THE SHOW "Dexter"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime

REASON TO WATCH Fifth-season launch.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Dispatching the Trinity killer at the end of last season, Miami PD blood spatter-pattern analyst/serial killer Dexter (Michael C. Hall) returns home to discover that Trinity had been doing some dispatching of his own. His wife Rita's (Julie Benz) femoral artery had been cut, and she had bled out in the bathtub, while baby Harry sits in a pool of blood on the bathroom floor.

Sunday's episode picks up almost immediately where last December's finale left off, with the arrival of the police, who witness Dexter's own almost remorseless and inscrutable response. His sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) is also perplexed, though it is left to Dexter to sort out his own feelings and responses to them. "It doesn't matter what I do," he muses in voice-over. "This is fate."

MY SAY Appraising a full season of "Dexter" via the first episode is like looking at the sky through a straw. Much will happen that only the first hour hints at; but what this one hints at, exactly, is almost as unreadable as Dex himself. The major story arcs are to come - Jonny Lee Miller and Peter Weller, for example, join up later - while fans need to decompress and mourn Rita's loss. Dex's evolution has been toward normalcy - or (better word) accommodation. Rita, at least, emotionally helped him bridge his newfound suburban dad self with his slasher/psychotic self.

But with no Rita, now what? Dex is wondering the same thing himself, and answers are elusive. He must first mourn; he knows that much, but the mourning process for him is different from the rest of humanity (surprise, surprise).

BOTTOM LINE Sunday's episode is a necessary decompression episode after last season's intense finale.


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