The fifth season of Dexter, Showtime's series about the Miami blood-spatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer, premieres this Sunday. The upcoming season promises to be something of a doozy following the death of Dexter's wife, Rita, at the end of season 4; previews indicate that Dexter will become the primary suspect in her murder. New faces are joining the cast; Julia Stiles is set to guest star in 10 episodes as a new romantic interest, and Southland's Shawn Hatosy will appear in a multiple-episode arc. But season 5 of "Dexter" will also offer more than the usual cat-and-mouse-with-the-police interspersed with ritual dismemberment. Rita's death isn't just another puzzle to solve; it may signal an as-yet-unseen unraveling of Dexter's stony facade.
Part of the appeal of "Dexter" isn't just the almost banal treatment of his ritualized murders (no matter how much I enjoy the show, his collection of blood slides creeps me out every time I see it) or superb acting by Michael C. Hall. It's Dexter's unusual brand of vigilante activity. Despite his psychotic nature (which he recognizes, once interrupting himself during an interior monologue by saying, "Oh good, the voices are back"), many might sympathize with Dexter as they may Dirty Harry or Batman. He preys on criminals the police could not reach or the legal system forgot, enforcing his own brand of justice.
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Like other fictional vigilantes, Dexter operates to satisfy his own psychological (and in his case, psychopathic) needs. But Dexter has shown that despite his blood lust, he has the capacity for morality, for reason, and for compassion, if only awkwardly parroted or bound by The Code taught to him by his adoptive father, Harry. Observing Dexter in 2006, Tad Friend recognized glimmers of humanity from the outset of Dexter's bloody journey: "It's hard to get worked up about Dexter's peril, because he keeps telling us that he expects and deserves to be caught, calling himself 'a very neat monster.'"