Season Four of Showtime’s Dexter poses a question: can one man have it all? As Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is a serial killer, you might not think this would include the suburban house, doting wife, and infant son. Yet the series submits that he would compromise his own bloodlust, or at least a less risky and more satisfying bloodlust, to secure exactly that hetero-normative “all.”
Equal parts American Beauty and American Psycho, this season sets out to explore suburban malaise, using Dexter as anti-hero and his wife Rita (Julie Benz) as a doe-eyed cipher. Whether she’s demanding he pick up medication in the middle of the night or sing his son to sleep while he’s at work, or even pulling out a basket of sex toys to seduce her exhausted and uninterested husband, she’s everything that’s cloying and needy about a life partner, without any of the intuition, support or understanding that one needs in return (she sure is thin and pretty, though!).
And while Dexter’s criminal “hobby” is a potent metaphor for those aspects of manhood suppressed by domestication, he is rarely emasculated or empowered. He’s simply absent. This commentary on the emptiness of all-consuming family life might fare better were it not brimming with one suburban cliché after another. These clichés don’t indicate Dexter’s discomfort with the banality of his new environment. Instead, they’re just boring.
Still, Dexter is a compelling serial killer, in part because his sense of justice makes him as much a vigilante as a sociopath (see also: Dirty Harry), and in part because he functions as such an ostensibly successful person who maintains close relationships and continues to earn professional respect at the police station where he works as a blood pattern analyst. This dichotomy has always been the most fertile part of the series, and yet it’s always been the least cultivated. Through Dexter’s narration, we’re privy to his efforts to hide his misanthropy, as he struggles to fit in with mainstream society. Tenets of his father’s (James Remar) “code” are invoked so often (now via cheesy fantasy sequences rather than the flashbacks of earlier seasons) that the points have lost their moral heft. His murders and the code end up as a means to forward plot than to develop character.
With that emphasis on plot in mind, the new season’s first two episodes put the gears of a season-long arc put into motion. There’s a new serial killer (John Lithgow) in town, leaving crime scenes for Dexter to investigate (and admire), as well as another series of murders that involve Miami tourists. That said, Dexter’s romance with Rita remains dull, especially compared to the tender and complex interactions between Batista (David Zayas) and Lt. LaGuerta (the always awesome Lauren Vélez). Disappointingly, Rita is still Dexter’s most pathetic and unfortunate victim.