'Dexter' Premiere: The Messes Are Piling Up

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It's always been Dexter Morgan's challenge. How does a sociopath with 67 bodies to his name show emotion in his daily life?

As the hypnotic first episode of Dexter's fifth season opens, the stakes are high—the man's wife is dead in a bathtub of blood, his infant son crying on the bathroom floor. Not the prettiest picture for the FBI agents who swarm in, and complicated further by Dexter's muttered words: "Rita's inside. It was me." All monotone. No tears. But of course it wasn't Dexter—not directly. It was a killer he could have stopped, though (John Lithgow's Golden Globe-winning Trinity Killer from last year), and the resulting guilt cripples Dexter's already limited emotional responses. This sensitive, FBI-monitored moment calls for discretion from our favorite neat monster.

However, Dexter's grief-stricken gaffes this episode include the following:

Telling Rita's kids: Astor and Cody, Rita's children from a previous marriage, had been away at Disney World during the murder. Their return creates a virtually obscene encounter, as they place a Mickey Mouse hat on Dexter's head, and in typical Dexter fashion (so to speak), he doesn't even take the hat off as he abruptly informs them of their mother's death. The super-formal clincher: "Sorry for your loss." Oh boy.

Bizarre responses to his sister: Debra Morgan was an angel in this episode. She protected him from FBI questioning, handled the funeral details, and mopped up Rita's bloody mess. But even the number-one Dexter apologist can't make sense of statements like, "Their mother's dead because of me" and why he hasn't shed a tear. "You're worrying me," she tells him.

Dexter's disappearing act: Okay, Dexter. Under more sane circumstances, you'd realize that you're a potential suspect. That you need to cooperate, play ball with the FBI, and tap into the faux-folksy charm behind your office doughnut offerings. Maybe cry or show a facial expression, even? But halfway through the premiere, Dexter decides he's toxic to those around him and jumps ship—literally. He hops onto his aptly named boat, Slice of Life, with a poorly considered exit plan...ditching his FBI debriefing and almost missing his wife's funeral in the process.

Despite the affective glitches, we do see fully realized emotions within Dexter, developed over the past four years. Why else would he feel compelled to visit Rita's corpse before leaving town? "I was never really honest with you," he murmurs to the body. The character of Rita Bennett had been Dexter Morgan's anchor, someone he loved genuinely and not as camouflage to play up the conventional daytime Dexter Morgan, friendly Miami Metro blood-spatter analyst.

The barriers finally collapse during his brief runaway, when he encounters a jerk in a bar and within minutes, repeatedly sinks a piece of metal into the guy's chest. Afterwards, on his knees and covered in blood, Dexter unleashes a savage howl. This arbitrary murder is chilling, atypical of the killer's neatness, and the exact emotional impetus he needs to show up at the funeral (albeit late), and deliver an authentically emotional eulogy for Rita: "She was innocent. And she died a brutal death, and I can't...fix it. But I know I have to try."

Good luck, pal. In the meantime, fellow cops already suspect Dexter might be responsible, Rita's daughter wishes Dexter were dead, and he killed another more-or-less innocent man, the second in two seasons. Stakes haven't been so high since the second season's FBI manhunt. As the vision of his father Harry remarked in last December's finale: The messes are piling up.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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