By JENN ADAMS
*The following contains major spoilers for DEXTER: NEW BLOOD.
America’s most lovable serial killer, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is back! The red-headed murderer with a heart of gold returns in DEXTER: NEW BLOOD, a continuation of the award winning Showtime series Dexter. Eight years after the titular blood spatter analyst drove his boat into the eye of a Miami hurricane, Dexter emerges, this time as Jim Lindsay, a peaceful outdoorsman in the remote town of Iron Creek, New York. He’s managed to control his urge to kill by isolating himself and stalking wild game in the snowy forests near his log cabin. But his Dark Passenger begins to resurface and Dexter finds himself falling back into old and deadly patterns. Combined with the return of his now teenage son Harrison (Jack Alcott), it’s only a matter of time before the life he’s so desperately tried to create comes crashing down around him. DEXTER: NEW BLOOD argues that maybe it’s time for the secrecy and lies to end.
After ten years and a series finale universally loathed by fans, many asked why the series would reboot now? What does a new chapter in Dexter’s story have to offer? Quite a bit, as it turns out! With the return of Dexter’s son Harrison, now old enough to understand his father’s true identity, this new chapter explores themes only hinted at in the previous series and questions the entire premise upon which Dexter has built his life. By examining Harrison’s tendencies towards violence and comparing Dexter’s response with that of his own father, DEXTER: NEW BLOOD presents a powerful example of reparenting and recovery. Dexter has a chance to give his son the compassionate acceptance he never received and to guide Harrison on a more positive path. For eight seasons we watched Dexter struggle to hide his true self from the world, convinced that his trauma made him a monster. DEXTER: NEW BLOOD continues this tradition, but argues that human connection, not isolation, is what ultimately heals the wounds of the past.
The original Showtime series spent eight seasons developing the lore and backstory of its iconic killer. As a child, Dexter witnesses the brutal murder of his mother and is left for days in a shipping container with her body. This trauma causes him to have violent, intrusive thoughts that he personifies as his “Dark Passenger.” Shocked when he sees his adoptive son developing into a burgeoning psychopath, Harry (James Remar) develops a rigid code to try to contain Dexter’s destructive impulses. A police officer frustrated with loopholes in the justice system, Harry turns Dexter into a vigilante killer and points him towards murderers he, himself was unable to bring to legal justice. For years, he teaches Dexter to hide his pain and channel the violent manifestation of his trauma by murdering people he deems acceptable prey. Harry believes he is acting in Dexter’s best interest, but he exploits his son’s pain to serve his own agenda and denies him access to healthy emotional support.
Though Harry clearly cares about his adopted son, Dexter is raised with the belief that his trauma makes him a monster. Flashbacks show Harry constantly telling his troubled son that the world would never accept him if they knew the truth about his dark thoughts and is taught to hide his emotions at all costs. Fearing that Dexter would be institutionalized, he coaches him to tell anyone in authority the exact opposite of what he is feeling to avoid detection as a monster. While protecting Dexter in the short term, this instills a deep sense of self-loathing in the boy. He is taught to distrust his own emotions and grows up believing that his pain is a secret shame he must hide from the world.
A later season revelation that Harry killed himself after seeing the results of his guidance, only amplifies Dexter’s belief in his monstrosity. He becomes convinced that no one, not even the father who claimed to accept him, could ever live with the knowledge of who he truly is. In Iron Lake, he lives under an assumed identity, lying to everyone he knows about his past, desperate to fit in and avoid the suspicion he fears. His intrusive thoughts now take the form of his late sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) who constantly reminds him of the ruin he will bring to those he loves if he is honest about how he feels. Over the course of eight seasons, Dexter struggled to find someone who would accept him for who he truly is. But the deep well of self-loathing caused by a father who saw him as a monster continues to prevent him from receiving the kind of help that could actually ease his pain for good.
Born in the same blood as his father, Harrison also witnessed the brutal murder of his mother and sat helplessly with her body for hours. As a result of this extreme trauma, he grows up with the same violent urges and intrusive thoughts that Dexter exhibited as a child. He’s even adopted the weapon of the Trinity Killer (John Lithgow) who murdered his mother with a straight razor. Triggered by a podcast recounting the crime, he orchestrates a scenario in which he is able to attack a potential school shooter with his own razor. Though he likely prevents a horrific tragedy, his intention is to create a consequence-free opportunity to hurt another person. It’s a morally complex plot detail, but serves to show that Harrison is dealing with immense pain and sees no healthy outlet with which to express it.
Abandoned by Dexter as a child, Harrison has no guidance in dealing with his violent urges. Tossed around by the foster care system, he eventually finds a letter from his estranged father mentioning Harrison’s potential darkness. Knowing nothing of his father’s own story, he assumes Dexter’s abandonment was a rejection of the child he saw as fundamentally flawed. This has instilled a deep sense of self-loathing in the boy. Just like his father, he believes that his pain makes him monstrous and that anyone who learns the truth about him will be horrified.
But now father and son have a chance to mend their old wounds. Once Harrison learns the truth about why his father left, he’s able to release the shame he’s been carrying. He learns that he is not alone in the pain he feels and that someone else has lived through the extreme trauma he survived. In a moving scene, Dexter tells him that he doesn’t have to keep hiding his darkness. Dexter understands how he feels and will love him no matter who he is or what he’s been through. Harrison responds by giving his father a heartfelt hug. It’s something neither of them have ever experienced, the feeling of being seen, understood, and accepted. Dexter gives Harrison the unqualified approval he never got from his own father. It’s difficult not to wonder how his life might have unfolded if he had received the same unconditional love.
This honesty seems to give Dexter relief as well. Rather than being horrified when he finds out how many people his father has killed, Harrison is in awe of how many people Dexter has probably saved by killing murderers who would likely kill again. He also finds catharsis in telling his son that he secretly murdered Arthur Miller, the Trinity Killer widely believed to have escaped justice. Harrison can now put years of fears and vengeful fantasies to rest and Dexter can begin to heal a wound left unresolved for decades. Thoughts on vigilante justice are perhaps a conversation for another day, but it’s a striking moment as we see Dexter’s actions reframed as heroic. Harrison’s response is in sharp contrast to Deb, whose discovery of the truth nearly destroyed her. Her ghost is the avatar of Dexter’s shame, a constant reminder of the well-intentioned but nonetheless damaging judgment heaped upon Dexter as a child. Harrison’s presence can be a reminder that redemption is still possible.
Through Harrison, Dexter has the opportunity to reparent himself, giving his son the love he’s always longed for. In a therapy session, Harrison is honest about the trauma of his mother’s death and shocked when his father blatantly lies to hide his true feelings. After years of Harry’s conditioning, he believes there’s no help available for him and that he must conceal his trauma from the world. But it leads to an honest conversation and is one of the first steps down the road to recovery. His lifelong habits will be hard to change, but the peace Dexter finds in his honest connection with his son is a powerful argument against Harry’s lessons of shame and secrecy. Though Dexter is ostensibly guiding his son, Harrison shows his father that there is perhaps another way. Through honestly expressing his feelings and releasing the shame he feels about who he is, there may be healing available for Dexter as well.
DEXTER: NEW BLOOD is currently airing on Showtime.