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Old Heads, New Blood: Why We’re Excited for the ‘Dexter’ Reboot

Against better judgment, we’re falling for the Showtime serial-killer drama all over again

Showtime/Ringer illustration

On November 7, beloved Showtime drama Dexter will return via a 10-episode sequel miniseries, Dexter: New Blood, which will be set almost 10 years after the original’s widely loathed ending. To discuss and celebrate the impending return of Michael C. Hall’s signature semi-virtuous serial killer, whose eponymous series garnered 24 Emmy nominations in eight seasons from 2006 to 2013, we arranged a written dialogue between The Ringer’s resident Dexter devotees, Ben Lindbergh and Miles Surrey. It was the only way we could make them stop spamming our TV Slack channel with Dexter-related links.

Ben Lindbergh: Miles, filming for Dexter: New Blood has wrapped, and we’re roughly three months away from D-Day—the blessed Sunday when Dexter Morgan will return to us after more than eight years off the air. I wrote last year about why I endorsed the idea of a Dexter revival, but back then we were still in the dark about most of the details. We know much more now, and everything we’ve learned has me aggressively sawing fruit, violently tying my shoelaces, and seductively trying on undershirts in anticipation.

The post–time jump Dexter of New Blood has a new home (the fictional upstate small town of Iron Lake, New York), a new adversary (Clancy Brown as “unofficial mayor” Kurt Caldwell), a new love interest (Julia Jones from Westworld and the Twilight movies, recently seen trying to mack it with Mando), and a new alias (“Jim”), but seemingly the same Dark Passenger. (Also, he’s presumably still a lumberjack.) James Remar won’t be back as Harry, but at least two other dead characters—Debra Morgan and Arthur Mitchell, a.k.a. the Trinity Killer—will make cameos via flashbacks featuring Jennifer Carpenter and John Lithgow, respectively. Feast your eyes upon this trailer from last week, in which we learn that while you can call Dexter “Jimbo,” you can’t make him gaze any less lovingly at knives.

According to Clyde Phillips, who’s back on board as showrunner after largely sitting out seasons 5 through 8, the ending of New Blood will “blow up the internet”—hopefully not in the same way that the original Lumberjack Dexter did. I, for one, am extremely ready to be obliterated à la Sergeant Doakes. I already know the answer to this question, but for the benefit of our readers: How hyped are you?

Miles Surrey: This is me, every day until November 7:

But in all seriousness, I have been darkly dreaming about the Dexter revival ever since it was announced last year, and the more that I think about it, the more the limited series feels like a win-win. If New Blood is on par with the back half of Dexter’s original run—extremely flawed but still irresistible to watch—then we Dex-heads can commune every week to talk about how ridiculous it is. I’m already getting flashbacks to the nationwide schadenfreude over the final season of Game of Thrones.

On the other hand, the first four seasons of Dexter—the ones overseen by Phillips before he stepped down as showrunner—were legitimately terrific, putting the series on a level comparable to Breaking Bad until it fell apart. (If there’s one thing Showtime is good for, it’s running acclaimed shows into the ground by giving them way too many seasons; can’t wait for Billions Season 11 when Chuck and Axe have another dick-swinging contest on a literal penis rocket.) If Phillips believes he’s found a way to give Dexter the ending it deserves that will blow up the internet, he’s earned the benefit of the doubt.

Given the limited information we have about New Blood, I’m mostly curious how the Deb and Trinity Killer flashback cameos will be deployed. Will they be straightforward flashbacks, or will Deb and Trinity serve as stand-ins for Dexter’s moral compass and Dark Passenger, respectively? (If this is all an elaborate excuse to let John Lithgow chew more scenery, that’s also fine.) I’m already lamenting the loss of Batista and Masuka, but hopefully Dex will be surrounded by new pals completely oblivious to his violent urges. I mean, Fred should really know better than letting our guy work at a gun shop:

What piques your interest about New Blood, Ben, the new “Jim” morning routine?

Lindbergh: Honestly, I am excited to meet small-town Dexter. In some ways, I want New Blood to be like old Dexter—specifically, pre-2010 Dexter. But I also want it to be different from the Dexter we knew. Changing Dexter’s name won’t change his desire to carve people into pieces, but it has to be harder for him to hide in plain sight in a town of 2,700 people (which sounds sort of like Rutherford Falls, the fictional setting of another Julia Jones show) than it was in a major metropolis like Miami. (Plus, blood really stands out against snow.) One of the things I liked about Dexter was its strong sense of place—especially in its atmospheric first season, which was mostly filmed in Miami. Maybe Iron Lake (or in real life, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts) can provide an equally distinctive setting without the warm weather and the easy excuse to wear sunglasses. And the cold comes with some advantages: Who needs an ice truck or a custom refrigeration unit to dismember bodies when it’s already freezing outside?

