Family complicates 'Dexter' as fourth season begins
In the first season of "Dexter" (10 tonight, Showtime), it made sense to put the smiling serial killer who dispatches other murderers in jeopardy. The tension of "Will Dexter Get Caught?" created a rich atmosphere that helped make Dexter sympathetic despite his status as TV's blood-spattered anti-hero.
But when writers went to that same well in seasons two and three, the plot repetition made it seem impossible for the series to regain the grandeur of season one. That's probably still true, but through the first four episodes of the fourth season, it's clear the "Dexter" writers have learned to move beyond the Dexter-in-jeopardy rut.
Starring: Michael C. Hall.
"Will Dexter's Secret Get Out?" remains an element of the show -- tonight's episode ends with a doozy of a cliffhanger that gets wrapped up next week -- but it is no longer as primary a concern. In these early episodes, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is barely connected to the season's primary serial killer, a creepy loner played with skeevy precision by John Lithgow. Instead, the focus is on Dexter Morgan, family man.
At the end of last season, viewers learned Rita (Murrysville native Julie Benz) was pregnant with Dexter's baby. Since the arrival of little Harrison, Dexter's life has turned upside down. The Morgans moved into a new neighborhood where Dexter tries mightily to fit in. His step-daughter, Astor (Christina Robinson), has entered her terrible teens, and he has no idea how to relate to her anymore. And there's crying Harrison, who's preventing Dexter from getting a good night's rest, which inspires an amusing play on the show's opening credits with a sleep-deprived Dexter.
This all leads Dexter to grapple with questions of who he has become: Does he really want this family? ("There's this cliché that serial killers are quiet, keep to themselves. It's a cliché for a reason," Dexter says.) How can he fit family life into his hunger to kill? ("My dark passenger is like a coal miner, always tapping, always letting me know he's still alive," Dexter says of his murderous urges.)
Romantic complications arise for other characters on the show, including Dexter's sister, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), who is torn between boyfriend Anton (David Ramsey) and her ex, now-retired FBI special agent Frank Lundy (a spectacularly under-stated Keith Carradine), who returns to Miami on the trail of Lithgow's Trinity Killer.
Lundy, a great character introduced in season two who sat out the show's third season, provides an interesting parallel to Dexter, particularly when Lundy acknowledges, "The only thing that got my heart beating was the hunt."
"Dexter" will probably never reach the dramatic, creative heights it did in season one, but with this new season the show's producers found a way to sustain the premise by concentrating on the show's characters and, in particular, looking at how Dexter lives with his desire-to-kill rather than dwelling on the myriad ways he might get caught.
First Published September 27, 2009 12:00 am