B

Dexter: "Our Father"

B

Dexter

"Our Father"

Season 3, Episode 1

When we last saw our darkly, dreaming Dexter, he had successfully untangled himself from a heap of trouble—partly because of his own diabolical genius, partly because circumstances twisted in his favor. His bodies surfaced, prompting a massive investigation into a serial killer with the unfortunate name the Bay Harbor Butcher. Doakes finally confirmed his suspicions about Dexter by discovering his true identity, but thanks to crazy Lila’s intervention, Doakes was killed and the Bay Harbor Butcher case was laid to rest along with him. The only loose end was Lila, of whom Dexter gleefully dispatched in Paris. And the lucky bastard even got the girl in the end: The ever-forgiving Rita, looking for company and a father for her kids, took him back. And though his relationship to his late father Harry and his code had changed, we begin Season Three as close to Square One as possible.

And that may be a problem. I say may be a problem, because I’ve only seen the first episode, “Our Father,” and enjoyed it enough to feel assured that there aren’t problems down the road. But the danger I’m seeing in Season Three is that Dexter may be spinning its wheels a bit: In a serialized television show this good, we expect forward progress, especially in a character as dynamic and ever-evolving as Dex. And yet I’m struck by the notion that nothing has changed, nothing has been learned, and the creators may be hitting the reset button. In other words, I’m concerned that Dexter may be settling into a standard detective show with a twist rather than a journey into Dex’s heart of darkness.

But with those caveats out of the way, I think “Our Father” is a solid start. At the beginning, anyway, Dexter is as happy and domesticated as we’ve ever seen him: Having lots of good, uncomplicated sex (and pudding) with Rita and playing super-Dad to her kids, whipping up the morning pancakes and horrifying her son’s class by demonstrating what he does for a living. (The latter scene was such a clever idea that I wish it had been funnier, honestly.) He’s also back to being the righteous avenger, a serial killer seeking out other serial killers. And no one’s around to look at him askance at work anymore; with Doakes out of the picture, he can go back to treating his officemates to pastries every morning and not worry about any of them poking around behind his back.

Alas, he can never go home again. His first mark, a run-of-the-mill scumbag that goes by the handle “Freebo,” got away with murdering a couple of co-eds in the Everglades and currently pushes drugs out of a little pink house that’s decidedly not what John Mellencamp had in mind. Dexter does the requisite groundwork: Cases the house and confirms that his intended victim is indeed worthy of butchering, sets up a killing floor in a raided drug nest, and picks a time when he thinks Freebo will be most accessible. But then, fate works against him this time around, as he finds Freebo in the middle of a tussle with another man, who’s so startled by Dexter’s appearance that the two get in a fight themselves and the stranger gets stabbed through the aorta. Meanwhile, Freebo exits stage left.

The situation has Dexter reeling, for the practical reason that he’s left an extremely messy scene behind and won’t be able to clean it up, and for the psychological reason that he, in all likelihood, has murdered an innocent man. (Claiming self-defense in this situation is pretty cold comfort for a guy who showed up intending to kill anyway.) The news gets worse when the victim’s identity becomes known: Oscar Prado had apparently come to confront Freebo about pushing drugs to kids in his youth group, and worse still, his big brother Miguel (Jimmy Smits) is a district attorney and his other brother Ramon (Jason Manuel Olazabel) is a hard-ass law-and-order sheriff. These are not the sort of men who are going to leave this case to the police. What’s more, Miguel had a past relationship with Maria that’s clearly going to impact the parameters of the investigation.

All of this is pretty good stuff. My only real disappointment is that Oscar, Dexter’s victim, does turn out to be not a squeaky clean guy after all, and that lets ‘ole Dex off the hook too much. (Are the creators really worried that we’ll lose all interest in Dexter if he accidentally kills a wholly innocent person?) But in terms of plotting, Season Three is off and running nicely on the whole; though I’ve never much liked Smits as an actor (and don’t really think much of his work here, for that matter), his aggression in confronting Dexter directly about his database searches for Oscar and in pressuring Maria to remove Deb from the case makes him an interesting wild card.

For now, I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude on the season. After last year’s thrilling clusterfuck, which found Dexter scurrying around like Ray Liotta in the final third of GoodFellas, it seems like the show is downshifting a little, if not just starting from scratch. Even Dex himself seems to be pushing the reset button with a new box of slides and a “code” that hasn’t been modified, despite his seeming rejection of his father. But this only the first episode; maybe we’re in for a slow-burner.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

• Just when I thought, “enough with the g-d pudding,” it’s revealed that Rita is preggers. We’ll see what the prospect of actual fatherhood—as opposed to the substitute kind—will figure into Dexter’s thinking. Maybe he can raise a ‘lil serial killer all his own. Awww…

• When’s the last time Dexter has had this much fun doing his extracurricular activities? Before the Oscar Prado screw-up, he’s having a ball telling his dentist what he’s been up to over the summer. (“I went to the carnival and won a prize.”)

• Nice to see Julie Benz doing her best to close the sizable nudity gap left behind by Jamie Murray’s Lila last season. The pudding thing left me a little cold, though. 9 ½ Weeks this was not.

• The other new guy: Who’s this Quinn fellow and how does he figure into the grand design? Internal Affairs wants Deb to keep an eye on him, but he gets her some credible intel on Oscar’s doings.

• Yep, this is still the best opening sequence out there. Great score, too.