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FALL TV: 'Dexter' gets even better
September 24, 2009  | By Diane Werts

September 24, 2009 2:14 PM

dexter with baby.jpg

Oh, it's sooo tempting:

Here's another killer season of Dexter! Michael C. Hall's performance will slay you! Guest star John Lithgow is lethal! The twists and turns are brilliantly executed!

You gotta give in when a series is this, um, mortally amazing. In its fourth season (starting Sunday at 9 p.m. ET), Showtime's Dexter delivers more dangerously than ever. Michael C. Hall's seriously disturbed serial-killer-of-serial-killers is now a spouse and daddy. (How much do we love those blood-or-is-it-juice-stained baby pix?) He's even becoming a howdy-neighbor suburbanite.

Every strong new tie to normality threatens to make him a weaker avenger. Sleep deprivation? Check. Household emergencies? Check. Neighborhood watch group? Check. And of course, loved ones you just know will be easy prey for anyone who gets a whiff of what Dexter is doing.

dexter john lithgow.jpgThat's likely to be Lithgow, who arrives this season even before Dexter does, and immediately reveals what kind of a monster he'll make. (Nice buns, too!) But this season's sniffer could also be homicide detective Quinn (Desmond Harrington), who develops a self-preservation reason for making extra nice with Dexter -- a guy that so doesn't "get" the friendship thing, he perilously fails to respond in kind.

But Season 4 has more -- a returning rival in Keith Carradine's FBI agent Lundy from Season 2, now retired, with enough time on his hands to dedicate himself fully to the quarry who most haunts his head. He also puts the charm to his ex-squeeze, Dexter's ceaselessly insecure detective sister dexter keith carradine.jpgDeb (Jennifer Carpenter), who was just starting to build a live-in relationship of her own. It's not like she can handle intimacy, either.

And as all these puzzle pieces fall together, Dexter turns around and blows up the whole picture with an amazing season-opener cliffhanger. Yes, the season's first episode ends with a couldn't-see-that-coming punch in the gut.

That's the kind of show Dexter is. It shakes up the whole equation. It makes you adore, and pull for, a man whose purpose in life is killing people. People who "deserve" it, of course -- kid killers and other not-brought-to-justice villains, as outlined by the Code of Harry, the adoptive father and cop who steered damaged kid Dexter's homicidal impulses toward vigilante executions of evildoers.

dexter feeds baby son.jpgBut still, he's a killer, and Dexter puts us in bed with Dexter Morgan. He seductively takes us into his confidence through Hall's eerily ironic narration -- one of television's most underrated examples of laugh-out-loud comedy writing. Now Dexter's got that new baby to confide in, too, whispering "daddy kills people" while singing America the Beautifulto lull his son to sleep. "I'm killing for two now," he coos.

Wait till the season's second episode Oct. 4, when all hell has crashed down on Dexter and his latest dead body, and an unknowing cop reassures him, "It's never as bad as it looks." "I'm pretty sure this is worse," deadpans the secret serial killer's inner self. What other show would get such a crossword puzzle kick out of the word SEVER--? Or let the ghost of Dexter's dead dad ("I didn't kill him" was a dry Dexter punchline in a previous episode) remind a dawdling Dexter that he's got "a family to support and people to dismember"?

Harry (James Remar) seems a bit more warped this season, for reasons that become evident by the second episode. That one's a nailbiter nasty in its suspense. But the third and fourth hours (Oct. 11 and 18) get to the meat (sorry) of the season's mettle. Dexter's greatest challenge has arrived, and it's not Lithgow's character or Quinn or Lundy.

dexter_dexter-rita.jpgIt's connection. The lethal loner who can't read emotional cues is now a full-fledged member of a community, hanging with the family, heading to neighborhood barbeques. That means there's threat everywhere. The only saving grace may be that the people closest to catching him are just as bad at building relationships as he is -- his desperate sister, the screwy detectives they work with, can't-get-a-life Lundy, and obviously Lithgow, whose own serial killing string is marked by wanderlust.

That fourth episode also provides Dexter a new target whose murderous impulses introduce him to himself in a shocking new way. It becomes clearer, too, how Dexter remains under the radar by being much like Chance in Being There -- an impassive character into whom observers read motivations that are actually in their own heads.

And after four Season 4 episodes, just when you think Dexter can't get any deeper, bang -- there's an even more stunning cliffhanger here!

If these early episodes show Dexter just a bit off his garroting game, they also demonstrate that showrunner Clyde Phillips and his crew are running at the top of theirs. They've added producer-writer Chick Eglee, most recently of The Shield, and sharp directors like Marcos Siega have the episodes visually oozing both blood and irony.

dexter stop-motion short.jpgBefore Sunday's 9 p.m. ET season premiere, be sure to check out Showtime's rich Dexter web site, which includes a Season 4 preview, recaps/video from previous years, episode listings, special features that include a Dexter action figure stop-motion short, even a contest to win a walk-on role.
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