Dexter

It's hard to imagine the father from My Three Sons in a mess like this. TV's newest widowed dad, Dexter Morgan, has left his kids at home to get the goods on a suspect he thinks may be a murderer. If that's true, Dex will probably have to kill the guy, just as he's offed 60-odd other psychos since the Showtime series began in 2006. Of course, Dexter himself might be the next casualty if he keeps the kids and their new nanny waiting much longer.

"It's definitely not easy balancing single fatherhood with the sort of affliction Dexter has," Michael C. Hall says with wry amusement on the set in Los Angeles, where Season 5 finds his character dealing with the aftermath of his wife Rita's death. In case you missed the most jaw-dropping twist in Dexter history, here's what went down in last season's finale: Just when Dexter finally did away with Arthur Mitchell (Emmy winner John Lithgow), the Trinity Killer, he came home to find Rita (Julie Benz) dead in a bathtub of blood. Their 6-month-old son, Harrison, saw the whole thing — just as Dexter had watched his own mother get murdered. "It was very chilling and extremely sad, both because of what Dexter was going through and what it signified for Harrison, but also because we were sad to say goodbye to Julie," Hall says.

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In the September 26 premiere — Showtime's best season opener in 15 years with 2.3 million viewers — the grieving blood-spatter specialist disappeared right before Rita's funeral then whacked a vagrant just so he could feel again. He later broke the news of Rita's death to his two stepkids while wearing Mickey Mouse ears ("I'm sorry for your loss" wasn't exactly the warmest approach). Meanwhile, Dexter's sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), can't figure out why Dex sounded so guilty at Rita's crime scene.

Over at Miami Metro Homicide, Quinn (Desmond Harrington) is dubious as he pieces together clues on Dexter's connection to "Kyle Butler," the alias Dex used with Trinity. Oh, and now that bodies are piling up — beautiful girls in metal barrels, Latinos with their heads sliced off — Dexter needs to find a nanny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) who won't cramp his killing style. "If she doesn't connect the dots on what Dexter's doing, it would be a miracle," Hall says.

The real miracle is that Hall is back to work at all. Nearly a year ago, the actor, then 38, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a fact he concealed even from coworkers until his chemotherapy forced him to go public. When he arrived at the Golden Globes in a wool hat to hide his hair loss, the reality hit that mortality wasn't only something Hall's character thought about. "It was a shock to all of us," says executive producer John Goldwyn. "The way in which Michael stoically went through treatment and carried himself with grace was an inspiration."

Hall, who in person has an aversion to chattiness, not unlike Dexter, says the cancer is now in full remission, but admits the experience changed him. "I would like to think I have a greater sense of gratitude as a person and also for the work we're doing on the show," says Hall, whose father died at age 39 from prostate cancer. His biggest relief is that the treatment coincided with Dexter's hiatus, he says, "so nobody lost work on my account."

Hall's illness came a year after he and costar Carpenter eloped at the end of 2008. Carpenter is as animated and forthcoming as her husband is reserved. "To have life come at you in such a big way, from the second Michael was diagnosed until we finally heard the doctors say he's going to be OK, was beyond anything I've ever experienced," she says. "But it became an opportunity to grow and really appreciate each other. In a strange way, his illness was the best thing that ever happened to us." Carpenter chokes up but then laughs. "And Michael's hair is more gorgeous now than it's ever been."

For more on the new season of Dexter, including scoop on guest star Julia Stiles, check out this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, October 7!

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