The Most Jaw-Dropping Moments In Dexter

When Dexter debuted on Showtime in 2006, it hooked fans immediately. For eight seasons, the show peers into the mind of its main man, Dexter Morgan, a forensics expert for the Miami Metro Police Department ... and a serial killer. Dexter is hard not to like: He has a strong work ethic, a good bowling arm, and an enviably cool beachside apartment. His brutally astute and dry wit is as strong a tool as any of his weapons, and he uses it regularly to comment on humanity's shortcomings. When you're trapped at a party that you can't wait to escape, this is the guy you want to be sitting by.

Later seasons dive deeply into why he does what he does, which makes us root for him — though his tactics are, um, intense. But his penchant for murder comes with a code, facilitated and fostered by his dad, Harry: Dexter's need to dissect and dismember is parlayed into taking down bad guys who deserve it. And boy, does he face some real creeps. We're here to look back (and cringe) at the most jaw-dropping moments is Dexter's bloody, sand-spattered history.

Love, American style

The first season of the show sees Dexter and company search for a brutalizer known as the Ice Truck Killer. In the midst of that investigation, Dexter attempts to traverse the romantic landscape with his new girlfriend, Rita. When she asks him to help a friend whose fiancée has gone missing after seeking immigration help from a coyote, Dexter happily accommodates her. His search leads him to Jorge Castillo, who owns a local salvage yard. Turns out, Castillo is also killing those who cannot pay his inflated prices once he's smuggled them into the United States. The missing fiancée turns out to be one of Castillo's victims. 

Safe to say, Castillo is a miserable husk of a human — a perfect target for Morgan-style justice. But in his pursuit of this trafficker, Dexter discovers that Castillo's wife is not just his life partner, but also his partner in crime. He's appalled that someone could love a person who commits such horrific acts — and intrigued. In a deeply dark and laughable moment, Dexter stops just short of ending the pair, to ask them how it is they make this kind of relationship work. It inspires a tension-breaking guffaw at a crucial moment while also adding weight to the scenario. The murderous pair tells Dexter they share the same dreams and goals. Satisfied, Dexter administers his own bloody style of couples therapy.

Seeing red -- and the past

"Seeing Red" is one of Dexter's most unforgettable episodes. The Ice Truck Killer leaves the police a clue to a motel room. Sgt. Doakes and Deb Morgan (Dexter's sister, and a detective) investigate, and though we don't see what they find in the room, we can tell by their reaction that it's bad. When Dexter arrives, he dons a full Hazmat suit to enter. The room is completely covered in blood: It's on the bed, the curtains, and the floor, which makes walking extremely difficult. 

Enveloped by the room, Dexter pictures a blond toddler, sitting on the floor, surrounded by blood, crying for his mommy. This vision causes him to fall flat on the floor, covering himself in the sticky red liquid. Who's the baby? Where is he? We don't yet know, but we know the answers are key to understanding Dexter's past. When Dexter leaves the room, he runs into Doakes, who expresses a bit of joy that something is affecting Dexter. As he tells him, "You are human after all."

"Seeing Red" was directed by Michael Cuesta, who is no stranger to darkness and drama. Cuesta filled the director's chair in series like Homeland, True Blood, and another show that helped make Michael C. Hall well-known, Six Feet Under.

Brothers, sisters, and murderers

Family secrets are a rampant and pervasive part of the Dexter universe. The episode "Born Free," which closes out the first season, forces one to wonder if life would be better if some of these truths never saw the light of day.

This inaugural season sees Dexter seek the identity of the Ice Truck Killer. The reveal of his identity lands like a punch in the gut. Throughout the season, Dexter's sister Deb dates Rudy, a prosthetics specialist. The audience knows that he is the suspect they're searching for, but both Deb and Dexter are clueless for most of the season. As Dexter discovers that Rudy is the killer (with the coldest fridge in town), it also comes to light that he is Dexter's biological brother, Brian Moser. Brian and Dexter both witnessed their mother's murder as very young children, captured in "Seeing Red's" brutal, bloody flashback. Rudy/Brian doesn't have that memory stashed in his subconscious like Dexter — he's been fully aware of it his whole life. Having grown up in a mental hospital, without Dexter's advantages, he has been putting his disturbing thoughts into action since his release into the adult world.

The British invasion ends abruptly

Lila Tournay enters Dexter's life when he starts attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings. She becomes his sponsor, and charms him with her fearlessness. Her presence causes a rift between Dexter and Rita, exacerbated when Dexter begins a sexual relationship with Lila. Dexter tries to remain friendly with Rita and active in her kids' lives, but this sends Lila off the deep end. Dexter gives her the heave-ho — but Lila ends up setting her own loft on fire, in a desperate attempt to regain his attention. At this point, he knows that she is far from the confident, free-spirited person she initially presented herself to be. When she tells him the loft fire was an accident, he knows she's lying. Dexter thus tries to further remove himself from her.

"The British Invasion" arrives at the tail end of the second season. At this point, Lila has wreaked havoc on Dexter's life and those of his fellow officers, and has begun to threaten Rita's kids. Eventually, after unsuccessfully trying to kill Dexter, Lila heads home to Europe. But her removal across the pond is not enough closure for Dexter. He sneaks out of the country for a jaunt that's just long enough to allow him to give Lila his own particular kind of goodbye.

