Like it or not, the Bay Harbor Butcher, Dexter Morgan, is returning to Showtime. The network announced that a new 10-episode limited revival of Dexter is coming in 2021. According to returning showrunner Clyde Phillips, who was in charge of the earlier seasons of the Miami-set crime drama before it jumped the bloody shark, the revival aims to deliver a more fitting ending for the series. After fans and critics alike despised the disappointing season 8 finale, which saw Michael C. Hall’s serial killer retiring to the Pacific Northwest to become a lumberjack, Phillips, Hall and Showtime are returning to end things on the right note.
“This is an opportunity to make that right, but that’s not why we’re doing it,” Phillips informed THR on its Top 5 podcast via NME. “We’re doing this because there is such a hunger for Dexter out there. We’re not undoing anything. We’re not going to betray the audience and say, ‘Whoops, that was all a dream.’ What happened in the first eight years happened in the first eight years.”
Unfortunately for Phillips, that may be the issue.
While Dexter started as an ever darker dark twist on the already dark antihero trend in television, with a charming lead character taking part in some morally reprehensible behavior, at some point early on, the Dexter writers found themselves under Dexter’s spell. No matter who Dexter killed, deserving or not, or put in harm’s way, the writing staff treated Dexter like a superhero who had a silly little character flaw that could be cured by the love of a good woman. Unlike other critically acclaimed shows of the time like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, which both featured protagonists behaving badly, the Dexter writing staff never made Dexter answer, in a meaningful way, for his behavior.
Every time Dexter was close to being busted for his many crimes, forcing him into a decision whether or not to break the moral code that he lived by, another character came to his rescue and helped relieve Dexter of making a difficult choice. In season two, when Sergeant Doakes (Erik King) found out that Dexter was the Bay Harbor Butcher (“Surprise, motherfucker!”), Dexter’s disturbed mistress Lila (Jaime Murray) kills Doakes for him. In season seven, when Captain LaGuerta’s (Lauren Vélez) solid police work catches Dexter in the act, Dexter’s sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) kills her.
Keeping Dexter palatable, not plunging him into irredeemable territory like Walter White, robbed the series of a chance to move beyond its safe, procedural formula. Dexter suffered external consequences for his actions, mainly the shocking death of his wife Rita at the end of season four and Deb’s discovery of her brother’s sick addiction. But the series always found a way to quickly return to the status quo. Dexter is directly responsible for the demise of lovely Rita and the unraveling of his sister, and he mostly just gets away with it.
The Deb storyline really highlights the series’ flaw. After Deb discovers her brother’s secret and kills LaGuerta to protect him, she quits the police force over her guilt. She resorts to drinking and drugging in effort to punish herself. Since Dexter never realizes the danger and burden he puts on those around him, he repeatedly attempts to get back into his sister’s life, which the writers’ frame as a positive thing for Deb. Eventually, Deb kills for the second time, which only exacerbates her issues. She attempts to confess for her crimes, but no one believes her. If the writers weren’t so enamored with their lead character, they’d have realized it would have been beneficial for Deb’s confession to hold weight and for Dexter to be caught and answer for the many lives he destroyed. On Dexter, it always seemed like bad things happened to everyone but Dexter.
If the series insists on returning, Dexter should absolutely be punished for his crimes and forced to confront the many people in his life that he failed, including Astor, Cody, Harrison, and Hannah. Dexter shouldn’t be celebrated as a cool antihero, he should be treated as the monster that he became, not because he killed bad people, but because he allowed so many innocent people to be swept up as collateral damage. Instead of trying to redeem Dexter or make him more human by having him fall in love, the series needs to lean into the monstrous sociopath that Dexter was way back in season one and perhaps even save a blood slide just for him.