While "spoiler" content for this particular season of 'Dexter' will be kept to a bare minimum, the events of the previous four seasons of the show will be mentioned openly. It's hard to discuss the starting point of this particular season without touching on the previous season's shock ending and the events leading up to it. Don't read this unless you have already caught up with the last four seasons of Showtime's magnificent series.
I didn't know what to expect from 'Dexter: The Fifth Season.' This is one show I must approach spoiler-free, and without the capability of viewing it as it airs, it was a long year waiting for this newest batch of episodes to hit Blu-ray. An entire year not knowing how exactly the show will adapt to the death of one of the series mainstays, Rita (Julie Benz). Knowing that our favorite serial killer/blood splatter analyst Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) will have to adapt to life as a single parent, with baby Harrison, as well as Cody (Preston Bailey) and Astor (Christina Robinson) losing their mom to the infamous Trinity Killer. With the amazing performance by John Lithgow in the previous season easily making for the best villain so far, how was this season going to top the amazing highs it explored previously? Would there be a new killer, or would we have a season where once again Dexter was the hunted man? How would the real life issues between Hall and his now ex-wife (Jennifer Carpenter) affect the chemistry and story?
So many questions, and so many answers. It's astounding how well the tangled web of story lines meshed this season. Astounding. Rather than create one villain who would have audiences immediately drawing comparisons, good or bad, to villains past, this year we have a slew of baddies working in unison.
Dexter is put in the worst situation possible for someone of his emotional makeup, incapable of truly expressing human feelings. His wife is now dead, leaving two children who can't understand why their mother had to die, and a third who is incapable of cognitive thought, but was born in blood, the same as his father. In living multiple lives, Dexter has failed in all of them.
Dexter now needs to get his aggression out, his acts of karmic retribution inflicted on others are his only way of dealing with his pain. Can he maintain that safe distance, or will he slip and become the prey to the murdering fiends he stalks?. After one such kill that saves the life of an innocent woman who was repeatedly tortured and raped, Dexter must come to grips with yet another who seeks to be his partner. Was saving one good soul penance for failing to save another? Will helping someone whose life was destroyed by a group of disgusting men have the same consequences as the last time he let someone into his dark world? Can Dexter continue a life where he lurks in the shadows of the police department, stealing their targets for his own brand of justice, or will his duality finally catch up to him?
'Dexter: The Fifth Season' begins with a three minute recap in the "previously on" cold opening, reminding viewers of the past between Dexter and Rita, on through the introduction of Trinity and Rita's eventual bleed out death in her own home. In doing so, the show attempts to let newcomers to the program find footing for what's to come, but there is no denying that this is not the season for newcomers to begin with. I leapt in on the fourth season (and then instantly had to marathon the previous three!), and while it wasn't the ideal starting point, the carryover from the past season to the current wasn't as difficult to overcome as it is here. The entire first episode is one where ramifications are waded through like the sickly warm swamps that seem to house more missing people than they do gators, taking the momentum of the previous season, reminding us why it is, and was, such a controversial and shocking moment.
Strangely, this new season stumbles in a place where it was never an issue before, in a place that has been one of the show's greatest strengths. In the past, the random murder of the week story, the confined hunter versus prey tale with hints of recurring story lines and subplots, could be thrown in seemingly at any time in the season and fit in naturally; these killers who were important enough for Dexter to want to claim all felt realized, developed. In this fifth season of the show, the Dexter kills that aren't on the main story arc don't fit in well at all. Some don't even really give us any reason to care, and their entire place in the season come into question until a brief moment at the end that forces a connection between the mega-plot, whether it's sensical or not. There is no standalone episode that works on its own anymore. What we have instead is one massive yarn, and the moments taken away are too obvious and poorly realized.
Thankfully, the main arc this season is a real blast, fitting in the history of the show nicely. The premise is definitely the most extreme so far, with extreme violence against women being the focus, and as such, a stronger stomach may be required this time around. That said, isn't it that much better, since you want to see these men die that much more? With Trinity, there was no way I wanted to see the story end at the last episode of the season, the character was so perfect for the show it was almost a tragedy it couldn't continue further, to reappear at any time to further taunt Dexter. Here? All of the men deserve the wrath they've invoked. There's no sympathy, no deep seated psychological explanation; they're scum, pure and simple, predators who push each other in a show of solidarity, their club as exclusive and secret as they come.
Thanks to the villains in this season, we have a new female character to the show, as Julia Stiles brings a new element that really had no signs of staleness whatsoever, a dynamics reinvention to sets this season apart. Stiles gives a very interesting (Golden Globe nominated) performance that is both her best and her worst work. Early on, seeing her Lumen character act primal impulses coming from desperation, fear, and shock, it's hard to not be pulled in by her performance, especially having seen her so often that her acting started to feel monotonous. You generally get to understand her character, her position, and through behavior more than backstory, we see the pain she's lived through. Soon after, though, as she begins to trust again and seeks revenge against the men who attacked her repeatedly (and so many before her), the old Stiles comes shining through, the same body language and facial expressions, as Lumen gives way to her actress. It was disappointing to see her return to such a familiar acting style.
