The premiere of the final season of "Dexter" finds our favorite serial killer looking for a psychopath who surgically removes parts of his victim's brains.
For the last two seasons, "Dexter" has invited us to remove some of our minds, too. There's plenty of room for shows that don't ask us to think, but "Dexter" wasn't always one of them. Its fourth season was pulp at its best, a Swiss timepiece of a construction that put Dexter up against a brilliantly worthy enemy (John Lithgow) and more than delivered on its sense of menace.
Season 5, which paired Dexter with Julia Stiles as an assault victim seeking vengeance, wasn't as good, but what would have been? The clock didn't really fall apart until the sixth and seventh seasons. The show seemed to lose its way as ridiculous murders and silly subplots bought time until the inevitable end. It took Dexter's sister Deborah (Jennifer Carpenter, pictured) much too long to catch him in the act, and when she did, her response seemed totally out of sync with the Deb we'd come to know and like.
So killer ratings aside, plenty of critics wish Dexter had hung up his knives sooner. Just imagine if Deb had arrested him at the end of Season 5, and then we'd been treated to a season of Dexter trying to do what he does while surrounded by killers on death row. Am I resorting to fan fiction? Yes. But I'm not the first "Dexter" fan to wish it had done something different than it did.
If you've made it this far into the series, nothing I say will stop you from sticking around for this eighth season, premiering Sunday on Showtime, to see how it ends. And you should, even if "Dexter" has turned into one of those shows where some of the fun is heckling. This time around, you'll find things to gripe about, but also some good news.
"Dexter" still takes a lot of the same shortcuts it has for the past two seasons. It's still dragged down by hokey exposition, much of it provided by Dexter (Michael C. Hall) in his monotone and monotonous voiceovers. It still goes for cheap thrills, like the pandering nudity in the premiere. An explanation for Angel taking a career 180 is forced.
But the show also promises to bring Dexter's story full circle. A well-cast Charlotte Rampling joins the show as a serial killer expert whose droll performance all but screams: I know a secret.
By the second episode, written by series vet Manny Coto and directed by Hall, the show even finds its deadpan humor again. Dexter's voiceover is finally put to good use as he examines a fellow killer's house and tries to guess where he keeps his implements. Quinn and Angel have a funny moment involving a quilt. And Rampling's plotline starts to crackle.
After a full season of Deb seeming out of sorts, she finally has a cool arc. She's now working for private detective agency, and deeply resents Dexter for her decision to kill LaGuerta. She's in the midst of one of those "Dexter" spirals, like Quinn's in Season 6, that we suspect will be conveniently short. And she has an assassin pursuing her. Fun.
The second episode also introduces some intriguing ideas about the role of sociopaths in our evolution. I'll be really impressed if "Dexter" finds somewhere to go with those ideas, since lately it's been content to throw them at the wall like so much splatter.
It will take Dexter at his best to take that splatter and find his way to a conclusion. Time is running out, and we need "Dexter" back on its old clock.
The premiere of the final season of "Dexter" airs Sunday at 9/8 c on Showtime.