I’m basically Switzerland,” says Dexter Morgan, wisely abstaining from taking sides in an argument between dog parents about the naming of a pup. Now Morgan—as you and I know from the long-running serial-killer series Dexter—is far from neutral, but he really is trying. The sequel series Dexter: New Blood (streaming in India on Voot) places him in a frosty little upstate town, far from the heat (and bloodlust) of Miami, and he is attempting his very best to play “normal”.
The character he has created in this small town is called “Jim Lindsay”—in reference to the writer of the Dexter novels, Jeff Lindsay—and “Jim” is a folksy guy whose routine includes taking baked goods for the boss in a pink box every morning. Dexter viewers will remember the blood-splatter analyst who used to carry doughnuts for his Miami police department colleagues, but the sheer pinkness of the box feels like a sly dig at another show about a guy too nice to be for real: I believe Dexter is hinting that Ted Lasso may snap any day now and break out the knives.
Dexter: New Blood opens with the most self-aware of song choices. Right through the eight seasons of Dexter—which ended with a truly lousy finale back in 2013, leaving Dexter (and his viewers) abruptly out in the cold—the killer had blamed his murderous impulses on a shadowy alter ego, a “dark passenger”. Just when poor Dexter Morgan seemed to be sorting himself out, the passenger would compel him to slice into another victim. Original showrunner Clyde Phillips had left Dexter after the stellar fourth season featuring John Lithgow as the “Trinity Killer”, perhaps aware the show’s passengers (and growing ratings) were bound to steer it wrong. Now Phillips returns, opening the sequel series with Iggy Pop’s delicious song The Passenger. La la la la lalalala, indeed.
Dexter, which ran from 2006-13, straddled the line between prestige drama and pulp television. Highly compelling and increasingly melodramatic, it told us about a killer who worked in the Miami police department and cut up bad guys who escaped the system. Despite its sensational opening credits—featuring blood oranges being sliced and juiced for breakfast—and solid performances from leading man Michael C. Hall and seasonal guest stars like Lithgow and Jimmy Smits, the show was sticky TV that didn’t pretend to be high art. Even at its sharpest, it was a paperback.
It is, therefore, reassuring to see the sequel being true to its spirit. Dexter’s playing nice, guided by the ghost of his dead sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) instead of his dead guardian Harry (James Remar), but the world around him appears to be getting darker and people…well, it really isn’t that hard to look around and spot someone who deserves to be killed. His ties with the police department continue as he’s now dating the police chief Angela Bishop (Julia Jones) and while he might not have a boat in the Miami harbour to go dispose of corpses, he realises icy lakes have holes in them. Covering up tracks in the snow, however, may be another thing.
Still Morgan is, as he says, an “evolving” serial killer. He announces he doesn’t need to collect the blood of his victims on microscope slides (which he used to hide neatly and obsessively behind air-conditioning vents) and, after some initial hesitation—Debra the ghost is unfortunately a bland buzzkill unlike Debra the spunky sister—he even admits to being Dexter Morgan when he lets his son Harrison back into his life.
The first episode gives us Dexter looking longingly at knives, sneaking around with cleavers, being pulled over by the police. These are all false scares—the one pulling him over is his girlfriend, and the confrontation is foreplay— and could seem tedious coming one after the other if not for Michael C. Hall, who has always given Dexter a stolid sincerity. There’s something satisfying about watching that character still trying—in vain—to wrestle his demons and find himself a target.
How I waited for Dex to break out the plastic sheets. We are used to more depth in TV dramas now but Dexter: New Blood feels like one of those simplistic Marvel-Netflix shows—it’s like The Punisher, if the Punisher preferred monologues over machine-guns. Give it a shot. Tonight’s the night.
“I’m out of practice,” says Dexter. The conflict for the Dexter viewer lies in wanting him to go straight (which is good for the character), which is in diametric odds with our desire to see him deliver comeuppance. His first victim is almost cartoonishly obnoxious, a brat who keeps shoving himself unnecessarily in Dexter’s face. Manslaughter, misbehaviour, irresponsible gun ownership. Everything about this guy is awful, plus he’s a Wall Street guy. That’s the clincher. When it comes to Dexter Morgan vs Morgan Stanley, we know whom to back.
Streaming tip of the week
All five seasons of the influential Canadian sketch-comedy series The Kids In The Hall have dropped on Amazon Prime Video ahead of a new revival series featuring the same talented comics, and I would highly recommend it. Daft, delightful and dashed difficult to forget.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film and TV critic, screenwriter and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.