Movie Reviews

10 Best Dexter Episodes, Ranked

Summary

  • Dexter had standout episodes like “The British Invasion” and “Lost Boys,” with intricate storylines and memorable characters.
  • Season 7 finale, “Surprise Motherf**ker,” was a standout with a pivotal Debra and LaGuerta dynamic shift.
  • The season 4 finale, “The Getaway,” was the most emotionally impactful Dexter episode with a shocking twist.



Throughout the series run of Dexter, the show experienced incredible highs with standout episodes. In 2006, Dexter began airing on Showtime, where the show quickly garnered critical success. Michael C. Hall’s performance as Dexter Morgan, which explored the dark duality between a man with a strong moral code and his self-proclaimed dark passenger, was a gripping, tense crime drama that pioneered antihero stories on TV.

The series initially drew inspiration from a series of novels, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay, but by the time season 2 was put into production, the show began creating more independent stories with little or no connections to the novels. While there were some seasons that did not live up to the typical standard and tone of the series, Dexter largely featured a brilliant and intricate set of stories with several episodes that were particularly memorable.



10 The British Invasion

Dexter Season 2, Episode 12

The final episode of season 2 is an excellent example of the tension and drama this series evokes. Dexter has his longtime rival, Sgt. James Doakes is trapped in a cabin in the Everglades, and events are converging in a way that could see his secret exposed. Doakes knows the truth, FBI special agent Frank Lundy is getting close to finding the truth, and Dexter is struggling to keep all the plates spinning.

However, Dexter’s new spark, Lila, finds Doakes, and in a shocking twist, she chooses to help Dexter by setting fire to the cabin and killing Doakes. The questionable morals and intentions of the characters are a defining part of the show, and positioning Lila as a lovesick killer, against Dexter’s compulsive and calculating moralistic murderer, makes for an interesting comparison. The episode is a highlight in a brilliant season, showcasing exactly what makes Dexter unique and engaging.


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9 Lost Boys

Dexter Season 4, Episode 10

Arthur Mitchell close up standing outside with green grass background in Dexter.

“Lost Boys” features some standout performances from Michael C. Hall, and the Trinity Killer, Arthur, played by John Lithgow. The episode sees many of the events of season 4, and earlier seasons finally starting to come together after a lengthy build up. Arthur’s identity as the Trinity Killer was already exposed earlier in the season, but the reality of his cycle containing four kills instead of three is explored here.


Lithgow is incredible in the role of a twisted villain who seeks to repair his own trauma by taking the lives of others in a controlled and repetitive cycle. At the same time, Dexter’s sister, Debra, is hot on the trail of someone who appears to be connected. The reveals and tension of the episode are outstanding and clearly set this episode up as one of the most compelling of the series.

8 Dexter

Dexter Season 1, Episode 1

Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and Rita (Julie Benz) talking in Dexter

The very first episode deserves a place among the top 10 for its strong foundations and clever storytelling. Dexter is introduced as a blood splatter analyst who works in the Miam Metro PD. However, unlike typical lab techs or those involved with law enforcement, Dexter is hiding a much darker secret. His double life as a serial killer is quickly revealed, and the episode builds on this drama and tension throughout.


At the same time, the Ice Truck Killer is introduced as a potential rival to Dexter. The comparison between these murderers, with their separate styles of committing their crimes and choosing their victims is a complex contrast that is immediately intriguing. By the end of the episode, Dexter Morgan feels like a fully formed character, with further secrets to delve into, inviting the audience along for a wild ride.

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7 Left Turn Ahead

Dexter Season 2, Episode 11

James Doakes Dexter


In the penultimate episode of season 2, stakes reach an all-time high as Dexter confronts Doakes, considers turning himself in, and Lila’s obsession grows out of control. This episode is full of twists and turns, with Dexter coming closer to revealing himself than ever before or since. Simultaneously, events play out with the unstable Lila, who has some of her own secrets uncovered in this episode.

This episode benefits from having a cast of extraordinarily well-developed characters all chasing down similar goals, while most remain unaware of their interconnected paths. Dexter’s dual life is causing havoc, and he struggles to reconcile what he does, and the future he wants. However, while the episode deals with complex questions and self-reflection for the antihero, the episode comes to a glass-shattering conclusion that could change everything ahead of the season finale.


6 Surprise Motherf**ker

Dexter Season 7, Episode 12

Lauren Vélez as María LaGuerta on Dexter_Deb Killing LaGuerta

While the later seasons of Dexter occasionally lost sight of some of what made the show great, Dexter season 7 and its finale were a spectacular exception. At this point, Debra has learned Dexter’s secret, and LaGuerta has become incredibly suspicious of Dexter. The episode features numerous flashbacks that link it with early seasons and Doakes’ suspicions of Dexter in contrast with LaGuerta’s. The episode also features Hannah, Dexter’s latest paramour, as she sets up her own great escape.


