Debra Morgan: The Real Hero Of 'Dexter'

Debra Morgan is the stepsister of the titular character in 'Dexter'. I delve into the unfair treatment of who is (in)arguably the best character in the show.
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Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C Hall as Debra and Dexter Morgan
Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C Hall as Debra and Dexter Morgan. Source: ScreenRant

After finishing my second rerun of Showtime's 'Dexter' I’m still annoyed nearly eight years later by the poor treatment of who was arguably the best character on the show.

For those who don’t know: the titular character Dexter is a serial killer operating in Miami and Debra is his adopted sister. Traumatised by seeing his mother's brutal murder at a young age he is taken in by the policeman on the scene Harry Morgan, Debra’s father, who teaches Dexter a ‘code’ to kill only those who deserve it, as Dexter is instilled with a ‘dark passenger’ that is his urge to murder.

Debra lost her mother at a young age too and was raised by Harry, who only had eyes for Dexter and nurturing his need to kill (all unbeknownst to Debra), who was led to believe that Dexter was Harry’s favourite. This alone gave Debra an inferiority complex and a lack of confidence that she didn’t deserve. The only two consistent role models in her life were men and it shaped her character with an outward shell of being ‘one of the guys’ with a love of steaks and beer and a hilariously foul mouth.

Debra is swearing as usual.
Debra is swearing as usual.

Harry died when Deb was a teenager leaving her with Dexter, the only remaining family member left to her and seemingly her ‘rock’. To posthumously gain Harry’s approval she joined the Miami Metro Police to follow in his footsteps and make him proud. She has a strong moral sense of right and wrong and a thirst to prove herself.

Throughout the series Deb works her way up through the ranks working as a diligent Detective and is always on the right track to the seasons’ killer; only to be thwarted by Dexter most of the time as he beats her to it and kills the target before Miami Metro can catch up, normally by withholding crucial forensic evidence to his own murderous advantage.

Deb adores and reveres Dexter and is always concerned about his health and happiness before her own, and while Dexter says he loves her and has real feelings, he selfishly never throws her a bone that he knows would help her.

Debra and Rudy.
Debra and Rudy. Source: Pinterest

In season 1 she shows her capacity for great, fierce love as she falls head over heels for Rudy, who’s later revealed to be Dexter’s secret half-brother who was only using Debra to get closer to Dexter.

It’s a massive blow for her self-esteem and an embarrassment to her aspiring detective career and ultimately affects her trust issues with men; which further retreats her into her relationship with Dexter, who often blows her off and isn’t there for her while he’s out killin’.

She later meets Frank Lundy, a much older veteran detective who she slowly falls for as he is like the approving father figure which she so desperately craved growing up. Despite the age difference she finally feels comfortable and trusting enough to be with him, only for him to later be shot dead right in front of her, which gave her a tremendous sense of guilt she didn’t deserve.

Happy at last: Debra and Lundy
Happy at last: Debra and Lundy. Source: Amino Apps

She has a brief fling with a shady confidential informer called Anton, and a guy at the gym who are apparently distractions and she keeps them at arms’ length without getting too attached through fear of losing them.

This fear is ultimately what distances her from fellow detective Joey Quinn, breaking up with him as he asked to marry her, and cooling off from him after he accused Dexter of being a killer. Joey was perfect for her but her isolation and attachment to Dexter ruined things for her again.

Debra with Joey Quinn
Debra with Joey Quinn. Source: WiffleGif

Later on, after aspiring to the Lieutenant role for her exemplary doggedness and hard work, Deb confronts her feelings towards Dexter through therapy and comes to realise that as her constant her whole life, her feelings are more than sisterly and that she is actually in love with him. She goes to a crime scene to let him know how she feels and catches Dexter in the act of murder.

Deb sees Dexter killing the Doomsday Killer
Deb sees Dexter killing the Doomsday Killer.  Source: Youtube

The beginning of the end. Devastated to finally learn what Dexter is, and completely against her ethics, she also learns that Harry knew all along and taught him. The illusion of her two male role models is shattered in one night, and she is forced to turn against everything she’s ever believed in and accept Dexter for what he is.

She loathes herself for helping him dispose of the body, and further aid and abet to keep him out of prison. Her love for him is so fierce and loyal that she is forced to transform herself into something dark and loathsome that she doesn’t even recognise or like. Dexter couldn’t care less and uses her as another unwilling ally.

In a climactic ultimatum, she is confronted with shooting either Dexter, who is about to kill Captain Maria LaGuerta or LaGuerta herself who has been on to Dexter for some time. Deb, unfortunately, chooses the latter to save the man she’s so conflicted by, and the act completely tarnishes her soul.

#debramorgan #marialaguerta #dextermorgan A polarising choice 
A polarising choice.  Source: WIffleGif

Deb goes off the rails at this point, and drops out of Homicide at Miami Metro for good, instead of working for a private agency and becoming the undercover role of a criminal’s junkie alcoholic girlfriend.

