When it comes to Dexter, part of the appeal isn’t just the twisted story of a serial killer, but also having the opportunity to ride along with a sociopath from the safety of my living room and watch as he discovers human emotions.

This is my final pre-Season-5 spoiler warning of the season. Obviously, if you’re not caught up on the series, you shouldn’t be reading this. And if you are caught up but are afraid I’m going to ruin something for you, rest assured, I will be vague in my comments on what transpires within the first three episodes of Season 5.

Dexter is one of the most intense, gripping, smartly written, occasionally funny, dark and twisty series on TV. Between the premise of the series, which follows a serial killer who lives his life by a code, only killing those who by his count, have it coming, to the outstanding performances of Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Lauren Valez, James Remar, C.S. Lee and just about anyone else who happens across the screen in any given episode, there are plenty of reasons to tune in (or to call your cable provider and get Showtime).

Am I gushing? Yes, perhaps but it’s only because Dexter is one of the best series TV has to offer and we’re coming off what I believe to be the best season of the series so far, so my standards are already set pretty high for this fifth season. That needs to be said. Now that is has, I will say that from the first few episodes of Season 5, it looks like Dexter’s on track for another brilliant season.

Since the series premiered, we’ve come to know Dexter Morgan as a man who is going through the motions of being human in an effort to hide the monster inside. His “dark passenger” is always right there at the surface, stalking prey and waiting to be fed while Dexter goes about his life, analyzing blood spatter for the Miami Metro Police and being a devoted brother to Deb, partner to Rita and as of last season, father to Harrison (and step-father to Astor and Cody). No living person knows what he really is as any attempt to find companionship in his secret life has failed miserably but none so much as the relationship he had with Arthur Mitchell. His relationship with the Trinity Killer cost him his wife and in some senses, the family and life he’d come to appreciate.

In the first four seasons, we watched Dexter learn what love really means… or what it can mean for a man for whom actual emotion is more like a pins-and-needles sensation. Dexter loved Rita. He loved their son Harrison and I think he even loved Astor and Cody even if he never really connected with them. He tried. They mattered to him. In Season 5, Dexter begins to experience a new emotion: Guilt. From the moment the season starts, one thing is clear; Dexter blames himself for Rita’s death. He could have killed Trinity sooner. He could have ended it and she wouldn’t be lying dead in a bathtub.

Between his guilt and his grief, it’s a wonder Dexter has time to deal with anything else. But there are other things to deal with, like funeral arrangements, the FBI’s interest in Rita’s death, taking care of Harrison and breaking the news to Astor, Cody and Rita’s parents. Meanwhile, the dark passenger is still there, waiting quietly like some live explosive, unstable and unwilling to be ignored for long.

Dexter isn’t the only one reacting to Rita’s death. Everyone who knew her is dealing with it in their own way. We’re re-introduced to all of the main characters through their reactions to Rita’s death, most of which include a varying range of concern for Dexter. Deb, takes it especially hard and considering what she went through in Season 4, which in Dexter-time is literally yesterday and weeks prior, her reaction(s), which I wont spoil for you in any detail, are to be expected or at the very least, understood.

The season premiere is written by Dexter newcomer Chip Johannessen, whose last stretch of work included serving as executive-producer on 24. He takes advantage of no longer being tied to the real-time format of a show like 24 by taking us through a series of flashbacks in the premiere episode, which help us appreciate the relationship Dexter had with Rita and remember what a sweet, innocent and somewhat damaged person she was when she first met Dexter.

The first episode is a direct acknowledgment on all of the characters’ parts, of what’s been lost, including how a person like Dexter processes that loss. He’s a man who not only struggles with human emotion, but also observes “normal” people and attempts to mimic them. This proves to be more of a challenge for him now as he tries to understand what he’s feeling in the wake of Rita’s death and is forced to question whether or not he even belongs around regular people, especially the ones he cares about.

The two episodes that follow seem to be the start of Dexter’s process of picking up and moving on and the start of Season 5 finding its rhythm. While Rita’s death is still in the forefront of his mind, the dark passenger hasn’t disappeared. Dexter is still Dexter. Losing Rita doesn’t change that. So if you have any concern that the series or the main character are changing drastically in light of Dexter’s recent loss, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

For a series that’s heading into its fifth season, it would be fair to wonder whether or not the writers will still be able to find ways to make the story interesting and fresh. From what I can tell, Dexter is in no danger of running out of steam anytime soon. Dexter looks like it’s on the verge of another bloody addicting season.

Dexter premieres on Sunday, Sept 26th at 9pm ET/PT on Showtime.

And for those of you looking for something Dexter-themed to serve for dessert on Sunday night for the premiere, here’s a recipe for some Bloody Molten Lava Cakes.

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