Like a bad morning person, “Dexter” almost never gets off to a rousing start, though the finishes have traditionally more than compensated for that. So the first three episodes of Showtime’s signature drama largely find the show idling, with scant insight about its latest serial killers and plenty of tedious office politics to distract from Michael C. Hall’s creepily magnetic character. For all that, the show remains watchable but initially falls well short of the unnerving highs that have characterized previous seasons.
Between seasons, more time has passed for Dexter Morgan, the Miami police blood-splatter expert who — thanks in part to his gruesome childhood — has become a cold-blooded vigilante, hunting down deserving parties and meeting out ritualized justice to scratch his homicidal itch.
Single fatherhood hasn’t changed much for Dexter, and the stress level remains unchanged around the precinct, where a promotion for his boss, Lt. Maria LaGuerta (Lauren Velez), triggers a chain of dominos encompassing fellow cop Angel (David Zayas) and Dexter’s sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), the potty-mouthed detective.
Still, that’s mostly a garnish to the new night-stalkers, played by Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos, whose motives stay cloudy even if their methods are, characteristically, pretty revolting.
This isn’t to say “Dexter’s” latest season lacks simple pleasures. Early highlights include Dexter attending a high-school reunion in search of prey — and actually discovering that as a blood-splatter expert with a well-publicized personal tragedy, he’s become one of the cool kids — and the character grappling with his lack of religious faith as he seeks an appropriate private school for his son.
“Dexter’s” real strengths, though — other than its wry sense of humor and Hall’s wonderfully sly performance, making us queasily watch his hidden-in-plain-sight monster — have been its ability to showcase terrific antagonists, bringing its antihero into conflict with worthy adversaries usually capable of threatening his closely guarded secret.
“Monsters don’t get to live happily ever after,” Dexter muses in voiceover near the outset. But things for “Dexter” — given its unlikely premise — have worked out remarkably well. It’s just that creatively speaking, the current season looks like it’s going to require a major late-act rescue.
Not that we won’t be around for the payoff, but could you hurry it up a little, before people start dying of natural causes?