TV Review: Gut-Wrenching Start to Fifth Season of Showtime’s ‘Dexter’
CHICAGO – “Dexter” returns tonight, September 26th, 2010, for what promises to be a turning point for the series after the breathtaking season four finale. In the final moments of the show’s best season, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) came home to find his wife Rita (Julie Benz) murdered by The Trinity Killer. Where does a serial killer go from here? How does a creature like Dexter deal with grief?
Television Rating: 5.0/5.0
It takes at least three episodes for the pieces to fall into place. In that time, the writers of “Dexter” prove why they’re some of the best on television. Simultaneously, they play with issues of suspicion, grief, regret, and vengeance as Dexter becomes a prime suspect in his own wife’s murder. The irony, of course, being that Dexter has played a part in a number of murders, including ones investigated by his friends at the station, but suspicion falls on him for one of the few that he didn’t commit.
Photo credit: Showtime
The season premiere of “Dexter” is brutal. Watching Dexter inform Rita’s parents and children what’s happened to their loved one is incredibly painful. I actually had to turn away as the writers of “Dexter” pull no punches at all. What do you possibly say to your stepchild when she says “Where were you when someone was killing her?” Despite the daring decision to inject a moment of black humor here and there, including a borderline insane one involving Mickey Mouse ears, the majority of the start of the fifth season of “Dexter” is pain, pain, and more pain. Yes, TV’s most notorious serial killer can feel pain.
Photo credit: Showtime
Hall makes some amazing choices to start the new season of “Dexter” to illustrate that pain. Like so many great actors, he not only makes the “right” decisions for the character, but ones that it feels like other actors wouldn’t have even considered. He begins the episode in something like a catatonic state, as if the sheer awfulness of what has happened hasn’t fully registered. And the writers brilliantly counterbalance the pain with a lovely flashback of Dexter and Rita’s first date, in which he jokingly says “I’m an axe murderer” and it’s revealed that he met the love of his life while on a vengeance killing. Is it any wonder that their relationship would end in tragedy?
The key to Hall’s performance is in the progression throughout the episode. Watch how Dexter slowly comes back to the surface, first at a funeral home where he seems to be watching other mourners not only to deal with his own grief but to learn how people do it. Dexter has never been the best at natural human emotions and he’s not significantly better at grief, so Hall’s decision to play his response more as a dumbstruck state of shock than melodrama is a brilliant one. And, of course, Dexter eventually gets to the fact that he could have killed Trinity long before he crossed paths with Rita. He may not have slit her throat, but decisions that Dexter made put Trinity in the path of his innocent wife. Of course, Dexter inevtiably has to work through everything and get back to both being a father and, well, a serial killer. Hall should have won an Emmy last month. I truly believe he will in less than a year from now.
Hall’s not alone in the world of “Dexter” performances. The long-underrated Carpenter has long-served as the emotional counterpoint to Dexter — she’s the “hot” to his “cold.” Naturally, her response to losing her sister-in-law carries a different energy than Dexter’s but it’s just as well-written, surprising, and expertly-performed. A scene in the first episode between them in which Deb essentially tries to talk Dexter off a ledge without really even knowing it should finally get her the Emmy nomination she’s too long been denied. The ensemble on “Dexter” has long taken a back seat to Hall and guest stars like Jimmy Smits or Lithgow. Hopefully, this is the year that they get the credit they deserve.
Everything about “Dexter” has been brilliant lately and that shows no sign of changing. After a comparatively mediocre third season, the show was reinvigorated by Hall’s best performance to date and an amazing turn by John Lithgow in the fourth season. And then the writers blew up their own world, not only choosing to kill off one of their most central and beloved characters, but jettisoning the pattern of the show. “Dexter” could have gone on for years with a new guest star/nemesis every season but good shows coast while great shows reinvent. “Dexter” is a great show and the most shocking thing is that, this late in is existence, on every level, it’s actually getting better.