By Josh Reilly B.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Dexter: New Blood
Eight years ago, the groundbreaking Showtime series Dexter ended its original run with a divisive finale, one that is often in the discussion for worst TV endings ever. Dexter needing to kill his sister to put her out of her misery and abandoning his own son before moving to Oregon to become an isolated lumberjack was labeled by some as a betrayal to the audience. In fact, some of the series’ cast and crew even spoke out about the finale, with star Michael C. Hall ruing the execution of the ending and stating he had never even sat down to watch it. Suffice to say, despite being one of the most memorable shows of the century, Dexter’s finale left audiences completely unsatisfied with what they had witnessed.
Enter Dexter: New Blood. Michael C. Hall had never ruled out returning to the role in the years since, but always said that he would only do it if the script was right and enough time had passed. With nearly a decade gone since Remember the Monsters?, enough time had passed to allow audiences to reflect (and perhaps release their anger) over the original ending. Original series showrunner Clyde Phillips was brought on board early, attempting to replicate the “golden years” of the show in seasons 1-4. Hall was convinced by the ideas put forward, and New Blood was born, ready to make up for the finale and divisive latter years of the show.
Of course, from the moment it was announced, everyone wondered about one thing: the finale. But in a ten episode season, the finale is only the one part, albeit the most important one. Therefore, to properly review Dexter: New Blood, we’re going to take a look at the season as a whole before moving into the specifics of the finale.
Dexter: New Blood revolves almost entirely around events that occur in its first episode, in which the title character impulsively kills Matt Caldwell, son of the unofficial mayor of the town, and Harrison arrives in Iron Lake. Caldwell’s killing leads to Dexter scrambling to cover it up, and sets forth a series of events where Angela is hot on his tail for suspicious behavior. Meanwhile, Harrison presents an interesting challenge to Dexter, who wants to connect with his son but doesn’t really know how to, outside of addressing his dark passenger, which he’s extremely hesitant to do.
Broadly speaking, the Matt Caldwell murder plot is well done and a highlight of the season. The actual kill itself hits all of the nostalgic beats from the original run, including Dexter’s famous kill room and saying the two most famous lines in the show’s history: Tonight’s the Night and Hello, Dexter Morgan. Beyond that, the implications of the murder make it so that it wasn’t just a random Dexter kill. Rather, it sets up the entire season, from Dexter covering his tracks to him finding out Kurt Caldwell is a serial killer, to the rivalry between the two.
The Kurt Caldwell Runaway killer plot is certainly slow burn, particularly at the beginning, but it eventually kicks into higher gear around the halfway mark of the season. When Dexter connects the dots that Kurt is a killer, Harrison begins to take a liking to him, causing a dilemma for the protagonist. This push and pull is executed well as it puts Harrison in the middle of two serial killers. In doing so, the audience, and later Harrison, is allowed to compare the morals of the two. Dexter as a show always enjoys pitting the title character’s morals against his enemies, with the Trinity Killer a particular highlight of this. Clancy Brown’s portrayal of Kurt is arguably one of the best of the entire series, as his kindness becomes haunting as the audience learns his true nature. Brown plays Kurt in a similar fashion to John Lithgow and Arthur Mitchell, as both are men with kind exteriors that slowly begin to unravel as the seasons go on and their true nature is exposed. Kurt Caldwell certainly goes down as an all time Dexter adversary, right up there with Trinity and the Ice Truck Killer.
One negative aspect of the Kurt serial killer plot line is its relative unimportance in the grand scheme of things. Dexter and Harrison dispose of him in the ninth episode, leaving the finale to tie up the rest of the plots (more on that later). Ultimately, while Kurt was a big part in notifying Angela of Dexter’s actions against Matt with his note at the end of the penultimate episode, he didn’t serve much of a purpose outside of that. Kurt was more just a serial killer who existed and was active at the same time as Dexter’s life began to change rapidly, and was killed before the end so that the final episode could focus on the more important things.
As mentioned previously, key to the Kurt Caldwell plot is Harrison, who arrives in Iron Lake in episode 1 aiming to reconnect with his father and finally have years worth of questions answered. The relationship between Dex and Harrison is the backbone of the entire season, with every plot threat connecting to the father-son bond, or lack thereof, in some way. Dexter struggles to connect with Harrison in a way that is painful for both characters as well as the audience. The entire 100+ episode series as a whole ultimately comes down to Dexter’s loneliness and attempts to connect with someone on a personal level, and to finally feel accepted. So to have his son in Iron Lake, ready to finally have a relationship with his father, but Dexter’s dark passenger complicating matters is heartbreaking. For Harrison, he feels abandoned and alone, much like his father, and the writers do a great job of making you feel for the character.
