On Sunday, Showtime’s Dexter revival, Dexter: New Blood, concluded its 10-episode season with a literal and figurative bang. The Ringer’s resident Dexheads, Ben Lindbergh and Miles Surrey, are here to discuss what went down in the finale, how the sequel series stacked up to the famous fictional serial killer’s classic seasons, whether New Blood redeemed Dexter’s notorious original ending, and the franchise’s future.
Ben Lindbergh: Two quick questions before we begin, both delivered by Dexter. Question 1:
Miles Surrey: Uh-oh.
BL: And Question 2:
MS: Mileses do not have a great track record in the DCU (Dexter Cinematic Universe), but hopefully I’ll make it out of this conversation in one piece.
BL: Thanks for indulging me. When we convened for our first dark dialogue last August, I facetiously described Dexter: New Blood as “the television event of the year.” As deeply as I love Dexter, and as much as I was genuinely looking forward to the sequel, I wasn’t serious. So I was a bit embarrassed in September, when Showtime turned my tongue-in-cheek rave into a blurb on a mid–Monday Night Football promo.
After the New Blood finale, though, I’m feeling much better about that out-of-context quote. After all, I didn’t specify which year. We’re not even two weeks into 2022, and there’s tons of great TV to come, but I doubt many moments will leave me with my mouth open as wide as it was during the final few minutes of this season finale. New Blood’s last act accomplished what Season 8’s infamous finale couldn’t: It gave Dexter—and Dexter—the send-off it deserved.
When the Dexter revival was announced in 2020, I noted that former showrunner Clyde Phillips, who returned to helm New Blood, had long ago revealed how he’d wanted the series to end: with Dexter gazing at the ghosts of his victims as he waited to die by lethal injection. Writers tend to stick with their best ideas—remember how Vince Gilligan teased the end of Jesse Pinkman’s story years before making El Camino?—and initially it seemed a safe bet that Dex wouldn’t survive this season. Yet when we chatted a few days before the finale, neither of us was convinced that the network would endanger a giant audience by pulling the plug on Dexter, as Dex once did to Deb.
But lo and behold, Dexter was at last held accountable for his crimes—including killing Logan, the kindly deputy/wrestling coach who strayed too close to Dexter’s cell in “Sins of the Father” and became the last to die by the Bay Harbor Butcher’s hand. (Which might have hit harder had Dexter not already broken the code in Miami.) To end his dad’s decades-long spree and save himself from starting down Dexter’s dark path, Harrison pulled the trigger of his Christmas-gift gun, and Dex bled out in the snow, just like the white deer Matt Caldwell killed in the premiere—but not before Harrison forced his father to open his eyes and look at his crimes, as Dexter had done to the hundreds of evildoers who lay on his table. And not before the psychopath finally felt love as he instructed his son to aim for his heart.
Dexter’s original run explored the tension between Dex’s early portrayal as an emotionless monster who was hiding in plain sight and his later incarnations as a husband, dad, and brother who professed to feel. Phillips once said that if he returned to Dexter, he “would want to go deeper on Dexter discovering his own humanity” or “realizing that he’ll never be fully humanized.” He seems to have settled on Option 2. The relationship between Dex and Angela lacked depth—we don’t even learn how they got together—but that’s the point: Dex may have gone cold turkey on killing, but he’s still choosing partners and pastimes purely out of self-preservation. And his glance at a nearby knife in the finale’s arrest scene suggests he would have killed Angela, just like he killed Lila and Logan.
More striking than the killings or the inner emptiness, though, is the way he wants Harrison to be broken and then selfishly uproots him again—not to mention his smugness as he tries to lie his way out of trouble (like Kurt), and his narcissistic glee as he revels in his Dark Defender fantasy without actually caring about the innocents he saved. “Sins of the Father” doesn’t succeed just because Dexter went the way of Walter White, in contrast to previous finales that let him off the hook. It also stuck the post-lumberjack landing because it reframed Dexter from appealing antihero who deserved sympathy to manipulative menace who deserved to die, a perspective shift the old Dexter couldn’t commit to. By fully dropping Dexter’s mask, New Blood implicated the audience, exposing the serial killer’s cheering section as his ultimate enablers.
