Jun 06, 2023

The 14 Best Dexter Episodes, Ranked

"Dexter" is a show with a history almost as tumultuous as that of its titular antihero. The gory crime drama follows Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a blood spatter analyst by day and vigilante serial killer by night. Season 1 of the Showtime drama debuted in 2006 to positive reviews and reigned as the premium channel's highest-rated series for the next four years. Seasons 2 and 4 are widely regarded as the show's best, with the latter boasting a fantastic performance by John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer, one of TV's most terrifying villains. After the departure of showrunner Clyde Phillips, "Dexter" began a downward slide that ran all the way up to its disappointing series finale, frequently remembered as one of the worst of all time. Eight years after Dexter drove his boat into the eye of a hurricane, the serial killer with a heart of gold returned in "Dexter: New Blood," a record-breaking ten-episode mini-series that quickly became Showtime's most-watched show.

With this roller-coaster ride of reviews, it's easy to dismiss revisiting the award-winning series entirely, but even the worst seasons of "Dexter" still contain some fantastic episodes. Where do the 10 new entries rank against classics from those early seasons? Is there anything worth watching in the much-maligned Season 6? Does Season 4 truly live up to the hype? With a new batch to dissect, let's revisit the 14 best episodes of "Dexter" and rank them from worst to best.

With bitter memories of Dexter driving his boat into the eye of a hurricane still burning in our brains, news broke that America's favorite serial killer would return in "Dexter: New Blood." Sneak peeks teased a snowy landscape and a reunion with Dexter's onscreen sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter). Original showrunner Clyde Phillips' involvement signaled a return to the quality of Seasons 1-4 rather than the Lumberjack Chronicles implied by the series finale's last image, but nothing could prepare us for the joy of "Cold Snap" and seeing Dexter return. Hall himself described revisiting his most famous character as "a trip," telling Deadline, "It was unlike anything I've ever been asked to do."

Going by the name Jim Lindsay, Dexter is one of the few residents of Iron Lake, New York living a crime-free life and trying to leave his murderous past behind. However, a stranger lurking outside his remote cabin turns out to be Harrison (Jack Alcott), the now teenage son he sent to Argentina nearly a decade ago. Deb has taken over for their father as Dexter's conscience and ghostly companion. Having seen first-hand the destruction that constantly surrounds her brother, Deb warns him to send Harrison away so that he doesn't become the latest person to pay for his father's crimes. Dexter ignores this advice and takes his son in, setting up a season of cold truth and harsh redemption in which the secrets he's been hiding for years are finally unearthed.

"Dexter" Season 3 is not usually thought of as a fan favorite, but the season of the Skinner (Jesse Borrego) is a solid entry in the franchise and the first time Dexter explores taking on an accomplice. "About Last Night" begins the morning after he's shared his ritual by killing with Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits), the lonely Dexter relishing his newfound companionship. Unfortunately, this happiness is short-lived when Dexter realizes Miguel does not value Harry's Code. His new partner in crime has gone rogue by killing Ellen Wolf (Anne Ramsay), an attorney Miguel blames for letting criminals walk free. As he stares at the body of Wolf hidden underneath another grave — just as Dexter taught him — he realizes that he's created a monster.

This episode also puts Deb's new love interest in danger. Anton Briggs (David Ramsey) is a criminal informant and the odd couple has an antagonistic relationship before finally admitting their attraction to each other. After dating the unavailable Special Agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine) in Season 2 as well as a man who turns out to be the Ice Truck Killer in Season 1, she's understandably hesitant to open her heart to anyone new. Anton is the last person she expects to find love with, but the laid-back musician works his way into her heart. It's not until he's safely rescued from the deadly clutches of the Skinner that Deb realizes how much she's come to care for him.

Despite an infuriating finale and lackluster premise, Season 8 does have some bright spots. "Scar Tissue" includes a variety of subplots (Desmond Harrington's Quinn takes the sergeant's exam, Dexter goes out with his neighbor, and the Brain Surgeon emerges as the season's Big Bad), but these pale in comparison to the introduction of Vinca Masuka (C.S. Lee)'s daughter. Having donated sperm in college, the forensics specialist is shocked when a young woman who looks and acts surprisingly like him shows up at the lab looking for her long-lost father. After seven seasons of watching Vince say the most inappropriate things imaginable, it's exciting to watch him struggle through a fatherly role.

