Over a decade ago, Dexter made its debut on Showtime, and it was one of the most original television shows in the history of the industry. Based on the book series of the same name, Dexter chronicled the life and times of Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter expert with the Miami Metro Police Department who moonlighted as a serial killer. The character and show became more complicated as it went on, revealing new information about the titular Dexter, his past, and his changing nature. The show was a bumpy ride in all forms of the word, and is widely considered to have one of the worst endings in television history. Yikes. But we’re here to celebrate the good (and poke fun at the bad), so let’s take a retrospective look at all eight seasons of this special show.
8. Season Eight
I know plenty of people hate season six more than the final season of the show, but that fact that is was the final season of the show is what lands eight at the bottom of the list. The show had been floundering for a few years, with some serious character and story missteps, but knowing an end was in sight should have given the writers carte blanche to pull out all of the stops and wrap this baby up with a doozy of a story.
I enjoyed the idea behind analyzing Dexter’s mind through the eyes of another mentor type character, but nothing paid off the way that it should have. Yvonne Strahovski’s excellent Hannah returned, but even her character seemed dumbed down in order to fit the story arch for Dexter. The brilliant twist at the end of season seven that set up Deb and Dex’s changed relationship was resolved over the course of just a few episodes, and most of the other characters were sidelined into insignificance. Then there was the ending. It was so dumb — and only got more dumb with each new scene. And the little stinger at the end? Come on. One of my most disappointing moments of watching television.
7. Season Six
In what was clearly a case of the writers spinning their wheels just to keep the show going, season six was basically a complete waste of time. There was a villain reveal that everyone figured out right away, there was Deb catching Dexter in the act — which should have happened in season five — there was the heavy-handed exploration of Dexter and his religion, there was the over abundance of gore, and there was that whole thing where Deb decided that she was in love with Dexter and it was super gross.
Dexter figuring out his place with “god” was a very cool concept, and really only something that could have been done in one of the late seasons — but it just wasn’t handled well. Too much time was spent on the Doomsday Killers, which I’m sure was meant to set up the reveal that Travis was acting alone the whole time and was certifiably insane. The problem was, those characters were boring. I don’t know how the writers were able to make a religious zealot serial killer suffering from multiple personality disorder boring, but they sure did. And what’s even worse, it completely undermined the religious nature of the story. They made the religious guy an even bigger crackpot than he seemed. Plus there was Deb catching Dexter in the act, which lost all impact because it should have happened a year earlier.
6. Season Five
All in all, season five wasn’t terrible, but it definitely marked the downward spiral for the show. It was another season where it just didn’t feel like Dexter had made any forward progress as a character, which was even more disappointing after his arch in season four. The worst aspect of this season was the ending, where Julia Styles’ Lumen just kind of decided that her “darkness” was gone and she left, never to return. It was a wet fart of a finale, and was allegedly impacted by Michael C. Hall and Julia Styles’ off screen relationship, though that was never confirmed.
There was also the tremendously tense scene with Deb almost catching Dexter during a kill. This is really where the reveal should have happened, but I feel like the writers knew they still had a few more seasons to go and didn’t think they could sustain that story for so long. It was cool at the time to see her come so close to discovering Dexter’s secret, but with hindsight being what it is, I’d have preferred everything to go down in season five. The story was strong in this one, and focused on Dexter dealing with losing that small element of humanity that he had gained through Rita and the kids, and with him trying to find it again in the wrong places. Lumen was a typical “rebound” girl though. That relationship was bound to fail.
5. Season Seven
There are a lot of people that still cling on to season seven being great, but I’m just not so sure. I’m partially biased because by this point I just could not take Deb anymore, so I didn’t really care about her strong character arch as much as other people. But hey, this is my list, so I’ll do what I want. Honestly, this season should have been the last. Deb had discovered Dexter’s secret, and the beginning of the season was exceptionally strong (even with her gross romantic feelings for him). Jennifer Carpenter’s acting in the finale — where she killed LaGuerta to save Dex — was awesome, but again the impact of the moment was lessened because it’s something that should have already happened. LaGuerta had skyrocketed to pretty much everyone’s “most hated” list several seasons ago, and so it just wasn’t all that sad to lose her. Plus, her suspecting Dex as the Bay Harbor Butcher came a few seasons too late, too. That’s something that should have happened in season three, when Doakes’ death was fresh and LaGuerta was a character with which we could sympathize.
