Dexter examines a blood slide
(Showtime)

We’re Channeling Our Dark Passenger To Rank Every Season of ‘Dexter’

The Showtime crime drama Dexter is one of those shows that hooks viewers from the very first episode, but not all episodes—or seasons!—are created equally.

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The eight-season series premiered in 2006 and follows a bloodstain pattern analyst in Miami named Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) who is hiding a very dark secret: he’s a vigilante serial killer who murders the criminals he believes have slipped through the cracks of the justice system. Dexter follows a moral code implemented by his late adoptive father (James Remar), a police officer for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department, so he only kills those who “deserve” to die—i.e., other killers, for the most part.

Dexter is based on a novel by Jeff Lindsay titled Darkly Dreaming Dexter (2004). In 2021, the show was rebooted for a limited series called Dexter: New Blood, which has since been renewed for a second season.

Dexter was a critical darling for much of its run, but towards the end, things got a little sloppy in storytelling and character development. So which seasons of Dexter are the worst … and which are the best? Read on for our definitive ranking of every season of this popular and oft-imitated series, from bad to bloody brilliant. As an added bonus, we even included Dexter: New Blood in our ranking.

9. Season 8

Michael C. Hall as Dexter leaning into Charlotte Rampling as Dr. Evelyn Vogel
(Showtime)

Premiered: June 30, 2013

The final season of the original series was simply not up to snuff, and many fans felt some of our favorite characters “jumped the shark.” Dexter’s sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) went from a tough Metro cop to a drug-addled bounty hunter who can’t forgive herself for what she did to protect her brother. Things go from bad to worse for poor Deb, and it’s just plain sad to watch.

Dexter also faces his past when Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling) tells him she’s the one who created the code of conduct his father put in place. Yvonne Strahovski is back as the poisonous villain and love interest Hannah McKay, and thanks to Hannah, Dexter decides he no longer needs to kill (um, what?). The entire season feels cobbled-together and hastily finished, right down to the Scooby-Doo-style reveal of this season’s bad guy, “The Brain Surgeon.”

8. Season 6

Colin Hanks as the murderous Travis in Dexter
(Showtime)

Premiered: October 2, 2011

What a snooze-fest! Dexter and the Miami Metro are investigating the “Doomsday Killers,” a professor and his student Travis Marshall (Colin Hanks) performing ritualistic killings based on the Bible’s book of Revelations. Sadly, even Hanks at his creepiest can’t make this subplot pop.

In other news, Dexter settles into being a single father to Harrison, Deb butts heads at work with Captain María LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez), Dexter makes a friend and promptly loses him, and—oh yeah! Deb suddenly develops romantic feelings for her brother. Yawn!

7. Dexter: New Blood

Dexter and son Harrison speak to a cop over police tape
(Showtime)

Premiered November 7, 2021

After a belly flop of a series finale, fans had mixed feelings about rebooting the franchise with Dexter: New Blood. Their fears were alleviated with this show, which finally held Dexter accountable for his actions.

This 10-episode season picks up 10 years after the season 8 finale. Dexter is living under an assumed identity in upstate New York, where he’s romancing the local police chief (Julia Jones) and resisting the urge to kill. Deb returns (in ghost form) to chat with her brother throughout the season, and the now-teenaged Harrison (Jack Alcott) turns up one day unannounced. The notion of nature versus nurture is explored, and it seems Harrison might be poised to follow his father’s footsteps until the final episode, when the tables turn and the show’s focus switches from father to son, permanently.

6. Season 5

Harry and Dexter face off
(Showtime)

Premiered September 26, 2010

The previous season had a truly jaw-dropping finale, and in season 5 Dexter picks up the pieces to find his way as a newly single father. Peter Weller joins the cast as Stan Liddy, a corrupt cop who accidentally finds out about Dexter’s Dark Passenger. Desmond Harrington also returns as Quinn, and Julia Stiles appears as Lumen Pierce, the victim of a brutal attack. Lumen and Dexter form an odd bond and he helps her take revenge on her tormentors. Their relationship is short-lived, which is good because the whole Lumen-Dexter situation was too much, too soon after Rita’s death.

All in all, this is an okay season that keeps the story going, but it’s nowhere near as entertaining as we’ve come to expect from this show.