The episode's major draw is a revelation dating all the way back to Dexter's youth. Deb is being treated for PTSD by Dr. Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), the psychiatrist who treated Dexter as a child and helped develop Harry's Code, a system of rules allowing Dexter to channel his deadly urges. Through these informal sessions, Dexter learns that his father died by suicide after witnessing the results of his tutelage. Harry (James Remar) was horrified at the reality of what he'd been training Dexter to do and couldn't live with the guilt of creating a serial killer. Still wracked with guilt over killing Lieutenant Maria La Guerta (Lauren Velez), Deb remarks that her father only got it half-right and sends the car Dexter's driving careening into a lake. She ultimately ends up saving her brother, but this foreshadows the more satisfying ending to Dexter's saga that will conclude "Dexter: New Blood."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Love is in the air in this sizzling-hot episode with no less than three couples advancing relationships for better or worse. Quinn gets closer to Nadia (Katia Winter), putting him in the crosshairs of the Koshka Brotherhood. Deb rejects the advances of true crime author Sal Price (Santiago Cabrera) by claiming she's not in "dating mode" after a string of failed romances and an emotional entanglement with her brother. She changes her mind after Sergeant Angel Batista (David Zayas) encourages her to pursue a life outside of her job. This short-lived affair puts her in direct opposition with poisoner Hannah McKay (Yvonne Strahovski), forcing Dexter to choose between the two.

The episode's title refers to a line Dexter uses to persuade Hannah to go on a date with him. Though the outing is part of his plan to kill her, Dexter finds himself falling for the beautiful murderess during a date for the ages: a wonderland exhibit at a closed amusement park. Once he finally has Hannah on his killing table, Dexter takes his own advice and does the wrong thing. Telling Dexter to, "do what you gotta do," Hannah seems to accept Dexter for the killer he is. He cuts her free and the two begin a passionate relationship that may be the healthiest of Dexter's life. No one will ever compare to Rita (Julie Benz), but it seems he finally found someone to love him despite knowing he is a killer.

Landing near the midpoint of the series as a whole, "Dirty Harry" asks us to evaluate whether Dexter truly is the well-meaning avenger we've come to know and love. Believing that the Trinity Killer is the one who shot Deb, Dexter takes matters into his own hands and begins to investigate the prolific murderer on his own. The episode plays out with the two killers serving as mirror images of each other as they each plan out their next kills. We watch in horror as Trinity stalks and bludgeons a father of two with the same preparation Dexter uses to prepare his own grisly murders.

Trinity is the season's Big Bad, but this episode shows us how much he and Dexter have in common. Both prolific serial killers, Trinity is not the only one stalking prey and he's not the only father hiding a secret life from his family. Intercepting a call from Dexter's landlord, Rita learns that her husband hasn't gotten rid of the bachelor pad he lived in before they got married. His flimsy excuse for keeping it falls apart and Rita begins to wonder what else he might be lying about. By the episode's end, Dexter has identified Arthur Miller as the Trinity Killer, but he's struck by Trinity's ability to balance his two different lives. Desperate to discover the secret to his success, Dexter postpones his murderous plans, a decision he will come to bitterly regret.

This heartbreaking season premiere has the unenviable task of picking up the pieces of the shocking Season 4 finale. We catch up with Dexter moments after finding Rita dead in the bathtub and watch as Dexter struggles to navigate his grief and guilt. We feel that same grief as we say goodbye to Rita, a character we've come to love almost as much as her secretive husband. Even worse, Dexter has already killed Trinity, leaving us with no chance for the catharsis of revenge. Believing himself immune to basic human emotions, "My Bad" centers on Dexter trying to find the right way to grieve. In shock, he makes several incriminating statements at the crime scene and tries to comfort his stepchildren Astor (Christina Robinson) and Cody (Preston Bailey) by telling them he's sorry for their loss.

The episode's most powerful moments lie at the end. Having decided to leave his life behind, Dexter runs into a volatile man at a gas station who makes a rude comment about Rita. Unleashing his anger, guilt, and sorrow, Dexter beats the man to death with a nearby anchor. His tightly controlled persona slips and we see him as an irrational and emotional human being lost in grief. Finally in touch with his feelings, Dexter returns to his children. At Rita's funeral, he finally realizes that he really does love his departed wife, making us want to hug our own loved ones closer while we still have the chance.

A bright spot in an otherwise lackluster season, "Nebraska" is a road trip episode that follows Dexter out west to investigate what appears to be another Trinity murder. Having already killed Arthur Miller, Dexter is shocked to learn that the man's wife and daughter have also died, confronting our antihero with the reality of what he leaves behind. The killer turns out to be Trinity's son Jonah (Brando Eaton) ), whose sister died by suicide and who beat his mother to death for blaming her children for their father's crimes.

