Dexter: New Blood—New References Don't Quite Revive This Old Story

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<i>Dexter: New Blood</i>&#8212;New References Don't Quite Revive This Old Story

So much of the plot of Showtime’s Dexter: New Blood relies on what is either convenience or irony.

In this new take on the popular series based on Jeff Lindsay’s crime-horror book series, Michael C. Hall’s titular anti-hero is now a former serial killer who only murders people he deems reprehensible and harmful to society. But he decides to come out of retirement at the same time as he receives a visit from his long-abandoned son Harrison (now played by Jack Alcott).

And Dexter Morgan—who goes by small-town hunting and tackle shop employee “Jim Lindsay”—just happens to be in the right place at the right time when the latest man he deems repugnant gives him an excuse to sharpen his knives.

In his new life, his girlfriend Angela Bishop (Julia Jones) is the chief of police, who also happens to style her hair similar to that of his late sister, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter). She’s the one fully alert and committed cop on a force that includes a self-aggrandizing newbie halfwit and a senior member who doubles as the high school wrestling coach. And yet, she doesn’t interrogate the hell out of her beau for answers when his backstory suddenly has holes.

Meanwhile, Angela’s teenage daughter Audrey (Johnny Sequoyah) proudly explains the logo of her MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) T-shirt to her meathead boyfriend, while most townies don’t notice the amount of women (white women, so far) disappearing under their noses.

None of these narratives are particularly bad things and they’re vague enough references to the original series that it’s probably possible for new fans to watch without feeling totally confused (although Hall has offered a list of episodes for novices to view before watching New Blood). But for a show like the first Dexter, fans want more than happenstance. We want it all to come together as part of Dexter Morgan’s grand plan.

That’s because the original Dexter was spicy and intoxicating when it premiered in 2006. Hall’s smirking, secretly sinister serial killer hid his thirst for plunging weapons into body cavities behind his day job swiveling in a lab chair as Miami Metro Police Department’s premiere blood spatter analyst. He was the executioner next door who enjoyed his pork sizzling and his shoelaces properly tightened. He was a by-the-book rule follower who had a code for everything, be it how to eat while driving to how to set up a perfect kill scene. From a repeat drunk driver who got off with fabricated emotions to a father figure in the serial killer hobbyist trade who ended up getting the last laugh, Dexter’s murders were satisfying, clean, (mostly) close-ended, and came with a proper pay-off.

Even Baltimore street kids on HBO’s The Wire were into it.

But a lot has happened since Dexter’s trail went cold in 2013—both for TV’s serial killer and murder genre and for the lead character himself. Shows like NBC’s Hannibal and AMC and BBC America’s Killing Eve have relished in beautiful and enticing stories of sardonic and mischievous blood-thirsty slayers. Podcasts and true-crime programming like Serial, Making a Murderer, The Jinx and My Favorite Murder have—for better or worse—mainstreamed an armchair detective movement. And it’s all had its own ouroboros moment thanks to the recent Hulu comedy series Only Murders In the Building, about three crime podcast nuts who investigate a murder in their apartment complex.

Things have also changed for Showtime as well. Dexter aired during the premium cabler’s peak. Shows like this as well as Weeds and The L Word helped make it an edgier, sardonic and—more-or-less only—rival to HBO. Now, with stalwarts like Shameless and Homeland gone and (excellent) programs like Couples Therapy and Work In Progress catering to very niche audiences while the formulaic Your Honor inexplicably gets renewed, it’s not a surprise that the network is looking for ways to bring—ahem—new blood to old IPs in an attempt to stay relevant in the new landscape of streamers. (And, if this Dexter revival can try to get fans to forget about the last iteration’s much-panned finale, then yes, that too).

And so, 10 years after we saw our friendly neighborhood serial killer trading limbs for lumber in a snowy, wooden wilderness, we find him now in the isolated community of Iron Lake, New York. Before he got back into the business, Jim (nèe Dexter) would spend his nights line dancing and his mornings carefully crossing off each day on his wall calendar with a thick red line. He no longer has visions of his dead adopted father Harry (James Remar), the ex-cop who calmly guided him through kills in the first series. Now he sees Deb, the adopted sister he mercy killed in an epic battle with a hurricane. Deb now manifests his guilt and lies, and comes with a lot more cursing than Harry.

Given this new amount downtime afforded him since he gave up his side hustle, you would think Dexter (sorry, Jim)—who was always so careful to collect every skin flect and blood droplet from his murder scenes—would be hip to the world of murder podcasts. You know, especially since his wife, mother, and brother were either casualties or practitioners of this world. And yet, he’s thrown off when New Blood introduces Jamie Chung as Molly Park, the host of the oh-so-respectfully named podcast, Merry Fucking Kill.

Does Jim not really know about Molly or other true-crime aficionados or is he playing dumb? Does he not have Google alerts set up for things like “Trinity” or “Ice Truck” on the off chance that some of his best work suddenly gets a renewed interest? Even out of curiosity? Is he really squeamish at the site of blood now? Or is he a vampire trying to curb his habit? Did he never really intend for Harrison to find him again? Or was he leaving clues for him all along in case he wanted to get in touch? Does he really like Angela, or is he just using her to keep tabs on local people who may need killing and to stymie his thirst? Will it take Jim long to figure out this season’s Big Bad who is kidnapping women? (Honestly, it took me two episodes out of the four I’ve seen).

Similar to HBO Max’s new take on Gossip Girl, another chapter of a hit show from the aughts that wants to embrace its source material while also finding a place for it in the new pop culture world order, New Blood wants to be all the things. Focusing on Harrison and other teens allows it to broach not only the MMIW movement but other forms of activism and societaly talking points like climate change, bullying, and the opioid epidemic. Setting it in a community near a Seneca reservation and prominently featuring Native and Indigenous talent allows it to discuss plights against those communities as well as the disrespect they are often given by outsiders.

This is certainly a much more progressive storytelling than the first iteration, which featured plenty of characters of color but didn’t give them all a ton of backstory. And, although it’s currently styled as a 10-episode miniseries, TV executives have always seemed to find a way to bend the rules on something that seems finite. (For what it’s worth, we used the show’s Television Critics Association press day panel to ask New Blood showrunner Clyde Phillips if Harrison is meant to be the new in New Blood. He demurred that the subtitle “was really a network decision” and that “this is not the ninth season of Dexter. This is a whole new embodiment of the show; a whole new imaging of the show”).

But, aside from the dollars it will generate, there seems little reason to dig up old stories and fix past mistakes. For those here just for the kills, there needs to be something more to cut into.

Dexter: New Blood premieres Sunday, November 7 on Showtime.

Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, daughter, and very photogenic cat.

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