"Dexter" returns for its fifth season tonight, picking up right where things left off in season four. After being reminded once again of Dexter's gruesome bathroom discovery, we see him on his knees in his front yard, clutching his baby boy in his bloody hands while blue lights flash all around. Our vigilante serial killer is shaken to his core and so stunned by Rita's murder that he mutters, "It was me" to the police who first arrive on the scene.
But as guilty as Dexter looks -- and boy is he ever a perfect suspect for something like this -- we all know it wasn't him but Trinity who did the deed. But like Dexter, we also know it was because of Dexter's dangerous relationship with Trinity that Rita was targeted, and that is what has our usually composed protagonist unraveling in the premiere.
Michael C. Hall is truly great as the dazed, zombie-like Dexter, who stumbles around in the aftermath of Rita's murder processing his guilt and flashing back to memories of when they first met (giving Julie Benz a chance to reprise her role). Dexter has always known he would eventually cause his loved ones pain, but imagined it would be the pain of hurt and public humiliation when he was finally caught, not that anyone would actually have to die. More acutely than ever before, Dexter must reckon with the inevitability that his darkness will destroy the innocent people who love him.
Dexter is no doubt enveloped by guilt in the premiere, but he's equally vexed at how he is supposed to behave as a grieving husband. Sure, Dexter is stunned, and he feels remorse for his role in what has happened. But if he feels actual grief, he is unable to show it. When a funeral director tells him that he's sorry for his loss, Dexter's inner voice asks, "How does he do that?" Dexter's inability to deal with human emotions is never more obvious than when he must tell Rita's children that their mother is dead.
Most people around Dexter are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute his vacant stare to shock, but Debra's partner Quinn (Desmond Harrington) is suspicious of Dexter, and could prove to be Dexter's most dangerous foe this season (word of warning to Quinn: Tread lightly because we all know what happened to the last cop who suspected Dexter!).
Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter's sister Debra is just as raw and foul-mouthed as ever. I'm not sure anyone has ever played both extremes of "fragile" and "tough" at the same time as well as Carpenter does playing Debra. And we're never more happy to see Deb than when she darts onto Rita's crime scene to take control and protect Dexter from the FBI -- and from himself.
Carpenter is huge in the opening episodes and I don't expect that to change all season, since it looks like Dexter's role in Rita's murder will be a central theme throughout. Debra already looks torn between her ferocious love for her brother and her innate cop instincts that something is off. For all the times we've held our collective breath while Dexter narrowly avoided being caught for killing some deserving monsters, there's legitimate suspense this time that Dexter could go down for a crime he didn't do. The writers have not forgotten some pretty big loose ends from last season. Did we really think Kyle Butler would just fade into oblivion?
Producers say there will no central bad guy for Dexter to chase this season, as he did in the past two seasons. Instead, Dexter will deal with random trouble as it crops up. Speaking of trouble, Shawn Hatosy from "Southland" shows up in the second episode as a city worker with a nasty habit that attracts Dexter's attention. He'll be around for a couple of episodes. Also, Julia Stiles will be on board for ten episodes this season, and while the exact nature of her role is a bit mysterious, it's being reported that she'll be a potential love interest for Dexter.
"Dexter" airs on Sunday nights at 9pm on Showtime.