The recurring/returning cast mates all get interesting roles and scenarios this time around, and they actually get a few cases that aren't concluded by way of trash bags in the ocean! The marriage of LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) and Batista (David Zayas) has its ups and downs, mostly downs, as the workplace dynamic is changed dramatically via politics. Quinn (Desmond Harrington) gets much more attention than before, while the foul mouthed Debra (Carpenter) has the same ups and downs, the usual romantic subplot and failures. The interesting part of this season is how much has changed. LaGuerta becomes much more difficult to enjoy, while Batista suddenly becomes deserving of empathy. Vince Matsuka (C.S. Lee) has very few real standout moments, and only steals the show once...in the background. Quinn's obsession with Dexter opens the door for the second big arc this season, going so far as to hire a disgraced cop (Peter Weller) to dig up some dirt. With a major case that Dexter has no part of, on top of the trademark case that both Dexter and all the detectives are working on concurrently (though with different intent), there's tons for the non-titular characters to do this time around, and plenty to cheer or boo.
'Dexter' may be the best show on television right now, and this season is all the proof I need to make that argument. An amazing season is followed up in style, in a manner that doesn't take away the effectiveness of the prior; rather, it capitalizes and builds upon that success and tone that wasn't as present in the second and third seasons. The acting never sticks out like a sore thumb, and characters don't change on a dime for sake of writing convenience, their progressions are natural and expected. The intense nature of this season's major story arc is certain to upset some viewers, but what it creates is a wonderful bit of introspection to play out, as characters realize who they are through the perceptions of others, through their successes and failures, and even characters that no longer have a natural place in the show have a wonderful dynamic, opening the door for some very interesting bits mixed in to the bigger stories. Harry (James Remar) would be proud of 'Dexter.' I sure as hell know I am.
Paramount has always given us a great looking release when it's come to 'Dexter,' so the fact that this fifth season is no different should be no surprise. Presented in 1080p with an AVC MPEG-4 encode, 'Dexter' is a damn near perfect viewing experience on Blu-ray.
Detail levels are very strong, with a ton of light accents coming to light, such as the tiniest hairs on Stiles' chinny chin chin, as well as tons of facial detail. Textures are flat out phenomenal, with wonderful layers of clothing having varying feels to them, as well as a great distinction between rough, soft, and dirt/blood coated skin. Faces are full of life, with tons of pores and harder/softer patches of skin. Black levels are spot on, and there's no shadow detail problems. The picture is regularly deep, and fully immersive.
The issues on this release are somewhat minor, especially compared to how constantly sharp the show is. I had some problems with one of Quinn's pieces of wardrobe, a vertical striped shirt that would pulse, but other than that, clothing was always solid. Grain can spike randomly, and while it isn't scrubbed, thankfully, some darker exterior sequences bring out lower details and harder reds on damn near everything. The Miami heat (no, not the basketball team) can make skin tones seem orange tinted at times and not others, but that's hardly a concern considering previous seasons, while flashbacks retain their usual warmth.
It's really hard to complain about this one. With four episodes per BD50 disc, there's tons of room for each and every minute of 'Dexter' to shine.
The audio for this season is presented with a set of lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks. Same as in the previous seasons, they're pretty damn good, but fail to give enough to rank in the upper echelons.
I loved how the rears would get their ambience and random activity, placed just enough in quiet scenes to keep the room alive, while exteriors would constantly have some kind of noise gimmick going to pay attention to. Bass levels start out fairly weak, but can grow into a solid thump in more than a few sequences. The Dexter narration is pitch perfect and sounds awesome, with the little grizzled hint beneath Hall's dialogue, with stronger prioritization, while natural "in scene" dialogue doesn't have any issues being heard. That said, there are more than a few spots where the dialogue suddenly turns hollow for a line or two, and then gets back to normal. It's really rather odd, just the spread out moment here, moment there kind of anomaly.
The sound rarely distracts, and constantly keeps viewers engaged. Sounds like a winning combination to me!
To my knowledge, the extras don't appear on the DVD edition. If they do, they will be moved to this area.
'Dexter' remains a show that can be viewed in a marathon session and keep you on the edge of your seat. Ever evolving, changing, with new twists and drama to match the regular returning cast, this fifth season of the show is not a departure from the moods, themes, and characters that have made the Showtime program an absolute hit. Instead, this twelve episode arc analyzes the pasts of the characters, turning the strengths of some on them, making them come to grips with their places in life (and death). Sure, it was tough following up after the Trinity Killer, but the group of friends with no distinctive name who terrorized women for years on end in the worst of ways makes for very surreal, dark television, perfectly fit for the cast of this program. As this season goes on, it's hard to turn your head away. You'll be angry at your body for making you want to sleep, rather than keep going with the show, to see it through in as few sittings as possible. Few shows have this power, and 'Dexter' is most certainly one of them. This release comes with the highest of recommendations. Fans, pick it up. Newcomers? Just do yourselves a favor and buy all five seasons. It's worth it.