Dexter Morgan will slay his last victims in the show’s final, eighth season that kicks off Sunday at 8 p.m. on Showtime.
It’s about time.
When it began in 2006, “Dexter” was a unique series, one of the early efforts at programming about a character with a secret life whose secret must be held tightly — otherwise, the premise of the show collapses. Many programs in this dramatic sub-genre have followed. While “Dexter” chronicles the murders of a secret serial killer, AMC’s “Breaking Bad” is about a secret meth maker and Showtime’s own “Nurse Jackie” follows a once-secret drug addict and adulteress.
Ultimately, to keep from running in place, these shows have to allow their big secret to get out, at first just to a trusted few. But it’s a difficult transition for a show to make. While “Breaking Bad” painted itself into corners and almost always found plausible, creative escapes, “Dexter” followed a more tortured path of uneven storytelling that saw creative highs (John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer) and lows (The Doomsday Killers).
If producers had called it a day after the show’s near-flawless first season, “Dexter” would be, qualitatively, one of the best shows ever on TV. But that’s not how TV networks operate.
In recent seasons, “Dexter” has upped the dramatic ante by having his not-blood-relative sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) declare her romantic love for him and discover his secret identity. The show’s seventh season ended with Lt. Maria LaGuerta discovering Dexter’s secret; Deb shot and killed her for it.
As season eight begins, six months have passed since Deb murdered LaGuerta, and while Dexter has moved on — supposedly even having what appears to be a one-night stand, which seems fairly un-Dexter-like — Deb is a mess. She’s abusing alcohol and drugs and is generally disgusted with herself.
“You made me compromise everything about myself that I care about and I hate you for it,“ she tells Dexter, angrily. ”I shot the wrong person in that trailer.”
Deb has quit the Miami police force and is now working for a private investigator (Sean Patrick Flannery) — when she’s not on a bender.
Back at Miami homicide, LaGuerta’s death prompts Angel (David Zayas) to rethink his retirement. He’s now in charge and encouraging Quinn (Desmond Harrington) to take the sergeant’s exam.
When the “Dexter” writers introduced Quinn, he seemed like a fill-in for suspicious-of-Dexter Doakes, whom Dexter killed. The writers got away from that and this season Quinn proves his worth as a valuable cog in the show’s storytelling machine, particularly as it relates to Deb.
There’s also a new female cop on the squad, but the show doesn’t bother telling us her full name — Angie Miller, played by Dana Wilson — until the fourth episode.
The new season introduces another serial killer, who splices out pieces of victims’ brains and deposits them on the doorstep of Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling, classing up the joint), a psychiatrist with a link to Dexter and his father’s code for how Dexter should satisfy his need to kill. Her introduction can be seen as retroactive continuity of a sort, and that may annoy some “Dexter” fans, but her involvement is also believable on some level.
Where is this all heading? Who knows. But it certainly seems possible that police blood-spatter expert Dexter (Michael C. Hall) will be outed to his colleagues as a killer; that he’s (mostly) followed a code to only kill those who have perpetrated murder may not matter much in the eyes of his law-enforcement co-workers.
And yet, unlike “Breaking Bad,” which has taken its cancer-stricken-high-school-teacher-turned-meth-maker down a darker path that invites viewers to despise Walter White as he becomes a villain, “Dexter” still sets up its title character as a likable anti-hero. As both series come to an end this summer, it will be interesting to see if the positioning of the characters results in similar or different swan songs.