Eight years after he fled into the wilderness in one of the most deflating finales ever, serial killer Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) returns for more gruesome mayhem in Dexter: New Blood, a Showtime revival (Nov. 7) that, per its title, introduces a host of novel characters who may share its protagonist’s taste for carnage. As far as reclamation projects go, it certainly gets the series back on solid ground after its disastrous 2013 send-off—and, for that matter, its subpar last two seasons. Yet despite a different locale and collection of supporting players, it remains the same old show, thereby rendering this reboot at once perfectly watchable and altogether perfunctory.
Having already traded the sunshiny heat of Miami for the snowy chill of Oregon, Dexter is introduced in New Blood wiling away his days in the fictional upstate New York town of Iron Lake. There, he lives in a remote woodland cabin, sells guns, knives and other outdoors supplies at the fish-and-game store, and spends his free time dating Sheriff Angela Bishop (Julia Jones). Walking through the quiet hamlet, Dexter is warmly greeted by locals as one of their own, thanks to the fact that, for the past decade, he’s operated in Iron Lake under the alias “Jim Lindsay.” He also takes morning hikes through the forest with his rifle in order to track a beautiful white stag that he never actually shoots—part and parcel of his new “code” which involves suppressing his murderous impulses (aka his “dark passenger”).
Dexter is a reformed psychopath (or so he’d like to think), and he’s haunted by his past. In New Blood, Dexter’s guilt assumes the form of his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), whom he killed in the aforementioned series finale, and who now pesters him as his ghostly conscience. This is a clever device to resurrect both the habitually profane Debra and her contentious rapport with Dexter, and though some of the more comical moments featuring her specter strain too hard for bleak humor, she’s a welcome presence throughout these proceedings. Debra has apparently stuck around inside Dexter’s head as a means of keeping him on the straight and narrow, chiding him to stay true to his milquetoast Jim Lindsay persona and to squash any lingering urges to slaughter. This being a 10-part affair, however, the chances of that are nil, and showrunner Clyde Phillips (returning to Dexter for the first time since the high-water mark fourth season) doesn’t waste time in providing temptation for his rehabilitated fiend.
That comes courtesy of Matthew Caldwell (Steve M. Robertson), the entitled and boorish 30-year-old son of wealthy businessman Kurt Caldwell (Clancy Brown), who storms into town and promptly gets annoyed with Dexter after his purchase of a machine gun is delayed by a federal background check. Matthew is an unlikable spoiled brat, and thus it’s no surprise to hear that he was also involved in a fatal boating accident for which he wasn’t held responsible (probably because of his family money and connections). Dexter is instinctively drawn to Matthew as a potential target but holds off for as long as possible, desperate to maintain his growing bond with Angela. Further motivating him to not partake in his stabby pastime is the sudden appearance of Harrison (Jack Alcott), his son he left with Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) as a child but who’s now shown up on his doorstep in the hopes of reconnecting with his dad.
If Harrison’s arrival, coupled with the series’ title, doesn’t tip you off about where Dexter: New Blood is headed, Debra makes it quite clear, warning Dexter to send the teen away lest he become the madman’s latest (literal or figurative) victim. The urge to be a parent is strong in Dexter, although what kind of parent is the question that hovers over the first four episodes, which were all that was provided to press. As embodied by Alcott, Harrison is something of a mystery, striking up a flirty rapport with Angela’s adopted daughter Audrey (Johnny Sequoyah) and standing up to bullies on behalf of nerdy Ethan (Christian Dell’Edera), the latter of which allows him to exhibit some menacing physical skills. Whether Harrison is the opposite of Dexter, or secretly the same, is teased at regular intervals, all as we’re given glimpses of a masked murderer who’s holding his prey captive in a secret locked bedroom—thus implying that he’s the individual behind the spate of missing girls that plagues Angela.
What ensues is standard-issue Dexter fare, with Dexter trying to conceal his crimes from the very people closest to him—namely Angela, whose investigation sets up shop right in Dexter’s front yard just to maximize the messiness of the killer’s dilemma. Dexter finds himself covering up a homicide as well as keeping tabs on his girlfriend’s police work, not to mention dealing with Harrison (and his potentially deadly nature) and Kurt, who doesn’t take long to begin acting shady. Those familiar with Dexter’s prior outings will have no trouble staying two steps ahead of New Blood, resulting in a return-engagement tale that feels like it’s chosen the most conservative route possible, replete with the promise of future cameos (namely, John Lithgow).
Phillips has guaranteed an end to Dexter’s saga that will “blow up the internet,” but at least on the basis of New Blood’s early installments, there are few tricks left up the show’s sleeve. Hall’s lead performance is the main reason to stick with the revival, as the actor continues to compellingly develop the maniac’s caught-between-two-worlds duality, which has him eager for normalcy and yet hungry for righteous bloodshed. It’s therefore too bad that this latest season doesn’t give him a particularly exciting or unique predicament with which to grapple. There’s scant tension to still be derived from the prospect of Dexter being caught and exposed as the lunatic that he is, nor much exciting drama from the idea of him becoming a new man. New Blood may eventually choose one of those options for its own conclusion, but at this late date, it feels like most of the life has been drained out of Dexter’s story.