For four years and running, Showtime has had us, get this, actually rooting for a serial killer. Whether through the sheer acting prowess of Michael C. Hall, the great writing of the show’s creators Jeff Lindsay and James Manos Jr., the fantastic supporting cast – including Angel Batista (David Zayas), Rita Bennett (Julie Benz) and Joey Quinn (Desmond Harrington) – or the great guests – Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) and Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow) – Dexter has been able to do just that.
Given, Dexter kills by a code. He kills because he was born in blood, witnessing the brutal murder of his mother when he was only an infant. He kills because a Dark Passenger requires him too. But by following the code of his father, Harry (James Remar), he only kills those who deserve it – wretched criminals who have slipped through the grasp of the justice system. So that makes it okay…kind of.
Still, when one enters the world of a serial killer, he best be prepared for some shocking moments. As Dexter sharpens his cutlery for his imminent Season 5 return, Sunday, Sept. 26, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, in “My Bad,” BuzzFocus counts down the 20 Most Shocking Moments in the first four seasons of Dexter.
#20 – The Ice Truck Killer Tosses Dexter a Head
“Dexter” – Season 1, Episode 1
Over the course of the pilot, we learn that the man dubbed the Ice Truck Killer has left behind several victims, actually drained of their blood. One is missing his head. When Dexter is driving around that night, he is sidetracked by the site of a refrigerated truck, which he decides to follow. His suspicions are more than validated when the driver of the truck chucks a severed head at his windshield. That’s something you don’t see every day.
#19 – Dexter Cheats on Rita
“Dex, Lies, and Videotape” – Season 2, Episode 6
Maybe “cheating” is the wrong word. After all, Dexter did his best to remain faithful to Rita, but after she discovered Dex and Lila (his sponsor for the addiction Rita thought he had) shared a room together on the road, she flipped and told him she never wanted to see him again. So we can’t totally blame him for running into the crazy arms of Lila, but there’s no doubt it was a bad decision for him, and one that would greaten the rift in his relationship with Rita.
#18 – Dexter’s First Kill
“Popping Cherry” – Season 1, Episode 3
We first saw Dexter kill in the pilot for the series, but that wasn’t his first kill. At that point, he already had his system firmly in place, and a growing collection of blood slides. “Popping Cherry” flashed back to his first kill, though, when he was still a little green on the murder front. His first victim was a nurse who supposedly tried to poison his father. Through this, we learn the origin of his syringe technique, and see it how things go wrong in his debut. He wrapped her entire apartment in plastic, but she blocks his attack with the syringe, and the two engage in a brawl in which he punches her in the face to knock her out, then stabs her in the chest several times to finish the job. It’s far from the cool and collected Dexter we’ve already come to know by this episode, and shocking in its amateur brutality.
#17 – Dexter Throws Himself a Parade
“Born Free” – Season 1, Episode 12
Dexter is a show that could easily become weighed down in its gruesome content. Fortunately, its writers have a very dark sense of humor that comes to the surface at all the right moments. After Dexter saved his adoptive sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) by killing his biological brother Brian, the Ice Truck Killer, all while maintaining his cover, Dexter imagined all of his peers throwing, get this, a parade in honor of his murderous work. It was a perfectly strange trip inside his mentality at the time.
#16 – Lila Killed Doakes, Tries to Kill Kids, Gets Killed
“The British Invasion” – Season 2, Episode 12
We all knew that Lila (Jaime Murray) was certifiably crazy, with a history of arson – and served as the worst character the show has ever seen. But she did serve her purpose. Dexter was essentially at a crossroads over what to do with Sgt. James Doakes (Erik King) – who had discovered Dex was the Bay Harbor Butcher, but found himself imprisoned – and Lila made the choice easier by lighting the cabin in the Everglades on fire, killing Doakes in a shocking turn of events. Then the bag of crazy kidnapped Astor and Cody, and tried to burn them all in her loft along with Dexter. Luckily, Dexter had no problem getting everyone out, clearing a passport to Paris, and finding Lila in her hotel room to end her to a collective sigh of relief from the audience.
#15 – The Intro
Every Dexter Episode – Seasons 1-4
For four complete seasons, Dexter has stuck with the same opening music and introduction video. And for four complete seasons, we have cringed every time we see it. It’s downright amazing that through the wonders of close-up cinematography and good editing, the mundane rituals of getting ready for the day can seem so violent and grotesque…or at least the mundane rituals of Dexter’s life. The fact that it still shocks us after 48 episodes is an ode to its craftsmanship.
