Note: Spoilers from previous seasons of the show and future episodes.
The general consensus is that Dexter peaked in season 4, elevated by John Lithgow’s outstanding performance as the Trinity Killer and Rita’s shocking death. While it is certainly true that seasons 5 and 6 had ups and downs and never approached the overall quality of season 4 (or 1-3 for that matter), this viewer still found plenty to admire, starting with Michael C. Hall’s always exceptional acting and a great supporting cast. Seasons 5 and 6 were frustrating at times no doubt, but the show remained a good one all things considered.
Season 7 saw Dexter really get its mojo back and become great again. Creatively, having Deb learn the truth was a huge shot in the arm, and Jennifer Carpenter upped her game big time. Season 8, the show’s last, is just as strong (at least through the four episodes Showtime provided). By maintaining a tight focus on the relationship between Dexter and Deb, coupled with exceptional work by Hall and Carpenter, Dexter seems poised to go out on a high note.
Six months have passed since LaGuerta’s death. Dexter is in a good place. He is spending a lot of time with Harrison, back in a bowling league, happy at work, and even engaging in the occasional casual relationship. Of course, this is Dexter, so we know this state of comfort and stability cannot last long.
On the contrary, Deb could not be in worse shape. She left the force and works as a private detective for a nice guy named Elway (Sean Patrick Flanery). Using drugs and alcohol to excess, she has thrown herself into the case of Andrew Briggs (Rhys Coiro), a lowlife jewel thief who skipped bail and is trying to fence $500,000 in stolen goods. Deb wants nothing to do with Dexter, and the two barely speak or see each other, much to his chagrin. He is working on that but is making no progress.
Meanwhile Miami Metro has a serial killer on their hands. Dubbed the Brain Surgeon for removing a small piece of the victim’s brain with skill and precision, the department asks renowned neuropsychiatrist and best-selling author Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling) to consult on the case. Known as “the psychopath whisperer,” she has suddenly returned to Miami after many years away, and seems taken with Dexter.
It turns out that Dr. Vogel and Harry (James Remar) have a past. What exactly that involves and why she is interested in Dexter makes for a fascinating storyline. It isn’t entirely clear if she is friend or foe, but she suspects that the Brain Surgeon is a former patient. Dexter ends up spending a lot of time with her and Hall and Rampling share excellent rapport. The hunt for the Brain Surgeon is sort of routine Dexter fare, but it makes a good excuse for keeping them together, so no complaints.
Just as compelling is Deb’s struggle to persevere after killing LaGuerta. She hates Dexter and doesn’t have much will to live. She is wracked with guilt and her behavior is increasingly reckless. Dexter sees her falling apart and is desperate to help, but Deb blames him for destroying everything she thought was good about herself. Carpenter is easily as good as she’s ever been on the show, vividly portraying Deb’s despair and self-hatred. The scenes between her and Hall, as he tries to save her and she lashes out, are electric.
We also see another side of Dexter this season, or at least a side we very rarely see. He is vulnerable and sad, and really misses his sister. These episodes also directly (and captivatingly) address whether or not Dexter is a monster. Is he making the world a better place by killing people who deserve it? Is he actually capable of having genuine affection for other human beings? How human is he? Or is he evil and destined to destroy everyone he cares about? The subplots are not as interesting. Quinn (Desmond Harrington) is sleeping with Jamie (Aimee Garcia) and there’s friction because she thinks he still has feelings for Deb. Batista (David Zayas) is Lieutenant now and pressures Quinn to take the Sargent’s exam and make something of himself. Masuka (C.S. Lee) might have a college-age daughter. None of it is very engaging.
Luckily there is near laser-like focus on Dexter/Deb and Dexter/Vogel, and those storylines really hum. The performances are outstanding and fertile territory relating to Dexter’s true nature and his relationship with Deb is comprehensively explored. Based on these four episodes, Dexter is going to have one of its best seasons. I can’t wait to see how it all ends, and I miss it already.
Dexter premieres Sunday, June 30th on Showtime.