Dexter revival might not be bad news, but a chance to redeem a once-beloved series

Look past the lumberjack and you'll see there's plenty of potential in revisiting Dexter Morgan.

Dexter (Michael C Hall)

We should all be used by now to 2020 throwing us curveballs, but all the same the news that Dexter would be returning for a new 10-part limited series – seven years on from its controversial and widely criticised series finale – left TV Twitter shaken last night. Pity whoever was in charge of Showtime’s social media, with the response proving largely negative to the prospect of a comeback for the Bay Harbor Butcher.

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Though a proportion of fans were unquestionably excited at the idea of Michael C Hall reprising vigilante killer Dexter Morgan, the question on many a Twitter user’s lips was… who asked for this?

Given the reaction to the show’s original climax ‘Remember the Monsters?’, this response is understandable. Back in 2013, fans were left horrified, confused and baffled as beloved character Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) – Dexter’s adopted sister and, in a later ill-advised plot twist, his would-be lover – was brutally killed off, while Dexter himself neither died nor faced justice for his many crimes, instead faking his demise in order to assume the identity of a lumberjack in Oregon.

Though critical reaction was divided at the time – a contemporary review from Entertainment Weekly actually called it “the best Dexter episode in years” – the voices that hated on the Dexter finale have since become the dominant ones, with the episode regularly making “worst series finale” lists in the years that followed. “It’s a feat for a finale to make you regret having watched a single moment of the series,” wrote The AV Club. “but ‘Remember The Monsters’ made it look easy.”

The response is understandable, then, but is it entirely fair?

Its contentious series finale might have utterly marred Dexter’s reputation and damaged its legacy – see Game of Thrones for a more recent example – but the series was nominated for two dozen Emmy Awards, including in the category of Outstanding Drama Series four times in a row (from 2008 to 2011) and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (for Michael C Hall) five times in a row (from 2008 to 2012). That’s only the tip of the awards iceberg, too – you can add 10 Golden Globe nominations (and two wins), seven Screen Actor Guild Awards nominations and a Peabody Award (in 2007) to the list.

The show’s second and fourth seasons – the latter featuring John Lithgow’s memorable turn as antagonist the Trinity Killer – were particularly well-received (Slant Magazine called Dexter’s second year “bolder and stronger than almost any other drama on the dial”, while Den of Geek branded season four “a masterclass in dramatic TV, from beginning to end”) and while, again, it’s become received wisdom that Dexter went off the boil in its later years, its seventh season – the show’s penultimate outing – was actually widely hailed as a return to form (ScreenCrush called it “the renaissance of a stagnant series”, with What Culture calling the final episodes of the season “some of the tensest in the show’s history”).

Dexter (Michael C Hall) in the series finale
Showtime

Dexter’s bad reputation, then – that which has sparked a backlash to news of its imminent return – seems to have been provoked almost entirely by its disappointing conclusion. But isn’t that all the more reason to be excited for the show’s return? Granted, we have no guarantees that this new limited series will provide a more satisfactory rounding-off of the character’s misadventures than ‘Remember The Monsters’ originally did, but the possibility at least exists that we might get a more rewarding and fitting end to the show than a dead-eyed, bearded Dexter hoiking lumber in the Pacific Northwest.

Isn’t that something to be celebrated, not bemoaned – that a once-beloved show might have some of its standing restored by this second stab (no pun intended) at an ending? Dexter was once considered one of TV’s very best drama series and while the damage that ‘Remember The Monsters’ did was considerable, now thankfully it need not be irreversible.

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