Movies & Series

Every Season of Dexter, Ranked by Rotten Tomatoes

Trend Indexing: Running for eight seasons between the years 2006 and 2013, Dexter was a show of remarkable highs and sometimes soul-crushing lows. It started well, with an undeniable central hook, and it fit in effectively with the sorts of anti-hero-led/morally gray drama series that were popular in the 2000s (and are arguably still popular to this day). Like Tony Soprano before him and Walter White (just) after him, the lead character of Dexter was a complicated and not entirely great guy who was nevertheless interesting to watch, despite – or perhaps because of – the terrible things he did.

Dexter Morgan’s a forensic technician working in the Miami Metro Police Department by day, but by night, he’s a serial killer who generally targets other serial killers, all to satiate his compulsion to murder. The show had an overall narrative and plenty of recurring characters, but most seasons were defined by having a focus on one main storyline or antagonist. As a result, the seasons are easy to distinguish, and adding to this is the fact that some are much better than others. What follows are all eight seasons of Dexter (excluding the 2021 reboot) ranked by the percentage of critics on Rotten Tomatoes who reviewed them favorably.

8 Season 8 (2013)

Dexter Season 8 - 2013 Image via Showtime

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 33%

Season 8 of Dexter serves as the original show’s climactic season, and if anything, it’s surprising that roughly one-third of critics on Rotten Tomatoes apparently liked it. Over its 12 episodes, it feels remarkably unexciting and lacks the sort of impact you’d hope a crime/drama TV show’s final season would have. The stakes aren’t there, the pacing is slow, and it all pales in comparison to the dynamite final season of Breaking Bad, which aired in 2013 at almost the exact same time.

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It revolves around another serial killer in town for Dexter to deal with, guilt for his sister, Debra, to process things that happened earlier in the show, and a mysterious psychiatrist named Dr. Evelyn Vogel with a link to Dexter’s past. It all builds sloppily and slowly to the infamously bad series finale titled “Remember the Monsters.” No matter how much you like Dexter, it’s wise to bow out before ever reaching this disappointing final season.

7 Season 6 (2011)

Dexter - season 6

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 38%

While not quite as disliked overall as season 8, season 6 of Dexter is still seen as something of a low point for the show overall, and relatively weak compared to the seasons that came before. Season 5 felt self-contained in a way that didn’t give season 6 much to go with initially, which leads to another fairly self-contained plot getting kicked off: this one is about a series of killings that are all seemingly religious in nature.

There’s a good amount of dead air throughout this sixth season of the show, with wheels being spun endlessly until a not-so-shocking plot twist is revealed. There’s a real sense of “That’s it?” to much of the entire season, when this twist feels like the pay-off, but thankfully the very last scene of season 6’s finale is an effective cliffhanger (and something that was a long time coming) that might well pique a viewer’s interest for a seventh season.

6 Season 3 (2008)

Dexter - Season 3 - 2008 Image via Showtime

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72%

Even if the first four seasons tend to represent Dexter at its best, it’s usual to find a little less praise for season 3 compared to seasons 1, 2, and 4. It’s certainly not bad by any means, and this is reflected by the fact that its Rotten Tomatoes score is still considerably higher than the two seasons of Dexter that represent the show at its worst. But it does recycle things to some extent and isn’t quite as impactful as the show’s best early seasons.

It might just be that seasons 1 and 2 were so good that a “merely” solid third season feels a little disappointing in comparison. But even then, the central plot of season 3 – which sees Dexter becoming friends with an unusual District Attorney played by Jimmy Smits – is fairly engaging. So too is the continued exploration of the romantic side of Dexter’s life, with his partner, Rita Bennett, being pregnant this season with Dexter’s child.

5 Season 7 (2012)

Dexter Season 7 - 2012 Image via Showtime

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 79%

Resting between the two lowest-rated seasons of Dexter comes a surprisingly good season: the seventh and penultimate one. While it’s not representative of Dexter at its greatest, it is a fun season that has a certain amount of energy to it, benefiting from the way season 6 ended, and the fact that it places its titular character in the kinds of truly precarious and consistently tense situations he faced more often in the show’s early years.

As a season that hits the ground running, it arguably peters out a little in its second half, but interesting antagonists and guest stars and a good amount of intensity keep things watchable. Season 7 helps redeem Dexter to some extent, making it impossible to say that all of its seasons in the final years were terrible, though it’s undeniably flanked by two seasons that were, in fact, quite bad.

4 Season 1 (2006)

Dexter - Season 1 - 2006 Image via Showtime

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 82%

Season 1 of Dexter is great television, with much of the show’s success largely coming from how instantly engaging its pilot episode is. It’s a season all about introducing the viewer to the title character, setting up the dynamics he has with all the other supporting characters while introducing a mysterious villain who appears to have some eerie similarities to Dexter himself.

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Season 1’s also notable for being the only season of the show that adapted a novel from the book series the show was based on; specifically, the first, titled Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Other seasons were more inspired by books, or deviated from the original events entirely, with Dexter overall being a show that changed things in the source material up a little more successfully than say something like Game of Thrones.

3 Season 5 (2010)

Michael C. Hall and Julia Stiles in Dexter

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 84%

It’s something of a surprise to see season 5 of Dexter be near the top of the highest-rated seasons of the show according to Rotten Tomatoes critics. It’s certainly not a bad season, but it has a central story that’s a little familiar and less engaging than much of what had come before, though season 5 does begin in a very strong way, with its opening episode depicting the aftermath of season 4’s dramatic conclusion.

After that, things slow down, with Dexter’s interactions with a young woman named Lumen Pierce (Julia Stiles) making for a solid, if not quite great central narrative for the season. Beyond the first episode, it’s a very self-contained season, succeeding in providing more Dexter, even if the Dexter it provides isn’t always up to the standards of the show at its very best.

2 Season 4 (2009)

Dexter - Season 4 - 2009

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%

Dexter’s fourth season sees the show at its most dramatic, intense, and emotionally devastating. Following the birth of Harrison, his and Rita’s son, Dexter is now struggling to learn how to be a father, and all the while has an uneasy dynamic with Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow), an older man who’s also a serial killer like Dexter, albeit one who’s worked out how to balance his murders with his family life.

Lithgow’s performance here is widely praised and deservedly so, and he might well be the best antagonist featured in any season of Dexter. Things are considerably high stakes throughout the duration of the fourth season, and it feels strong and even climactic enough that bowing out of the show after season 4 (or perhaps after the first episode of season 5) might well be the best way to enjoy Dexter as a whole.

1 Season 2 (2007)

Dexter - Season 2 - 2007 Image via Showtime

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%

After a reasonably intense first season, Dexter’s second season raised the stakes to a near-ludicrous degree, setting the bar high enough that most of the seasons that followed failed to come close. Much of the season revolves around Dexter’s co-workers investigating the crimes he himself committed in the past, early on in the season, various bodies of his past victims are discovered, launching a huge Miami-wide investigation.

It’s the kind of monumental storyline in a show like this that, in hindsight, might’ve best been saved for a later season, but regardless, it’s undeniably entertaining here. Its conclusion (and the way it kills off a great character) might have hurt the show’s chances to reach similar dramatic heights in the future, but the 12 episodes contained within season 2 are still a blast to watch.

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