“Dexter” is back for one final season on Showtime, and last Sunday, it was given a bloody good season premiere.
Actually, it wasn’t all that bloody compared to many other episodes, but the writing seemed smarter and tighter than it has been lately, so it may just be poised to take the series out on top.
Premiering in the fall of 2006, “Dexter” has followed – who else? – Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter analyst and serial killer of murderers and other bad guys who would be better off at the bottom of the bay, and while episodes have ranged from clever and suspenseful to maddening and ridiculous, I’ve kept up on the series mainly because of Michael C. Hall. I was first mesmerized by this brilliant actor during his portrayal of funeral director David Fisher on HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” and sticking with this morbid acting theme, he slipped right into the role of Dexter like a pair of leather kill gloves.
He’s just a blast to watch. His delivery hits you right between the eyes, and even when he’s given a cliché line or a weak story, he excels at making you feel it or believe it, particularly during the strange and often weak Season 7. Avoiding any major spoilers here, Season 8 wisely opens six months after the previous season ended, allowing the characters (and the audience) to distance themselves from those events and letting the writing team move on and start fresh in a lot of ways.
For one, Dex’s sister, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), has separated herself from her brother and her co-workers at Miami Metro, going a little too deep undercover for a private agency owned by another ex-cop, dealing with the consequences of her actions as she deals with everything else – in excess. Dexter’s son, Harrison, is finally old enough to talk and become more of a central player in the show, and following the revelation of an unlikely and secretive relationship between two longtime characters in this episode, Dexter is forced to spend much more screen time with him, something severely lacking before.
This quickly cleans up two major issues from last season in a matter of minutes – Debra’s bizarre “love” subplot is (hopefully) dropped, and Dexter finally has to act like a father, and he obviously doesn’t handle that very well, as one would expect. The new character, Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), a neuropsychologist who studies and writes about serial killers, immediately won me over because, unlike most of the crazy people Dexter has stalked or befriended over the years, she’s very much aware of and embraces his secret life right away, and what she does with that knowledge should be interesting.
The only thing I found lacking was Dexter’s lack of regret towards breaking his “Code,” his choice to only execute those who “deserve” it. Considering how important The Code is to his life, particularly in the first few seasons, his struggle with its definition and consequences should be explored more deeply and would serve as the perfect way to bookend the series.
But what is the perfect bookend for eight years of episodes? At the beginning of the last season, I suggested that the writers take a huge risk and have Dexter finally get caught and put him on the run, turning all his friends into enemies on a manhunt, with his sister and son caught in the middle. He does his best to slip away in each town he visits, but not without indulging his need to kill and, therefore, leaving a trail. Having so many serial killers who just so happen to be living in Miami for him to dispatch was getting to be a bit much, so I felt the change of scenery along with the change of format (Dexter stalks a villain, they play cat and mouse, he kills him and gets away with it, repeat) would really benefit the growth and development of the show.
Season 8 is playing it much safer, of course, though it does have potential. With only 11 episodes left, there may not be much more room for innovation or maturation at this point, but it can still go out with a bang (or, more appropriately, a stab). All loose ends seem like they are starting to be tied up, and if they want this to be as memorable as Season 4 (starring the irreplaceable John Lithgow), they have to learn from its success and not be afraid to take risks or pull out a last-minute shocker. This is all within the realm of possibility as long as they didn’t rush production to capitalize on high ratings, which, considering its early premiere, is also a possibility.
With Showtime’s insistence that this is the final season, I’ll be tuning in every Sunday at 9 p.m. eager for the big payoff. And that’s exactly what it needs to be – a major “thank you” to the longtime fans that satisfies as well as shocks, reminding us of why we became addicted in the first place.
If not, we’ll undoubtedly be out for blood.
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at email@example.com.