I’ll miss Masuka and Angel too—although I have to think (and hope) that Masuka would have been called out by the #MeToo movement—but I’m looking forward to meeting the members of Dexter’s new unsuspecting social circle. I’m also interested in how Dex has spent the past decade. Did he leave a trail of chainsawed corpses from Oregon to New York, or did he kick the killing habit for a while? Has faking his own death, losing Deb, and abandoning his son shifted him further to the dark side of the sociopathy spectrum, or has starting fresh, communing with nature, and blending in with nosy neighbors made him more human? In addition to trading his button-downs for parkas, polar fleeces, and cable-knit sweaters, the new Dexter seems to be better about avoiding potential triggers: “Jim” is merely selling guns and knives and dating a police chief instead of working for the police department and dealing with blood all day. Personal growth!

(Side note: I doubt we will get an answer to this, but I wonder how Harrison is doing these days. Dexter’s son must be almost as old as Dexter was when he offed his first human victim, Harry’s evil nurse. Has Harrison started serial killing yet, or did he somehow steer clear of the family hobby despite being born to one serial killer and raised by another after his mom was murdered? Maybe the Dark Passenger isn’t an inherited trait.)

I’m also excited about the possibility that New Blood will rehabilitate the series’ critical and popular reputation. I don’t think the drop-off in Dexter’s quality post-Phillips was quite as steep as, say, The West Wing’s post–Aaron Sorkin—to name another show that lost a lot of creative talent after its fourth season—but much of seasons 6 and 8 were well below the standard that the first few seasons set. Whether because of that decline, or the infamous final season, or simply the premise of the series—a show about a righteous serious killer who works for the police and talks to his dead dad always sounded more pulpy than prestige—Dexter doesn’t get the credit it deserves. I don’t know whether New Blood will redeem the first finale, though I’m actually relieved that Phillips isn’t pretending Lumberjack Dexter didn’t happen. But I’m with you on there being little downside to bringing back the series. What’s the worst that could happen? People won’t like the ending of Dexter?

Now that we’ve established beyond all doubt that Dexter: New Blood will be the television event of the year, let’s do some service journalism. How are you planning to prepare for the big premiere? The henley I wore when I dressed up as Dexter for Halloween once still fits, but I haven’t revisited the series since it went off the air. In general, I’m not really a rewatcher—there’s always too much new stuff to see—and the thought of bingeing 96 episodes of Dexter between now and November is daunting, especially now that I know where it’s all headed. Then again, a friend of mine recently rewatched the series, and he said Season 8 was better than he remembered it being, because “It’s not that bad if you don’t go into it expecting it to be good.” My wife hasn’t seen any of the series except parts of Season 1, so I’m hoping to persuade her to start over and then half-watch with her. (I just floated the idea, and she said “No way.” We’ll work on it.)

Surrey: Viewed through that lens, it’s really a testament to Dexter’s juicy premise that a cat-and-mouse game between a local police department and a prolific serial killer sustained itself for nearly 100 episodes. But I’m with you: Unless The Ringer offered us a Dexter sabbatical (please?), that’s way too many episodes to revisit between now and November. (I would also worry about the strain such an undertaking would put on your marriage, especially if the henley became a part of your outfit rotation and you started pairing them with black leather gloves for some reason.) But perhaps a concentrated binge would help us get back in the Dark Passenger mindset.

Dexter’s first and fourth seasons are arguably its strongest—the first setting the tone for the series and the title character’s bloody past, and the fourth giving Dex his most formidable serial killer adversary. Also, with the Trinity Killer returning in New Blood, getting reacquainted with the little details of Season 4 could prove useful, like when David Lynch hinted (accurately) that the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was essential viewing ahead of Showtime’s The Return. And while it won’t exactly conjure up fond memories, the reviled series finale probably deserves a rewatch since Lumber-Dex is still canon—though I’m not against Phillips pulling a hokey “it was all a dream” twist like the ninth season of Dallas.

Beyond that, I’m curious to see what kind of reception New Blood receives, and whether the revival is something audiences are craving as much as Dex wanting a righteous reason to kill again. Even though it’s been eight years since Dexter’s original series finale aired, that might as well be counted in dog years with how much the broader television landscape has changed during that time. It’s wild to think that, back in 2013, Netflix was only just dipping its toes into the world of in-house prestige programming with House of Cards’ first season and not yet competing against rival streaming services like HBO Max, Disney+, and Apple TV+. But these days, not only is there an unconscionable amount of shows to watch that nobody can keep up with, but television has largely moved away from the brooding male antiheroes (Don Draper, Walter White, Tony Soprano) that Dexter Morgan existed alongside in the aughts. Now, our guy is competing for eyeballs against Mando and Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes.