"Nebraska" forces Dexter to deal with the fallout from one of his own kills. Though Jonah and his family may be relieved that their father is gone, they have no idea he's dead. Not only does this rob them of the closure it would take to move on, but they've likely spent the last two years wondering every day when Arthur would return to finish them off. This episode also sees Dexter escape from Harry's Code, the system of rules that governs his killings. Choosing to listen to the carefree ghost of his brother Brian (Christian Camargo), Dexter engages in reckless behavior that goes against his usually rigid control. Though it feels good at the moment, Dexter ultimately goes back to Harry's example, picking up the ghost of his father on the way back home after symbolically running through the ghost of his older brother.

The first trailer for the highly anticipated Season 4 of "Dexter" was set to Queen's "Under Pressure," a fair assessment of this stressful episode. Roughly a year after the wedding we watched in the Season 3 finale, Dexter has settled into family life with new baby Harrison and life in suburbia. His nights are no longer filled with stalking future victims but driving around in the dark trying to put his infant son to sleep.

An alternate version of the now iconic opening theme song plays as Dexter misses the fly, snaps his shoelaces, and pulls on a shirt covered in spit-up. This chaos carries over into his work as we see an extreme rarity: Dexter off his professional game. He misidentifies a suspect while on the stand that winds up letting a killer go free. This does provide him with a future victim, but even that doesn't go as planned. All of this disarray sets up the overarching theme of the season: can Dexter be himself and have a family at the same time? This episode also introduces us to Arthur Miller, the Trinity Killer as he carries out the first phase of his killing cycle. In what we will learn is a replica of his own sister's death, Trinity lies in the bathtub with his victim and slices open her femoral artery, a brutal death we will see befall one of our favorite characters before the season ends.

Season 2 kicks off with the discovery of an underwater graveyard leading to an ingenious arc in which all of Miami Homicide spends the season searching for the Bay Harbor Butcher (i.e. Dexter himself). Hot on his tail is James Doakes (Erik King), a hot-headed sergeant who's been suspicious of Dexter for years. The episode begins with Doakes caged in the Everglades while Dexter figures out his next steps. Murdering Doakes would be a contradiction of the first two rules of Harry's Code: "don't get caught" and "never kill an innocent." The decision is taken out of his hands when his ex-girlfriend Lila (Jaime Murray) finds Doakes and takes it upon herself to cause a massive explosion that destroys the cabin and everything in it.

Lila's impulsive action solves Dexter's problems in the short term by framing Doakes as the Bay Harbor Butcher, but the true identity of the vigilante killer will plague Dexter until the Season 9 finale. He's also left with the question of what to do about his one-time lover and N.A. sponsor. The season concludes with Dexter following Lila all the way to France and putting an end to the psychotic Brit, a fitting end for a woman who shows her love for Dexter by threatening Rita's children and falsely accusing Angel Batista of rape. All seems well as Dexter recommits to Rita and says goodbye to the British invasion that caused him so much stress.

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This episode's title is a reference to Sergeant Doakes's most famous line, delivered when he surprises Dexter at a shipping container that may contain evidence of the killer's secret life. His former partner and friend, La Guerta has never believed that Doakes is a cold-blooded killer and sets out to clear his name. After seven years of hiding in plain sight, it seems Dexter's past has finally caught up to him. Formally accused of murder for the first time, Dexter is perp-walked through his own workplace and finds himself on the other side of an interrogation room. He escapes by planting evidence to prove that LaGuerta is framing him. Sensing that she will never give up, Dexter decides to use a more permanent solution.

The episode ends in a heartbreaking moment for Dexter's long-suffering sister Deb. Forced to choose between shooting her brother and her friend, Deb kills LaGuerta, an act of murder from which she will never recover. The hard-nosed detective has had an often antagonistic relationship with her ambitious Captain, but the two women have come to respect and support each other after seven years as co-workers. We join Deb as she sobs over the body and we wonder what this will do to her already fragile psyche. It's a shocking end to a season that asks us to question the virtue of Dexter's actions if it means the destruction of everyone he cares about.

