After the final season of Dexter, it’s kind of hard to remember how well received this show was at first. The main title sequence was pure brilliance. Set to Rolfe Kent’s disarmingly offbeat theme, it presented Dexter’s morning routines, but in such a clever way that simple acts of cracking eggs, grinding coffee beans, shaving and flossing took on a sinister tone and started resembling a killer’s activities. The final shot of the sequence featured Dexter shooting us a smile. We knew right away that this serial killer’s charms would be hard to fight off.
Working as a blood-spatter analyst
Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) worked as a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami police, where his stepsister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) was also a detective. His other colleagues included María LaGuerta (Lauren Velez), Angel Batista (David Zayas) and James Doakes (Erik King), who always had a hunch that there was something wrong with Dexter. What he was unable to figure out was Dexter’s secret life as a serial killer, following a set of codes created by his father Harry (James Remar), who had realized his son’s dark nature at an early age and raised him to believe that his future victims should only be society’s worst scum. Dexter honored this code, dismembering and dumping his criminal victims off the coast of Miami, but struggled to maintain a façade of normalcy.
One special challenge came in the shape of Rita (Julie Benz), a battered woman with two kids whom he actually developed what you might call feelings for…
Pondering a normal life
Over the years, Dexter’s situation would become increasingly complex. Not only was he close to being revealed as a killer on several occasions, but other serial murderers emerged in Miami and were not easily discarded. He often pondered whether or not a normal life could be possible for him, as well as the motivations behind his urge to kill, which he labeled the Dark Passenger of his life journey. Often he would seek answers directly from the ghostly memory of Harry who was always with him, or indirectly from his sister. Hall was a perfect choice for this part, quite different from his breakthrough on Six Feet Under. Over the years, various guest stars would give the show a shot in the arm when the scripts weren’t up to snuff. I remained one of Dexter’s most loyal fans, loving the show from the start and very slowly realizing its decay over eight seasons. There was something about the character’s independence and isolation that connected with me in a personal way.
But even I had to admit that things started to go south a little from the moment when Dexter started letting other people into his life. For a show relying on nail-biting tension, predictability and silliness also kept hurting, especially in the weaker final seasons. The series finale was a particular disappointment, featuring a final twist that seemed illogical and nowhere near the intellectual closure and healing that we needed after spending eight seasons with, and coming to harbor feelings for, a serial murderer.
It was easy then to think back to season four, the show’s highlight, that featured a fearsome nemesis for Dexter, brilliantly played by John Lithgow. The devilish tension in those episodes, the feeling that everything is at stake, is what the lumbering final season should have lived up to.
Dexter 2006-2013:U.S. Made for TV. 96 episodes. Color. Created by James Manos, Jr.. Theme: Rolfe Kent. Cast: Michael C. Hall (Dexter Morgan), Jennifer Carpenter (Debra Morgan), David Zayas (Angel Batista), Lauren Velez (06-12), Desmond Harrington (08-13), Julie Benz (06-09), C.S. Lee, James Remar, Geoff Pierson, Erik King (06-07), Yvonne Strahovski (12-13), Keith Carradine (07-09), Jimmy Smits (08), John Lithgow (09), Julia Stiles (10), Charlotte Rampling (13), Colin Hanks (11), Edward James Olmos (11), Mos Def (11), Ray Stevenson (12), Jason Gedrick (12).
Trivia: Originally developed from the novel “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” by Jeff Lindsay. Followed by a limited series, Dexter: New Blood (2021).
Emmys: Outstanding Directing 09-10; Guest Actor (Lithgow) 09-10. Golden Globes: Best Actor (Hall) 10; Supporting Actor (Lithgow) 10.