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Television

Dexter: New Blood is Yet Another Master Class in Failure

Showtime fails its second attempt at giving a worthy ending to the horrific and exhilarating exploits of Dexter Morgan.

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When Showtime announced Dexter was getting a second chance to make right its laughably bad series finale that insulted fans almost a decade ago, I was both cautiously optimistic and understandably indifferent. The bar was set so incredibly low by the writers, producers, and showrunners that I thought it seemed virtually impossible for Dexter: New Blood to fail at concluding the Bay Harbor Butcher's story with some sense of satisfaction.

Holy moly was I wrong.

The travesty that was the latter half of the original series put an end to a fatigued show that began as an adequate adaptation of Jeff Lindsay's early novels. With the titular character faking his own death in a hurricane and relocating to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, Dexter was able to figuratively wash his hands of the show's abysmal writing and technically start anew. However, sporting a poorly applied Hollywood beard and lumberjack attire did nothing to abate the disappointment of fans as it not only negated the bad, but also the good.

Dexter: New Blood tries to correct this, taking place a decade after the events of the series finale in the fictional rural woodsy town of Iron Lake, New York. Gone are the sunny skies and tall palm trees of Miami, as well as the vicious visual metaphors in Dexter's breakfast that made up the original show's clever title sequence.

We're ignorant of the details leading up to Dexter's new life, but he's managed to settle in quite nicely as "Jim Lindsay." Instead of bringing baked goods to the oblivious police officers of Miami Metro, he now brings them to the sporting gear store where he is employed. He's fondly known around town by the locals, has a girlfriend, maintains a small goat farm at his cozy cabin in the woods, and has remained mostly hidden from the permanent etchings of social media.

Like Dexter, the town has a dark past of its own. A litany of missing person cases that have amassed over a quarter of a century around Iron Lake remain unsolved, a chilling reminder through the various flyers of victims pinned to a board at the local police station that evil lurks about.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter in Dexter: New Blood (2022)

Michael C. Hall as Dexter in Dexter: New Blood (2022)

Showtime

The show begins with a quick look at Jim's morning routine before heading into town. As he cruises along an empty stretch of pavement, he catches the attention of law enforcement after passing a police cruiser nestled behind a large sign, getting pulled over further down the road. The female police officer slowly walks up to his truck window, her hand already situated on her gun holster, and contentiously asks him for his identification. As she peeps into the interior of his truck, Jim foolishly stumbles to cover an open set of knives comfortably resting in plain sight on the passenger seat. He hands over his ID, she glances at him and the assorted blades, then immediately demands he exit the vehicle.

As the scene plays out atop daunting music, we're supposed to believe Dexter has been caught at the very beginning of a new series, but the first of many amateur twists that surprises nobody fizzles out as the two of them embrace and smack lips on the side of the road. Moments later, she's riding Jim like a stallion in the back seat of her police unit and thus is our introduction to Police Chief Angela Bishop, Jim's girlfriend, who has engaged him in a couple's roleplaying sexcapade. It's cheap, contrived, doesn't pay a single dividend, and has been done a million times in other shows. It sets the stage for an arc of misfires, sloppy writing, and terrible characters that are now commonplace in virtually every modern Hollywood production.

New Blood follows the same formula of the series that preceded it; there is a serial killer in the midst of this quaint little town that awakens Dexter's killer instinct. He'll navigate through ludicrous obstacles and hurdles incognito, maintaining his innocuous profile to prevent not only his cop girlfriend, but the entire community of Iron Lake from learning his true identity. This proves to be more challenging when he's confronted by his now adolescent son Harrison who manages to track him down in hopes of getting answers as to why his father abandoned him.

On its face, this a solid platform in which to revive the series and try again, but New Blood repeats the same mistakes that ruined the original series. Characters, including Dexter himself, are incredibly stupid and cliché, plot elements are too derivative and rushed, and the show somehow manages to forget the importance of Dexter's meticulous training to temper his desires over the course of the last ten years. There is no indication that Dexter has killed anyone since faking his death and yet he seems to have lived his life quiet, comfortably, and without incident. If he can control his Dark Passenger by simply moving out into the woods and establish seemingly healthy relationships with the people around him, what was the point of the lessons his father Harry taught him during his life in Miami? Why should we care about him now?

New Blood plays out as messy and disorganized as the seasons that justified its existence. Dexter's ten-year hiatus of slicing and dicing ends after he meets and later kills local town asshole Matt Caldwell, a personality trait he apparently hasn't run into for an entire decade. Matt is a poorly manufactured idiot who excuses his ridiculous behavior to a bad upbringing, most notably referenced by a reckless boating accident in his past that killed five people, and only exists to put a series of unfortunate events into motion. Dexter's disposal of his body doesn't go as smoothly as planned because he's rusty, but it's of no concern because police dogs are unable to detect human blood when it's hastily covered with snow by a boot or shovel.