All of this is done for a reason, though, and leads up to a great payoff. Dexter and Harrison escaping Kurt, in what was one of the most intense episodes of the entire series, leads to the two finally connecting. Dexter reveals his dark passenger to Harrison and everything goes smoothly (for now). It’s a great moment years in the making, with many fans upset that Dexter left his son in the first place. Now, he finally seemed set to make amends and be there for Harrison in a way that he wasn’t before.
It’s impossible to talk about Dexter without mentioning the amazing Michael C. Hall. His portrayal of the title character is so unique, and the actor gives a performance that no one else would be able to. He embodies the character in such a way that the entire show is made simply by his presence. As long as he’s on screen, even if the writing isn’t up to scratch, the show remains compelling and entertaining. Alongside Hall is another acting highlight of the season, Jack Alcott. Alcott’s role as Harrison could have been a difficult one: he comes in and challenges an already established, beloved main character and butts heads with him. He argues with Dexter, he complains often, and causes his father headaches throughout most of the season. It’s easy to see how the audience could have turned against Harrison in the bulk of this season, but Alcott’s performance makes you feel for him and sympathize with him so much, even amidst the audience’s attachment to Dexter. There’s no doubt that Alcott will go on to do big things in Hollywood from here.
Julia Jones also stars as Angela Bishop, the police chief of Iron Lake. Jones is another who has a solid performance throughout, but her character’s plot is unfortunately bogged down by some strange writing. For the first half of the season, her arc is trying to figure out where her best friend from high school disappeared to, and this comes to a head when she finds her friend’s body in the caves outside of town, and immediately believes Kurt to be the killer (and rightfully so). All of that is fine, and links her to the Runaway Killer plot in a nice way, but the other half of Angela’s storyline in the season is her investigation into Dexter. She becomes suspicious of him after coincidentally bumping into none other than Angel Batista at a police conference, with David Zayas reprising his role as the iconic Miami Metro detective. It’s certainly more than a little convenient that she meets Batista, but it gets even more questionable when they get on the topic of the Trinity Killer. Batista mentions a man named Dexter Morgan as someone who helped solve the case, before mentioning that he died, but not before he had a son named Harrison. For some reason, a man who Angela believed she didn’t know, at least by that name, having a child named Harrison led her to look up Dexter and find his true identity. Thankfully, her daughter Audrey provides the information that Harrison said while intoxicated: that Jim Lindsay is not his real name. This makes the beginning of Angela’s pursuit a little more logical.
The issues with her investigation extend into the Bay Harbor Butcher case as well. Dexter’s brawl with the drug dealer outside of a bar led her to confront the man he beat up, who told Angela that Dexter poked him in the neck with a needle. Angela then finds out that Dexter purchased ketamine, and connects this to the Bay Harbor Butcher case. However, Dexter used M99 in the original run, not ketamine, and no one at Miami Metro or the FBI ever noticed that the BHB victims had needle marks in their neck. Somehow, though, that information found its way onto the internet in the years since, even as the bodies undoubtedly decomposed to the point of no return. The choice to use ketamine is understandable, if a little frustrating at times, as Dexter finding such a controlled substance like M99 in a small town like Iron Lake would have been extremely hard to write. And while it’s possible that someone somewhere noticed the needle marks on all the victims in Miami, it brings up too many questions about the specifics of it all and how that was figured out. While Jones continues to portray Angela well through all of this, it is a little bit of a disservice to her character that her plot is bogged down by these negatives. Another disservice to the character is that she abandoned the investigation into her best friend’s death to focus on Dexter, which is a jarring switch and seems odd given how dedicated she was to that for the first half of the season. One wonders if it might have been better to have her balance both plots at the same time rather than focus solely on Dexter, if only to make her investigation more logical.