Original showrunner Clyde Phillips told Rotten Tomatoes he entered production of "Dexter: New Blood," "hell-bent to redeem the show from the ending of Season 8." He does so in spades with "Sins of the Father," an episode that finally puts all of Dexter's cards on the table and asks him to pay for the harm he caused. After being arrested for murder, Dexter escapes by killing beloved sergeant/part-time wrestling coach Logan (Alano Miller), an action that finally causes Harrison to turn against him. He realizes his father is not a selfless hero with macabre methods but a killer who has managed to find an altruistic spin for his crimes. By murdering the innocent Logan, Dexter shows his son that his highest priority has always been to protect himself.

Father and son have a final confrontation when Harrison demands to know if Rita and Deb would still be alive if not for him causing Dexter to finally reckon with the danger he poses to everyone he loves. Harrison makes a heartbreaking decision to kill his father and our beloved anti-hero dies on the ground next to his sister's watchful spirit. The series ends with the tear-jerker line from a letter Dexter left for his son before leaving him as a child: "let me die so my son can live." We hear Dexter speak these words as Harrison drives out of town, hopefully in search of the healing his father was never able to find.

The Season 1 finale marks the first time Dexter is asked to choose between his true identity and the family that serves as his cover, but it will not be the last. Taunted by the Ice Truck Killer throughout the season, Dexter learns the mysterious murderer is none other than Brian Moser, his older brother. Brian was in the shipping container with Dexter and their mother's corpse and also grew up to be a serial killer without the benefit of Harry's code to guide him.

From the opening scene, Dexter has claimed to be a psychopath with no human emotions. This assertion is put to the test when he is forced to choose between his two siblings. Deb is the sister he was raised with who represents the life he wants to have. Brian is his blood brother who understands him like no other. Dexter chooses the heart he claims not to have and saves Deb, finally killing Brian because he knows that as long as he lives, Deb will never be safe. "Born Free" also shows the first cracks in Dexter's relationship with his then-girlfriend Rita. He frames her ex-husband Paul (Mark Pellegrino), a former addict and abuser, for drug possession and sends him back to jail. Paul insists on his innocence and begs Rita to look for a shoe that will vindicate him. After much resistance, Rita finally finds it, casting the doubt that will plague their relationship until its devastating end.

Of all the upsetting season finales in the "Dexter" chronology, none compares to the devastating ending of Season 4. Deb has learned that Dexter's older brother is the Ice Truck Killer. This discovery opens the door to the suspicion that will gradually escalate until it leads to her own heartbreaking death. Meanwhile, Dexter returns home after killing Trinity and prepares for a belated honeymoon with Rita only to find his wife lying dead in the bathtub. She is Trinity's final victim and baby Harrison sits screaming in a puddle of his mother's blood, an eerie parallel to Dexter's own childhood.

Rita's death is all the more horrifying because it comes at a rare moment of peace for the vigilante killer. After watching the destruction of Trinity's double life, Dexter has finally decided to move away from his serial killer persona and embrace a more peaceful existence with his family. Earlier in the episode, Rita reconfirms her love for him saying that while she may not fully understand his darkness, she knows they can overcome it together. The two have the most honest moment of their relationship and seem to be moving towards a bright future, but it's all ripped away with a slash of Trinity's razor blade. Adding insult to injury, Dexter has already killed Trinity without knowing he'd previously killed Rita. He can never get the closure of revenge and will forever regret not killing Trinity when he first had the chance.

Known as the Thanksgiving episode, "Hungry Man" explores the dangers of familial perfection. Dexter has forged a relationship with Arthur Miller, aka Trinity, hoping to learn how to balance his own double life as a killer and father. However, the closer he gets to the Miller family the more he begins to see the darkness lurking just beneath the surface. Dexter crashes Thanksgiving Dinner with the Mitchells hoping to protect Jonah Mitchell from his domineering father, but what he witnesses is a nightmare of domestic abuse. Trinity's family is terrified of him, and Dexter watches Arthur browbeat his wife, lock his teenage daughter in her room, and calmly break Jonah's finger as punishment for wrecking his car. The day escalates to outright violence when no one says they're thankful for the family patriarch at the table. Dexter blows his cover by admitting he knows Arthur is Trinity and he's been planning to kill him. A final stinger reveals that Quinn's reporter girlfriend Christine (Courtney Ford) is Trinity's oldest daughter and has shot Deb and Lundy for her father's benefit.

This upsetting turn of events is contrasted with Dexter's own family Thanksgiving. After watching the horrors of the Miller home, Dexter returns to dinner and fully embraces the imperfection of his own messy life. What he's actually learned from Arthur is that the perfect family and the cover story is a myth usually hiding a dark undercurrent of cruelty and control.