Season Two left off, which is a good thing. Season Two ended on an absurdist note: Lila had to be taken care of, Dexter's victims had been discovered but he had not, and a kind of harmony had been restored to Dexter's life. He could get on with the business of being a serial killer.
But Episode One starts off with the same contrivance that marred Season Two. Dexter acts like a heroin addict to get close to his next victim. We've not really seen Dexter operate up close to his victims like this. Until now, he's been in the shadows, watching from a distance. He's better in the shadows. He is our shadow selves as so perfectly stated in Season One.
Adding to his most-un-Dexter self, he tries a kill in full daylight and without doing his reconnaissance. He fumbles it. The observant viewer at this point would believe we're viewing the imminent decline and death of a series.
Enter Jimmy Smits as assistant district attorney Miguel Prado. It is Prado's brother that Dexter has accidentally killed and this brings the full force of the law and the political pressure of a government onto the investigation. In Prado Dexter finds a friend. They see each other for who they really are and there is a sense that Dexter is becoming even more human. Smits is so good in this role that you can imagine cracking a beer with him and spending a long night shooting the shit. Smits has real screen presence and projects the rising star of a politician. (Loved Smits in Switch, another movie where he plays a perfect drinking buddy with an exceptional Ellen Barkin; Tea Leoni makes an early career appearance).
There are some other nice plot lines that make you believe Dexter is becoming human. Finding out that Rita is pregnant, he works through not only the idea of himself as a father but as a husband. Anyone who has been around a pregnant woman can easily write off Rita's craziness, although it is at times overdone.
But what really makes the season work is the chemistry between Dexter and Prado. Dexter is the seasoned serial killer who has created an elaborate code, rituals and covers for the only thing that once made him feel anything. Prado is just beginning to become a killer. Prado's motivations are a crazy concoction of rage, vigilantism and ambition. You really believe that Prado is a killer going mad. Strangely you never get that feeling with Dexter. Dexter is not insane. He's simply becoming something else, something not empty.
There are some duds. Dexter doubting his father is a leitmotiv that never belongs. His father made him, gave form and order to his life, loved him and continues to be his guide. Throwing all of this aside would drive Dexter either to renounce the code and become a killer of anyone he wants. Or Dexter's rage would turn inwards and he'd finally kill himself or synchronistically run into death. Trying to find Debra a mate is tiresomely played out again. She's not believable as a steady. Really what is missing is the flash of brilliance of Season One and Season Four. Season Three is a good recovery from Season Two.