Last season, the series’ weakest, was focused on friendship. This season looks much better, because they’ve picked something genuinely alarming to dig at: the way new parenthood can feel like a horrifying trap, one a person might want to gnaw his foot off to get away from. Maybe it’s because I first got addicted to the show during the second season, while on maternity leave, but Dexter’s plight this season hit me in the gut, and as the sleep-deprived character chugged Red Bull, struggling to balance work (he’s a blood-spatter specialist for the police department) with family—and killing!—the scenes had a sickening suspense. Dexter flubs court testimony; he falls asleep on a stakeout, then at the wheel. Like bad dreams, each crime he encounters reflects back some black facet of family life. And in the wee hours, as he rocks his sleepless son, he whispers, “Want to know a secret? Daddy kills people,” a moment at once chilling and hilarious.
There are also some clever structural turns. Instead of a find-the-serial-killer plot, we see our antagonist right away: John Lithgow, as the frightening Trinity Killer. As ever on Dexter, he is there to show us that there are scarier people than our anti-hero, and his crimes upset me enough that I had trouble watching them. Let the viewer beware.