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Scott D. Pierce: Blood flows again as ‘Dexter’ returns

What’s with our fascination with serial killers?

(Kurt Iswarienko/Showtime) Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan in “Dexter: New Blood.”

Utah has had its share of serial killers. Arthur Gary Bishop murdered five boys between 1979 and 1983. Ted Bundy killed at least five teenage girls (maybe eight) in the mid-1970s.

Salt Lake City native Gary Ridgway, aka the Green River Killer, didn’t murder anyone in Utah, but between 1980 and 1988 he killed at least 71 women (maybe more than 90) in Washington state.

Ridgway is currently serving a life prison sentence. Bishop and Bundy both came to bad ends — executed by lethal injection and the electric chair, respectively.

Their names, however, continue to echo in Utah and across the nation. There’s a certain fascination with serial killers that television long ago picked up on, including perhaps the most prolific in TV history — Dexter Morgan, who killed 138 people during eight seasons of “Dexter.”

Dexter also came to a bad end. Oh, the character didn’t die, but the end of the series was bad. The first four seasons were great, Season 5 was good, but the quality declined in seasons 6-8 — and the finale was a massive disappointment. Dexter’s 138th murder was a mercy killing of his adoptive sister, Deb, and we were led to believe he died when his boat exploded. Except he didn’t. He became a scruffy logger in some unidentified place.

It was bad. And in the eight years since “Dexter” ended, there has not been any big groundswell to bring it back. And yet — back it is. “Dexter: New Blood” debuts Sunday on Showtime (7 p.m. Dish and DirecTV; 10 p.m. Comcast).

And — much to my surprise — it’s easy to get caught up in it again. Maybe because they want to do it better this time and give us a decent ending.

Michael C. Hall returns as the title character, and the writers/producers who ran the show the first four seasons are back on board. Even though they insist it’s a “10-episode special event series” and not Season 9, it feels very much like the same show — even though the setting is very different. It’s winter in a small, upstate New York town, far from the glitz and glamour of Miami, where Dexter did most of his killing.

Why winter? “One of the big reasons … was just how beautiful blood on snow is,” said executive producer Scott Reynolds.

To remind you (or catch you up), at the age of 3, Dexter Morgan witnessed his mother being murdered with a chainsaw. He was found covered in her blood. He was adopted by Harry, a Miami police officer, who recognized Dexter’s mental trauma and homicidal tendencies, and channeled them. With Harry’s guidance, Dexter killed evil people, many of them murderers, who escaped the justice system.

(Seacia Pavao/Showtime) Michael C. Hall as Dexter and Jennifer Carpenter as Deb in “Dexter: New Blood.”

Even after Harry’s death, he remained in Dexter’s psyche, representing the “dark passenger” who urged Dexter to kill. This time, the “ghost” of his adopted sister, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) tries to keep him in line.

Carpenter says she thinks of Deb as “more of a link or an echo or an inconvenient truth for Dexter.” That’s what attracted her to the role — being able “to come back and sort of haunt and punish and caretake and provoke and love Dexter.”

(We know the Trinity Killer — played by John Lithgow — will also return, despite being dead. And there will be some “surprise” appearances by other members of the original cast. )

“New Blood” isn’t going to spend much time filling viewers in on what Dexter has been doing for the past eight years. But he’s trying to live a normal life and trying to abstain from killing. That, of course, won’t last for long.

And things take a turn when his 17-year-old son, Harrison (Jack Alcott), comes looking for him. “The theme of the season quickly became fathers and sons,” said Clyde Phillips, who returns as executive producer. (He was the showrunner Season 1-4.) “You can’t do a show about Dexter without … bringing back his son.”

(The timeline isn’t exactly right. Harrison was 5 when the series ended in 2013 — so he ought to be 13 now. But that’s a minor point.)

(Seacia Pavao/Showtime) Jack Alcott as Harrison and Michael C. Hall as Dexter in “Dexter: New Blood.”

Along with everyone else, Harrison thought his father was dead, and he’s resentful when he finds out he’s been deceived.

“Dexter has a lot of work to do to win his son back and prove that he’s a good father,” Phillips said. “And we think we get there.”

In part because of the show’s subtitle — “New Blood” — there’s speculation that the narrative may continue with Harrison and without Dexter. But, Phillips said, the subtitle was “a network decision” and “Harrison is not necessarily the new blood.”

Asked if he would come back for even more “Dexter,” Hall demurred, wanting to avoid answering “in any way that would maybe give away or potentially imply information that we don’t want to give away or imply.”

Will “New Blood” be a definitive end, or could there be more “Dexter” in the future?

Phillips declined to answer. “We want to get ourselves through Episode 10 and see where we are. And that’s really a network decision anyway.”

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