Much has changed since Dexter – TV’s loose adaptation of writer Jeff Lindsay’s acclaimed series of novels concerning the life and crimes of vigilante serial killer Dexter Morgan – arrived at its flaccid conclusion in 2013. The rise (and fall) of Trump, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, along with streaming’s telly takeover, have forever changed the cultural landscape. It’s like we barely live in the same world.
The decision to revive the series, 10 years on, in a new locale – the sizzle of Miami being replaced by the deep snow of Iron Lake, a remote, fictional town in upstate New York – feels like a challenging one. The criticism of the aforementioned finale largely hung around the lack of reward for a large, if dwindling number of viewers who had invested in a character – played superbly by the great Michael C. Hall – for eight seasons. You’ve heard of jumping the shark. Dexter jumper the lumberjack.
After all his scrapes – it’s hard not to think of Dexter as somewhat akin to Larry David, bumbling through life, constantly on the precipice of being found out, only with a big fucking knife – the character, an orphaned sociopath, taken in during childhood by homicide detective Harry Morgan and taught a ‘code’ in order to live undetected while also satisfying his homicidal urges (which can be loosely summarised as just killing awful people), finished his original run by sitting in a log cabin. And yet there was a further criticism of the original series ending. Surely a show about a serial killer – even one who only kills bad guys – needed some sort of moral resolution?
The years since 2013 have also seen the true crime genre explode (somewhat predictably, a central character in the reboot is a true crime podcaster). There’s an increased awareness of societal privilege and the realities faced by minorities (native Americans, specifically missing and murdered Indigenous women, receive welcome focus this time around). And we are a society transfixed – perhaps puritanically – with moral certainty. The new series exists of 10 episodes, so we’re assured of 10 weeks of television (we’ve seen four). But can Dexter make it past week one without it, metaphorically, being cancelled?
On that we shall see, but the good news is that new Dexter – which sees the return of original showrunner Clyde Phillips to the fold – is very good, certainly the best it’s been since the original show’s first few seasons. Despite the extreme change in environment (there is a feel of a more palatable Fargo in places) and an almost entirely new cast (save for the returning Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter’s now deceased cop sister Debra, now the character’s ‘Dark Passenger’ – which sounds terrible, but isn’t), it feels familiar while also, thanks to some of the points made prior, remaining relevant in 2021. Best of all, there’s no Angel Batista.
The narrative goes that producers left Dexter’s original ending ambiguous because they couldn’t justify permanently extinguishing a hit show. Dexter: New Blood is an opportunity for the character to end his arc with a finale worthy of the viewer’s time. It’s also an opportunity for some moral complexity and much needed edge to infuse pop culture within an increasingly homogenous time.
‘Dexter: New Blood’ premieres on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV on November 7