Sep 24 2010 3:47pm

Dexter returns to face his Biggest Bad: Last Season

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 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.

Rajan Khanna
1. rajanyk
This will give me an excuse to go visit my family (and take advantage of their Showtime subscription). But I agree, last season was fantastic and will be hard to top.
2. Ablsep10
I don't know. Dexter is definitely an interesting show, however, it also gives me chills when I watch it.. Can't quite decide whether I like it or not. Makes you wonder.
Mitchell Downs
3. Beamish
Even if this is the worst season of Dexter to date, it will be better television than 99% of the other options out there.

While John Lithgow was absolutely brilliant, I felt that the Season 4 Dexter made too many unchracteristic mistakes, was put in situations that forced him down a very narrow path and that ultimately came off as too contrived for my liking. In fact, Dexter's arc was less rewarding than every other character's - including the obvious filler of the Bautista/LaGuerta marriage.

So, while the supporting characters definitely have almost zero hope of living up to Lithgow or Carradine (Season 2 is still my personal favorite) I think that Season 5's Dexter Unleashed will be infinitely more compelling than Season 4's Dexter-in-chains.

I am also looking forward to Deb coming to grips with her revelation that the Ice Truck Killer was Dexter's brother; and Quinn will be a MUCH more dangerous hunter than Doakes since he does not have a very strong moral compass - he will lie, cheat, steal and ignore "right" to win that battle. Doakes was undone by his need for justice, Quinn will just want to win.

Season 5 holds infinitely more potential than Season 4 did - the homerun of Lithgow's acting and the Trinity character were a surprise - we did not anticipated that story at the end of Season 3. I think Season 5 can be equally as surprising just within the arc of the regular characters and not needing the "Super" guest star to raise the level of the show.
4. mosesmonster
Dexter always gives you the ride it thinks you need. Season three was probably the weakest link, but it got real good the last 3 episodes. Hell, the second to last episode I think has had the most chilling closing sequence I've seen in any medium of story telling to date. It's alright to hold reservations about this season, but I don't see it being a huge disappointment. Maybe a bit of a drag, but I agree with Mr. Beamish's comment.
Theresa DeLucci
5. theresa_delucci
@Beamish @mosesmonster

I hope I don't sound like I'm writing the show off -- especially before it even begins! I just feel that S4 was my favorite by a wide margin, so I'm willing to follow the show where it goes, but I'm also not expecting the show to be a retread of last season's format either. I think the creators know what a tough act that cliffhanger was to follow and how popular the Trinity story arc was and I believe they even stated that having one Big Bad this year after last's would be a mistake.

You bring up a good point about Quinn; he's a lot dirtier than Doakes ever was. I don't think he's smarter than Doakes, just less ruled by his emotions. Except when it comes to hot reporters.

Deb is definitely one to watch too and the return of Lundy last season was another big highlight for me. I loved Lundy. I go between loving season 1 or season 2 more, but I became a big Deb fan after she called Lila a gross English titty vampire. ( asked me to write up a short post about Dexter coming back, so I didn't get to geek out about my Deb love. Or my Masuka and Angel love. )

And I agree with you about bad Dexter still being better than 99% of the stuff on TV.
6. Marcel Brienen
Usually, shows about mass-murders resonate with dark, distilled moments caught on camera. When the Dexter Season 5 show is shot, it is being filmed in Miami, Florida and parts of California. Thus the audience sees a lot of vibrant scenes and their attention spans are held, because it's imagery that people don't usually see everyday.

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