Serial killer shows represent a compelling and very popular corner of the television world. “Luther,” “Hannibal,” “Mindhunter,” “You” and more have regaled audiences with their compelling characters and intensity, but “Dexter” was truly the first of its kind. “Dexter: New Blood” reminds viewers why the original is a classic, and why Dexter himself is the true king of the genre.
The original show, which ran from 2006-2013, followed the titular character (and his dark passenger) as he juggled his job as a lab tech at Miami Metro PD and his cravings to kill, sometimes actively investigating cases in which he was implicated. Dexter (Michael C. Hall, “The Defeated”) has rules, set by his adoptive father Harry (James Remar, “Black Lightning”), to control his dark passenger (i.e. his urge to kill). To summarize: Kill other killers.
The show was the first to put audience members in a truly strange position: They found themselves rooting for a serial killer. Well, at the very least, some of them did. The series finale sparked extreme controversy among fans, some of whom wanted Dexter to abscond successfully and others who wanted to see him brought to justice for his crimes. The finale squirmed away from making a final decision and failed to see Dexter definitively do either.
The reboot, “Dexter: New Blood,” picks up roughly ten years later. Dexter, who has gone a decade without a kill, lives alone, apart from the apparition of his dead sister and fan-favorite Deb (Jennifer Carpenter, “The Enemy Within”), in a lodge-like house in Iron Lake, New York. Iron Lake is the quintessential close-knit small town — everybody knows everybody, including Dexter, although they all refer to him by his new alias James Lindsay. He’s well-loved among the townspeople and by his relatively serious girlfriend, Iron Lake police officer Angela Bishop (Julia Jones, “Goliath”).
It’s clear there’s little police work for her to do; the office responds primarily to calls about missing pies and flower-eating sheep. When more serious cases do appear, for instance, a handful of missing women cases that have fallen on Bishop’s desk, the department isn’t granted the funding to investigate. The missing women only appear once in the episode in passing, but it’s strongly hinted that their cases will become increasingly relevant as the season goes on.
The reboot introduces two more significant characters. The first is Matt Caldwell (Steve M. Robertson, “Channel Zero”), a rich asshole who thinks the rules don’t apply to him and who flaunts that when he takes a vacation from the cushy Wall Street job his daddy got him to visit Iron Lake. It comes out in Matt’s friend’s cocaine fueled-stupor that Matt killed five people in a boating “accident,” and his friend was paid off to lie on the stand. It’s clear that Dexter’s entanglements with Matt, and thus the powerful Caldwell family, will have serious repercussions for him going forward.
The second character is Harrison (Jack Alcott, “The Good Lord Bird”), Dexter’s son, now a teenager. Dexter faked his death in a boating accident in the original series finale, supposedly to give the child a chance at a safer life without him, but somehow Harrison tracks him down. What kind of influence the father and son will have on one another appears to be an emerging theme of the season, if not the series. By bringing in these compelling characters and brand new storylines as a focus of the reboot, “Dexter: New Blood” allows TV watchers who have never seen an episode of the original a chance at enjoying the reboot.
But for these various aforementioned differences, “Dexter: New Blood” feels familiar in the best way. Like coming home. Though Dexter is technically the only living character from the original show to return for the reboot, as Deb is dead and Harrison was only a baby in the original, he is the same man we know and inexplicably love — a man with principles who does his best to stick to them.
Moreover, “Dexter: New Blood” is satisfying in the same way “Dexter” was. When someone is, by design, the worst character on the show for that moment, Dexter can just kill them. Through Dexter, the viewer is offered a sense of vicarious justice or even vicarious vigilantism.
For all the people we know in real life that we struggle to hold accountable and the frustrations that they produce, there’s a killer that Dexter instantaneously silences once and for all. Dexter takes matters into his own hands to a degree that we cannot: Before the final deed is done, he confronts the killer and makes them face what they’ve done.
“Dexter: New Blood” is sure to please “Dexter” fans and newbies alike, offering an interesting albeit disturbing escape from the current hellscape.
Daily Arts Writer Emmy Snyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.