All of this leads to the episode that people were most curious, and perhaps nervous, about: the finale. “Sins of the Father” serves as a conclusion to many of the plot lines discussed above, and much of the episode is well done. If you can get over the investigational inconsistencies, Angela coming to arrest Dexter makes total sense in the context of the season, and this event occurring so early in the episode is a startling reminder that anything could happen in the finale. From there, Dexter is up against it in a way that he hadn’t been since LaGuerta brought him in in season 7. He’s being accused of murder, and not just Matt Caldwell’s, but of being the Bay Harbor Butcher as well. The number one rule is don’t get caught, and Dexter gets more than dangerously close here; he is caught, with accusations being thrown at him that threaten to expose who he really is. The suspense here is extremely well done, as the audience truly doesn’t know what will happen next.
What does happen next will prove to be extremely divisive with fans. Dexter panics, scared to be imprisoned and given the death penalty, and tries to escape. In doing so, he breaks the code by killing Logan, an innocent man. While he certainly didn’t set out to kill Logan, he knew what he was doing and was determined to do anything to get out. What’s interesting here is that Dexter was rarely willing to kill someone innocent to free himself from capture. He refused to kill Doakes, and only kidnapped LaGuerta because Deb knew at that point and was in danger of being hurt by the accusations. Moreover, it’s a little odd that Dexter was so panicked by these claims by Angela. She admitted that she didn’t have enough to stick for the murder of Matt Caldwell, and presented pretty circumstantial evidence to link him to the Bay Harbor Butcher murders. We all know Dexter is impulsive and, for all of his intelligence, is capable of making a bad decision, but it’s hard to believe that Dexter would be so frantic and fearful of the accusations, especially given all of the evidence linking Doakes to the crimes. The evidence against Dexter doesn’t really seem enough to throw out the hard “facts” against Doakes, that were there in both seasons 2 and 7. However, Dexter is older now, and he’s on the cusp of a real relationship with his son for the first time, so perhaps these factors played into his erratic decision making.
Then, there’s the ending. It proves to truly be an ending, for Dexter at least. Harrison realizes what he did to Logan and quickly turns on his dad, despite Dexter begging him to come with him and discuss what happened later. Harrison’s abrupt change of heart feels too rushed, especially as he seemed fine with killing in all of episode 9 and the majority of the finale. Dexter killing Logan simply opened Harrison’s eyes to the idea that his father kills people to feed his addiction, not just to save innocent lives as he had been told. However, it seems odd that Harrison didn’t connect those dots before, as the whole point of Dexter’s killing, as he explained to his son, was to feed his dark urges by bringing justice to the world. Logan obviously meant a lot to Harrison, but the events that occurred right after this moment seemed excessive.
Harrison’s turn on his father leads him to see that Dexter’s actions caused the death of his mother, Rita, as well as his aunt Deb and countless others. He quickly makes Dexter realize this, as the title character admits fault in a way he never really has before. The concept of Dexter being indirectly responsible for the death of others is something that the show has played with for a while, but they make it definitive here. This continues as Dexter asks Harrison to kill him, knowing that he won’t go with him and refusing to go to prison. Harrison isn’t like his father, he claims, but still kills anyway. And not just anyone, but his own father, something that not even Dexter did. While Dexter put others in danger, he never directly killed anyone that he cared about. This scene felt rushed, and could have been dragged out for much longer, if only to help smooth out some of these questions. After this, Harrison is told to run by Angela, and it ends with him driving out of Iron Lake.
Ultimately, the ending of this commits to the same concept that the original finale introduced: Dexter is evil, a destructive force, and is not to be sympathized with. It seems as if the reason why the original ending didn’t go down well, and why the conclusion of New Blood will almost certainly suffer the same fate, is because of an inherent disconnect between the writers and the audience. The writers always seem determined to definitively say that Dexter is a bad person, the bad guy of his own show, while the audience seems him in a way the character sees himself: a hero, or an anti-hero at the very least. Audiences’ positive feelings of Dexter seem justified, too, as the same showrunners who made him a villain were also the ones writing him as a sympathetic character for the entirety of the show around these events. Dexter’s bond with Astor and Cody, his sympathy and loyalty to Lumen and his relationship with Harrison as a baby are just some of the reasons why audiences like Dexter as a character, and for those reasons fans want him to succeed. Meanwhile, the writers are so intent on making a realistic, moral ending, and one that simply doesn’t match the rest of the show.
Dexter: New Blood is a great season of the show, with “Jim’s” relationship with his son Harrison being a particular highlight. However, the show ones again fails to stick the landing with a solid ending. Nonetheless, it was amazing to see Dexter back again for this limited series.
Images courtesy of Showtime