We can quibble with the path New Blood took to its climax, but even though much of the season was so-so, the finale made me feel things: sadness about the loss of a character I cared about; guilt that I’d ever identified with Dexter; admiration for Phillips and Michael C. Hall, for resisting the urge to prolong the life of their signature serial killer. All New Blood had to do to justify its existence was be better than Season 8, but the finale went well beyond that. “Remember the Monsters?” remains a stain on the series, but now that New Blood has vaulted over that extremely low bar, the lumberjack stigma may be as dead as Dexter himself. Am I overrating this ending, or will you buy a ticket to be a dark passenger on the Dexter: New Blood hype train? Can I get a “television event of the year”?
MS: It’s time for Showtime to cut a new promo where we call Dexter: New Blood the “television event of the century.” I expect to see it air during the Super Bowl. But all kidding aside, the biggest thing we wanted from New Blood was redemption: a chance for a series—and character—we’d been so fond of to get a worthy send-off. The bar for surpassing “Remember the Monsters?” was quite low—it’s hard to do worse than an episode that’s in the conversation for the worst series finales of all time. But “Sins of the Father” packed an emotional wallop while at the same time underlining how much of a monster Dexter was, and how inevitable it was that his story would end in blood. (Hey, it’s right there in the title!)
The addiction metaphor for Dexter’s Dark Passenger was most pronounced in Season 2 of the original series, but I appreciated how he tried to convince Harrison that he could “stop” at any time, even after poor Logan was added to the mounting tally of innocents killed who became collateral. (Harrison’s wrestling coach getting his neck snapped for being in Dexter’s way also did a lot of the heavy lifting, no pun intended, for puncturing the image of his dad being a Batman-esque vigilante who uses ketamine-filled syringes instead of grappling hooks.) Sure, Dexter had the misfortune of picking a small town with a prolific serial killer hiding in plain sight—side note: How great was Clancy Brown this season?—but it was only a matter of time before the Dark Passenger took the driver’s seat again. And just as we saw over eight (mostly good) seasons in Miami, the results aren’t pretty, but they make for gripping television.
Now, I still have my quibbles with New Blood. The series spent the better part of four episodes circling around Harrison having a Dark Passenger like his father, and also dragged its feet revealing Kurt Caldwell as Iron Lake’s serial killer, with unnecessary detours about some local bigwig in the fracking business. (To paraphrase our beloved Battlestar Galactica: Who gives a frak?) But I’ll take New Blood having, say, eight hours’ worth of story spread across 10 episodes over some of the infamous missteps of its predecessor. Never forget that we had to sit through an incest subplot between Dex and Deb.
But even though the Bay Harbor Butcher has gone to the big plastic sheet-covered kill room in the sky, that doesn’t mean that Showtime is done with all things Dexter. When I interviewed Phillips last year, he mentioned that there’s been “discussions” with the network about doing something after New Blood. Obviously, the only way the character could return is if Showtime makes a Dexter prequel in which Michael C. Hall is forced to rewear Michael Showalter’s wig from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp—to be clear: would watch—or if Dexter becomes a part of Harrison’s conscience like Harry (and Deb) once was to him. But my gut feeling is that Dexter should quit while it’s ahead, and put the franchise to rest with a renewed sense of goodwill.
Ben, are you yay or nay to the possibility of Harrison: Newer Blood?
BL: I’ll watch Harrison if it happens, but I don’t want it to. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to see more of Jack Alcott, who held his own in some sizzling exchanges with Hall and Brown (and eventually stopped reminding me of Dexter’s former protégé Zach Hamilton). And Harrison has plenty of issues that a spinoff could explore: Discovering that Dexter is a serial killer, briefly becoming his accomplice, and then executing/mercy killing his murder-addicted dad seems like a sequence that won’t do wonders for his already-damaged psyche. But if Harrison becomes a serial killer himself—and he did follow the code to a tee in dispatching his dad—wouldn’t that undercut Dexter’s dying wish to free his son from the same life he led? And if he doesn’t become a serial killer, what’s the show? A lot of long therapy sessions and ice baths after hit-by-pitch practice and treadmill mishaps? Or maybe he’ll trade in his rifle, razor, and wrestling singlet for the hoop dreams that Dexter envisioned back in Season 7?