#14 – Batista’s Hooker turns out to be a Cop
“All in the Family” – Season 3, Episode 4
In Season 3 of Dexter, the lovable Lt. Angel Batista (who Dexter once said if he could be like any “normal” person, he’d like it to be him) gets a promotion. But outside of work, we see him struggling with the duties of being a father after a divorce. Batista sinks so low that one night he tries to pick up a hooker. As he goes for his money, she notices his badge. It turns out she’s a cop, and Angel appears all but busted. Luckily, she acts as if he didn’t have any money to free him from the other officers waiting to make the bust. Oddly enough, this is the start of his relationship with officer Barbara Gianna.
#13 – Rita Learns She’s Pregnant
“Our Father” – Season 3, Episode 1
As Dexter begins to question his loyalty to Harry’s Code, Showtime drops another bomb at the end of the Season 3 premiere – it looks like Dexter will be becoming a daddy himself. When the episode starts, Dexter is settling in with Rita and her children after getting over some big hurdles in Season 2. As the episode ends, Rita has a food craving that indicates she’s pregnant. This puts Dexter in the hot seat about marriage, as well as how he could possibly balance his dark passenger with fatherhood. Quite the revelation, considering what it could mean for Dex.
#12 – Paul Gets Framed
“Seeing Red” – Season 1, Episode 10
It was obvious that Dexter wanted nothing less than to killer Paul Bennett (Mark Pellegrino), Rita’s estranged ex-husband who returned to wreak havoc on the pleasant family life they were starting to enjoy without him. Unfortunately, Paul didn’t really fit the criteria for his code, as much of a dick as he was. So it sort of came spur-of-the-moment then when Dexter knocked him out with a frying pan and had to dispose of him quickly. As Dexter drugged him, we all figured this was it; Paul’s a goner. But we later learned that Dexter left him in a car with his gun and a pile of drugs, guaranteeing he would go back to the big house for a long time for breaking the conditions of his parole. After Paul failed to convince Rita of the set-up, he picked a fight with an inmate and was killed in prison.
#11 – The First Time We See Dexter Kill
“Dexter” – Season 1, Episode 1
There’s nothing like getting right into the disturbing content to weed out the weak. This isn’t Dexter’s first kill – we pick things up in media res of his spree – but this is the first time we see his methods, what kind of man he is. In the opening moments of “Dexter,” the title character kidnaps a man named Mike Donovan, who raped and killed children. Dexter appears in the back of Donovan’s car, chokes him with a wire and orders him to drive to a house in Miami. Dexter forces Donovan to look at the bodies of the young boys he killed, then uses a syringe to sedate him. The entire room is covered in plastic, and Donovan himself is wrapped to the table in plastic. Dexter talks to him for a while, and then cuts off his head with a saw. Wow. And we’re off!
#10 – Severed Doll
“Dexter” – Season 1, Episode 1
In the pilot episode, Dexter had already uncovered a series of gruesome murders, committed a few of his own and had a severed head chucked at his car. But none of that was as shocking as when he got home to find the parts of a severed doll, nicely decorated with red ribbons, inside his refrigerator. Aside from the incredible creep factor, this meant the Ice Truck Killer actually knew Dexter…and where he lived. The most shocking thing about the scenario, though, is how pleased Dexter seemed by this prospect, and the craftsmanship of a fellow killer.
#9 – A Room Full of Blood
“Seeing Red” – Season 1, Episode 10
The Ice Truck Killer was responsible for a number of shocking moments in the first season of Dexter. One of the biggest, though, was a “present” sent to Miami Metro that led them to the “Marina View Hotel” – a jar of blood containing a key to a room there. When Dexter arrived at the scene, he entered the room to find a scene too hard for even him to take – an entire room completely covered in gallons upon gallons of blood. It triggers subconscious memories of his past, and offers the biggest sign that the games the Ice Truck Killer has been playing with Dex are deeply personal. Plus, we finally found out what happened to all of the blood missing from his victims.
#8 – Rudy is the Ice Truck Killer
“Shrink Wrap” – Season 1, Episode 8
Rudy Cooper, or Brian Moser, or the Ice Truck Killer – whatever you want to call him, we don’t know all of that stuff when he first meets Debra as a prosthetic specialist. We know a big part of it by the end of this episode, though. Deb is starting to fall for Rudy, and in retrospect we all know that’s a bad sign. The two are on the phone at the end of the episode. Deb is curious when he’s coming over. He tells her soon, and hangs up. We then see him walk into a secret room where he continues carving a body. Rudy is the Ice Truck Killer, and Deb’s woes are only about to begin.
