After producing a contender for the worst tv ending in history, Dexter has returned for an attempt at redemption with Dexter: New Blood.
Written by Tresca Mallon
After purposefully disappearing in a hurricane 10 years ago, we meet a very different Dexter (Michael C. Hall) in a polar opposite setting, a snowy wilderness miles from his original Miami habitat. Dexter has settled into a new life in a small town in the mountains and works in a local hunting shop. He is a man about town, popular with the neighbours and is even dating the police chief, Angela Bishop (Julia Jones). After ten years it seems as though he might just have beaten his demons, establishing a routine which keeps him in check, but how long can he keep up the charade?
The first episode does some solid world-building, establishing Dexter’s new, peaceful life. It gives us that small-town cosy feel and even catapults the series into the 2020s by having Chief Bishop’s daughter, Audrey (Johnny Sequoyah), lead a youth climate protest. A huge difference at the beginning of the series is the absence of Dexter’s inner monologue. As he keeps on the straight and narrow we don’t get that access to his thoughts and feelings. However, we are given some insight into his psyche from Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) who has replaced Harry (Jack Remar) as his moral compass. The imaginary presence of his dead sister is a constant reminder of the person he once was and could become again.
Harry was a fan favourite in the original series so it was surprising to see that he wasn’t asked back for the new series. When asked about the situation Remar said
"They just didn’t ask any of the original cast back and so I don’t know what they’re doing. I really have no idea. It’s too bad.”
Showrunner Clyde Philips commented that they wanted to refresh the show and that Deb offered a new opportunity as she acts as Dexter’s “doubt”, while Harry encouraged him to kill using a strict code, Deb never wanted him to kill at all. Harry nurtured Dexter‘s tendencies while Deb is disgusted by them. Since they are both figments of his imagination it indicates a shift in Dexter's attitude towards himself.
However, when Dexter begins to kill again his inner monologue returns and with it the Dexter that we know and perversely love. Dexter is at its best when it leans into a tongue-and-cheek tone and his sarcastic comments are a welcome addition. It is clear that in his routine he was merely existing rather than living. He declares at the end of the first episode “I may be a monster, but I’m an evolving monster.” The dark passenger has returned. At the same time, Dexter’s son Harrison (Jack Alcott) has found him. Initially he rejects his son because he wants to keep him safe and believes everyone around him gets hurt. But when Dexter makes his first kill in 10 years he throws this caution to the wind and accepts Harrison into his life. As Harrison begins to show dark tendencies, Dexter is delighted. Could he have a partner in crime? Alcott gives a stand-out performance as the mysterious teen whose motivations are never truly clear. He acts as a revealing agent for Dexter’s true nature. While Dexter consistently pushes a good-guy, altruistic narrative for his killings - he claims in episode 7 “I used to be the predator, now I’m the protector” - the final episodes with Harrison reveal how self-serving his murderous tendencies really are. Dexter was always living a lie. Murder is his priority.
As always, there is a much more prolific murderer on the loose for Dexter to hunt. This season it’s played by local businessman Kurt Caldwell (Clancy Brown). Brown as incredibly creepy and complex predator, offers a worthy final opponent for Dexter. A spotlight is put on a very important and relevant human rights crisis in America, the cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. A 2014 report found that more than 1,000 indigenous women had been murdered in a 30 year period. Kurt’s murders took place over a similar period and many of his victims are indigenous women including Angela’s best friend Iris. However, the show often treats these women just as society does; disposable. We never get to know the women who are murdered and their characters are not developed.
Chief Angela Bishop is a worthy, if slightly under-written opponent for Dexter. She runs a very small policing department for a very small town, a sharp contrast to the big city of Miami where Dexter could kill undetected. Angela has an emotional connection to each kill which makes her more dangerous to Dexter than the Miami police. Jones brings a vulnerability to the character which cuts through the fiery exterior and she does an excellent job conveying the complexities of the gradual discovery of Dexter’s true nature. However, the emotional resonance is somewhat tarnished by the lack of chemistry between Dexter and Angela.
The other women in Dexter: New Blood are strong-willed and unequivocally good. In many ways this is lazy writing as it removes layers from the women producing #girlboss characters right out of a 2014 YA novel. Audrey is a perfect example. Her only character trait is ‘badass’ which comes with cringe worthy lines such as “Someone molests me they get chucks up side their head.” All nuance and complication are completely removed from her character. The only attempt at layers is to establish that her birth mother abandoned her at an early age. Angela makes the incendiary remark “I’ve spent my entire career looking for missing women but a woman who abandons her own baby fuck her.” Other than slighting mothers who cannot take care of their children, this plot point is never revisited. Jamie Chung as Molly Park, while at times jarring, has some comedic potential despite her small amount of screen. However, again her character is far from complex and leans into stereotypes too often.
The purpose of Dexter: New Blood is to redeem the series for the unforgivable mistakes in the run-up to the horrendous season nine finale. Clyde Philips claimed he hated the original ending and wanted to return the show to its former glory before he left as showrunner in Season 4. It is certainly more fitting and cathartic than the first finale, and while its hard to forget the original happened, this ending felt like an appropriate way to say goodbye to a complicated but ultimately menacing character. There has been discussion of the possibility of a second season, but the best course of action would be to allow Dexter to go out on a high.