Phillips is selling Harrison hard as he hits the post-finale interview circuit—he said he’d “drop everything” to do it in at least four interviews published early Sunday—but I’m not buying. Showtime might, though, given New Blood’s great ratings. Still, I can’t imagine Hall—who seems relieved to be putting questions about Dexter behind him—signing up to be Ghost Dex for more than a single scene. “The world needs us,” Dexter says in the finale. But maybe it’s time we moved on from the Morgans for good, now that the franchise got a good burial.
Even though this is the right way and right time to let go, Dex’s death left me in mild shock, probably because I’ve been around him a lot lately. I rewatched almost all of Dexter last year as my wife watched it for the first time—I go back further with Dex than I do with her—and the deep dive both renewed my attachment to the show and reminded me of how sloppy it often was. New Blood doubled down on Dexter’s leaps of logic and plausibility. Put aside the improbable coincidence of Angela meeting Batista at a crime conference and Batista deciding to name drop Dexter and Harrison. (Batista, who’s a little late to the epiphany that Maria was right about Dexter, is one of the most inept detectives ever, but I’m happy he’s cashing in on the lecture circuit; I wonder how his fees compare to Masuka’s and Quinn’s.) Forget Dex and Harrison having Christmas at Angela and Audrey’s house even though both couples had previously split up and never really reconciled, and ignore the ham-handed misdirect of the mustache-twirling billionaire, who didn’t throw me off the scent for a second because the killer clearly looked like Clancy Brown.
All of those stretches aside: Matt going missing was enough to bring a big true-crime podcaster to town, but Harrison supposedly thwarting a school shooting wasn’t news outside of Iron Lake? How did Kurt keep getting away with killing women who had to have been seen talking to him and getting in his car? Does every small town offer easy access to an all-hours, unattended furnace? Why didn’t Dex and Harrison make any effort to track Kurt after he tried to kill Harrison at the end of Episode 8? Kurt’s plan to take Dex and Harrison by surprise was to drive an extremely loud fuel truck to their quiet cabin and even more loudly hose it down with gas while they somehow slept through the noise? Why did Dexter send a postmarked letter to Hannah if he didn’t want to be found? Why did Angela’s Google search for “ketamine miami homicide” bring back Bay Harbor Butcher results when the original series explicitly said Dexter’s drug of choice was M99?
I could go on, but it’s probably better to focus on what worked. The switch in setting, change in aspect ratio, absent intro theme, and addition of needle drops made New Blood look and sound different from Dexter, and while I found its aesthetic off-putting at first, I respected the effort to set the sequel series apart. I would have liked Kurt’s surrogate-dad act with Harrison to last longer, but Brown was the franchise’s best Big Bad since Trinity (or Ray Stevenson’s Isaak Sirko), and his trophy room put Dexter’s box of blood slides to shame. Both Harrison’s face turn and Angela’s anguish were well executed and kept me guessing to the end; I loved Harrison’s flashback when he saw Kurt’s blood, and I still wonder whether Angela would have let Dex go after discovering Kurt’s murder museum. Were there any other highlights or lowlights for you? What was your take on Ghost Deb? And were there any other old characters you had hoped to see again?
MS: Well, seeing as most of the memorable characters from Dexter were chucked into the Atlantic Ocean, I’m not sure there were many good options outside of Batista. (The only reason to bring back Vince Masuka would be so he could face some form of #MeToo comeuppance.) But I did appreciate the way that New Blood handled Ghost Deb, who wasn’t Harry 2.0 so much as Dexter channeling a lot of self-loathing because he (rightfully!) blames himself for his sister’s death.
In fact, like any good revival, some of the best parts of New Blood were the components that separated it from the original series. The new setting demonstrated the challenges of Dexter getting back into his old habits—it’s difficult to keep secrets in a small town, let alone dispose of a body. It’s fitting that Dexter not only committed fewer murders in 10 episodes of New Blood than he would’ve in a typical season of Dexter, but also that he was arrested for the sloppy and impulsive kill in the premiere that broke his decade of abstinence. (Not that I blame him: Matt Caldwell was an insufferable jerk, and if Dexter hadn’t taken care of him, we probably would have had to sit through a monologue about how crypto is changing the game on Wall Street.)
