In its fourth season, DEXTER continued to court controversy with its shocking season finale. In Season 3, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) became involved with psychopathic killer Lila who threatened his family, especially Rita (Julie Benz ) but clever Dexter manages to escape Lila’s trap, stop Lila, and save his family. In the 4th season, Dexter is not so fortunate.
Showtime’s DEXTER is based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Florida writer Jeff Lindsay. Its main character, Dexter Morgan, is a serial killer whose adopted father, a policeman, rescued infant Dexter from a traumatizing crime scene, recognized Dexter’s true nature, and trained him to kill only other killers. Dexter was taught to blend in and appear normal as much as possible, and to that end he chose as a girl friend Rita, a formerly abused woman who had serious intimacy issues. As a sociopath, Dexter lacks real emotions, though he has learned how to fake them, but he has always been fond of and protective of children, so he takes to Rita’s two kids Astor and Cody right away. Gradually, Dexter recognizes how much he needs Rita, marries her, and they have a child together.
As Season 4 opens, that child, Harrison, is being colicky; consequently, Dexter has been losing sleep, his concentration is shot, and he winds up flipping his SUV in an accident shortly after his latest kill, leading him to worry that his victim’s body may be discovered, revealing the dark secret of his true nature. Meanwhile, Special Agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine) returns to Miami in search of the biggest serial killer of his career, whom he has dubbed the Trinity Killer. His return brings back the pent-up longings of Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter), just as she thought she was finally happy with her new boy friend Anton (David Ramsey).
The main thrust of this season is Dexter’s relationship with Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow), who he realizes is the Trinity Killer. Because the Trinity Killer’s victims are spread out over the country, Agent Lundy assumed that Trinity must be a loner, but Dexter is shocked to discover he is actually a family man with a seemingly loving and affectionate wife, son, and daughter. Dexter decides he can learn from this man how to be both a serial killer and a successful family man – something that the voice of Dexter’s late father Harry (James Remar) cautions him against.
Additionally, the recurring motif of this season is the bad choices Dexter makes. His lack of alertness causes him to bring the wrong file to a trial, resulting in a murderer going free. No problem, figures Dexter, planning to kill the man to satisfy his “dark passenger” (i.e. the serial-killer part of his personality), ignoring that his method of disappearing the bodies of his victims ensures that the affected family will never have closure.
In fact, in his selfish need to be the one who kills the killer, Dexter more and more sabotages his own police department’s investigations. Worse, he abandons his stepson to commit a murder of what turns out to be an innocent man. To divert the police from his prey, he frames another man, a trucker who once got away with murder, and murders him as well. When he discovers just how much a monster Arthur is, especially to his own family, he fails to alert the authorities because that would interfere with his own selfish intentions. But, as Robert Louis Stevenson once said, eventually he will sit down to a banquet of the consequences of his actions.
DEXTER remains a strong series because of the sharp writing, performing, and production values, which have been nominated for several Emmys. Michael C. Hall gives a terrific performance as Dexter, who is both diabolically clever and, at times, a clueless screw-up. Julie Benz is also quite good as the long-suffering, frustrated but still loving Rita, who repeatedly uncovers Dexter’s lies and tries to be reassured by his assertions that he simply “didn’t want her to worry.” She uncovers how Dexter has kept his old apartment after their marriage and the couple wind up in counseling this season, though the counselor correctly points out that this is not new behavior for Dexter (who in the past has covered up his nocturnal activities by claiming to have had a drug addiction and an affair).
Lauren Velez and David Zayas remain appealing as the characters Lt. LaGuerta and Det. Angel Batista, who become romantically involved this season; but with so much going on, their affair is mostly shuttled to the sidelines. C.S. Lee perfectly limns Dexter’s creepy Asian cohort Vince Masuka, a forensics expert who has a talent for making anything he says sound perverted (“It’s a gift,” he modestly proclaims in one of the funnier exchanges this season).
In Lindsay’s books, Deborah knows just who Dexter is and comes to accept him, but in the series Debra is still putting together just who Dexter is, and she remains more of an innocent, though she does have a traumatic time this season. Carpenter once more delivers a strong performance throughout, correctly noting how Dexter has given her confidence, but she is still clueless about the ways he has undercut her investigation for his own selfish ends.
John Lithgow does a superb job as the conflicted Arthur: at times hard and ruthless and, at other times, vulnerable and human, Lithgow lets the audience see the wounded boy inside, who is compelled to re-enact the core traumas of his past; he is the ultimate control freak – who is out of control.
Desmond Harrington plays Quinn, Debra’s partner, whom Dexter sees raking off some cash from a crime scene. Consequently, Quinn alternates between trying to appease and make friends with Dexter and accusing him of stepping out on Rita. Additionally, he has a sexual relationship with reporter Christine Hill (Courtney Ford) who milks him for information about ongoing investigations in order to grab headlines. Christine proves a master manipulator who sets no boundaries when it comes to getting what she wants, and the media pressure her reporting represents certainly has an affect on the police, though as the season goes on, we discover that Christine has her own history to complicate things.
Though set in Florida, DEXTER makes canny use of West Coast locations, especially around Long Beach and Redondo Beach, to substitute for Miami. The series has a slick look, and depends on several talented directors including Ernest Dickerson, Tim Hunter, John Dahl, Keith Gordon, and Romero Tirone, the last having often served as the series cinematographer, though Martin Layton assumes that duty for some of this season.
The Blu-ray disc of DEXTER: THE FOURTH SEASON includes sample episodes of CALIFORNICATION, THE TUDORS (one of Showtime’s greatest series), and a new reality series set in a gun shop & firing range called LOCK AND LOAD. There are not many DEXTER-related extras however, apart from brief interviews with Michael C. Hall, Clyde Phillips, David Zayas, John Lithgow, C.S. Lee, Julie Benz, Lauren Velez, Jennifer Carpenter, and James Remar.
Mixing ethical quandaries with the simple demands that family and work place on us, DEXTER: THE FOURTH SEASON is compellingly watchable television, with a finale that reminds us just how much we care about these characters; as things horribly unravel, the message seems to be that, sometimes in our obsessions, we overlook the things in life that are actually most important to us.