Fifteen years ago, a blood spatter analyst named Dexter Morgan made his small screen premiere. Based on the Jeff Lindsay novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the show follows Dexter, the blood guy of Miami Metro Homicide who spends his free time as a serial killer. But don’t worry – he only targets bad guys. Season 1 focuses on the department searching for a serial killer on the loose dubbed the Ice Truck Killer (ITK). And Dexter has his own fascination with ITK. From the first episode, viewers become just as invested as Dexter, but for slightly different reasons. It was a strong premiere that knew exactly which buttons to push. Join us as we look back at the show’s debut.
A Very Neat Monster
Dexter Morgan is a pretty smart guy. He’s meticulous and deliberate with everything he does. He excels at his day job at Miami Metro. He also knows exactly how not to get caught with his side gig, thanks to the Code of Harry. The show wastes no time clueing viewers into Dexter’s guiding principles. With his first on-screen kill, most people can probably guess who he goes after, even before the code is laid out. To put it simply: bad guys get got.
Interspersed through the episode are a series of flashbacks to Dexter’s childhood. In them, viewers learn that Dexter has always struggled with what he later calls the Dark Passenger. Only Harry, his adoptive father, knows what Dexter faces. Anticipating the inevitable, Harry instills “the code” to Dexter, a series of rules Dexter must follow so as not to get caught. For decades, this code protected Dexter. It allows him to hide in plain sight. And his access to Miami Metro resources is a good perk, too.
The Cold Shoulder
In the first season, the Homicide division’s major case is the Ice Truck Killer. For his first crime scene, he leaves the victim’s dismembered body in a (drained) pool. Oddly enough, the scene isn’t nearly as grisly as many others the department would encounter. This is thanks to the lack of blood, which completely enraptures Dexter. In fact, he gets a little too excited, taking up a quick and intense fascination with ITK. When Dexter reaches a second crime scene, he leaves with only the Ice Truck Killer on his mind. Soon, ITK invites Dexter into their own private game of cat and mouse, one which Dexter is all too eager to play.
Only a whisper of Dexter and ITK’s dance is introduced in the premiere (they can’t give everything away yet). Even so, the set-up leaves a trail of lingering questions about what may happen for the rest of the season. Their already strong preoccupation with one another also leads wonderfully into one of the later reveals. It’s almost like they’re brothers or something.
Dearly Devoted Deb and Rita
Dexter may not experience emotions, but that doesn’t mean Deb and Rita are any less significant to his life. Up first is Deb, his adoptive sister. Deb works in the Vice department of Miami Metro, hoping to move into Homicide. Throughout the episode, it’s clear how she relies on Dexter. She turns to him for help with ITK (and a little boost of confidence). Beyond work, Deb is affectionate towards Dexter. She believes they have a close bond, thanks to being in each other’s lives since they were young children. Dexter doesn’t experience this in the same way. Regardless, he recognizes it, stating that if he could have feelings for anyone, it’d be Deb. Their established banter this episode remains indicative of their (almost) unbreakable bond.
Then there’s Rita. Sweet, sweet Rita, whom Dexter met through Deb. From their interactions in this episode alone, Rita is more enthused about her and Dexter’s relationship. He, however, views it more as a “this is what normal people do” type of relationship. Despite this, he tries to indulge her as best as he knows how. Their relationship suits both of their current needs, though, as Dexter seems to prefer something lowkey and Rita is not yet ready to bring their relationship to a more intimate level until the end of the episode (much to Dexter’s surprise). The two face awkwardness this episode, but up until that fateful season 4 episode, they somehow manage to work.
Meet the Miami Metro Homicide division – Lieutenant Maria LaGuerta, Sergeant James Doakes, Angel Batista, and Dexter’s fellow forensic tech Vince Masuka. Something I always liked about the premiere is how quickly viewers get a sense of the camaraderie between the main Homicide crew. At the first ITK crime scene, Masuka’s dirty mind immediately jumps out. While a first for the audience, it’s apparent that everyone else is used to Vince, even if they find it occasionally tiresome. Meanwhile, viewers also see how well they work together. The focus lies more on this than any sort of deep friendship, but it establishes that they share similar goals to work towards.
Arguably one of the most memorable detectives is Sgt. Doakes. Though he only made it through two seasons, Erik King was certain to make an impression from the moment viewers met him. In the premiere, viewers learn about Doakes’ suspicion of Dexter. He doesn’t know exactly what Dexter hides. He is the only person who senses something is off, though. (Oh, Doakes. Just you wait.) Doakes is a no-nonsense sergeant. However, harsh he comes across, he remains passionate about his job. He’s also responsible for one of the most iconic lines from the show. You know the one.
Dexter’s Best Lines
- “Tonight’s the night.”
- “The problem with eating and driving, which I love to do, is not being able to deploy the 10/2 hand position on the wheel. It’s a matter of public safety.”
- “Normal people are so hostile.”
- “I have standards.”
- Sergeant Doakes: You give me the f*cking creeps, you know that, Dexter?
Dexter: Yeah, I know. Sorry about that.
- Lt. Maria LaGuerta: So then he must have already had the head with him in the front seat. Huh, that’s weird. Why would he keep it there?
Dexter: I don’t know. So he could use a carpool lane.
Serial Killer Blood Spatter Analyst That Could
Pilots are arguably the most important episodes of television series. They’re the first major impression. They invite viewers to stick with the show or jump ship while they still can. If by the end of a pilot episode you wouldn’t even consider investing time, the episode hasn’t done its job. Naturally, not all shows will be up everyone’s alley. Dexter certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Even so, its pilot does everything right. It takes more than one episode to create a successful show. Nevertheless, Dexter’s premiere foreshadowed a triumphant run.
After eight seasons, a bizarre (and, frankly, unsatisfying) finale, and a revival on the way, it’s safe to say that Dexter Morgan (and Michael C. Hall’s portrayal) left his mark. Even 15 years later, Dexter remains embedded into the fabric of television. Every rewatch is just as engrossing as the first time (even knowing all the twists on the way). And it’s largely thanks to that first hour that cued viewers into the thrilling journey ahead.
Dexter returns in Dexter: New Blood on Sunday, November 7 on Showtime. Keep up with all our coverage here.