Dexter, Walter, Tony, and Dzhokhar

In Slate this week, I argued that the urge to find a logical backstory for the marathon bombing suspect — to imagine that, in the right circumstances, someone could have stopped him — is a habit we’ve honed by watching “quality TV:”


This is how television crowds into our lives: I know I wasn’t the only one who watched the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing while guiltily making comparisons to Homeland. I thought back to the chilling scenes, in Season 1 of the Showtime series, when Nick Brody, the POW-turned-terrorist, donned a suicide vest and prepared to visit destruction on Washington, D.C. I remembered the carnage at the end of Season 2, when a bomb goes off at a crowded event, killing and wounding scores of innocents. The reality of a terror attack—the senseless deaths, the horrific injuries—was, among other things, a kind of rebuke, a reminder of how easily we lap up these entertainments.

But there’s another way TV has influenced our reaction to the Boston bombing, another screen impulse that has found its way into real life. It’s the urge to see a perpetrator—in this case, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—as a person we can understand.

Read the rest of the essay here.