[Ed. note: Showtime released the Dexter: New Blood finale Sunday at 12 a.m. ET via streaming.]
“Sins Of The Father” is an excellent finale for New Blood, and for Dexter as a series. It’s more than just a decent finale by the standards Dexter set for itself during its endless creative trough. “Father” is a very strong hour of television from a show that offers them up inconsistently and very rarely does so at the end of a season. And the episode works so well because it makes use of the entirety of Dexter, not just its mythology but the public perception of the show. “Father” succeeds because it goes places no one expected this show to go based on its history.
The uncharitable way to describe that would be to say “Sins Of The Father” lumbered over the low expectations set by the endlessly derided “Remember The Monsters?” But what showrunner Clyde Phillips has put off is much more sophisticated than that. The only thing that could have redeemed Dexter at the end of season eight was some kind of accountability for Dexter Morgan, at least the sense that for once he’d truly gotten out in front of his water skis. Because that moment never came—save for Dexter’s goofy, bearded foray into forestry—it was reasonable to assume it never would.
New Blood seemed to be toying early on with the idea of Dexter’s past catching up with him in spectacular fashion. The plot points involved weren’t always elegant, as with Angela and Molly’s fortuitous trip to Manhattan or Harrison blabbing about Dexter’s identity while in a near-fatal drug haze. (The less said about Angela’s encounter with Batista the better.) But that’s because they took place in a show that the audience doesn’t believe will ever hold Dexter accountable. What a mighty letdown it might have been if, after all the feints at unearthing the truth behind the Bay Harbor Butcher, nothing paid off.
But it wouldn’t be the first time Dexter let the audience down by letting Dexter slip the hangman’s noose one more time. And within the past few episodes, there have been a ton of references to the idea of Dexter as a superhero either by comparing him to Batman or reanimating his Dark Defender alter-ego. There was no reason to read more deeply into it at the time, but in hindsight, all the superhero references look like deliberate misdirection. Various Dexter writers and producers have made comments over the years about how Dexter is the flawed savior the world doesn’t know it needs. For that version of the character to survive, he has to be free to deliver his brand of justice. (Rumors about the potential impact of New Blood’s strong ratings made a superhero’s ending seem all the more likely.)
In a pleasant surprise, Phillips’ script doesn’t cast Dexter as a superhero at all. Dexter still thinks of himself that way, and he desperately needs Harrison to give him the adoration and reverence he thinks he’s owed on account of the hundreds of theoretical lives he’s theoretically saved. But “Father” exposes Dexter for what he truly is: a craven, narcissistic addict who will move heaven to get another hit of his drug of choice. Even if Dexter had lived to see the end of this episode, it’s hard to imagine how the man who gets called out for his decades of destructive behavior would forge ahead as the protagonist of this show.
From the earliest moments of the episode, the varnish crumbles and drifts away from Dexter’s all-consuming assholery. His bright idea, in light of the suspiciously torched cabin, is to take Harrison and move to Los Angeles. Never mind, as Harrison points out, that he would be uprooting Harrison from a place he’s worked hard to integrate himself into. The knife twist is Dexter’s presumption that moving is the only option so he and Harrison can continue doing “what we do.” When Harrison asks for specifics on how such a lifestyle would work, all Dexter can confirm is that they would dedicate themselves to stalking and murdering targets anytime they weren’t splashing in the pool.
What Dexter doesn’t know is that Angela has two titanium screws once housed inside Matt Caldwell’s knee: One from the mysterious envelope that implicated Dexter in Matt’s death and another found in the rubble of Dexter’s cabin. Before their blended family can enjoy their pasta night, Angela finds an excuse to get Dexter alone so she can arrest him for Matt’s murder. Here, Dexter offers another startling look into his inner darkness. As he’s being held at gunpoint, Dexter sees Angela’s reflection in a stainless steel toaster that’s conveniently situated next to a block of knives. The unsubtle implication is that Dexter absolutely considered doing the awful thing he’s always unwittingly delegated to someone else. He would have killed Angela to save himself.
In a promising early indicator, “Father” is just over 11 minutes into its runtime when Dexter is cuffed and booked on murder charges for the first time in the show’s history. That gives us a glimpse into what Dexter looks like truly cornered, and it’s no prettier to look at than anything else Dexter does in the episode. There’s a smugness and a sense of entitlement that permeates all of the interrogation scenes, traits that fit neatly into Dexter’s psychological profile but have never seemed starker than they do here. “I’m worried about you,” he tells Angela with a tone somehow more condescending than the statement’s content. Has this guy really always been this awful?
As soon as Dexter is placed in Iron Lake’s dinky holding cell to await his arraignment and an awkward reunion with Batista, it’s pretty obvious Dexter will manage to escape custody and try again to grab Harrison and bolt out of town. The unfortunate twist comes when Dexter tangles with Logan through the bars of the cell while trying to access the keys and winds up killing him. That makes for a tense father-son reunion when Harrison sees Dexter with blood smeared on his face and quickly deduces why a harried phone call from Dexter came from Logan’s phone. The realization solidifies for Harrison an evolution that began as soon as Kurt Caldwell’s blood pooled near his feet.
Harrison isn’t like his father at all, he realizes, and he tells Dexter in no uncertain terms in what’s easily the best scene of the series. The hope was that New Blood would find a way to bring Dexter’s journey full circle, and the final confrontation between Dexter and Harrison is hard to fault. Just this once, Harrison leans into the family business and follows Harry’s code far better than Dexter has since his move to Iron Lake. Harrison’s done his due diligence to uncover a killer of the innocent, and now he has to force Dexter to confront all the harm he’s done before putting him down for good.
Rather than go for something more over the top like Harrison killing Dexter using Dexter’s exact modus operandi, the script settles for a metaphorical table for Dexter to lay on and let Harrison put a bullet in his heart. With Angela’s blessing, Harrison makes a run for it, finally free of his father’s dark influence. Listen, it’s not all perfect, there are places to quibble and I’ll get into those in the strays. But “Sins Of The Father” gets so much right, and if the job was to rescue Dexter from punchline status, consider it accomplished.