Killing off Julie Benz's Rita last season on Dexter proved to be a great final shocker…and the beginning of problems for the series' new fifth season. John Lithgow had been such a gas as Arthur Mitchell the Trinity Killer and the man who murdered Rita that his Emmy-winning performance presented the series with a new challenge: How to top the delirious, full-blast, witty evil that Trinity embodied?
In response, Dexter has chosen to lower its volume to start the season on a muted note. The first few hours, which pick up in the immediate aftermath of Rita's death, are largely concerned with grieving. For Michael C. Hall's sociopathic Dexter Morgan, grief does not come easily. He has to fake it until he makes it, which made for a nicely awkward season premiere in which Dexter broke the sad news to Rita's children while wearing souvenir Mickey Mouse ears. The headgear underscored the absurdity of a lone-wolf killer trying to assume his new identity. As he says, ''I'm a full-time dad.''
Parenting is now a weighty chore for Dexter (remember, he has two stepchildren and his baby with Rita). It's also a chore for us. The season premiere was written by the series' new showrunner, Chip Johannessen (24), and the tone felt off: long, lugubrious scenes of morose solemnity; Dexter dealing with an undertaker (no sly nods to Hall's Six Feet Under days); and time wasted on one of the show's least interesting subplots the on-again, off-again relationship between Dexter's sis, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), and Quinn (Desmond Harrington).
It's a relief, therefore, when Southland's Shawn Hatosy pops up as Dexter's first murderer who must be taken out. In the third week, we meet one of the season's other key guest stars, Julia Stiles (not, as far as we can tell, a serial killer, but who knows?). The sooner our Dex puts away the Kleenex, the better the season will be. Because who wants to watch a remorseless avenger who's inert with remorse? B