Dexter’s fifth season premiere airs this Sunday night on Showtime and expectations are running… low. The show has been garnering high praise and award nominations since the start, but last year’s top-notch storylines and performances were the first time since the first season all that recognition seemed really earned. And after the shocking cliffhanger, you have to wonder, with a lot of trepidation, where America’s favorite serial killer can possibly go from here. MAJOR season 4 spoilers after the cut.
I covered Dexter for Tor.com during the show’s weakest season to date, the third. Jimmy Smits is great and all, but the season saw Dexter in a transitional phase as he tried to reconcile his bloody past and murderous urges with the “normal” family guy he wanted to become. And it was pretty dull. Not many people watched. But once he was established as a married man with a step-family and a son of his own, season four kicked off with the parallel story of another serial killer so perfectly cast as Dexter’s foil, I think it’s nearly impossible for the show to ever outdo itself again. John Lithgow has won pretty much every TV-related award one can get for his portrayal of The Trinity Killer and he deserved every damn one. If you remembered Lithgow as I did, more from his funny roles in Harry and the Hendersons and Third Rock from the Sun, well, it was quite a shock to see that same smiling old man stripped naked and forcing a woman to get into a bathtub and watch herself die in a mirror as he slit her femoral artery. And that was just the first ten minutes of the season premiere! Things got even more disturbing when you learned that Trinity didn’t fit that classic “quiet, kept-to-himself” soundbite you hear from the shocked neighbors after bodies are discovered in a local backyard. Trinity was hiding in plain sight with a family of his own. But unlike Dexter and his loving but highly irritating wife Rita, Trinity’s family were more hostages than loved ones. The Very Special NSFW Thanksgiving episode made my blood run cold.
Dexter learned way too late how truly monstrous Trinity was and didn’t stop him, even though he had several chances to do so, until right after Trinity left his hunter a gruesome parting gift. I thought Rita became a real nag last year, but she was one of the few people Dexter had to live for. So to see her corpse in the bathtub and their screaming infant son sitting in a pool of his mother’s blood, the same way Dexter was found by his adoptive father, was the most dramatic legacy a fantastic, love-to-hate-him villain could ever leave. (Even worse, Julie Benz is now forced to star in the most boring-looking show about superheroes ever, No Ordinary Family.)
Can a show jump the shark by being too good?
Now, Dexter’s a single dad raising a baby, a young boy, and a girl going through the start of a terrible tweendom. And of course he, rightly, feels responsibe for Rita’s murder. Did Trinity tell her the truth about Dexter before she died? We’ll never know. I’m expecting quite a lot of angst as Dexter once again takes a new direction. And there’s going to be a mixed bag of guest stars this year: Peter Weller is always promising. But Johnny Lee Miller? Julie Stiles? (Her? Really?) Quinn, a dirty cop at Miami Metro, seems to be suspicious of Dexter’s secrets. But we’ve seen that story before, with the way more charismatic, hilariously foul-mouthed detective Doakes. Who I still miss. So, yes, my anticipation is decidedly low-key.
But, after the way things ended last season, I know I’ll be giving Dexter the benefit of the doubt. At least for this one episode. Watch the season five trailer that debuted at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Take note that Dexter is telling his stepchildren, who were on a Disney vacation, that their mother is dead while they’re all wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Those little touches of inappropriate humor as Dexter tries and fails at behaving like a functioning human being keep me coming back for more. At least for this one episode.
Dexter airs 9 PM ET/PT Sunday, Sept. 26th on Showtime.
Theresa DeLucci has a lot of season premieres to watch this weekend.