5. Season 7

Hannah McKay stands with an orchid behind her
(Showtime)

Premiered: September 30, 2012

The cat is out of the bag after Debra saw Dexter kill someone at the end of season 6—and helped him cover up the evidence. Thus begins Deb’s downward spiral, as she just can’t handle the truth. The rest of the season involves Dexter dodging bullets as his colleagues continue to search for him, a.k.a. the Bay City Butcher, and the team investigates a Ukrainian mob boss and “The Phantom Arsonist.”

The introduction of Strahovski as a love interest feels a bit forced, especially considering her own murderous tendencies. But the season is a good placeholder, and it’s exciting to watch LaGuerta get closer to seeing Dexter’s true colors. Plus, the season 7 finale was excellent, and kept us on the edge of our seats!

4. Season 2

dexter holds up a sign for a mug shot
(Showtime)

Premiered: September 30, 2007

The tension continues to rise in season 2 as Doakes (Erik King) closes in on Dexter. The bodies our hero has been dumping into the Gulf were discovered, so Miami Metro begins its search for the “Bay Harbor Butcher,” never suspecting he’s one of their own. Meanwhile, Debra is traumatized by her experience with the Ice Truck Killer, and Rita (Julie Benz) thinks Dexter’s secretive nature is because he’s an addict. She sends him to Narcotics Anonymous, where he meets an unhinged pyromaniac named Lila (Jaime Murray).

This season is satisfying for a lot of reasons, even if Rita and Debra are each about an 8 out of 10 on our annoying character meter.

3. Season 3

Batista and Dexter stare at the camera
(Showtime)

Premiered: September 28, 2008

By this point in its run, Dexter was a certified hit with more than 1.1 million people tuning in to watch the show each week. Jimmy Smits joins the cast as assistant district attorney Miguel Prado, whose brother Dexter accidentally killed in self-defense. Here we see Dexter let someone into his inner sanctum more than ever before, even with Rita, who is newly pregnant. Elsewhere, Deb is working to track down a killer called “The Skinner.” Bet you can’t guess what he does to his victims!

This is an interesting season because we finally see a new side to Dexter. Not only is he transitioning into a family man, but he’s also recognizing that others have Dark Passengers as well, whether they let them take the wheel or not.

2. Season 1

James Doakes, Dexter, and Debra look at a body
(Showtime)

Premiered: October 1, 2006

The season that set it all in motion is still one of our absolute favorites. Season 1 introduces all the major players, we learn about Dexter and his father’s code of conduct, and we watch with titillation as Dexter reveals his secrets, one juicy episode at a time. Dexter and the Miami Metro are investigating the “Ice Truck Killer,” a serial killer who targets sex workers. Debra is just getting started on the force, and Dexter’s girlfriend Rita is blissfully ignorant of his murderous tendencies. One of the best aspects of season 1 is the tension applied by homicide detective Doakes, as he begins to suspect something is very off about his coworker.

1. Season 4

John Lithgow holding a hammer in Dexter
(Showtime)

Premiered: September 27, 2009

Most loyal Dexter fans agree that the fourth season is the pinnacle of excellence for this show, mostly because John Lithgow is the perfect bad guy. Lithgow plays Arthur Mitchell, the cold-hearted “Trinity Killer” masquerading as a loving family man. We already knew Lithgow had serious range; he can be incredibly silly as Lord Farquaad in Shrek or Dick Solomon in 3rd Rock From the Sun, but then he shows up on Dexter with a blank stare that pierces our souls right through the television screen. His intense performance makes this season truly special and a lot of fun to watch.

Dexter meets Arthur at the perfect time, because he’s also trying to lead a double-life as a family man/serial killer. As he gets closer to Arthur, however, Dexter realizes that things at home aren’t exactly as they seem. When Thanksgiving dinner goes sideways and Dexter glimpses the monster beneath the facade, he knows Arthur is bound for his kill room … but that’s easier said than done.

The end of season 4 is explosive, and it changes the entire rest of the series. Favorite characters die, and others are left to cope with the bloody fallout. It’s just a perfect season from start to finish, and that’s why it’s number one!

We eagerly await the arrival of Dexter: Original Sin, a prequel series starring Patrick Gibson as a young Dexter as he starts working at Miami Metro. Until then, all seasons of Dexter are currently streaming on Paramount+ With Showtime.


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Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins (she/her) is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She writes about pop culture, entertainment, and web memes, and has published a book or a funny day-to-day desk calendar about web humor every year for a decade. When not writing, she's listening to audiobooks or watching streaming movies under a pile of her very loved (spoiled) pets.