It’s been 15 years since Dexter first debuted on Showtime back in 2006, and since then, the entire landscape of television has changed. Gone are the days when we’d sit down to watch our favorite shows, and instead we expect them on-demand and ideally as binge-watchable as possible. So too has storytelling changed, with Dexter being part of that. Once audiences expected their leads to essentially be good people who, even if flawed, were observant of the law and doing the right thing. Now, entire shows frequently center on the morally dubious. It’s hard to see there being a You without Dexter.
But after eight years away, just how does Dexter: New Blood fit into the new landscape? Surprisingly well.
Brush from your minds how the original ended; this is Dexter close to its best, with enough nostalgia to please longtime fans. However, there’s enough new material to make it feel like a true sequel series rather than a rehash. So gone are the palm trees and sunny beaches of Miami; gone are the faces that we grew to love, such as Lieutenant Angel Batista, and in their place is the snow and ice of Iron Lake, New York.
We open our first episode, “Cold Snap,” with an obviously tormented Dexter (Michael C. Hall) working out in the wilderness, his life now far removed from the bright lights of the Sunshine State. It’s a life of manual labor at home while he works a job at the local hardware store, Fred’s Fish and Game, during the day, all to distract himself from his murderous “dark passenger” that rides within him. Almost 10 years removed from his last kill, he has replaced Harry Morgan as his illusionary conscience with his sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter). Yet she’s not quite the Debra we knew, but rather Debra as Dexter remembers her. Her presence is sad, a reminder of Dexter’s greatest regret rather than somebody who’s inspiring her brother to be better.
Despite the need to kill still being there, Dexter has once again managed to completely ingratiate himself with the local community. He is known to everyone in the small town and even popular, generating warm welcomes as he walks down the street; he can even hang out at the police station without any trouble. He also has a new love interest: local police chief Angela Bishop (Julia Jones). Dexter, it seems, is hiding in plain sight rather than keeping a low profile, though it’s worth mentioning he was never found out in Miami despite some close calls.
Angela is the most fully rounded of the new characters; she successfully juggles a demanding job with being a parent to a typical modern teenager, and her helping a young backpacker shows she has a caring side. Michael Cyril Creighton also stands out as Fred, owner of Dexter’s new workplace; he looks destined to become a fan favorite. All that said, a lot of the characters descend at times into cliche. But there’s plenty of time to go.
“Cold Snap” toys with the idea of Dexter reverting to the killer he was, teasing us with him running through a forest with a rifle, enjoying the thrill of the chase, and testing his resolve not to kill. It shows him packing up knives, yet he’s merely returning them to the local butcher. It’s building anticipation just as the original series did, and very well.
“Hello Dexter Morgan”
As soon as arrogant rich kid Matt Caudwell (Steve M. Robertson) walks through the door of Fred’s, the audience’s blood lust rises and we start pleading with Dexter to get back to his murderous ways. Caudwell was responsible for killing several people in a boating accident, seemingly referencing the real-life Paul Murdaugh case where a wealthy, drunk socialite killed a woman in a boating accident before eventually being gunned down himself. Bill, Caudwell’s long-suffering friend, seems on the verge of an emotional breakdown as he nearly spills all to Dexter, aided by plenty of cocaine.
However, there’s far worse than Caudwell stalking the town. We’re slowly introduced to the series’ primary villain with a few minor references; they’re an as-yet-unnamed serial killer stalking young women. We can’t yet be sure whether this has any link to Edward Olson (Fredric Lehne), a petro-billionaire who comes across as almost as unlikable as Caudwell. Edward is every bit a politician as he attempts to talk down an Extinction Rebellion-like protest with cheap words and cocoa. It’s perfectly timed with COP26 having just taken place in Scotland, showing that Dexter: New Blood is up to date.
Despite maintaining the routine essential to keeping his killer instincts at bay, Dexter is visibly slipping, imagining smacking the obnoxious Caudwell in the face when he points the gun at him. The return of his son Harrison (Jack Alcott) only adds to his spiral. In many respects, his son’s search represents the audience and Dexter’s own search for himself.
Anyway, as Caudwell bonds with a beautiful white buck, we know what’s coming: the gunshot from the new rifle that Dexter sold Caudwell rings out to seal his fate. Dexter almost kills him on instinct before the old intelligent killer we knew emerges, gathering his tools, covering his tracks, and building a new murder room, all to some inspirational background music. The audience is cheering, and once again, the show manages to subvert morality and align us emotionally with Dexter; we feel the same relief he does as he plunges the knife into somebody we’ve come to believe deserved it. It’s all “superhero redons the cape” stuff, done exceptionally well.
As Dexter improvises a slide and finally puts an end to Caudwell, “Cold Snap” harkens back to the very first episode, with Dexter telling us that “tonight’s the night.” It’s a crowd-pleasing moment, yet as we close the episode, we see something unfamiliar to Dexter: he’s been sloppy. Out of practice, he’s left a trail of blood in the snow.
Overall, the return of Dexter is a huge success when it could have gone very wrong. This is no X-Files season 10; in many respects it’s closer to the triumphant return of Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Picard, with time having moved on and the show successfully updating itself with a new cast of characters and new location while retaining enough of the original to still be the show everybody fell in love with. On the strength of the first episode, Dexter: New Blood is a return to the early form of the show, washing away memories of the final original season and even the few before where Dexter almost became a parody of itself. This is a darker and more serious Dexter, with little of the macabre humor of the original, yet that’s no bad thing; the new tone fits the new era. A killer start.