She feels dirty and cheap and wants to be punished as such to try and forget about what she did to LaGuerta by reaching rock bottom oblivion. She cuts ties with Dexter completely, who all of a sudden realises how much he needs Debra in his life even if it’s against her wishes.

They eventually reconcile and Debra tries to get her life back together by rejoining Homicide to try and do some good and redeem her soul. Around this point, she also learns that her father killed himself out of self-loathing for what he’d helped turn Dexter into, and that’s another crushing blow, indirectly delivered by Dexter.

In a desperate attempt to end her misery and right a wrong, she flips Dexter’s car into a river with them both inside. Once she sees him unconscious and lowering into the water however she sobers up and dashes to save him, so unbearable is the thought of him not being in her life.

Meanwhile Dexter dates a serial poisoner called Hannah McKay, who Debra knows killed people but keeps getting away with it. Debra despises her and yet even when she finds out about his relationship with her, Debra warns him against her for his own safety. In spite of everything she now knows about Dexter she still looks out for his wellbeing.

Near the end of the series Dexter reveals that he wants to move away with Hannah and his son Harrison, and completely selfishly leave Debra entirely without any family; despite everything, she’s done for him. It’s devastating and it’s yet another kick while she’s down, and yet she still helps him by letting Hannah stay at her house while they try to elope. Once again she has to challenge everything she believes in for Dexter.

A risky beverage #debramorgan #drinking #dexter
A risky beverage.  Source: Dexter Daily

Knowing that a killer is imminently about to confront Dexter and knowing she has only one more night with him, she insists that they have one last steak and a beer together, even if she is in mortal danger. So desperate is she to engage with him. All the while she encourages him and tries to be there for him while he waxes about his own problems.

In a bizarre attack of conscience after hunting down a killer for so long, Dexter decides to show mercy and let him go, so that Debra can have a career rewarding arrest. Sadly there is a scuffle and Debra is shot in the gut. In spite of being in pain, she forces her coworkers not to call Dexter, knowing that he’s on his way out of Miami for good and wants him to be happy above all else.

There’s a sad scene between her and Joey where she finally tells him that she loves him. If it hadn’t been for her mistrust of men getting too close after her encounter with Dexter’s brother she might have had a healthy relationship with a man who accepts her exactly as she is.

In the hospital, Dexter remembers seeing Harrison for the first time with Deb and recalls how good of a sister she is. She told him that he would make a great father because he’d always been such a good brother that made her feel safe. At all times she is a fiercely loyal rock that doesn’t believe in her own incredible abilities. She tells Dexter to say ‘goodbye’ to her and not to feel guilty because her decisions are her own.

#debramorgandead
Dexter sends his most undeserving victim to a watery grave  Source: ScreenRant

There’s sadly a complication with surgery later on that leaves Debra brain dead. Dexter takes her off life support and whispers that he loves her as she passes away. He takes her body away on his boat and buries her at sea: a bitter recognition that she was one of his victims, albeit indirect. It’s an appalling fate for such a strong, likable, fully dimensional character who the audience comes to arguably love more than Dexter.

The majority of the appeal of the show for me personally was seeing what Debra would do and say, and ultimately rooted for a happy ending for her, regardless of what happened to Dexter.

We all have our own opinions on what a perfect ending should be but this was definitely not it. In a show about a serial killer, he's getting away with things that sends the wrong message. I understand that the point of Dexter's dangerous lifestyle means that he will suffer personal losses, yet it still seems like a great disservice to such a wonderful character.

While it would have been sad to see Dexter die, I think a greater sort of poetic justice would have been seeing Debra be forced to kill him, and her end up with his son Harrison and be with Joey in her beach house.

Ideally, she would have shot him instead of LaGuerta and she wouldn’t have the added weight of killing an innocent on her conscience. The last season would have been so much better if all of Miami Metro knew what he was and it was one season-long manhunt for him. Perhaps a tearful scene where Deb catches him but lets him get away would have been better.

The powers that be decided that they’d like to leave it open for another season, which releases November 2021. It just felt like a cheap, rushed ending with no character reconciliation, not just for Deb but for Angel Batista and Vince Masuka too.

Debra Morgan was the most badass female fictional character I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch.

#jennifercarpenter #debramorgan #dexter
Debra Morgan actress Jennifer Carpenter.  Source: IMDb

Every step of the way Debra showed her extraordinary strength, resilience, humour, passion, and commitment. She got hurt and kicked so many times and lost her way all for the love of her brother. Jennifer Carpenter’s acting portraying Debra was absolutely exemplary. While I will watch the new season of Dexter, it won’t be the same without her.

Jason is a freelance content writer living in Nottinghamshire whose preferred topics are movie/game reviews and climate change.

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