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We thought Dexter tanked in front of Breaking Bad. But Phillips redeemed it with New Blood

While Breaking Bad became a fixture on Netflix, Dexter was left as a cautionary tale. With New Blood, it's not the case anymore.

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For both long-time fans and OTT viewers, the American crime series Dexter: New Blood succeeds in satisfying popular taste and stays true to its original charm.

A man clad in khaki from head to toe runs through a forest in peak winter, carrying a hunting rifle as Iggy Pop’s 1977 classic “The Passenger” plays in the background. He “rides and rides” on the snowy grounds until he spots a white deer and aims the rifle at it. But he cannot bring himself to pull the trigger and collapses to his knees. At this point, the music fades out and the camera’s focus has switched to the man’s face — Dexter Morgan is back.

We last saw this iconic vigilante — who targets other serial killers to satisfy his inner violent urges — inexplicably faking his death during a hurricane in September 2013. In doing so, Dexter left behind his ‘forensic blood-spatter analyst by day, murderer by night’ Miami life in tatters to go on to become a lumberjack in the Pacific Northwest.

This original ending played out as awfully on screen as it sounds on paper. Make no mistake, the finale to Dexter’s eighth season was roundly reviled and considered among the worst TV series conclusions ever made.

Fast-forward to 2022, however, and we learn that Dexter — played by Michael C. Hall — has moved once again. While he is still a lumberjack, he has taken on the role of an ammunition store clerk under an alias in the sleepy small town of Iron Lake in New York.

As such, New Blood is not only Dexter’s second chance at a fulfilling, violence-free life but also a shot at redemption for the series’ writing staff.

In media interviews promoting the miniseries, head writer Clyde Phillips promised a “definitive”, “inevitable” ending that would “blow up the internet”.

This past weekend’s finale didn’t come anywhere close to Succession or Better Call Saul levels of popularity online, but Phillips and his team can hold their heads up high for getting two out of three right.

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The costs of not knowing when to go out on top

September 2013 was a wildly different time for international television series and viewers. The OTT wars were non-existent, as Netflix was king. Indian fans had to either rely on the erratic schedules of Star World and AXN, or sail the high seas of piracy and Torrenting.

Particularly significant was the week between 22 and 29 September, as two award-winning shows that had kick-started the golden age of American television reached their conclusions. One was, of course, a once-compelling Dexter in steep decline, four years after Clyde Phillips had quit and Scott Buck had taken the writing reins. The other was Breaking Bad, which started strong and peaked at the perfect time, serving up an ending for the ages.

Divergent finales meant contrasting legacies for the following decade. Breaking Bad has remained a permanent popular fixture on Netflix, spawning a prequel series and a sequel film. Meanwhile, Dexter was quickly consigned to a niche-streaming service in Voot, largely used as a punching bag by its own fans and a cautionary tale by writers.

But from 2006 to 2011, the first few seasons of Dexter had a sizable impact on viewers in urban India. We were now exposed to violent angrezi shows on primetime television that didn’t shy away from openly depicting blood and gore, focused on morally questionable characters and often went past what was otherwise considered acceptable by the censor board at the time. Such content is a dime a dozen now due to the rise of OTT platforms, but in the late 2000s, your cool quotient depended on whether you could stomach “adult” shows like Dexter.

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Correcting past wrongs

Dexter: New Blood straddles the balance between a standalone miniseries for new viewers to pick up and a sequel to satisfy long-time fans.

The storyline’s time lapse helps a great deal here in trimming the excess that had beset the original series, as the previous supporting characters and their inane, meandering subplots have made way for a faster, more streamlined focus on Dexter himself.

And this is where Michael C. Hall seamlessly slips back into his most famous role, delivering perfectly in every scene with help from a strong ensemble — especially his on-screen chemistry with Clancy Brown of Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Spongebob Squarepants (2004) fame.

Across the 10-episode run, Hall convinces the audience to get used to a more vulnerable Dexter who is out of practice in covering up his crimes in Iron Lake and desperate to maintain close relations with his police chief girlfriend (Julia Jones) and estranged son, Harrison (Jack Alcott).

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‘Only Murders’ meets ‘Wind River’ to modernise ‘Dexter’

Hall’s evergreen acting prowess is well-documented by now, as shown by his five Emmy nominations for Dexter. Unlike in seasons five to eight, Hall is no longer the show’s sole selling point because the plot actually gives him and the rest of the cast something compelling to work with.

The wintry settings of Iron Lake don’t just act as a simplistic extreme compared to Miami, but also as a poignant backdrop for an exploration of issues faced by Native Americans.

The community rarely features in contemporary American film or television industry, save for Taylor Sheridan’s 2017 mystery film Wind River, which focused on the disappearance and murder of a Native American woman in Wyoming.

Iron Lake may be fake, but New York’s native Seneca tribe is real and their struggles are well-represented in the series. New Blood takes a leaf out of Sheridan’s work by showing large-scale disappearances of women (most of them Seneca) at the hands of another serial killer, in parallel to Dexter’s own crimes.

The historic cases against Dexter and the other killer are then masterfully interwoven through the introduction of a seasoned, true crime podcaster who relentlessly pursues both killers, with the same vigour seen in Only Murders in the Building.

But if nothing else convinces you to give Dexter a second chance, at least keep an eye out for the masterful montages, particularly their bone-chilling usage of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” when depicting the women’s disappearances.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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