Dexter Revisited: TV’s Favorite Serial Killer To Return in Prequel Show

Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan
Courtesy of Showtime

Looking forward to the upcoming prequel series, the following contains spoilers for Dexter and Dexter: New Blood

The Dexter franchise is officially continuing with Dexter: Original Sin, a prequel series that tells the story of the title character in his younger days as an intern with the Miami Metro Police Department. To recast Dexter, along with many of the other original heroes, is a bold move (albeit not quite as bold as the ending of Dexter: New Blood). That such a series has been greenlit is a sign of the enduring legacy and impact of Dexter, both as a show and a character, even without Michael C. Hall. And, as such, now is the perfect time to reflect back on the two previous iterations of Dexter and look ahead at what’s to come with the new prequel series.

LaGuerta, Angel, and Dexter in the Miami PD in Dexter

When Dexter premiered on Showtime in 2006, it arrived in a transitioning era in which television was still viewed as lesser in quality and prestige than film. The tide was beginning to change though as shows like HBO’s The Sopranos demonstrated the craft of storytelling and character development that mature television series can achieve. Along with The Sopranos and a select group of other shows that aired in the early 2000s, Dexter was another show evidencing that the quality of TV can match, if not exceed, what audiences can see in the movie theater. Original showrunner Clyde Phillips made this happen by embracing both sides of the divide, fusing together a cinematic quality of character and story development with a semi-serialized story. 

Dexter followed a man named Dexter Morgan, who not only solves murder as a blood spatter expert for Miami Police, but he also commits murders. A psychopath with an addiction to killing, Dexter mitigates the damage his violent inclinations can cause by exclusively targeting bad people. His policewoman sister Debra (played by Jennifer Carpenter) and array of friends and co-workers (including David Zayas’ Angel Batista and C.S. Lee’s Vince Masuka) are completely unaware that the charming and seemingly innocent Dexter is a prolific serial killer.

The first few seasons of Dexter had a simple structure: each season had an overarching enemy for Hall’s character, and each episode within a given season would have Dexter deal with a lesser antagonist whose story could be wrapped up within an hour of television. The latter was a clear sign of the show’s medium, invoking some of the most popular network TV shows like The X-Files. Conversely, the lead villain for each season typically (especially with Season 4’s Trinity Killer), had a story that was thematically rich and delved deep into the psyche of the charismatic and sociopathic character of Dexter Morgan.

Trinity is the most prominent example of such a lead villain. Season 4 reintroduces Dexter as a father living in the suburbs, struggling to maintain a life as a husband/dad while continuing to manage his addiction to killing, psychopathy, and side-career as a serial killer. It is at this intersection of these two competing identities that Dexter thrived as a show. On the surface, Dexter is a productive employee for Miami Metro and a caring husband and brother. Below the surface, however, was a man struggling with what is, at its heart, an issue of addiction. Underlying all of this was a deep desire to be normal and loved. Season 4, perhaps better than any season of the show, excelled in highlighting the moral and emotional complexities of Dexter. This was done by conveying Dexter’s growing relationship with Trinity, another serial killer with a seemingly normal home life, as Dexter tried to learn from Trinity how he manages to balance murderous tendencies with familial obligations.

What happens next is one of the reasons why Dexter works so well as a show, and why it continues to be so popular to this day. Dexter has many opportunities to kill Trinity (and, thus, satisfy his craving for murder and his requirement of only murdering bad people), but he chooses not to in order to study Trinity, a decision that leads to an unimaginable consequence—the death of his wife Rita. Unlike a vast majority of other television series, many of which often neglect to highlight any serious ramifications for a character’s actions, Dexter was not only willing but actively looking to punish its lead character for his misdeeds. The audience can see the suffering that Dexter goes through, and how negatively it impacts those around him, which means that there are real emotional stakes in place for all the characters. 

Julie Benz as Rita in Dexter

Throughout Dexter, as well as its sequel series New Blood, the audience is typically attracted to sympathizing with the title character and to viewing him as a hero. The writers know this, but they are also aware of the fact that many of his actions do not align with that of a protagonist, hence why Dexter goes through so much hardship and is so nearly caught on many occasions. It is that incredibly unique, one-of-a-kind relationship that the audience has with Dexter that has been so critical to the show’s enduring appealing. When things are going well, the audience is conditioned to know that it won’t last, aware that more stress and dissolution of Dexter’s personal life is coming as he continues down this dark path.

