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There’s something sad about a season as good as this – it’s so intensely, edge-of-the-seat gripping, so blackly entertaining and captivating, you can feel each of the 12 episodes slipping away all too fast. In a truly brilliant show, this is the best story yet. I say “yet” – you get the distinct impression that this is the apex of Dexter, a perspective re-inforced by season 5, the show’s weakest to date. Still, savour the brilliance of season 4 – what comes later is only disappointing because this is so, so good. Perfect protagonist, perfect villain. There’s more to it than that, but this essential tussle at the season’s core is what drives it on with such tension and dark panache.
If you’re not familiar with Dexter, the show’s premise may sound lop-sided, following as it does the efforts of a serial killer who not only works for the police, but is actually a pretty nice guy. A moral guy, at least – he has his sociopath moments. His victims are all wrong’uns of one kind or another, and he sees himself as a sort of avenging angel, bringing retribution to dregs of society. He’s also guided by hallucinations of his late father and has a fairly troubled back-story, but to go into that would reveal more than is fair about the show.
Season Four opens with Dexter (Michael C. Hall, clinically pitch-perfect as always) playing happy families – married, de-facto dad to two children, actual dad to a newly-born third. Of course, he’s also bumping off villains on the side whilst trying to maintain his crisp-and-clean veneer. This ongoing tension soon plays second-fiddle to the main thrust of the season, however, as John Lithgow’s Trinity Killer appears on the scene. Season Two’s CIA agent Frank Lundy (also would-be squeeze of Dexter’s sister, Debra) returns, looking to track down the Trinity Killer, so-called for his murderous motif: three people killed each time, in the same three-part sequence each time.
There are two ways to play the serial-killer-villain plot; in Season One, the identity of the Ice Truck Killer was kept secret until the penultimate episode’s big reveal. This time around, John Lithgow is shown to be Trinity from the first episode, and the audience are in on a secret that the characters are not. It’s not just plot and mood that are being built this time round, but character; Trinity is gradually fleshed-out as the season develops, making for a quite brilliant escalation in tension and intrigue as the story rackets towards its finale.
As a show, Dexter has had some memorable antagonists, but Lithgow is something else as Trinity. An accomplished performer, he immediately finds his groove here, and seems to fill the role with such zeal and relish. What makes the character so brilliant is the inherent contrast – like Dexter, he’s more than just a villain, he’s … well, I won’t spoil it too much – but suffice to say, it’s the flashing change from nice to nasty, from slick to sick that makes Trinity such a phenomenal villain, and such a scary son-of-a-whatsit.
With the rest of the cast on song as usual and an expertly-plotted storyline, this is about as good as television gets. Everything that makes Dexter so good is at its best here; the sharp cinematography, the smooth, slippery Cuban soundtrack and the titular protagonist’s simmering inner turmoil. Caught between multiple worlds and multiple identities, something has to give – and does, in great style. The build-up’s brilliant, and the pay-off’s the kind of thing you’re desperate to talk about. It’s the kind of series that keeps you up all night, unable to resist just one more episode. Sandwiched between a so-so Season Three and a sub-par Season Five, this is Dexter at its dark, delicious best. Go savour.