All 8 Dexter Seasons Ranked

Tell your dark passenger to buckle up, this series had some bumpy seasons.

by J.R. Waugh
Dexter Best Seasons
Image: Showtime Networks

Dexter Morgan held the title of the world’s most likable serial killer on TV for 8 seasons, and while the fans see this show as uneven at times, it was one of Showtime’s most compelling original shows. Each season, Dexter tackled either a monstrous murderer terrorizing Miami or even threats that hit closer to home. Dexter struggles with finding out the dark history of his family, catching his killers, and his self-actualization throughout the show and into Dexter: New Blood as well. But the original series has particular highlights and low points which deserve to be mentioned.

What Were the Best Seasons of Dexter?

This list evaluates each season of Dexter’s original run, excluding New Blood, although we’ll discuss that separately. While Dexter was not always at its best as a show, it was a thrilling, introspective, surprisingly emotional story of a serial killer genuinely believing he was carrying out a public service. This runs counter to typical serial killer portrayals, but with some drawbacks. Here are our picks, from worst to best:

8. Dexter Season 6

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Dexter season 6 was a mess. It tried to go back to a similar feel to what season 4 pushed, a compelling serial killer with a mysterious motive, yet it didn’t resonate in any of the right ways. The killers felt disconnected from Dexter’s character on too many levels, it was difficult to invest in many of the guest actors of the season, including the wasted potential of the fantastic Edward James Olmos.

It also felt strange for Dexter to explore spirituality, only to revert right back to his original position by the end. The best part of this season was when it cut to black at the end, signaling it was over.

7. Dexter Season 8

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Speaking of wasted potential, let’s talk about season 8. Dexter had spent 7 prior seasons discovering aspects about himself and humanizing himself, even finally pulling Debra Morgan to the dark side (to her horror) and this season just…wiped it all away. While parts of the season were grasping compelling, any chances of the series ending with a bang were destroyed with one of the most hated finales ever.

6. Dexter Season 3

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You’ll notice that the quality quickly picks up to better stages from here on out. Dexter seasons 1 and 2 established him as a character to the viewers, and the threat to his way of life as well as the antagonists he faces. Some were outright evil, some were forgettable, and some were more sympathetic, highlighting his strength as an antihero.

But in season 3, when he tries to juggle a future as a married man, a future father, and even make lasting friendships while maintaining his career and kills, something had to go. Guest actor Jimmy Smitts turned in a ferocious performance that should also be noted here.

5. Dexter Season 5

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This is a season that ages in a complicated way: its story was strong and emotionally charged, but also hits way closer to home in light of #MeToo. Dexter found himself mourning a devastating loss, and in his grief, finds a kindred spirit when he discovers the prisoner of a man he kills was the victim of horrific sexual trauma. He sets out along with her to take out what turns out to be a ring of serial rapists led by a disturbingly charismatic celebrity. It reminds viewers that this type of villain, while perhaps an extreme example, is all too often empowered by society.

This season paints a picture for Dexter of what it’s like to be laid helpless and trapped like many of his victims, helpless, yet a survivor, and his quest for vengeance was a step forward in discovering new depths of his character. He unlocked his sense of grief and love for his son while finding a way forward after his life was turned upside down.

4. Dexter Season 1

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There was a lot to love about this season. The Ice Truck Killer was a heinous criminal, and his connection to Dexter was fantastic. The intimacy built up between the killer and Debra was so chillingly halted with the big reveal, and there were moments when this series truly felt like a proper blend of horror and crime drama. Debra’s moment of realization, aghast that such a murderer had her in his clutches, felt genuine and mortifying.

Most of all, this took Dexter to easily some of the darkest recesses of his mind of the whole series. Sure, some dialogue hasn’t aged all too well, but it remains the iconic blueprint for the show for years to come as to how to do it right.

3. Dexter Season 4

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Cited often as one of the top favorite seasons of Dexter, season 4 is iconic in how it pushed the protagonist to the extremes of his multiple roles. A serial killer, a blood spatter analyst, a father, a husband, and the numerous identities he assumes to track his prey, this season pushed him to his breaking point with disastrous consequences.

Special mention for this season goes to the Trinity Killer, the season’s antagonist. No other killer left such a powerful, tangible impact on his personal life, and was shockingly well-portrayed by Jon Lithgow. Seeing his character transition from a wholesome family man to a cruel, abusive monster was something that elevated the show to greater heights that were difficult to meet in the years to follow.

2. Dexter Season 7

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Season 7 was more or less a rehash of events from earlier in the show, but it was excellently done. It picked up after the disappointing season 6 with an immediately upsetting notion: if Dexter’s violent deeds came to light to anyone close to him. He knew the routine at this point, knowing not to trust anyone, but this was a crucial difference, as it was his sister who would be the one to catch him.

What’s so good about this season is the understanding shown by the creators of what makes Dexter so interesting to its viewers. It’s not just a show about a killer who tackles the monster of the week, but also somebody who desperately needs not to get caught, to uphold his code. But when backed into a corner, and loose ends start showing up from earlier in the series, some terrible consequences are wrought. It’s also key to mention the notable chemistry between Michael C. Hall’s Dexter and Yvonne Strahovski’s Hannah, which dwindled when she returned in season 8. But more than anything, this season touched upon the strengths of one particular year before it, season 2.

1. Dexter Season 2

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Season 2 of Dexter was incredible in how it challenged his perception of his life’s work, pushing him to his form of catharsis about what he does, and what sacrifices must sometimes be made. He also found that when his love life gets entangled with his nightlife, it actively gets worse. Erik King knocked it out of the park this season with his obsessive James Doakes portrayal, and while it was properly acknowledged in season 7, his presence on the show was sorely missed ever since.

Another great part about this season was the presence of Keith Carradine as Agent Lundy, an FBI “serial killer hunter” who was a formidable nemesis of Dexter’s, yet affable and Debra’s most compelling love interest. He dominated every scene he was in with his charismatic portrayal, and made Dexter truly concerned, as nobody was as insightful or as close to finding him out as Lundy was. The season saw Dexter’s self-perception challenged, and instead of a twisted public servant, he was seen as the Bay Harbor Butcher, with an unsettlingly high body count, even if his victims were criminals.

Dexter has some of the most exciting seasons out of any crime drama, and while some of the middle seasons were harder to take in, it was worth it. The character at the center of it all had his continuation as an answer to the disappointment fans had for the final episode, and while New Blood as a miniseries ranked likely at or below the same position as season 1, its finale also took the place as the new most hated finale. But for collectively 9 seasons, we were enthralled with the story of Showtime’s most iconic character, through the good and the bad.

- This article was updated on January 29th, 2023