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Is Charlotte Rampling, famous femme fatale, going to be the end of Dexter?

Dexter fans who are men of a certain age, look out. A siren from key movies of the 1970s plays a major role this season: Charlotte Rampling, who starred in Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974), which featured her character in a dark, sadomasochistic relationship with an ex-Nazi played by Dirk Bogarde. The following year, she was glorious femme fatale Velma Valento/Helen Grayle in Farewell, My Lovely. Some guys really, really remember this stuff from their youth.

Anyway, this is the eighth and final season of Dexter (Sunday, TMN/Movie Central, 9 p.m.). When Dexter's seventh season ended – spoiler alert! – his sister, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), was in big trouble mentally.

She knew the truth about her serial-killer brother and she kind of had the hots for him. It was messy enough, and then she killed her boss, Captain LaGuerta, to protect Dexter. Jimminy, that's hard for a lady to deal with.

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As this season opens, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is worried because Deb's off the radar. She's quit the police force and taken a sleazy job finding criminals on the run. Is she self-destructing or doing her own fab thing?

Meanwhile, back at the office, a strange new case erupts. The cops find bodies on which someone has performed crude brain surgery. Dexter, being Dexter, is intrigued. Then along comes an outside expert to help the cops.

"Psychopaths are not a mistake of nature, they're a gift," says Rampling's Dr. Evelyn Vogel, who casts an eye on Dexter and, he senses, knows a great deal more about him that she's giving away.

Rampling, now 67, is very fine as an expert in psychopaths. There is both gravitas and a vague menace in her knowledge and her stare.

But who is she, really, and is she Dexter's next nemesis or a sympathetic friend? You'll have to wait and see. What matters, in terms of the series progressing to a valid end, is that strong, compelling new characters have not been in abundance since John Lithgow's brilliant portrayal of the Trinity Killer a few seasons back. The seething tension is back.

Things had gone off the rails on the series when Deb, all foul-mouthed sarcasm and energy, recognized her brother for what he is – an avenging-angel killer with a strange moral code.

The situation put Dexter in a new kind of hell – one that was more intriguing for him than for the viewer. This final season puts the show back on track as gory, funny, tense and full of surprises. And Deb, let loose in sleaze – all short shorts, lines of cocaine and rum drinking – is a character reborn. This is going to be a great journey to the end, especially with a stone-faced Rampling along for the ride.

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Hall, who directs the season's second episode, looks newly forged as Dexter when Vogel needles him.

And his character is now in a situation that can't be simply resolved by Dexter grasping his prey, wrapping the prey in plastic and engaging in some slicing and dicing.

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