The entire episode is steeped in suspicion and tension, and leads to Dexter making a choice that seems to be against his own code. However, the show once again plays with the idea of morality, and good and evil, as Debra’s role as an accomplice to her murderous brother becomes a larger sticking point. The episode has an incredible climax that changes the game for the series, and sets it on a strong course ahead of the final season.

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5 Hungry Man

Dexter Season 4, Episode 9

John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell at the Head of the Table in a Thanksgiving Scene in Dexter


“Hungry Man” is an expertly told story which explores Dexter’s double life in the context of Thanksgiving. At this point, late in season 4, Dexter has connected with Arthur, whom Dexter is aware is the Trinity Killer. However, he admires Arthur’s seemingly perfectly balanced life. Arthur is a family man, and a respected individual in his community, while living a double life as a murderer who’s eluded FBI detection for decades.

However, the episode devolves past this surface level idealistic life, and Dexter gets an insight into the darker, sadistic underbelly of Arthur’s home life. The episode does an incredible job playing with duality, revealing dark secrets, and exposing Christine as Arthur’s secret daughter. The tension and high stakes that this episode creates are definitively brilliant.

4 Are You…?

Dexter Season 7, Episode 1

Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C. Hall as Debra and Dexter Morgan


Dexter season 7 promised a return to form after the show had struggled to drive engagement since season 4 concluded. In the season 6 finale, the cliffhanger sees Deb finally come face to face with the truth about her brother, but it wasn’t until season 7 that her reaction and subsequent response was fully revealed. This episode changed the dynamics for the remainder of the show.

After Dexter had managed to live with his secrets to a fairly comfortable level, his sister uncovering his secret threw a spanner in the works. In addition, in the muddle of trying to hide his murderous actions, he makes a rare mistake that leads to LaGuerta growing suspicious of him. Debra chooses to help her brother, but, the truth and the terrifying scene of his murder brings back haunting memories of her own near-death experience with the Ice Truck Killer in a moment that brings the series full circle.


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3 Hello, Dexter Morgan

Dexter Season 4, Episode 11

Trinity Killer looking at someone in the precinct on Dexter

Getting into the top three spots, these episodes embody the creepy tension, and the tantalizing mysteries that are slowly exposed throughout the show. In the penultimate episode of Dexter season 4, Dexter and Arthur are circling in closer as they attempt to outmaneuver each other. Up to this point, Dexter has had the upper hand with Arthur, as he kept his true identity secret behind the false identity of Kyle Butler.


However, in one of the most chilling and satisfying moments of the entire series, Arthur tracks down his stalker to the Miami Metro, and discovers Dexter’s true identity. At the episode’s spectacular close, Arthur comes face to face with his rival, and takes back control with three simple words, “Hello, Dexter Morgan.” The episode is a perfect example of the tension and build up the show is best known for, and it creates a perfect cliffhanger ahead of the season finale.

2 Born Free

Dexter Season 1, Episode 12

Dexter and Brian


Returning to the premiere season, “Born Free” was a defining moment in the show’s history in several ways. Dexter comes face to face with the Ice Truck Killer, Brian, who reveals himself to be Dexter’s biological brother, which unlocks a key to Dexter’s own mysterious origins. In addition, the episode sees Dexter’s adopted sister, Debra, captured and prepped for a kill by the man who she thought loved her, also Brian, giving her up as a gift to Dexter ready for the kill.

Dexter’s exploration of morality, family, love, and how the past can define a person all collide in an outstanding concluding chapter. The show’s leaped from being interesting and nuanced, to being deeply emotional, challenging viewers’ beliefs, and exploring deeper meaning for complex characters. In many ways, this episode defined the show, and it proved Hall’s talents for the role that would continue for many more years.


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1 The Getaway

Dexter Season 4, Episode 12

Dexter looks at Arthur Mitchell in Dexter

However, nothing can top the season 4 finale. When Dexter and Arthur have their final encounter, Dexter manages to get the upper hand, and it isn’t long before the Trinity Killer is lying naked and afraid on Dexter’s cold metal table. While this concludes an epic battle between titans, the Dexter season finale would not be complete without one final twist, and season 4’s eclipses any other from the series run. Dexter slays the Trinity Killer, and prepares to leave his life of duality, duplicity and murder behind in an effort to protect his marriage to Rita, and his beloved children.


His greatest fear is that he will become like Arthur, and fortunately, Rita and Dexter have gotten to a new high in their relationship with honesty and love. He returns home, ready to embrace this new life, but he is faced with his own trauma reflected as he discovers his wife’s lifeless body in the bath, and his son Harrison in a pool of blood in a scene that is eerily similar to the one that birthed his dark passenger. By far, the duality, impact, and shock of this emotional episode stands out as the best of Dexter.

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