This season, key players are engaged in ways that prove occasionally shocking and disarmingly funny. In other words, "Dexter" isn't just killing time.

Having played cat-and-mouse games for years with different prey, “Dexter” took a daring leap with its last cliffhanger, setting up a plot that propels the seventh season through its first few chapters as the show builds toward its swan-song. Showtime has been reluctant to formally close the books on their serial-killer antihero, but assuming this is ramping up toward the finale, the key players are engaged in ways that prove occasionally shocking and disarmingly funny. In other words, “Dexter” isn’t just killing time.

Spoiler alert if you’re not caught up, but last year’s closer had blood-splatter-expert/vigilante Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) caught red-handed by his adopted sister and fellow Miami police dept. officer, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), in the midst of dispensing bloody justice. This reality puts the two characters — whose odd flirtation last season could only be called creepy and ill-conceived — front and center in a more interesting, less uncomfortable way: Can even Debra love Dexter’s monstrous side — the one his adopted dad Harry (James Remar) calls “the real you?”

Where past seasons have centered on a principal antagonist — usually one who forces the protagonist to confront aspects of his personality, and whose presence threatens his public facade — this one bores in on these central characters. That’s a help, since earlier emphasis on the supporting cast has often yielded the show’s weakest moments.

There are other threads, naturally, with a colleague becoming suspicious about season six’s events, and a separate plot in which an inadvertent killing related to a strip club introduces a ruthless European mobster (Ray Stevenson) into the mix.

Bringing new allies or foes into Dexter’s world — played by the likes of Jimmy Smits, John Lithgow and Julia Stiles in single-season guest stints — has consistently elevated the series. Held up to that standard, Stevenson’s mob boss is certainly dangerous, but almost more of a James Bond villain than a traditional “Dexter” antagonist, although his resources and thirst for revenge present a formidable (if, at first glance, somewhat pedestrian) challenge.

“Dexter” has produced some scintillating highs to go with its occasional lows, and probably gotten more mileage out of a serial-killer premise — thanks heavily to Hall’s magnetic performance — than seemed probable at the outset.

All good things must come to an end, however, and no one will say it’s overdue when Dexter — and what he calls his “dark passenger” — embark on the last leg of their wild ride.

Dexter

Showtime, Sun. Sept. 30, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by John Goldwyn Prods., the Colleton Co. and Devilina Prods. Executive producers, John Goldwyn, Sara Colleton, Scott Buck, Manny Coto, Wendy West, Tim Schlattmann, Michael C. Hall; co-executive producer, Jace Richdale; supervising producer, Lauren Gussis; producer, Robert Lloyd Lewis; director, John Dahl; writer, Buck; based on the novel by Jeff Lindsay;

Crew

Camera, Jeffrey Jur; production designer, Jessica Kender; editor, Louis Cioffi; music, Daniel Licht; casting, Shawn Dawson. RUNNING TIME: 60 MIN.

Cast

Dexter Morgan - Michael C. Hall
Debra Morgan - Jennifer Carpenter
Joey Quinn - Desmond Harrington
Vince Masuka - C.S. Lee
Lt. Maria LaGuerta - Lauren Velez
Angel Batista - David Zayas
Harry Morgan - James Remar
With: Ray Stevenson, Jason Gedric, Yvonne Strahovski.
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