The Dark Passenger Rides Again: Dexter is Back, Are We?

by Paul Deeter

Our very own Darkly Dreaming Dexter wakes up for Season 9, 15 years after its debut and a few years farther back its inception onto page. Dexter Morgan at 15 is the age that he'd start succumbing to his dark passenger I should note. But at 8 years past the airing of the final episode of the final season of Dexter in 2013, Dexter Morgan is no spry chicken. And he's had quite a tumultuous past as well.

In 2004, Dexter Morgan was birthed onto page from the original title Darkly Dreaming Dexter a very original new tale of a Miami blood-splatter analyst with a taste for the extracurricular. See, Dexter has always wanted to work with blood; as early as childhood he's been haunted by this 'dark passenger' inside him that craves the need for murder. This passenger desires the blood of any living thing, starting from animals but eventually escalating for more. Modernly, in DDD, Dexter is employed and middle-aged but his passenger is still with him. And this time, animal killing is not enough. Luckily with the right tools and expertise for the job, Dexter manages to juggle work with play under the discretion of his moral code: "to kill only those who deserve to be killed". This combined with the fact that the Miami PD is very unsuccessful at catching its many tropical killers makes it a match made in heaven for our dark vigilante.

In 2006, when TV presence Michael C. Hall filled the shoes of this character in a widely received critical and financial response, Dexter slayed the competition. Additionally, as a Showtime series during dozens of killer HBO shows, Dexter brought the edge to its competition for its violence, dark humor and solid lead performance by Hall. In its eight season original run, Michael C. Hall would go on to win Golden Globes for his wicked portrayal of the serial killer at large. Fans went nuts for Dexter, millions would break records with the TV Nielsen to tune into the premiere of Season 8, even though the finale flopped with most. And as unforgiving as critics were on the final season (the AV Club gave the series finale an F), fans would follow Dexter into the woods for his dark morality and twisted humor. Dexter is still to this day a cult classic character, with his hate of blood but knack for assassination and extreme luck when it comes to just getting away time and time again. On top of that Dexter's 'villains' would become notoriously famous as well; most notably John Lithgow's work as the Trinity Killer would go on to win a Golden Globe and is definitively the best character in the best season of the show.

The dangerously devious Trinity Killer (John Lithgow)

What went wrong unfortunately was the leer away from clever scripting and realistic characters after the show entirely abandoned the novels it was based on. While the show managed occasional flashes of brilliance with its plotting out of the various enemies Dexter would tail and even go on to be inspired by, it got a little ridiculous in its continuity of Dexter's luck. Dexter would face off with various detectives, murderers and monsters and constantly slide by, even when the evidence piled against him. It dipped severely when it killed off (Surprise, Mothafucka!) its best character: Sergeant Doakes, who was Dexter's biggest enemy in the same force he would work in. And then the show got really silly when it wrapped up. After a confusing series of events that lost most viewers (I dipped out half way through Season 7), Dexter retires the killing crime scene as a uh, lumberjack, in Oregon. Okay?

The mess of Dexter's final season and some of the bumps that lost some critics and audience members along the way, kind of felt like permanent nails in the coffin that was Dexter Morgan's reign of terror. And while some minor few would justify returning to the final season and giving him a fair shake, the consensus that the final season was a misfire is almost universally considered, even by the show runner: Clyde Philips. The series finale of Dexter, in which Dexter flees Miami and ends up as a lumberjack in Oregon, was polarizing to the show's fans, according to lead actor Michael C. Hall. He said "I think the ending was 'mystifying' at best to people. 'Confounding', 'exasperating', 'frustrating' — on down the line of negative adjectives." Hall had been asked by fans in the eight years since the finale aired if there would be a follow-up to the show. Original showrunner Clyde Phillips, who had left the series after season 4, saw those questions asked of Hall and over time discussed possible ways to continue Dexter as some type of redemption, but could not figure out an appropriate route. In the hey day of Dexter, specifically the second two seasons, Phillips managed to land some heavy handed plotting amid the humor and (earned) silliness of the original seasons. It never lost the focus of Dexter's dark passenger; his code was to kill the baddies, and to do it humanely and with as little mess as possible. Season 4 is the highlight of the whole series with Lithgow's Trinity Killer.

Who's to say what other cameos might occur?

So what is there to expect from the ninth season of this aged series? What tricks does Dexter have up his sleeves that we've yet to already see. With the use of flashbacks bringing Lithgow in along with other familiar faces, we have a bit of a reunion to the new episodes which feels familiar and comforting. We also have the potential of re-establishing Dexter and his old ways, and the threat of that catching up with his quiet life in the small town he abides in. The initial episode saw a pretty solid half a million viewers, considerable for streaming services at this day and age. It also has a 74% Rotten Tomatoes rating, but based on the episode ratings rising on AV Club, I have a prediction this might change as well. Everyone loved the old Dexter, and if old Dexter re-emerges from the ashes then maybe people will learn to fall back in love. On top of that, nothing on TV has ever quite matched the flavor of Dexter. Its absence has been noticed.

Two episodes in, I won't spoil my initial thoughts too heavily on the return of our dark passenger. I can say that it's not the misstep I originally predicted, and the new setting and vibe of the first few episodes seems pretty solidly confident that the series has a purpose. Its easy to write off any reboot as a cash cow, and the titling of Dexter: New Blood doesn't entirely get away without some hokyness. But as a 7 season fan of the original show (and a few original books) I'm excited to pick the depraved brain of this hunter again. As the first episode begins he's sprinting through the woods, rifle in hand after a white elk. The hunter is back, and he's a bit more spry than I originally gave him credit for.

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