'Dexter': Ranking 8 killer seasons

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Now that Dexter has concluded it’s time for a definitive ranking of the seasons. I’m braced for your blowback because season 4 is NOT #1 on my list (scandal!). Be sure to check out our series finale recap and Q&A with the Dexter producers about that ending and the final season. See what you think:

Season 2: The Bay Harbor Butcher
Riveting, format-breaking season: The Big Bad wasn’t some temporary guest star but Dexter himself as hostile colleague Sgt. Doakes (Erik King) and FBI blood-hound Agent Lundy (Keith Carradine) closed in with every hour, and Dex contended with an unstable girlfriend Lila (Jaime Murray). Dexter is at its best when Dex is scrambling to survive and season 2 felt like a potential final season storyline very early in the show’s run. In fact, season 2 is one of the reasons the show’s writers surprised fans by not pursuing a similar storyline for the final season.

Season 4: Trinity
The clear fan favorite: John Lithgow chewed scenery as the sadistic Trinity Killer and worthy Dexter adversary who bled out his victims while cradling them nude in a bathtub [shudder]. The finale revealing Trinity murdered Dexter’s wife Rita (Julie Benz) is the show’s biggest shocker.  

Season 1: The Ice Truck Killer
Based on Jeff Lindsay’s first Dexter novel, the debut season gradually established the show’s mix of tension and humor as Dex tracks a perfectionistic killer (Christian Camargo) who’s revealed to be his long-lost biological brother and Debra’s boyfriend.

Season 7: Isaak Sirko
The creative rebound: Debra agonizes over keeping her brother’s secret; Dexter spars with a vengeful Russian mobster (Ray Stevenson) and Capt. Maria LaGuerta’s (Lauren Velez) growing suspicions, while falling for the intoxicatingly toxic florist Hannah McKay (Yvonne Strahovski). But the season does have the series’ most ridiculous moment: Dexter sets up a kill room at the Miami airport.

Season 5: Barrel Girl Gang
Dexter (the show and the character) struggles to move forward in the wake of Rita’s death. Dex hunts the sadistic Barrel Girl Gang and bonds with traumatized victim Lumen Pierce (Julia Stiles). Lumen is a rare full-season guest star who survived.

Season 3: The Skinner
In a largely forgettable season, Dexter sparred with an vengeful prosecutor (oh yeah, Jimmy Smits) and hunted a serial killer (Jesse Borrego) who trimmed trees (exciting!) while preparing to marry Rita.

Season 8: The Brain Surgeon
The oddest season. The season premiere and finale were strong (even if you didn’t agree with the ending). The episodes in between squandered potential with weak subplots, plot holes and a villain whose identity changed so many times fans stopped caring. Still, Dr. Vogel (Charlotte Rampling) had a real presence and there’s a couple stand-out episodes, which is more than you can say for…

Season 6: The Doomsday Killers
A wheel-spinning mess that took Debra discovering her brother’s secret in the season’s final seconds to save it: Dex plows through random subplots (Quinn’s alcoholism? That creepy computer programmer? Trinity’s family?) and contemplates religion as two boring apocalypse obsessives (Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks) — but one is imaginary! — create gory over-the-top tableaus.

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