I’m inclined to think that Dexter will still find a sizable audience—maybe one of the reasons that viewers latched onto recent murder-centric shows like The Undoing and Mare of Easttown is because there’s an appetite for this kind of adult drama, and the man formerly known as the Bay Harbor Butcher can fill that void. Am I being too optimistic about Dexter’s appeal? Does Dexter fever even exist outside of our enthusiastic Slack posts? Given that I also used to own a muted henley, I can’t exactly be impartial about this.

Lindbergh: I think the actual level of interest lies somewhere between what former Showtime president David Nevins said in 2013 (“Dexter is to Showtime what Spider-Man is to Sony or Batman is to Warner Bros.”) and what Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwall tweeted when New Blood was announced (that this was “the revival nobody asked for” and that the original ending “killed off all viewer interest in the show”). Despite the problems with later seasons, Dexter’s audience only grew as the series went on. I have to think that some of the several million viewers who were watching weekly right up to the end—as well as some of the late adopters who’ve discovered the series on streaming platforms such as Prime Video—will be into the idea of an ending do-over. The trailer from late July has more than 7 million views. Those can’t all be us, right?

For now, I’m just happy that the Dexter die-hards will get a (probably) better goodbye, that the fine folks at Dexter news site Dexter Daily are actually updating daily again after posting seven times total from 2017 to 2019, and that Michael C. Hall won’t have to answer questions about a Dexter revival for the rest of his life. Although given how long it’s been since Dex took the Slice of Life out for its fateful final voyage, I wonder whether New Blood will cater entirely to veteran viewers or lean toward a largely self-contained story that those who are just joining the series could watch without catching up.

The new alias, setting, and time jump should make things easier for anyone who’s coming in cold, but the fact that Jamie Chung’s recurring character is a “famous true-crime podcaster from Los Angeles” suggests that Dexter’s past could catch up with him. The balance between tying up loose ends and laying a new narrative track could depend on whether Showtime, Phillips, and Hall envisioned New Blood as a definitive ending to Dexter or as a possible prelude to future seasons. So perhaps we should wrap up this exchange like Dexter in his kill room by discussing how we want Dexter to end this time around.

I hate to crush your “Lumberjack Dex was a dream,” um, dreams, but Phillips has said he didn’t want to pull a Dallas to undo the old ending. However, we could be heading for a finale that’s dreamlike, at least. It’s possible that Phillips has already told us how his miniseries will conclude, just as Vince Gilligan spoiled how Jesse Pinkman’s story would end long before making El Camino. In 2013, Phillips described how he’d hoped to end Dexter’s tale had he stayed with the show: with an “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”–style reveal that the events of the series are all memories running through Dexter’s mind as he’s being executed for his crimes, with all of his victims looking on from the gallery. As someone who has a lot of fondness for Dexter—however twisted it might be to root for a character who’s killed 130-plus people—I’d have mixed feelings about Dex going down. On the other hand, he doesn’t deserve a happy ending either.

Former Dexter producer John Goldwyn said Showtime nixed the concept of killing Dexter in Season 8 (which Nevins denied), but whatever plot armor Dex was wearing in 2013 may be tattered in 2021. (It’s also strongly implied that Dexter is killed in Jeff Lindsay’s last Dexter novel.) Do you want Dex to die? Or would you rather the door be left open for more Dexter down the road?

Surrey: As fond as I am of Dexter despite his insatiable bloodlust—like Venom, my newest morbid obsession, the Dark Passenger must be fed—it would feel thematically appropriate for the character to either atone for his sins in prison or go out as violently as his countless victims. (Lethal injection works, too, considering how often Dexter snuck behind someone and pricked them with a syringe containing animal tranquilizer; talk about Dex-terity.) In any case, New Blood having a definitive conclusion at the end of its 10-episode run would spare the series the embarrassment of trying to overstay its welcome if, worst-case scenario, the new season didn’t catch on like the Dexter of old.

Obviously, at least the two of us have caught Dexter fever, and while I was probably responsible for 1 million of the New Blood trailer views, that still leaves another 6 million potential fans counting down the days until November 7. I can’t wait to see Dexter Morgan return to some of his familiar, violent habits and maybe pick up some new quirks along the way. (If there isn’t a bottle episode in which Dex falls under the spell of Wegmans, we riot.) But once the dust settles, the blood dries up, and the new batch of bodies are buried, it might be time for Dexter to hang up the henley, the leather gloves, and the plastic wrap for good. After all, no matter what transpires in New Blood, we’ll no longer have to remember the monsters.