In episode two of Dexter's nail-biting final season, our psychopathic hero (Michael C. Hall) makes a troubling discovery about his past (Sunday, 8 p.m., Showtime). A renowned expert on psychopaths, Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), reveals that she's the one who worked behind the scenes to help him focus his homicidal urges as a young boy. Due to her efforts, she says, he learned to kill "only those who deserved to die."
"I can't help but think of myself as your spiritual mother," Dr. Vogel says with an eerie calm.
Rarely has a mother-and-child reunion seemed less joyous. Dr. Vogel reappears to ask Dexter a favor: finding and killing a serial murderer who might be targeting her. To get what she wants, she plies Dexter with twisted reassurances about his role in society. "I believe that psychopaths are not a mistake. They're a gift."
Of course Dexter, with his knack for tortured self-analysis, is the least likely person to be taken in by that line of reasoning.
"What kind of gift," he retorts, "destroys everything it cares about?"
Sunday, 9 pm (HBO)
I love Christopher Guest's mockumentary movies (Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind), but his attempt to transfer his style to series TV has been a disappointment. Family Tree is an aimless collection of improvised bits, focusing on a Brit named Tom (Chris O'Dowd) who investigates his lineage. At just 30 minutes, the season finale still feels padded, as Tom meets a distant cousin (Bob Balaban) and banters with a pretty writer named Ally (Amy Seimetz). "We're taking things real slow," Ally says of their relationship.
I think she's put her finger on the central problem with Family Tree.
Gasland Part II
Monday, 8 pm (HBO)
Josh Fox's 2012 documentary Gasland won an Oscar nomination and an Emmy for its exploration of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. With irreverent humor and investigative zeal, the film explored the environmental dangers of this method of extracting gas from American soil. The equally powerful sequel reveals the gas companies' hardball tactics in trying to control the fracking narrative. As they furiously deny the harmful effects of their processes on local communities, residents' tap water starts catching on fire.
This might sound like a grim way to spend a Monday night, but Fox has an entertainer's impulses. He begins the film on his own rustic property near the Delaware River, an area now plagued by gas wells. While plucking a banjo, he muses on the connections between Gasland Part II and the first Star Wars sequel. In both, the empire strikes back, with crushing force.
Can Fox stand up to a formidable foe, as Luke and Han do in Star Wars? It's thrilling to see just how effective he can be armed with only a camera and a banjo.
Monday, 9 pm (Syfy)
It's the fourth-season finale for Syfy's series about a secret government warehouse for supernatural artifacts. In this exciting hour, our wry Secret Service heroes, Pete (Eddie McClintock) and Myka (Joanne Kelly), battle the immortal Paracelsus (Anthony Head) amid many bolts of crackling green energy. Paracelsus is a smooth-talking mass murderer who aims to gain control of the warehouse -- an outcome that would be disastrous for mankind. Meanwhile, Myka goes under the knife for a cancer operation, and Pete ponders a devil's bargain with Paracelsus to save her.
I don't think I'm giving anything away by revealing that the season ends on a cliffhanger. If only a bolt of crackling green energy could transport me to 2014 to see what happens!
Thursday, 9 pm (FX)
In this modern-day Harvey, a troubled young man named Ryan (Elijah Wood) forms a friendship with a talking dog (Jason Gann). While other people look at Wilfred and see a regular pooch, Ryan sees an Australian man in a shabby dog suit. As you can imagine, the comic possibilities are endless.
But so are the tragic possibilities. Ryan met Wilfred on the day he tried to commit suicide. The series achieves an eccentric sort of poignancy, particularly in season three, as Ryan starts to think Wilfred might be a manifestation of his mental illness. Wilfred, as you'd expect, is not prepared to accept that conclusion. He suggests that Ryan might never really discover the truth: "Life is just a long, torturous wrestling match of unanswerable questions."
That's the wisest statement from an Australian man in a shabby dog suit you'll hear all summer.