Balancing work, family and one’s personal passions can be a daunting challenge, especially if that last category happens to include serial killing. “Dexter” returns for its fourth season slowed a bit by the title character’s domestic bliss, as well as an uneven emphasis on his work colleagues’ social lives. Nevertheless, Michael C. Hall’s performance remains one of the juiciest on television, and even if the subject matter likely blunts the program’s kudo potential, the show can derive rightful satisfaction from knowing that it — more than any other — has put Showtime’s original series endeavors on the map.
After a fabulous game of cat-and-mouse with Jimmy Smits’ character in season three, Hall’s Dexter Morgan returns a married man with a baby and two step-kids. Of course, the sleep deprivation associated with a newborn can be especially dire of you begin overlooking key details — like where you left a dismembered body.
The premiere also introduces a new serial slayer, nicknamed Trinity (a creepy John Lithgow), whose presence has drawn back dogged FBI investigator Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine) — complicating the relationship between Dexter’s adopted sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter, also now the real-life Mrs. Hall), and her boyfriend (David Ramsey).
Trinity is an interesting kind of monster, but four episodes into the current campaign, he’s not really on Dexter’s radar, other than Lundy’s efforts to enlist the blood-splatter expert to assist him. As a consequence, the season often ends up on parallel tracks, which can make the side detours into the lives and loves of other members of the Miami Police Dept. border on tediousness.
Cliffhangers help pull the episodes along, and the idea behind Trinity — whose murderous reign might date back three decades — is intriguing. Moreover, Dexter is regularly prodded by visions of his late adopted father Harry (James Remar) — who channeled the boy’s murderous tendencies into a more pro-social kind of vigilantism — regarding whether he can actually maintain a family without compromising his homicidal pursuits.
The third season also started slowly, before building in an immensely satisfying way. In that respect, the show has become something like its protagonist: “Dexter” isn’t always on its game, and the execution can become a little too messy. Before it’s over, though, there’s reason to have faith that, finally, the job’s going to get done.