Dexter Morgan is remembered alongside Jaime Lannister and Patty Hewes as one of the greatest antiheroes in the Golden Age of Television, and for a time, all three of these characters were flying high.
But in the end, none of them could stick the landing.
If you don’t know what to watch next, Showtime’s Dexter (2006-2013) is available to stream on Netflix. The crime drama mystery series is James Manos, Junior’s, adaptation of the 2004 novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.
Leading man Michael C. Hall and guest start John Lithgow both won Golden Globe Awards in 2010 for their portrayals of the Bay Harbor Butcher himself and the iconic Trinity Killer, respectively.
Dexter is a forensic blood spatter analyst for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department moonlighting as a serial killer who murders other serial killers.
His adoptive father, the late Detective Harry Morgan (James Remar), secretly raised him to act on his violent sociopathy as a vigilante.
In order to blend into the civilian crowd, Dexter enters a relationship with the fragile Rita Bennett (Julie Benz) as part of his double life, and because his adoptive sister, Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter), works homicide at Miami Metro, his criminal lifestyle threatens all he has.
The show overstays its welcome by about three or four seasons, but for the first half of its run, it is both a playful dark comedy as well as an astute psychological thriller, fashioning a sharp character study of a psychopath whose victims deserve it.
At its best-written, Hall’s dry voiceover narrates Dexter’s truth, when so much of the character’s life is performance. At its worst, it is repetitive, lazy exposition for onscreen events we can already see for ourselves.
The supporting cast is unevenly characterized also, sometimes to satisfactory effect, only for most of their promising developments to be forgotten about in service of some contrived new conflict.
Filler abounds in the later seasons, and, sometimes, the lattermost villains are unmemorable (the cliched Eastern European hitman, “the Wolf” (Ray Stevenson), in the seventh season; the been-there-done-that “Brain Surgeon” (Darri Ingolfsson) in the eighth season).
Other times, they’re ridiculous (the laughable “Doomsday Killer” (Colin Hanks) in the sixth season).
Much ink has been spilled about the finale, which could’ve been passable without the whack at an ambiguous, open-ended coda tacked onto the end.
To the showrunner’s credit, it is uncanny that Dexter could salvage enough material for its fourth (and best) season after a second season that would have been the last season for any other drama.
While can be argued that it should have ended with the bloody, poetic climax of the fourth season, one of the most game-changing twists of all time, the fifth season is still watchable.
Too bad the same can’t be said for the sixth season.
Even then, there are still two more seasons to go before it’s put out of its misery.
Dexter is a classic example of TV milking its appeal dry until it becomes a pale shadow of its former self, rather than blowing out on a high note like AMC’s Breaking Bad (2008-2013).
It is a cautionary tale that any premise, no matter how ingenious, will be known for how unwatchable it becomes past its shelf life.
For the masterpiece it could’ve been, quit bingeing at the fourth season, and for more of what makes it entertaining, the fifth season.
For the example it’s made of itself in TV history, subject yourself to the slow, painful end.