‘Dexter: New Blood’ Gives Our Favorite Serial Killer the Revival He Deserves
In the Peak TV era one of the riskiest propositions is reviving past hits that became pop culture standouts. Showtime’s “Dexter” premiered in 2006, when both television and the world were very different. It took the concept of the flawed anti-hero to a whole new level, following around a serial killer who hones his urges into murdering criminals. There are a few logical holes in the premise, but the quality of the acting and directing made for a darkly absorbing show with the capacity to get under your skin. Then came one of TV’s most infamously bad series finales in 2013, complete with hurricanes and faked deaths. “Dexter: New Blood” arrives like a correction. This 10-part limited series brings back what worked in the original but has its own fresh feel.
Michael C. Hall reprises the role of Dexter Morgan. Nearly a decade after leaving Miami, Dexter has settled in snowy Iron Lake, New York. Fleeing his demons, Dexter has changed names to Jim Lindsay. As “Jim,” he has settled into a comfortable life working at the local fish and game store. He’s even dating the assertive chief of police, Angela Bishop (Julia Jones), who hails from the local Native American community. In private Dexter has been controlling his murderous impulses. A specter of his dead sister, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), keeps taunting him. Soon enough, Dexter’s resolve is challenged when a toxic Wall Street jerk, Matt Caldwell (Steve M. Robertson) shows up at the store, desperate to buy an absurdly powerful rifle and annoyed with the required background check. Caldwell might have also been involved with a boating death someone else took the fall for. When Dexter comes across Caldwell shooting a deer in Native American land, he kills Caldwell. Just as this happens, another sudden turn rattles Dexter’s serenity: The arrival of Harrison (Jack Alcott), his estranged son.
A very essential element to the success of “Dexter: New Blood” is the return of original showrunner Clyde Phillips. Instead of pretending the “Dexter” series finale never happened, he works the narrative in the way novelists spruce up a plot in-between books. Fans never got over the bizarre twists that ended their favorite show, from Dexter leaving Deb’s body in the path of a hurricane, faking his own death and moving out into rural New York state to Harrison being sent off to South America. Phillips leaves all of that in the past and picks up right where we last saw Dexter. Life goes on. What is more impressive is how well “New Blood” reboots the premise. This could have easily been one of those ill-conceived revivals like Chris Carter’s terrible tenth and eleventh seasons of “The X-Files,” which also premiered over a decade after the original had ended. “New Blood” is a return to the basics. The setting is sparse and Dexter, with that face that is an unsettling mix of friendly local meets Jeffrey Dahmer, is truly attempting to build a normal life. Because it isn’t packed with endless references to the original series, fans can appreciate it but newcomers could start here and then work their way back.
If in the original Dexter was a forensic technician living a secret, murderous existence, the tension in “New Blood” is how he wants to be happy but knows there’s a monster hiding inside. Iron Lake with its chilly evenings and warm-lit taverns feels like an ideal oasis for a man running from the past. Angela is the perfect partner, sobering and also fun. Then Phillips and the writing/directing team skillfully pull us back into Dexter’s unsettling reality. Once he kills again, there’s a claustrophobic feel to everything. He hosts search parties on his property, everyone in the police department likes him as a buddy, and then the camera lowers to show Caldwell’s bagged and chopped corpse beneath the ground. The victim was total scum, as we see in an earlier scene where Dexter is forced to deliver the rifle to Caldwell’s house, where a cocaine party is raging and he learns some dark secrets. But Dexter himself is no hero, which is always the great and challenging part of this fantasy. The fact that a victim was unsavory is no excuse to practice a sickness. When Harrison arrives, full of resentment, demanding answers but willing to give Dexter a chance, we feel more for him than for dad.
“New Blood” also adapts well to changing cultural landscapes. Some well-written moments reference current social concerns. Angela’s Native American community wonder why there’s such an effort to find a rich white guy like Caldwell, yet little happens when indigenous women go missing. The key villain this season is Edward (Fredric Lehne), an oil billionaire with a cynical view of the world, who begins to target Angela’s daughter, Audrey (Johnny Sequoyah). Audrey has been involved in local protests against the oil baron’s environmental policies and after a particular standoff outside of a restaurant she really puts herself in danger. She also becomes Harrison’s first true connection at Iron Lake once he starts attending the local high school. Harrison is a mature, smart teen, who falls out with the jocks when he catches them cat fishing a loner student. But he also has Dexter’s DNA, which begins to show when he threatens one of the bullies with blood-curdling, calm fury.
Despite the premise and elegant close-ups of spilled blood and torn limbs, “New Blood” is more about atmosphere than violence. It gets under your skin because Dexter is a walking killer trying to keep it together, and we don’t know when he’ll snap next. This show is a world of perverse impulses walking side by side next to deceptively good people. Michael C. Hall inhabits the role as if he never left it, with that smile that never feels sure of itself. Jennifer Carpenter is a gift for fans, basking in her cackling mockery of Dexter. The rest of the supporting cast should all be new favorites, from Julia Jones’s Angela, who has no idea who she’s dating, to Jack Alcott’s tense Harrison trying to believe this is home now. Clancy Brown is also memorable as Caldwell’s overbearing father, a community big shot who refuses to believe his son was bad or dead. The final, expected touch is a subplot involving a runaway passing through Iron Lake and captured by a psycho we only see gradually revealed as the season progresses, leading to a bigger reveal by the end. “New Blood” is a welcome return for “Dexter,” proving you can patch up what has long been a sour spot for TV fans. It brings a bloody sense of closure, and might just leave viewers wanting a little more.
“Dexter: New Blood” premieres Nov. 7 and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.