TV: Dexter (Season 5)

I continue to be impressed by Dexter, still going strong after five seasons. It had a very tough act to follow after season four, what with John Lithgow’s standout performance and the strong Trinity Killer story arc. But it follows up admirably in season five. Rather than try to out-intense Lithgow, the show shifts gears to provide a different kind of season arc, and manages to keep its murderous train rolling.

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) — blood spatter analyst for Miami Metro Homicide by day, and vigilante serial killer by night — is still reeling from the shocking events of season four when a new problem enters his life. One of his kills is witnessed by an innocent, Lumen Pierce (Julia Stiles), a troubled young woman from the midwest who fled a domestic life in Minnesota only to find herself victimized by a terrible crime in Miami. At first forced to hold her, in order to keep her from turning him in, Dexter gradually unravels her mysteries, finding an unexpected new ally.

Dexter continues to deliver the goods, without becoming overly formulaic, sticking to its roots and evolving simultaneously. The show consistently provides the chilling, suspenseful atmosphere, dark humor, warped Morgan family dynamics, police camaraderie and politics, and complicated ethical questions every season. But the show also spins inventive variations on its techniques and ideas, and shifts its focus just enough to freshen its world. Hall is dependably excellent at the center of things, both frighteningly alien and heroically relatable. Meanwhile, as his sister Debra, Jennifer Carpenter continues to tear up the screen in what has become one of my favorite sustained female lead performances ever. Debra Morgan could be the demon love child of Kara Thrace and Andy Sipowicz, a foul-mouthed ass-kicking detective with her heart on her sleeve, and Carpenter is always an intense and formidable presence. (She’s almost preternaturally thin, but she manages to carry herself like someone who could break a linebacker in half with her bare hands.)

As the guest star du jour for season five, Julia Stiles is effective in a tough role; I’ve never been a huge fan, and while there are a few unconvincing moments, for the most part she delivers a strong performance. The B stories are unspectacular this season. The best involve Detective Joe Quinn (Desmond Harrington), who gets more personally entangled with both Dexter and Debra, not to mention a  troublesome sleazebag named Liddy (Peter Weller, gleefully vindictive). Vince Masuka (C.S. Lee) continues to deliver icky comic relief, while there are some minor subplots involving Lieutenant Laguerta (Lauren Velez) and Sergeant Battista (David Zayas). Dexter’s still firing on all cylinders for me, pretty impressive considering how late in the run it’s gotten. Looking forward to seeing where it goes next!

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