A very bloody Turkey Day

John Lithgow's performance as Arthur Mitchell, who doubles as the Trinity Killer, is a highlight of the series. Lithgow is mesmerizing as the compulsive, ritualistic murderer, who maintains a public face as a family man. When Dexter realizes who Mitchell is, he goes on an undercover mission as "Kyle," finding a way to assist Mitchell on charitable home building projects. Mitchell takes a liking to Dexter, and invites him to the most tense, unsettling Thanksgiving dinner imaginable. Mitchell tries to reign in his inner psycho, but Dexter easily spots the cracks in Mitchell's veneer, especially as he has a run-in with his son, who has damaged one of the family's cars. All bets are off at the dinner table, where the family's tensions erupt into violence. In Dexter's anger, he gives himself away, telling Mitchell, "I should have killed you when I had the chance."

It's a rough scene to watch: Every performance plays a part in keeping you glued to the screen and the awful events unfolding upon it. Lithgow earned a Golden Globe and an Emmy for this riveting role, and it's no mystery as to why.

Rita's awful end

Come season four, Dexter has married Rita, the kindest person he's ever shared time with. He has settled into domestic bliss — as much as he is capable of, anyway — and a normalcy he never expected. Then Mitchell walks into Dexter's branch of the Miami Metro Police Department and reveals that he's found out Dexter's identity, despite his posing as "Kyle." The episode becomes a cat and mouse game between the two killers, each bent on taking down the other for good.

Trinity's murder ritual, which traces back to his own bad experiences as a child, includes the murder of a woman in a bathtub, the murder of a woman by falling, and the murder of a man through bludgeoning. Horrifyingly, he kills Rita in the bath. Dexter is left to find her body, their baby Harrison just feet away, crying atop a pool of her blood. Rooting for Dexter and Rita is easy: She's an angelic person who makes Dexter want to believe in love and the possibility of spending a lifetime with another person. This makes her death especially haunting.

Debra discovers the truth

Dexter isn't the only sibling in the Morgan family with problems connecting to others: While Dexter is stoic, Deb is overly emotional. She looks for love in different relationships, generally choosing bad partners and winding up in the depths of anger and despair. In the show's sixth season, she starts to feel like her inability to hold onto a mate is because she might be in love with Dexter. This naturally has her walking on a tightrope of confusion and anxiety.

While Deb is battling that inner turmoil, Dexter is pursuing the Doomsday Killers. He discovers that these murderers are Professor James Gellar and his subordinate, Travis Marshall, played by Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks, respectively. When Dexter finally has Travis "on his table" — his term for having his victim laid out for the deathblow— worlds collide. Deb, who has decided that she might need to talk to Dexter about what's been swirling around her mind, walks into the room, just as Dexter plunges a knife into Travis' strapped-down body.

It's a mountainous moment, because Deb idolizes her brother to the point of wondering if she has romantic feelings for him. This reckoning changes their relationship in an instant.

Lumen takes her revenge

Season five introduces Lumen Pierce. She catches Dexter as he goes after one of a group of men who attacked her, and though she's terrified, they join forces. Julia Stiles keenly portrays the relentless fear that grips Lumen as she lives each day, knowing these men are destroying the lives of other women. Her kind and gentle nature reminds Dexter of the innocence he saw in Rita, and so he wants to protect her.

It so happens that the men who attacked her are a bunch of childhood friends who follow the lead of Jordan Chase, a self-help guru who packs houses with people clamoring to find wealth and power via his methods. Jonny Lee Miller plays Chase, who is privileged, arrogant, and enclosed in a sense of invincibility. We discover he's been "taking it," as his self-help slogan goes, for years — meaning he and his friends have spent a lifetime torturing and raping girls, before storing their bodies in barrels.

Dexter and Lumen finally end up with Chase in their clutches. He refuses to cower, even taunting Lumen about the assault she suffered. She is the one who takes his life, plunging a knife into his body.

Dexter meets his match in Hannah

When Hannah McKay enters Dexter's life, the attraction is immediate. Her character is introduced when she begins helping Dexter's department on a case she was involved with in her teens. As her story unravels, it comes to light that beneath her mysterious and cool exterior, bad behavior lurks. It's bad enough that Dexter, although intrigued by her, contemplates taking her life. Deb would like that to happen, too: She hates Hannah for both her crimes and the hold she has on Dexter.

Dexter eventually takes Hannah out on a date, where he shows her Christmas snow. As she's enjoying the breezy flakes fluttering about, Dexter sticks a needle in her neck, knocking her out. When she awakens on Dexter's killing table, her mouth is taped, and Dexter is recounting her sins. Her eyes look concerned, but when he rips the tape from her face, she stares coolly back at him, raises her head as much as the slack allows, and says, "Do what you gotta do." He's so put off that he stabs the binding holding her down. She sits up and kisses him, leading to a full-on hook-up. This liaison definitely offeres the "Dexter meets his match" satisfaction fans had always wanted, regarding his romantic life. The two continue their union through the remainder of the series.

Deb confesses to Dexter

Once Deb finds out about Dexter's murderous side, the landscape of their complex sibling relationship becomes even more challenging to traverse. Moreover, Dexter is spending more time with Hannah McKay, while Deb is spending time with a reporter, who's doing a book on Hannah's past crimes. When the reporter ends up dead, Deb is convinced Hannah is behind the murder. She voices her opinion to Dexter, and is met with a lukewarm response. In "Argentina," she ramps up her attempts to get him to see Hannah's negative qualities. In a heightened argument about his relationship with Hannah, Deb confesses to Dexter that when she caught him murdering one of the men involved in the Doomsday killings, she had been about to confess that she might be in love with him.

Jennifer Carpenter, who plays Deb, is intense and emotional from the show's start to its finish, but this moment really drives home her ability to hold a scene. She conveys such a complex set of emotions that it's hard not to be a little angry at Dexter for his lack of response — even though it is, of course, it's a lot to process. Bottom line: It's one of the most arresting moments of the series.