The other major aspect of the intense interest in Dexter as a character, and one that relates directly to the morally gray area that he occupies, is that his story can be described as one big tragedy. His life began with witnessing the brutal murder of his mother, and his adoptive father chose to deal with Dexter’s demons by channeling them and forcing him to become a killer. As his sister Deb notes in the later seasons, what Dexter was pushed to do as a teenager was child abuse in every sense of the term, and it feels as if Dexter’s path was chosen for him rather than him holding any sort of autonomy in his own life. Dexter’s father’s actions are one of many vital reasons why audiences not only sympathize, but actively pity Dexter. He is traumatized and the viewer can see his good intentions, like how he is surprisingly caring and loving with kids. That being said, his good intentions are not always rewarded, nor are his good actions (of which there are several, despite the fact that he is a serial killer). Rather, it is those murderous actions that determine his fate, and help define his life as a tragedy. Eventually, Dexter’s family is torn apart as Dexter finally comes to the conclusion that his murderous ways only spell trouble for those he loves.

Relocating to the snowy, fictional small town of Iron Lake, New York, a saddened Dexter lives in isolation and deprived of murder as punishment for his sins. Eventually, this self-imposed punishment is upended when Dexter’s son Harrison arrives on the scene. Harrison, like Dexter, possesses a ‘dark passenger,’ one that draws him to a life of murder and death. An excellent series of television in Dexter: New Blood comes to an end in tragic fashion, however, as Harrison eventually kills his father Dexter in order to stop him from becoming a serial killer once again. 

Dexter and his son Harrison
Michael C. Hall and Jack Alcott in Dexter: New Blood. Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.

The audience knows that Dexter does wrong, and they know that everything is leading to pure chaos and destruction, both for the character and his loved ones. Still, viewers keep coming back, sympathizing with Dexter despite his murderous tendencies and tuning in to hope that his fate won’t be as saddening as they expect. This sentiment leads us seamlessly to Dexter: Original Sin, which looks set to double down on the mistreatment the character endured and tap into the audience’s “can’t help but like him” feeling. Admittedly irrational, especially given that no one would dare associate with an individual like Dexter in real life, this feeling sums up the gray area that the show lives and thrives in. Whether he is portrayed as a protagonist (killing his biological brother and saving his adopted sister) or an antagonist (killing a defenseless, code-breaking Logan in New Blood), viewers are attached to Dexter, hence why Showtime has opted to bring the franchise back, albeit without the original performers.

Dexter: Original Sin will attempt to reignite audience fascination with the killer, this time without Michael C. Hall, who is replaced by Irish actor Patrick Gibson. Gibson, whose previous work includes The OA and Shadow and Bone, will play a 20-year-old Dexter in a show that will chronicle how it all began. Gibson is joined by Christian Slater, who will play his father Harry Morgan, and Molly Brown, who will play his sister Deb. Younger versions of other fan-favorite characters from the original series return, including Angel Batista (now played by James Martinez), Maria LaGuerta (now played by Christina Milian), and Vince Masuka (now played by Alex Shimizu).

With Dexter: New Blood ending so definitively (both narratively in killing Dexter and thematically in conveying that Dexter is a bad guy worthy of punishment), there seemingly was no future for the once-hit series. Rumors circulated about a possible Trinity Killer spin-off/origins series before Showtime eventually announced the prequel series Dexter: Original Sin. Production has started on the series, with original Dexter actor Michael C. Hall delivering a loving message to the cast and crew. The show will essentially serve as Season 0 of Dexter and will likely play much like the early seasons of the show, in which Dexter dealt with his psychopathy and addiction to murder by killing bad people. An actor of Christian Slater’s caliber joining the fold speaks to the appeal of the new material, while there is plenty to explore here in terms of how Dexter developed his bloodthirsty urges with the guidance of his father Harry. How Dexter: Original Sin will ultimately pan out remains a mystery, although there are encouraging signs. And, for a nearly 20-year-old television series, Dexter is showing that, despite dying in Dexter: New Blood, there are still stories to tell with television’s favorite serial killer.

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