And after Dexter got away with murder(s) thanks to hapless detectives—and one morally conflicted sister—in Miami, let’s give a shout-out to Iron Lake police chief Angela Bishop, whose sharp instincts led her to crack the long-dormant Bay Harbor Butcher case. She didn’t let her feelings for the man/boyfriend she knew as Jim Lindsay get in the way of justice, the frequent cop-out (sorry) for Dexter in the original series. She also knew that the women going missing around Iron Lake were more than just teenage runaways, and while the discovery of Kurt’s uniquely disturbing trophy room will probably lead to a lifetime of therapy, Angela achieved the best detective work in the DCU since the days of Frank Lundy. (Still, the next time Angela hits the Iron Lake dating pool, she should really run a background check.)
But even taking away our own muted enthusiasm for Harrison: Youngblood, some of New Blood’s most glaring lowlights are the same reason I’m skeptical that a potential spinoff would live up to the hype. As great as Jack Alcott’s performance was, New Blood never had a good grip on the adolescent subplots. When it comes to the overlap between murder and teen angst, Showtime should just stick with Yellowjackets.
And, not to turn our Dex dialogue into a discussion of Yellowjackets, but that’s the kind of project that Showtime should be gunning for, anyway. It’s a critically acclaimed original series that’s building its own fandom, much in the same way that Dexter was once an out-of-nowhere phenomenon for the network in the aughts. Showtime might unironically view Dexter as its equivalent to Batman or Spider-Man, but even superheroes have to hang up their capes—or in Dex’s case, Henleys.
BL: I’ll second your Yellowjackets rec, though I worry about what those hungry girls will get up to if Showtime tries to stretch its new hit to a Dexter-like length. As for other worthwhile shows in this vein, Mindhunter might be back someday, and there’s always Hannibal or You to scratch the “serial killer you feel bad about rooting for” itch. Maybe MCH will reprise another role.
But it would be difficult for any other series to replicate that distinctive Dexter cocktail. It’s a blend between prestige and pulp; legitimate laughs and unintentional comedy; twisty procedural thriller and psychological study; poignant emotional moments and clumsy characterization—all of it elevated by Hall’s mesmerizing, complex performance, which was often better than the writing of Dexter deserved. Even those who never saw the series know what Dexter does: The character occupies a place in the cultural lexicon, as a recent reference on American Auto makes clear.
MS: There will never be anything quite like Michael C. Hall repeatedly saying “Wiggles the Clown” like he’s talking about Lord Voldemort, just as there will never be anything quite like Dexter. (Though I second checking out You to scratch that Dark Passenger–adjacent itch; the show has a similarly morbid sense of humor.)
BL: How would you rate New Blood in relation to previous seasons? I’ve gotta give it props for resisting the temptation to extend Dexter’s story, and for giving us the gift of being able to talk about Dexter without dwelling on the first finale. Plus, it left us with the line “You killed Wiggles,” the funniest sentence delivered with a straight face since Season 6’s “Hello, whore.” For all of those reasons, I’m putting New Blood smack in the middle of my Dexter ranking and going with: 2, 1, 4, 7, New Blood, 3, 5, 6, 8. But “Sins of the Father” is up there with some of the series’ finest hours. How do you have them ordered?
MS: I’ll go 4, 1, 2, 3, 7, New Blood, 5, 6, and 8, with the understanding that seasons 6 and 8 belong in the same category as the final two seasons of Game of Thrones in that you spend half the time wondering whether the writers are actively trying to set their own show on fire.
But considering New Blood pushed the total number of Dexter episodes past the century mark, the fact that the good outweighed the bad is a testament to its pulpy premise, and the murderous vigilante we couldn’t help rooting for. Besides, Dexter Morgan may be dead, but his legacy lives on in Showtime’s programming library whenever we want to revisit his adventures in blood-spatter analyzing, bowling, raising kids, navigating childhood trauma, cooking breakfast, and, of course, killing people who (mostly) deserve it. I think tonight’s the night for a rewatch.