TV

‘Dexter: New Blood’ Is A Bloody Good Time, And It’s Steadily Scrubbing Away The Sins Of The Lumberjack Past

Dexter Morgan is back, baby, and that means that Michael C. Hall is returning in the role that landed him an Emmy. This should all be good news, yes, because Dexter delivered an absurdly beloved serial killer to a legion of fans. And we’re receiving what is, in effect, a ninth season from Showtime through a limited series. Yet there’s a significant question at hand: Is the new season good enough that it justifies its own existence as a revival?

Before we address that question, here’s an unavoidable reality: there’s a ton of water, literally, under this bridge. That unnatural disaster sources directly from the hurricane in the original series finale. And everyone who watched the original show realizes that the entire show jumped the shark during that episode. Dexter had planned to flee from Miami to Argentina with Hannah, his soul mate (and, conveniently, also a serial killer who adored poison), and his young son, Harrison. Instead, he chose to spare Harrison from his influence (to supposedly break the “born in blood” cycle), so he sailed out into the storm, dumped the body of his sister, Debra, into the ocean, and then he sailed to his presumed death but surfaced as a freaking lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest.

It was, to be blunt, a very unsatisfying ending, arguably even more so than that of Game of Thrones, and to this day, the word “lumberjack” is enough to set off Dexter fans. Original showrunner Clyde Phillips knows it. Michael C. Hall knows it. A score needed to be settled. The fans wanted blood in the worst way. So, if the powers that be were going to proceed with this revival, they damn well were bound to try as hard as possible to not repeat past mistakes and (eight real-time years later) compound the problem.

Well, I’m here to tell you that New Blood goes a long way — at least in the first four episodes screened for critics (out of ten planned for the season) — to set about redeeming itself and providing something fresh. I’ll discuss this without spoiling plot points that haven’t already been revealed by Showtime:

– Dexter’s new life: Cue a shiny identity. Dexter is now Jim Lindsay, a sales clerk at a hunting/gun/tackle/etc. shop. He’s concocted quite a reality for himself in a fictional community called Iron Lake. It’s all a morbidly beautiful take on the cliché that one can always pick up and retire to a nice farm in upstate New York. And Dexter’s doing well for himself, a decade after that hurricane. He’s putting his knife sharpening skills to benevolent use, and scratching his violence-loving itch to a degree. In fact, every indication seems to be that he could maintain his new equilibrium — having ingratiated himself with the town’s residents and even dating a cop, providing an “in” for murder cases, should he ever needs that — on an indefinite basis. This is both a help and a hindrance to him as circumstances begin to change.

– The series seems committed to honoring past characters: Yup, you will see some familiar faces, as previously promised. That’ll include John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer, for example, but first and foremost, there’s Jennifer Carpenter’s Deb. I’m fairly certain that we won’t be seeing any Hannah or Doakes during this revival, but Deb, man, she is a necessity. And the way that she appears, very early (and regularly) in this revival, is perfect. She might very well prove to be the lynchpin before all is said and done.

– Of course, Dexter’s little world gets shaken up: Does he have a rough time with the sight of blood? Sure. That’s not his main difficulty. He’s perfectly capable of treading water, but there’s a whiff in the air, the hint that the right set of circumstances could propel him into instability (hello, Dark Passenger) at any moment. A few things here:

(1) Dexter’s code is still intact, to a fault. He puts on a new mask, but he can’t keep it up forever. After all, and even more than being tempted by the sight of knives (he admires them both lovingly and resentfully), the dude’s got a code. And he can only withstand violations of that code for so long. Eventually, someone will be reprehensible enough to deserve Dexter’s particular brand of comeuppance. Yet Dexter is out of practice. He’s been off the murdering beat too long, and therefore, he’s lost a lot of his sharpness, his sixth sense. So, one should expect that vibe, which will be fun to play with.

(2) Dexter: The Next Generation is happening. In fact, that might as well be the title of this spinoff, and Showtime pointedly confirmed (as many, including myself, hoped) in a recent trailer that a teenage Harrison would return. This is not only a satisfactory development but necessary because the idea that Dexter could silence his Dark Passenger forever was ridiculous and runs against his character’s complex nature. It’s a conundrum, for sure, because Harrison did deserve a shot at a future without dad’s influence. Dexter even once declared, “It doesn’t matter what I do, what I choose. I’m what’s wrong.” Well, Harrison is fully in the picture, and it doesn’t feel forced. In fact, it feels overdue, and there’s a big question of whether nature or nurture will steer Harrison wrong, as this season progresses.

– Music remains an integral aspect of the series: This was a tough one to feel out, no doubt. Daniel Licht, the original series’ acclaimed composer, passed away in 2017. That leaves a huge void, given that Licht took an unconventional approach, stopping at nothing in what he would use (duct tape, knives, bones, you name it) to pull together the sounds to match the sights of the show. There’s simply no replacing Licht, but the show does pick-and-choose from mood-appropriate popular music to partially fill that void. That includes Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche,” and Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” the latter of which brings to mind Chris Evans’ contract killer in The Iceman. You’ll love what Dexter’s doing while that song plays during this season.

Actually, there’s plenty to love here, but I get it if you feel reluctant to let go of finale resentment. I felt the same way, but I would encourage O.G. Dexter fans to not be afraid of being excited about this revival. Clyde Phillips and Michael C. Hall (along with everyone involved) did not go into this endeavor lightly. They know their butts are on the line if they pull another lumberjack affair, and from what I’ve seen so far, they’re committed to making things right, all while putting the leading man on the hot seat, as he very well should be. Dexter Morgan couldn’t hide forever, so go take a look at what he’s doing these days. You’ll dig the new vibes, and the old ones as well.

Showtime’s ‘Dexter: New Blood’ premieres on November 7.

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