#7 – Ice Truck is Dexter’s Brother
“Born Free” – Season 1, Episode 12
At this point, we already knew that Rudy was the Ice Truck Killer, and that meant Deb was in grave danger. But it’s in “Born Free” that the Ice Truck Killer finally leads Dexter to the home of his biological mother, where we learn that he’s Brian Moser, Dexter’s biological brother who endured the same trauma, but at an older age and was never adopted by Harry. This gives Dexter the unenviable choice of killing the one person (to this point) he has found a real connection with, who committed crimes to please and essentially recruit Dexter to work together, in order to save his sister, or perhaps face exposure or death himself trying to stop Brian. Does a season finale scenario get much more tense?
#6 – Lundy Gets Shot
“Dex Takes a Holiday” – Season 4, Episode 4
Deb has had some of the worst luck with men. Her first boyfriend turned out to be the Ice Truck Killer, and then Special Agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine) skipped town after his case wrapped up. Then she started uncovering the unfaithful nature of her father, which led her to question her relationship with an informant named Anton. Lundy actually returned to track the Trinity Killer in Season 4, only to get too close and shot before Deb’s eyes. A season ago, we might have hoped the bullet would finish Deb along with him, but somehow over the course of Season 4 she grew to be less annoying and it was hard not to feel bad for her after having suffering through yet another tragic event.
#5 – Miguel Prado Learns Dexter’s Secret
“Finding Freebo” – Season 3, Episode 2
Most people who discover that Dexter is a killer are usually on their way out of this world by the time they realize it. It’s quite a rarity that anyone lasts long after the fact. But district attorney Miguel Prado caught Dexter red-handed in “Finding Freebo,” the second episode of the beginning of Season 3, and lasted the entire season with the knowledge. It actually led to the overall arc of the season, which was the two forming a sort of symbiotic relationship to kill those escaping the legal system. In this way, Prado’s gotten closer to the core of Dexter than most men, but still didn’t fully understand him, and when he tried to used Dexter to his own ends, Dexter had enough of it.
#4 – Trinity Strolls Into Miami Metro
“Hello, Dexter Morgan” – Season 4, Episode 11
Though Miguel Prado spent a long time with Dexter Morgan’s secret, he was essentially in it to twist Dexter to his personal whims. It’s hard to say that anyone but Trinity got as close to being in a position to expose Dexter. Always one step ahead, Trinity actually followed Dex back to Miami Metro, before he new him as anyone but Kyle Butler. One would think that’s where a hunted serial killer would draw the line, but Trinity was so bold as to acquire a visitor’s pass and march right into the police station, confront Dexter, grab his badge and chillingly utter the words, “Hello, Dexter Morgan.” Roll credits. Goosebumps.
#3 – Police Discover Dexter’s Bodies
“It’s Alive!” – Season 2, Episode 1
One of the things we love about Dexter is that every season has made a conscious effort to shake things up, drastically, and have an entirely different tone, presenting Dexter with new challenges. That becomes immediately apparent in the premiere of Season 2 when deep sea divers discovered bags upon bags of body parts Dexter had thought were out of sight and mind at the bottom of the ocean floor. It was an incredibly bold move for the show to shake things up so fast after just establishing Dexter as a character, along with his methods. With Sgt. Doakes already suspicious, the bodies piling up and the media irritatingly dubbing him the “Bay Harbor Butcher,” fans knew Dexter was going to get a run for his money in the second season.
#2 – Dexter Headbutts Doakes
“That Night, a Forest Grew” – Season 2, Episode 7
This has got to go down as one of the most badass moments on Dexter. Doakes was the only cop at Miami Metro who was seriously on Dexter’s tail (and ended up paying for it). Dexter usually used his intellect to stay one step ahead of the police, but under constant pressure, Dexter was eventually backed into a corner (or more accurately his office) by Doakes, who seemed to have his number. Left with few other options, Dexter calmly explained that no matter what, he’d always be on step ahead of Doakes. Why? “I own you,” he said, delivering one hell of a headbutt. The genius was walking out into the crowded office, hands in his pockets like nothing happened to give the appearance that Doakes attacked him from behind for no reason.
#1 – Dexter Finds Rita Murdered
“The Getaway” – Season 4, Episode 12
Perhaps one of the most shocking, jaw-dropping conclusions to a television series ever aired. Akin to when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Bill Costigan is killed in a split-second at the end of The Departed, we’ve sat in shock ever since. After successfully dispatching Arthur Mitchell, the Trinity Killer, Dexter resolved to make his family the #1 focus in his life. He returned home to put all of the gore behind him and join his family on vacation, only to find out Trinity was one step ahead of him all along. He discovered Rita dead in a tub full of her own blood, and his biological child left on the floor to suffer the same trauma as he once did. Cue Season 5.