My love of Dexter season four is legendary, and borders on the inappropriate. I had some concern that season five could never live up to my expectations, and would leave me bitter and empty. While it will never replace my obsession with season four, season five didn't let me down... too badly. In the wake of the season finale, I've autopsied this season, and dissected the stuff I liked... and the stuff I liked less.
Dexter was allowed a grieving period. Dexter might consider himself a monster, but Rita was good for him, and whether he liked it or not, he really loved her. He truly felt a loss when Rita died. A loss that surprised him, but one the writers allowed him to feel. I also appreciate that Dexter wasn't maudlin the whole season. It might be realistic, but it makes for bad television.
Lumen was not an instant girlfriend. It would have been easy for Dexter to fall into bed with the next pretty blonde he met, but he didn't. When the did end up together, it felt like the natural progression of their characters.
The kids mended their relationship with Dexter. I'm certainly not sentimental, but I am really glad that Astor and Cody (well, mostly Astor) decided they wanted to be back in Dexter's life. They brought balance and normalcy to Dexter, and he is the closest thing they have to a parent, with both mom and dad dead. I think next season they should move back in with Dexter and get a dog.
Good Casting. I am not really a Julia Stiles fan. I have no real feelings about her one way or the other (though when she was first cast, I was a little dubious). But I thought she played the role well. She brought the right mix of fear, innocence, anger, and vengeance to the role. Peter Weller and Jonny Lee Miller were both fun villains. A little cartoony at times, but you kind of expect that from each of them.
Deb is growing up. As the series has progressed, Deb's character has really evolved beautifully from a headstrong beat cop to one of the best detectives on the force. She doesn't fly off the handle much - and when she does, she usually has a really good reason for doing so. Of course, with maturity brings less cursing. And she is so good at it.
The Less Good....
The Santa Muerte case. That mini storyline felt like filler, pure and simple. "We can't get Julia Stiles for the first three episodes, so let's just throw in a couple gruesome murders that we can wrap up quickly." The shootout at the club felt like a way to wrap up the storyline quickly, without having to give a good motive behind the killings.
Emily. I don't understand her Stockholm Syndrome. Jordan/Eugene drugs her, holds her prisoner in a cabin, then directs his friends to gang-rape her. Fifteen years later, she is emotionally dependent on him, thinks she loves him, and does whatever he says. There has to be more to this story, but Emily was killed off too quickly. She just wasn't a fully realized character, and it didn't sit well with me.
I'm tired of Dexter's close calls. I get it: the serial-killer-with-the-heart-of-gold is the crux of this series. But it's starting to get a little rote. Just one season, I want Dexter to fly under the radar. Let him continue killing, but let the murders go unnoticed - or at the very least, make Dexter not a suspect. Maybe this could give him false confidence. He could get a little reckless, and it leads to a big mistake - the murder of an innocent or something. But let's just try something new.
Dexter suffered no consequences from his "grief kill." He may have been blowing off steam, but as Harry points out, that is no excuse for random murder. Dex didn't exactly cover his tracks - didn't anyone investigate that murder? He worried over that kill for all of five minutes, then it was never mentioned again. Dexter adheres pretty strictly to his code; I feel like it should have upset him a little bit, or come back to bite him in the ass.
The sentimental, neatly-wrapped ending. I get that they didn't know if they had a sixth season coming, so they didn't want to leave any dangling threads. But it was off-putting, uncharacteristic, and ultimately, an unsatisfying end. I feel like Lumen has to come back, because experiences that she had this season don't just wash clean, and there needs to be some deep psychological ramifications. Why did Dexter take off his wedding band at the end? Was he ready to let go of Rita? Was he going to give it to the kids? Was he going to throw it angrily into the ocean? I felt it was ambiguous, something the writers felt needed to happen without putting any real thought behind it.