Because Dexter is such a high-concept show — he’s the serial killer who only kills bad people! — each new season has to have a Grand Unifying Theme. In season one, it was Psychopaths: They’re Just Like Us, in which Dexter’s struggle to connect with people despite his, you know, sociopathological lack of empathy stood as a metaphor for our universal feelings of isolation and loneliness. In season two, it was Dexter Finds Himself, in which he enters, of all things, addiction therapy, sees his darkest secrets nearly revealed, and cheats on his girlfriend with a stone-cold lunatic harpy. And who among us can’t relate to that?
Which brings us to season three. There’s a big, shocking, bum-bum-bum reveal at the episode’s end, which constitutes a spoiler, so be warned.
It turns out that Rita, Dexter’s longtime, mousy girlfriend, is pregnant with a little Dexter Jr. And thus this season’s grand theme is unveiled: anxiety about parenthood and responsibility, as expressed in Dexter’s latent fear that his baby will be born with a heart full of bloodlust and knives where his fingers should be.
Just when things were going so well! Dex’s main nemesis, Sergeant Doakes, was improbably but conveniently blown up last year, as well as blamed for all of Dexter’s crimes. A twofer! That leaves Dexter free to chase his yearned-for life of blissful domestic normalcy, making pancakes for Rita’s moppets and spending Father-Son Day at school telling a classroom full of bored kids about the differences between “back spatter, satellite spatter, misting, and arterial spurting.”
Sure, there’s the small matter of accidentally killing some junkie dude, who turns out to be the brother of influential D.A. Miguel Prado, played by Jimmy Smits. Oh, and Deb got a new haircut. And she’s being pestered by a miniature I.A. cop named Amado, who is our early favorite for most irritating new character on TV. (Seriously, what’s with the creepy lurking? She’s that only-on-TV kind of character who’s always popping in from offscreen like the Lucky Charms Elf.)
The challenge for the show this year will be to keep things fresh and unexpected: After all, in previous seasons the show played the Noose Is Tightening Card, as well as the Dexter Meets a Soul Mate Then Kills Her Card. This year, after one episode, it’s already feeling a bit like a reshuffle — for example, Prado looks to be the very-much-less-sexy version of last year’s Lila. And the problem with pregnancy cliffhangers is that they’re not very cliffhangy: One way or the other, this plot will take nine months to play out, and even then, all you end up with is a cute, if potentially homicidal, infant. And we’re certain that not even Dexter is cold enough to dispose of that problem in his usual way. Fairly certain, anyway.