Well, after a short break (for Season 3 of Doctor Who as well as a disc of Studio 6o on the Sunset Strip), I’ve made my way back to the dark and gritty streets of Miami to re-immerse myself in the world of America’s favorite serial killer, Dexter Morgan. After a third season that struggled out of the gate but found itself by season’s end (though not without even more bumps along the way), I was concerned that Dexter had avoided the dreaded sophomore slump only to peak in its second season. Fortunately, four episodes into Season 4, Dexter is not only back in classic form, the series has introduced its most terrifying villain to date. The fact that this is accomplished by an actor I most commonly associate with a cheesy 90’s sitcom makes the terror all that more impressive. While balancing a tale of Dexter’s journey into fatherhood and the role of family man against an equally interesting serial killer investigation, Season 4 of Dexter is shaping up to the kind of high quality programming this series is capable of producing (though it doesn’t always have the consistency to pull it off).

Last season ended with the  beautiful wedding of Rita and Dexter as they awaited the birth of their child and Dexter could rest easy in his defeat of both the Skinner as well as the almost equally unhinged Miguel Prado. This season picks up around 6 months after the end of last season, with Rita and Dexter “happily” married and moved in to a new house in the suburbs with an ever-whining and crying infant Harrison keeping the couple awake and Dexter severely off his game who has even less time than in the past for his extracurricular activities. With Dexter wanting to find time for his “dark passenger” as well as his job as well his new family duties, every aspect of his life starts taking a serious hit. Matters are only complicated with the arrival of (now retired) FBI Agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine) investigating the potential return of a decades active serial killer to the Miami metro area. The killer, known to Lundy as the Trinity Killer (the incredibly terrifying John Lithgow), has committed a series of ritualistic and grizzly murders across the entire nation for thirty years now, the murders following the same pattern of three identical murders before he moves on. At the end of the disc, Deb and Lundy are attacked by a mysterious figure, with Debra being wounded and it looks like Frank Lundy may be dead.

Besides the unsettling and very creepy Trinity Killer (serious props to John Lithgow for this menacing acting creation), the major theme of the season has been Dexter being torn apart by his desire to have both a real life with Rita and the kids and still kill people. For the most part, the show has handled it exceedingly well, much like they handled the initial drama of Rita’s pregnancy in Season 3 before Miguel Prado hijacked virtually every second of the season. While I’ve grown exceedingly tired of the “Harry as an extension of Dexter’s troubled psyche” schtick that this series has relied on as a crutch for expressing Dexter’s inner turmoil (it’s just far to heavy-handed and with no semblance of subtlety or nuance), it has been interesting to watch Dexter’s doubts and insecurities about his family blossom into a conscious realization that he cares for these individuals as expressed in recent episodes. One of my biggest complaints of season’s past was that I had stopped taking Dexter’s inner monologues about having no feelings seriously any more when he had shown such obvious compassion and care for Rita and her children, and now that he is married and has a child of his own, even Dexter has to admit that perhaps he’s not the emotionless robot he thought he was, which is an appreciated change of pace.

I want to give thumbs up to specific performances from this disc. First, the now late Frank Lundy (I looked it up and spoilered myself) as played by Keith Carradine. While Carradine will probably always be “Wild” Bill Hickock from Deadwood to me, he really crafted a nice role of an obsessed but brilliant serial killer hunter and the chemistry between him and Deb was far more intense and realistic than between Deb and Anton even though Lundy is a good 30 years older than her. He and Dexter also always had a great Light and L-esque chemistry (Death Note reference for the unitiated) in the cat and mouse hunt that was occurring in Season 2, and there was a tension there I’ll always miss. However, the real scene-stealer is John Lithgow who has left an indelible imprint on my subconscious even though he spent hardly time on screen. In just a handful of scenes, he accomplished more than the Icetruck Killer, Lila, or Miguel Prado could over the course of whole seasons. It’s the combination of his polite demeanor (to those he hasn’t killed yet) against the terrible brutality of his crimes and the genuinely disturbing nature of this persona. I really want to know more about him and I hope the season devotes more time to examining this compelling figure.

I’m curious as to what the fallout of Lundy’s murder will be. While I’m fairly certain that Trinity was the killer, there’s a possibility he wasn’t since it didn’t fit the MO of his next victim. However, I’m almost able to say with complete metaphysical certitude that Anton is going to be blamed for it whether he was the killer or not, under the pretense that he had learned of Lundy and Deb sleeping together again. I’m also curious as to whether there will be any future blowback to Dexter for murdering a dirty cop and having a fairly intense fight with said cop in Dexter and Rita’s house. I feel like that kind of screw-up is too big for there not to be repercussions down the road, unless of course this is Dexter‘s version of “The Pine Barrens” from The Sopranos (single best episode of that series btw). I’m very excited for this season. I’ve heard nothing but great things about it, and while I’ll be taking a break between each disc for some Studio 60, I can guarantee that the high quality so far will motivate me to finish both series as quickly as I possibly can.

Final Score: A-