REVIEW: Serial killer Dexter Morgan makes a bold and bloody return in ‘Dexter: New Blood’

Boyce Rucker, Intern

Not many TV shows have the chance to build upon their ending, or to completely do it over, but Showtime’s original series “Dexter” seizes the opportunity in “Dexter: New Blood.” The show makes its return after writing inconsistencies and the lack of a cohesive narrative led to a polarizing (SPOILER warning) series finale in 2013. The show makes a bold return with series stars Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter alongside producer Clyde Phillips, who acted as the showrunner for seasons 1-4. “New Blood” reintroduces us to antihero Dexter Morgan and sets up a more refined continuation for the character.  

Premiering in 2006, the Showtime channel’s original series “Dexter” is one of the network’s most popular TV shows. The series is a Miami-set crime drama that follows forensic blood analyst Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) while he moonlights as a vigilante serial killer. To satisfy his urge to kill and remain somewhat righteous, Dexter targets and kills criminals who evade the justice system. But at the same time, Dexter must learn to balance out his darker tendencies. The series exhibits dark comedy, procedural elements and psychological themes that make it an intriguing watch. 

Set ten years after the finale, the new series sees Dexter relocate to the fictional small town of Iron Lake, New York under the name Jim Lindsay (a nod to the “Dexter” novels’ author). Dexter has set up a peaceful life routine for himself, settling in as a local shopkeeper and relationship partner to police chief Angela Bishop (Julia Jones). However, shades of Dexter’s dark past resurface as sinister events threaten his new lifestyle.

Michael C. Hall in “Dexter” (2006) season eight, episode one. (Keith Gordon/Showtime)

This introductory episode is a departure from the original series, but a suitable one. It strips away aspects of its predecessor, notably most of the supporting cast and the urban Miami atmosphere. Regardless of the environment change, Dexter still settles in as a chameleon, albeit with more warmth and weariness than before. New supporting characters are set up, but not fleshed out quite yet. Assuming the event series doesn’t continue past the one season, it’s likely we won’t be able to deeply connect with supporting characters as we did with the previous show’s regulars, such as Doakes (Erik King) and Batista (David Zayas). More apparent is the lack of Dexter’s narration for most of the episode, which was a prominent element for the entire original series. Minimizing this element emphasizes that Dexter is a changed man and then creates anticipation for longtime fans that pays off by the end of the episode. The episode’s exposition works in the favor of first-time viewers, but might not satisfy longtime viewers. We dive into unfamiliar territory with a slow-burn approach, however, familiarity arises by the time the credits roll.

While the episode mostly moves at a slow pace, certain plot elements are rushed. This can be attributed to the revival’s ten-episode length, but things like Dexter’s first kill in ten years happen too soon. The episode lacks a subtle buildup and makes it obvious that he’ll kill again. The episode introduces an outspoken and cartoonish character whose deplorability makes him an obvious soon-to-be-victim for Dexter. The inciting incident that leads to Dexter attacking him is a defining moment that signals a return to Dexter’s status quo, but its timing is contrived and something that we can predict ahead of time. Dexter kills someone in nearly every episode of the original series, so the rushed nature here may be keeping with the routine. The shortcomings here are that his relapse happens too soon to feel naturally earned and there’s no moral complexity in his hasty decision to execute the blatantly despicable character.

Michael C. Hall in “Dexter” (2006) season eight, episode four. (Stefan Schwartz/Showtime)

The episode sets up what could be an immensely satisfying conclusion to Dexter’s story than the one that aired eight years earlier. When he was originally showrunner, Phillips planned for Dexter to die in the finale and face justice for his killings. Phillips has a strong understanding that Dexter isn’t infallible and that the character’s actions have consequences for those around him. This is a crucial point in the premiere when Dexter tries to distance himself from his estranged son Harrison (Jake Alcott), fearful of the danger that could befall them both. This approach to Dexter is like Wolverine’s depiction in the X-Men film “Logan,” in which the weathered protagonist tries to escape his past, before it inevitably catches up to him and determines his fate. Going by the first episode, we can expect a more concrete and definitive ending.

Hall’s return to the character offers more development than what the original series had in store. Hall is a far cry from the youthful and emotionally unavailable Dexter in the prior series. Here, we see him adapt a warmth and relatability that makes viewers nearly disregard his past as a serial killer. Hall is particularly at his peak in quieter scenes, where his body language subtly depicts Dexter combatting his dark urges. When Dexter aims his rifle at a stag to strengthen his resistance to killing, Hall conveys strained emotion and body movements that showcase desperation. Hall effectively portrays Dexter as a man who’s still at war with his own nature, adding tragedy to his killing relapse. Hall is a remarkable performer who retains the character’s sharp edge since his last appearance eight years ago.

“Dexter: New Blood” delivers a stunning reintroduction to Dexter Morgan that’s promising to old fans and accessible to new ones. Showtime’s revival series shows promise in being a nostalgic trip that lives up to its predecessor.