When Showtime unveiled "Dexter" five years ago, fans quickly took to the socially-awkward Miami Metro blood-spatter analyst who led a double-life: the monster hiding in plain sight, the man wearing the mask of "normal" to his friends and co-workers.
The premise of the show was brilliant: A serial killer who preys only on those deserving of death – other serial killers. It asked viewers to side with a self-proclaimed monster, an emotionally stunted hollow of a human being. And yet, because Dexter's dark urges are tamed by his adoptive father's code, "thou shalt only kill the deserving," audiences count on him to "take out the trash" and make the world a better place.
"Dexter" returned on Oct. 2 with the much-awaited premiere of its sixth season. While the last dealt with Dexter's grief over the loss of his lover Rita, that's now old news: Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is no longer merely going through the motions; evidently, neither are the show's writers.
The first episode introduces us to fresh themes: religion, penitence and faith. Dexter, a self-proclaimed atheist, asks in earnest of his victim, an all-star hot shot who murdered his own high-school sweetheart: "How do you reconcile your belief in a higher power with what you've done?" The victim shouts about God's forgiveness and Dexter silences him with a knife to the chest.
For Dexter, religion is here to stay; we are introduced to two new killers – seemingly a master and an apprentice – hauntingly played by Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks, respectively. Their identities are as of yet unknown to Dexter, who only has access to the crime scenes they leave, such as a man whose intestines are gutted and replaced with seven snakes, a nod to esoteric Christian symbolism.
The ghastly crime scene incites a curiosity in Dexter that viewers haven't seen since his obsession with season one's Ice Truck Killer; a curiosity not unlike admiration. The writers have set up an exhilarating full-season story arc, likely to rank with seasons one and two in clever plot twists.
What will Dexter learn from these God-fearing, self-flagellating serial killers who quote the Bible as they plan their mysterious duties? The writers' knack for suspense shows as they strategically reveal bits and pieces of the two elusive, almost mystical villains, who for now remain obscure.
But on the flip side of this religious extremism, Dexter makes an unexpected friend in Brother Sam, a repenting ex-con who calls himself "The Good Shepherd" because he leads a "flock" of other penitent ex-cons. Episode two hints that Brother Sam shares Dexter's darkness but that his faith allows him to fight it. It is likely Dexter has found, in the ex-con turned pastor, someone who is more like himself than he had thought. Mos Def plays Brother Sam with an earnest intensity that is a delight to watch.
Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) returns with the same penchant for swearing and comedic timing fans have come to adore and Vince Masuka (C.S. Lee), sexual-harasser extraordinaire, has found a promising new object in his youthful intern: for viewers, it's a chance to laugh as the writers juxtapose gore against his odd, lewd remarks. Additionally, salacious scenes involving Dexter remind us that the writers want to keep the experience not just profound but edgy.
What previous seasons – though cleverly written – lacked in plot, season six makes up for tenfold. Dexter has developed but the new season taps into the excitement of the earlier seasons. With all the marriage nonsense and the lackluster, winding plots behind it, the show can finally breathe again.