In the pantheon of shows with the “worst series finale” of all time, “Dexter” on Showtime ranks at the top. Since the episode titled “Remember the Monsters?” first aired eight years ago, the anti-hero serial killer Dexter Morgan faking his own death and transitioning into a lumberjack has become a shorthand for what a show shouldn’t do when it finally concludes, even if it’s ending on top or on its own terms.
While “Dexter” remained a smash for Showtime, lasting 96 episodes over eight seasons, many fans and reviewers have argued that the series should have concluded with its fourth season, the beloved Trinity Killer (John Lithgow) season. That was also the last season with original series showrunner Clyde Phillips, who returned as showrunner for “Dexter: New Blood,” before series writer Scott Buck assumed control.
The answer to the question that seems to accompany all revivals — “Why would you bring that back?” — is therefore obvious. In addition to money, it affords critical participants the opportunity to reexamine that conclusion. Michael C. Hall conceded as much at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, describing the original series’ conclusion as “mysterious at best”
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Unfortunately, while “Dexter: New Blood” replaces the sour flavor of the original series finale, it accomplishes little to redefine “Dexter” beyond a few superficial elements. Even if it might be argued that the Clyde Phillips years were better than the Scott Buck years, this does not negate the fact that they were also far from flawless.
When “Dexter: New Blood” opens, a decade has passed and the titular anti-hero has assumed a new identity, going by the name James “Jim” Lindsay and operating an outdoor supplies store in the fictional New York hamlet of Iron Lake. Jim/Dexter abstains from killing, whether it be humans or animals; Iron Lake is a large hunting town; and he is adored by the locals.
In contrast to the Miami setting of the original series, Iron Lake is a community where everyone knows each other and their business, making it difficult to maintain false identities. In typical “Dexter” fashion, this does not prevent the existence of another serial killer in the city. Also in typical “Dexter” form, the limited time spent trying to conceal the identity of the other serial killer is not particularly effective.
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After years of abstinence — with Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) now functioning as his “conscience” as Harry (James Remar) did in the original series — privileged rich guy Matt Caldwell (irritates Dexter to the point where he considers listening to his Dark Passenger once more. Matt Caldwell’s wealthy father and truck stop magnate, Kurt Caldwell, is portrayed by Clancy Brown, whose unusual eyes are a crucial element of the season. Angela (Julia Jones), Dexter’s girlfriend, is the local police chief, which is both convenient and inconvenient for the sake of this plot.
His son Harrison (Jack Alcott), who was abandoned by Dexter with his then-girlfriend (Yvonne Strahovski) in the series finale, returns to his father’s world, and as the revival progresses, Dexter struggles with the possibility that Harrison is nothing like him — a well-adjusted teenager who doesn’t have the same “dark tendencies” that he has — as well as the possibility that Harrison does. In the original series, Harrison as a child lacked a personality, thus the series has a blank slate to work with.
Unfortunately, this blank canvas results in a significant amount of teen drama and angst in “Dexter: New Blood,” two elements that have their place, but perhaps not in the revival of this show. Even with the possibility that Harrison is concealing a Dark Passenger and may be better at disguising it than Dexter has ever been — seeming as an emotionally available person as opposed to one who has to work at it — his high school sequences are not made more interesting.
This is sad since it’s not as if Alcott isn’t giving a compelling performance; it’s just that the engaging nature disappears when he has to deal with jock bullies or Audrey (Johnny Sequoyah), Angela’s kid.
With the change in setting, the tone of the show has shifted. Conversational double meanings remind viewers that Dexter was/is a serial killer, which has always been part of the series’ appeal, even if it finally borders on creepy dad humor.
However, the true harshness of the locale (filmed in Western Massachusetts) seems to have sapped much of the series’ vibrancy. At the same time, the environment and its harshness appear oddly necessary for Dexter’s abstinence challenge.
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Even when things are predictable, Hall’s performance is unsurprising; it has long appeared like he could play the Dexter character in his sleep. But Jennifer Carpenter offers possibly the most captivating performance of the series, somehow making Deb’s death even livelier while remaining familiar.
(Jamie Chung’s appearance as a true-crime podcaster adds much-needed vibrancy to the series.) Perhaps the best decision “Dexter: New Blood” made was allowing Deb to return, as Carpenter and Hall’s on-screen chemistry has not diminished over the previous eight years, nor has Carpenter’s capacity to curse in frustration.
“Dexter: New Blood” cannot reverse what the series finale of the first series did. It maintains the new world order it built but does not continue along that road. However, “Dexter: New Blood” is still “Dexter,” therefore all of its strengths and drawbacks remain.
(There are also unexpectedly more needle drops in this series than in the original) It’s possible that this is the redeeming season that the series needed — and that fans desired — but it doesn’t erase the lengthy, tumultuous journey it took to get here.
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