Clancy Brown as Kurt Caldwell in Dexter: New Blood (2022)

Clancy Brown as Kurt Caldwell in Dexter: New Blood (2022)

Showtime

Matt's buffoonery is amazingly outmatched by his father, Kurt Caldwell, who appears after Matt goes missing. He ends up being the series' antagonist that has a side hobby coaxing women into a guest room at a private cabin, locking them in, watching them freak out through a camera, then letting them go just before blasting them with a rifle. Kurt is played by the talented Clancy Brown, but the character's malevolent rapport is unintimidating because of the sheer stupidity of Iron Lake's police force helmed by incompetent idiots that allow him to deliberately lie and repeatedly obstruct police investigations without consequence. It's yet another non-surprise when he's exposed as the serial killer that's been terrorizing and murdering lost causes stranded in Iron Lake for over twenty years. His motivations are absurd, making blatant mistakes and obvious mannerisms that catch the ire of Dexter, yet fail to exercise the slightest wit of anyone wearing a badge.

This isn't the biggest disappointment of the show, though. New Blood's ultimate flaw falls on Dexter's inability to bond with a son who is struggling to reconcile his troubled past. Both of them want to understand each other's lives and be a part of them, but the writers keep them at arm's length until the 11th hour. Every scene of them together is forcibly brittle, whether it's Harrison angrily escaping to his room when Dexter wants to talk or Dexter desperate to know if Harrison copes with his own Dark Passenger. For all of Dexter's protestations of protecting his progeny that went as far back as the Dexter season four finale, he watches his son suffering from antisocial behavior while doing nothing about it. It's uncharacteristic given the sacrifices Dexter has made and flies in the face of his own narration, but the show repeatedly justifies it with pointless distractions.

Jack Alcott as Harrison in Dexter: New Blood (2022)

Jack Alcott as Harrison in Dexter: New Blood (2022)

Showtime

The frustrating lack of atmosphere in New Blood forces the show to carry too much dead weight, another familiar and problematic symptom of the original series. Dexter's consciousness in the form of his father Harry has been replaced with his sister Debra who instead berates and screams at him, offering none of the guidance and utility Harry once provided. There is an Indian tribe used to instill background importance to the town that ends up having no meaningful relevance. Angela teams up with a true crime podcast host so utterly annoying that you root for her demise in the worst possible way. Harrison's relationships with fellow high school students are a constant rollercoaster of stereotypes he can't relate to. And it's easy to forget the oil tycoon contending with environmental protesters in early episodes because he inexplicably disappears afterwards and isn't seen or mentioned again.

Dexter's eventual demise is painfully fashioned by coincidences that manifest themselves into dumb luck. Angela begins to piece together his true identity by just so happening to encounter Angel Batista, a former colleague of Dexter from Miami. He just so happens to mention Dexter's son's name during a conversation about the Bay Harbor Butcher at a police convention she just so happens to have planned to go to in New York City. It gives Angela the motivation to unveil Dexter's history, turn against him, and take the reigns as protagonist without genuinely earning it. These coincidences happen entirely too often across numerous plot lines and don't give the characters merit or credibility, detaching any emotional investment for the good people of Iron Lake and wishing upon a star that a meteor would annihilate the town's entire population.

By the end of the season, Dexter is back on the lam, but his fate ends up at the barrel of a gun. It's a disappointingly fitting end to a disappointing season as Harrison is forced to shoot his own father to end the mayhem of the Bay Harbor Butcher and discontinue further meddling in his quest for normalcy. The reasoning is somewhat sound; Dexter's code to enforce his serial killer desires on those who deserve justice has exceptions for the innocent when necessary. Harrison's learns his wrestling coach is such a victim during Dexter's escape and it unlocks the realization that father and son are nothing alike. Harrison states his belligerent and dangerous behavior aren't a genetic inheritance for bloodlust, but anger and resentment for being abandoned. It's an important consideration that could've been explored much sooner in the show, but arrives too little, too late.

Harrison leaves Iron Lake with the help of Angela, closing a confusing and painful chapter of his life. Notwithstanding the severe emotional scars he exhibited throughout the entire show, murdering his own father seems to have little impact on Harrison's disposition. It makes no sense and further demonstrates the severe lack of nuances and idiosyncrasies well-written characters typically convey.

Dexter: New Blood is yet another master class in failure. Despite the excellent work of Michael C. Hall as Dexter, Jennifer Carpenter returning as Debra as if she's been vacuum-sealed since the previous show, and the promising acting chops of Jack Alcott as Harrison, New Blood becomes an exhausting endeavor by repeating what didn't work before it. It's lazy and safe, falling back on a lack of imagination because it doesn't have the confidence to deeply explore the dark, psychological enigmas it forces onto its characters. New Blood was supposed to give a worthy ending to the horrific and exhilarating exploits of Dexter Morgan, but instead continues Hollywood's track record of employing people who are terrible at writing people.

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