How "Dexter" Got Its Groove Back

After two years of mediocrity, Dexter gave us an incredible seventh season. Aren’t you glad you kept watching? (Spoilers through the season finale.)

Dexter almost smiles in “The Dark… Whatever.” Randy Tepper / Showtime

I should have given up on Dexter after the fourth season, but I’m grateful I stuck it out. I watched as the show I’d once loved became a slog. By Season 6, I dreaded each new episode, wondering if the series could find a way to sink even lower. (It was always up to the task.) Somebody put this show out of its misery, I pleaded. Or at least give me the strength to stop DVR-ing it.

And then Dexter had to go and end last season with the ultimate cliffhanger: Deb walking in on Dex in the middle of a murder. Here was the moment we’d all been waiting for — and cut to end credits. You want to know how she reacts and what happens next? You’ll have to tune in next year. Suckers.

Debra confronts Dexter after Travis’ murder in “Are You…?” Randy Tepper / Showtime

As fans, we’d been waiting for an eternity — six seasons, so basically the same thing — to find out what would happen when Debra finally realized her brother was a serial killer. But given how far the show had fallen, I didn’t have high expectations for how it would all play out. Remember, Deb was only at the church to confess her romantic feelings for Dex, which for the record, is still really gross.

But the relationship between the siblings, now sharing Dexter’s secret, was part of what made Season 7 such a pleasure to watch. By dramatically changing their relationship, Dexter allowed us to see new sides of both characters, and their interplay was way more interesting than the incestuous nonsense the series was pushing us toward last season. Jennifer Carpenter did some of her best work as Deb tried to balance her obligations to work with her obligations to her brother.

In “Run,” Debra tries to keep Dexter’s killer urges in check. Randy Tepper / Showtime

It was essential that Dexter do something different this far into its run. How many seasons do we really need of Dexter playing cat-and-mouse with a serial killer? By Season 6, it felt like the writers were just picking a theme (in that case, religion) and working around it. What was remarkable about that season aside from the ghastly religious tableaux?

In Season 7, the game changed entirely. Oh, sure, there was some of the same when it came to Dexter’s pursuit of Isaak Sirko, but for me, this was the season of Dexter and Debra. Overall, it was less about Dexter’s arc — he can only change so much — than it was about Debra’s. In the end, it was Deb who pulled the trigger and killed LaGuerta.

Debra deals with the aftermath of taking an innocent life in “Surprise, Motherfucker.” Randy Tepper / Showtime

I haven’t touched much on Sirko or on Dexter’s love interest Hannah McKay: both were worthy additions to the season, but I don’t think they’re what made Season 7 such a success. While Ray Stevenson did great work as Isaak, his story felt secondary to everything else. And Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski), despite Dexter’s protests to the contrary, felt like the latest iteration of past squeezes Lila and Lumen.

Dexter and Debra’s relationship was what made Season 7 a classic — the best we’ve seen from Dexter in years. And credit is also due to LaGuerta’s obsessive pursuit of the real Bay Harbor Butcher, the first time since Doakes that the risk of exposure has felt constant and real. So close to the end of the series (next season will be its last), I half-believed LaGuerta would win and put Dex behind bars.

LaGuerta questions her colleague-turned-suspect in “Surprise, Motherfucker.” Randy Tepper / Showtime

The investigation into Dexter’s past was a real gift to fans who have stuck around from the beginning — and trudged through some garbage along the way. Long-forgotten victims were namechecked, and loose ends that we thought would never be addressed suddenly came to the forefront. Turns out the writers have been paying attention after all. And maybe these easter eggs were an apology for dicking us around.

Or maybe it was just competent police work, which for a while seemed like a rarity at Miami Metro. How many cases have these people bungled throughout the show’s run, and how often has Dexter been able to successfully cover up his tracks? Dexter is our protagonist, so we appreciate his ability to escape capture on a weekly basis, but it’s kind of nice to see cops behaving like real cops for once.

Hannah brings Dexter a flower that’s probably poison in “Do the Wrong Thing.”

As far as what’s next for Dexter, it’s difficult to say. While the strong seventh season has given me renewed hope for 12 more thrilling episodes, I know better than to assume the show can keep up its stride. Season 8 could prove a worthy successor, or I could once again wonder why I’ve devoted so much time to trash.

But hey, if you’d told me this season of Dexter would be better than this season of Homeland, I would have laughed. (And then wept openly, because how could Homeland have fallen so far? Kate Aurthur counts the ways.) And so, I’ll keep hope alive for another great year of Dexter struggling with his humanity, Debra coping with her guilt, and Batista running a restaurant.

Just kidding, I can do without that last bit.

In “Do the Wrong Thing,” Dexter looks uncertain — kind of how I feel about Season 8. Randy Tepper / Showtime

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