On the other side, season seven introduced us to Hannah, which was a much better pairing for Dexter than Lumen. This created a great pivot point for Deb’s feelings about what Dexter was doing. She was jealous of Hannah because of her love for Dex, and while she could sort of align herself with Dexter’s methodology for murder, Hannah’s wasn’t so easy to forgive. It was a great love triangle bolstered by strong performances.
4. Season Three
Season three makes it so high on the list partially due to the glaring flaws in later seasons, because it really wasn’t particularly amazing at the time. It was a perfectly fine season, but it didn’t have the intrigue of the first two seasons or the revelations of season four. It’s sort of unfair to season three because the first two seasons were just so strong, but the whole story of Dexter killing someone in self-defense for the first time was a huge deal. It just didn’t have as big of an impact after the Bay Harbor Butcher manhunt. It was an interesting character arch for Dexter, though, and I also enjoyed Jimmy Smits’ Miguel.
Dexter had finally found someone normal with whom he could relate. It was just a shame that Dexter and Miguel’s murderous partnership only lasted one episode, and the impact didn’t feel as fresh since we had seen something similar (albeit more crazy) with Lila in the previous season. The most interesting aspect of season three, however, was Dex dealing with fatherhood for the first time. He now had a semi-healthy relationship, but there were still huge roadblocks ahead of him. This also manifested in Dex challenging Harry’s Code for the first time, which was a huge change for the character.
3. Season Two
Lila, Lila, Lila. What a bizarre and polarizing character. On the one hand, she served as a great person to pair with Dexter, because it allowed him to reveal some of his darkness to someone while struggling with being “normal” with Rita. On the other hand, she was super clingy and annoying at times, and basically became a dues ex machina that allowed Dexter to get rid of Doakes without having to do the deed himself. It was a disappointing moment in what was otherwise a stellar season.
I remember watching the season two premiere and seeing all of Dex’s dead bodies pulled out of the ocean and thinking, “Where the hell does this show go from here?” It was absolutely a strong story, but I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been better served in a later season, once the audience was more familiar with Dexter as a character. If they’d gotten rid of Lila completely, it would have forced Dexter to choose: Honor Harry’s code, or kill an innocent Doakes to protect his secret? That would have been something I’d want to watch.
2. Season Four
Season four’s finale was one of the most shocking moments I’ve ever seen on television. Rita was a character that seemed so innocent, so separated from Dexter’s double life that it was hard to imagine something like that happening to her. And Dexter was finally in a place where he had accepted his dark passenger but was becoming more and more able to love. He was married and had a child, two things that had seemed impossible for him in season one. And then it was all stripped away from him. Ugh.
And that doesn’t even say anything about John Lithgow’s amazing turn as Arthur Mitchell. He seemed to be everything that Dexter wanted to be, a serial killer with a family that accepted him. This more than anything was Dexter’s downfall, and he rightfully took plenty of the blame on himself when he discovered Rita’s body. The season felt a bit long at times, especially with Dexter going back and forth on whether or not he should kill Arthur, but it was a great character study of Dexter and what he might look like at old age. It didn’t paint a pretty picture.
1. Season One
Dexter season one remains one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. Dexter was such a complicated character with a complicated life, the supporting cast was important when they needed to be but everything still revolved around our lead, the music was weird and dark and perfect, the story was full of twists and fun that made the eventual double reveal even more insane, and the ending was satisfying in a completely open-ended way.
In a vacuum, I’d love to give someone season one of Dexter and never tell them there was anything else. It wouldn’t hurt the person’s enjoyment, and while future seasons had plenty of craziness to come, nothing could touch the Ice Truck Killer not only being Deb’s fiance, but also Dexter’s long-lost brother. What a show, man. What a show.
So, what about you? How would you rank the seasons? Let me know in the comments below, and check out some of my other television rankings!