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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
s “Dexter” beginning to lose its groove? That was the question that many fans were left asking at the start of Season Five, and it’s no surprise considering just how mediocre the first few episodes turned out to be. (It’s like they were written by a bunch of staffers doped up on M99.) But while it may have gotten off to a sluggish start, thanks in no small part to the shocking cliffhanger at the end of last year’s finale, the series eventually got back on track thanks to a compelling murder mystery that offered a fresh take on the classic “Dexter” formula, ultimately resulting in one of the best seasons thus far.
Picking up right where the last season left off, with Dexter (Michael C. Hall) discovering Rita’s body after she was murdered by the Trinity Killer, Season Five got stuck in first gear for a while as it dealt with the aftermath of her death. But when Astor and Cody move to Orlando to live with their grandparents, and Dexter hires a nanny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) to help take care of baby Harrison, everyone’s favorite serial killer is free to indulge in his extracurricular activities once again. And not a moment too soon, as his hunch about a Department of Sanitation worker named Boyd Fowler (Shawn Hatosy) leads him to a swamp littered with barrels containing the dead bodies of women that he’s killed. But while exacting his brand of deadly justice, Dexter is spotted by Boyd’s latest victim – the emotionally scarred Lumen (Julia Stiles) – from the room where she's being held. After nursing her back to health and gaining her trust, Dexter learns that the kidnappings go deeper than Boyd and reluctantly agrees to help in tracking down and killing the other men involved.
Meanwhile, Quinn’s (Desmond Harrington) own suspicions about Dexter intensify following the mystery surrounding Rita’s death, so he hires recently disgraced cop Stan Liddy (Peter Weller) to follow him around and collect intel, only to decide that it’s not worth the risk when he starts developing feelings for Deb (Jennifer Carpenter). But Liddy needs a big fish to fry if he has any hope of getting his job back on the force, and he has a pretty good feeling that the secret behind Dexter's double life could be his ticket back. And as for Batista (David Zayas) and LaGuerta (Lauren Vélez), now that the honeymoon period is finally over, the real work begins as their marriage is put to the test following a series of disagreements about LaGuerta’s questionable office politics.
Their relationship is easily the low point of Season Five, as it feels like one big soap opera from start to finish with neither person really growing as a result. Though I’ve never been a fan of LaGuerta, this season showed the character at her absolute worst and demonstrated once again why she's the most ineffective police boss on television. Thankfully, the whole Batista/LaGuerta drama takes a back seat to many of the other storylines, with Dexter’s balancing act between his new fatherly duties and helping Lumen track down her attackers proving to be a killer (pardon the pun) combination.
Michael C. Hall has been one of the few consistently great things about “Dexter” since its debut, and he makes incredible strides this season in molding the title character into someone much more relatable than years past. Of course, one of the other things that the show always seems to get right is the casting of its marquee guest stars – from Keith Carradine to Jimmy Smits to John Lithgow – and Julia Stiles continues that trend with perhaps the best performance of her career. If you didn’t already hate Rita before, then you’ll definitely be happy that she’s dead once you meet Lumen, because Stiles’ chemistry with Hall is off the charts. It’s always fun to see Dexter with a partner (we got a taste of it when he teamed up with Smits in Season Three), but the dynamic between Dexter and Lumen is so good that you'll wish it lasted longer than just this season.
Jonny Lee Miller is also devilishly good as the season’s big bad, a cult-like motivational speaker with a dark passenger of his own – although to give full credit to any of the actors wouldn’t be fair to the show's amazing writing. Though it definitely takes a while to get going, the decision to make this season’s main storyline more complex (which is to say, there isn’t just one “villain”) really helps in preventing the leisurely pace that the show's middle episodes tend to have. Season Five isn’t without its flaws – there are some loose ends involving a case that Deb is working on at the start of the season, and there are more close calls and other moments of disbelief than ever – but that's familiar ground for fans of the show. And when you're this far into a series' run, you have to do whatever it takes to ensure it doesn't get old. "Dexter" has succeeded; at least for now.
Special Features: Due to the fact that Showtime doesn’t actually put any of their bonus material on the discs, but instead makes it available via BD-Live, none of the extras were viewable prior to release. Fans will eventually get to watch some interviews with the cast and a featurette entitled “Reflecting on Season Five: Julia Stiles,” as well as the first two episodes of Showtime’s newest original series, “The Borgias” and “Episodes.”