The best way to show that on-screen is through physically seeing what these characters imagine.
For Barry, it’s a better life. A life where he doesn’t have to be a hitman anymore. A life where he’s in a happy relationship with his crush Sally and eventually goes on to become a wealthy actor living in the Hollywood Hills with shelves full of Oscars. A life where a backyard barbecue with friends includes Jon Hamm asking if he could take a dump in Barry’s house. Not his toilet -- his house. Barry is so desperate to escape the drama he’s gotten himself into that he spends every quiet moment fantasizing about a better life.
Dexter’s imaginings revolve around semi-philosophical discussions on the justification of his murderers, with his subconscious in the form of his dead adoptive dad. It really makes you wonder if all that dialogue is happening in his head or if he’s carrying on conversations out loud with nobody.
The Round Goes To ...
Barry. Finally! If we’re talking about how these characters’ imaginations would help them in a fight against each other, Barry’s shows he’s a guy who has something larger he’s fighting for; he’s fighting as hard as he can so one day he won’t have to anymore. Meanwhile, Dexter is a guy who often loses debates he’s having with his own imagination. No thank you.
Good thing we’re not judging their kill clothes. That’s a perfect match-up.
Obviously, it has to be Dexter. In time, we might one day see Barry gain the skills necessary to win this bout before Dex pops around a corner to slide a syringe of sleepy time juice into Barry’s neck. For now, the winner is the guy so methodical, so specific about his murdering that he even wears the same waffle-printed long sleeve shirt and lame cargo pants for every kill. Stalking around dressed like a Northern Atlantic crab fisherman in a sexy fashionable city shows a dedication to craft Barry just can’t beat.