Dexter’s revival season is a blatant attempt to re-do a bad finale. At least it has some fun in the process.
In the frozen wilds of upstate New York, a killer hunts his prey. The man doesn’t stalk quietly through the woods but runs with reckless abandon. He’s running towards a white stag, but before the animal’s presence is revealed, it almost looks as if he’s running from something. That would make sense because the hunter is Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall).
Every sequel series has to justify its existence, but the point of Dexter: New Blood is clear from the beginning. The ninth season of the popular Showtime series, touted as its own limited series, wants a do-over. The darkly comedic thriller about an affable, prolific serial killer ended on a resoundingly low note in 2013. When the end credits rolled, Dexter had mercy killed his sister, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter). He had also left his son, Harrison, in the care of his lover, fellow murderer Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski). Ultimately, he escapes justice for the umpteenth time and absconds to Oregon to live a simple life as a lumberjack. If ever there was a series finale worth running from, it’s this one.
Dexter: New Blood picks up ten years after the events of the much-maligned finale. Dex has ingratiated himself into his small-town community to a hilarious degree. He runs a sporting goods store, dates a police chief (Julia Jones), and has given up killing cold turkey. People call him Jim, for God’s sake. The show has fun with this surprising bit of equilibrium, milking each mundane surprise for all its worth in the season premiere.
Dexter isn’t the only one who likes cutting. New Blood relies heavily on narrative sleight of hand, and many sequences are edited for maximum impact. The show piles on comedic fake-outs, trying to make viewers think Dexter is going in for the kill when he’s really delivering a butcher’s knife to a pal (how neighborly!). When a teenager claiming to be Harrison (Jack Alcott) appears, the narrative becomes even murkier. We see snippets from Harrison’s perspective, but they’re cut short before we can understand his intentions. It’s an odd, less-than-cohesive formula that seems to be built for a finale flashback reel.
New Blood opens just as Dexter’s hard-won normality is threatened. Harrison isn’t the only new guy in town. There’s also Matt Caldwell (Steve M. Robertson), a rich douchebag with a penchant for wild parties and big guns. Matt’s obnoxious, entitled and dangerous, so when he starts to tickle Dex’s killer instinct, the idea of seeing him dead is more exciting than alarming.
Therein lies the problem with Dexter. Or rather, the problem within the problem with Dexter. The show created a minor moral panic in its heyday, with detractors claiming a series with a serial killer hero is dangerous to the public. That argument envisions a different, less silly series than the one we’ve been given.
In retrospect, Dexter was always a cable thriller–and sometimes the thrills were cheap. It’s chock-full of eleventh-hour turns of fate, and its characters have melodramatic fatal flaws straight out of Greek tragedies. It imagines a world where anyone can stumble upon a serial killer or two a year without really trying. Its protagonist talks himself in circles in an endless narration that runs out of things to say by season five. After its stellar first season, it’s never really made any deeper statement; it’s sheer, if specific, entertainment.
In this sense, Dexter: New Blood is successful. It falls back into the repeating patterns of the original series, and they feel as comfortable as Dex’s signature murder henley looks. There’s dark humor, and there are close calls with the law. There are twists and set-ups for more twists and misdirects that will surely make sense when all the twists have been revealed. Dexter’s dark passenger is back, too. It’s now embodied by foul-mouthed Deb, who both eggs him on and questions his twisted psychology, like her father’s ghost before her.
At times, the new iteration of Dexter does try to examine the culture it was born into. The epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a surprising, important throughline in the season. There are threads of narratives examining the biases in the use of investigatory resources, along with some idle commentary on the true-crime podcasting phenomenon. With only its first four episodes available for review, it’s hard to tell if these plots will amount to anything. Based on the amount of screen time alone, they may take a backseat to the perpetual nature-versus-nurture argument Harrison’s presence reignites.
Dexter: New Blood isn’t that deep, but it’s okay to admit that Dexter itself never was either. When you talk to people about the show, they tend to trade in killer comparisons. In fans’ terms, Dexter: New Blood isn’t Trinity Killer good, or even Ice Truck Killer good, but it has the potential to be on par with Miguel Prato. The show is like a game of cat and mouse with a half-dozen different cats and mice. Above all else, it’s just fun to watch them chase each other.