<i>Dexter</i> Dexter

Dexter's fifth season will find its hero struggling with a fundamental question: How does a serial killer react when one of his key connections to humanity is brutally murdered? "The through line this year is Dexter's  atonement,"  executive producer Sara Colleton said at the Television Critics Association fall TV previews Thursday. The journey isn't simple. Read on for the highlights of the panel:

1. Coming to grips with Rita's death won't come easy for Dexter. "He's not a character who experiences guilt or grief like any of us, so it's not his intention starting out, but the season kind of becomes about this as he slides into it," executive producer Chip Johannessen said. " It's an oddly human experience at a time where he feels that everything he's done that had to do with connecting to humanity has melted down in this horrible, horrible way. The last thing he wants to do is be involved with people."

But he'll have to. "There will be different characters who will come in and interact [with him]," executive producer Sara Colleton said, citing guest stars Johnny Lee Miller, Shawn Hatosy, Peter Weller and Julia Stiles. "Different people help along the way in different capacities."

2. Get ready for a lot more of Quinn. Quinn (Desmond Harrington) insists on following up on Dexter (Michael C. Hall) as a suspect in Rita's murder, perhaps getting too close to Dex's secret. But the producers said this isn't treading the same territory as the cat-and-mouse game Dexter and Doakes (Eric King) played in Season 2. "It's going to look different. He's going to have more actual information [than Doakes did], Johannessen said. "Because Quinn isn't a bull in the china shop and has found a home [in the department], he's going to have a much more difficult time pushing forward with the investigation."

3. We won't see Rita (Julie Benz) as a ghost, but she'll be around. That right is reserved exclusively for Dex's dad, Harry (James Remar). "In this show Harry serves a very unique purpose, and to dilute that in any way would fundamentally harm the DNA of our show," Colleton said. Added Hall: "[Harry's] the only one with keys to that room." So what exactly will Benz be doing? "You will be seeing her more than dead in the bathtub, for sure," Johannesen said.

4. Speaking of Harry, is he really a good influence on Dexter? "The ambiguity of Harry's outside-the-box parenting style is one of the things the audience is meant grapple with," Hall said. "Did he save this guy's life or did he abuse him? Or both?" Remar, who described Dexter as a blank slate, thinks Harry has made a positive impact. "What a father tries to put on that slate sets the tone for a person's life," he said. "I personally feel like Harry brings a lot of love to Dexter, and Dexter would have been in a box a long time ago if it wasn't for Harry."

5. Guess who's having a threesome? When asked about guest star Katherine Moening's character, C.S. Lee channeled Masuka. "Kate's character, Debra [Jennifer Carpenter] and I have a threesome going on," Lee joked as Carpenter protested. Seriously, though, Moening's character will be a valuable resource for Debra. "There is a tattoo that is a part of the main crime that Miami Metro is solving this year," Colleton said. "Debra's found a clue and goes to the tattoo artist for more information."

Dexter premieres Sunday, Sept. 26 at 9/8c.