When last we left Dexter Morgan—a semi-remorseful, half-righteous serial killer based in Miami—he’d lost pretty much everything. The series finale of Showtime’s Dexter rendered the titular forensic expert and furtive angel of death alone and on the run, starting a new life out west. It was one of the most frustrating series finales in memory, full of kitchen-sink excess and narrative evasions that felt punishing to people, like myself, who had stuck with the show even through its wobbly latter seasons.
We figured Dexter was done for good, a once richly compelling series that briefly skirted the edges of greatness but always seemed out of step with, or a few steps behind, the quality boom of TV’s golden, prestige age. But Dexter was not, it turns out, done with us. A boggling eight years after the original series ended, a new version of the show is premiering on Showtime (November 7), finding Dexter in a vastly different setting and rusty at his old tricks.
Dexter: New Blood is a surprisingly welcome return to the franchise’s brand of heady nonsense, self-conscious but not overly precious about its meta awareness. Michael C. Hall, who plays Dexter, looks much the same as he always did, his feathery Caesar cut still intact, his nerdy affect as deliberately hollow as ever. He’s cold, though. Not cold in the sense of his barely in-check sociopathy, but actually cold—he’s in small-town upstate New York, awash in snowy white and living in a humble cabin. The series is smart enough to make a Fargo joke pretty early on; otherwise, its studied aping of that series (rather than the movie) would start to seem like minor theft.
The show works well in this new milieu. The humid heat of Miami was an aptly grotesque complement to Dexter’s misdeeds—it ickily heightened all the reek and squish. But the northern setting allows the series to move away from the ironic glare and into something more meditative. Dexter, now called Jim, works at a sporting goods store (lots of guns and knives everywhere) and satiates his appetite for murder by going on physically intense solo hunts in the woods behind his home. He hasn’t killed a human in nearly a decade. That’s not all that’s changed: for the first almost hour of New Blood, Dexter’s grating voiceover—truly the original series’ chief sin—is gone. It does come back eventually, I’m afraid, but it’s not quite so loquacious. Age and time and relocation has slowed that internal monologue some.
Dexter has also rid himself of his ghost dad therapist, replaced with vigor by Jennifer Carpenter’s Deb, whose death was such a sour note in the original series finale. Dexter’s sister is used more sparingly than was his father, Harry, and she brings a more interesting emotional timbre. Deb, or at least Dexter’s imagining of her, does not encourage or help guide Dexter’s so-called “dark passenger” (which is the show’s pseudo-poetic term for Dexter’s serial-killing impulses). Instead, she is an alarm-ringing doomsayer, warning Dexter about his precarious position, how steep his slippery slope will be should he tumble back onto it.
That adds a nice note of tension to New Blood, whereas the original ghost interludes quickly grew repetitive and extraneous. On the whole, this version of Dexter is more artful and restrained—at least for a little while. Gradually over the four episodes made available to critics, the familiar Dexter clutter starts to creep in, a tangle of plot threads over-complicating what was briefly trim and efficient. But that mess of story is also what defined Dexter. In the best seasons (especially the Trinity Killer run of episodes), the writers managed a grand convergence, arraying all the disparate parts into satisfying causal relation. I have hope, perhaps naively, that New Blood will do the same with its thicket of threats and suspects and crimes.
Dexter has gone from working for a police force to dating a member of one, local sheriff Angela (Julia Jones). This is exactly the kind of dunderheaded decision-making that was a hallmark of the original series, and the complications it presents vacillate between pleasingly tricky and outright annoying. A character from the past emerges to further disrupt Dexter’s new life, while some shadowy, H.H. Holmes-esque figure is imprisoning and murdering wayward young women. There is also a new political consciousness, seen in the show’s tentative exploration of Native identity and in a menacing industrialist character whose poisoning of the environment is probably not the only bad thing he’s doing.