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About five or so years ago, I started watching Dexter. I cleared through the first few seasons On Demand fairly quickly, and soon found myself in the arduous task of waiting a whole week in between episodes. On Sunday the 22, more than eight seasons and close to 100 hours of Dexter later, the show has faded to black one last time.
I’ve been pretty rough on Dexter since I started recapping the show halfway through the season for TheCelebrityCafe.com. I feel the need, since this is my last Dexter recap and the last platform I’ll have to think out loud, so to speak, about this show that I hold very near and dear to me, to go back a couple steps now and reevaluate. I guess this is as good of a time as any to say that, even though this is technically a recap, I’m not planning on giving the usual play-by-play about “Remember The Monsters?” the series’ final episode. I figure that those that don’t follow the season won’t care and those that do will undoubtedly have already watched.
I started this piece by giving you some background because, when I started writing about Dexter for this site, it forced me to look at it in a critical way for the first time after years of being invested in the show. Sure, the quality slipped since it’s pinnacle in season 4, but still, writing these recaps forced me to evaluate the show in a different light.
I think some of my knee-jerk reaction to this season, as subjectively mediocre as it might have been, came from that and comparing it to its television contemporaries. Dexter was, for all intents and purposes, the first real adult drama I watched on my own from start to finish. I hadn’t really seen anything like it before and neither had many other viewers when it debuted in 2006. I hadn’t seen a show that takes such risks with its protagonist and asks us to evaluate whether he was, way deep down, a good or bad person. Now there are many shows that rest on such anti-heroes. My current TV favorite, Homeland, stands on somewhat similar moral grounds with its portrayal of Brody. And then there’s Breaking Bad, the landmark AMC series that is also in its final season. I must admit that (*blush*) I don’t watch Bad, more out of lack of time than any semblance of dislike or disinterest. In fact, Breaking Bad seems to have taken much of Dexter’s steam. Both feature similar tones and ambiguous morals. But while Bad kept getting better and better, Dexter fell. It’s worth noting that both shows aired exactly at the same time Sunday night (also against the Emmy telecast) and, while I saw much social media hubbub, none of it was for Dex.
At least the finale was somewhat of a masterpiece; by far the best episode of the season and maybe the best since season 4. There were flaws, of course, but now is the time to judge Dexter against Dexter and look at exactly what the finale, and the show as a whole, accomplished.
It seems to me that Dexter’s biggest problems in the season and overall has been twofold:
The first is the lack of follow-through in the writing. In the last few seasons we’ve gotten many heavy, emotion soaked plots and completed threads that just don’t seem to go anywhere. The most prominent in this catch-and-release style is in the relationship between Dex and Debra. For a few episodes Deb finds herself romantically inclined toward her brother. It’s a far-fetched plot, to be sure, but after a few crying jags and, I must admit, a terribly well-acted confrontation, nothing much happens with it. Then Deb finds out her brother’s a killer, a major and necessary step in the show. This eventually culminated in some interesting dilemmas for our characters, ending with Deb’s decision to kill LaGuarta in order to keep her brother’s secret. I was optimistic when season 8 started, but then she tried to kill her brother in a car accident that ultimately didn’t accomplish anything plot-wise. The inclusion of Hannah back into the show, too, meant that Deb’s role was essentially reduced to a slightly whiny supporting player.
And then here we are with a bunch of hanging plot threads: Zach Hamilton, Dr. Vogel, the folks back at Miami Metro, Mazuka’s daughter, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Each one of these things could have been really explored in the way Miguel Prado or Arthur Mitchell was in earlier seasons. But the ADD of the writing staff meant most of these opportunities were lost. Even Vogel, who could have really been a catalyst for Dexter to do some major soul-searching, becoming nothing more than the Big Bad’s mom after a few episodes.
The second problem Dexter has had revolves around a bit of an identity crisis. While the most fascinating part of the show has always been examining Dex’s psyche and trying to wrestle with whether he really is this unfeeling sociopath or not, sometime midway through the series the writers took a left turn and started to try and justify, more and more, Dexter’s actions. This is a mistake. Dex is always going to be an anti-hero and whether you think he’s a vigilante or a madman is surely up for the viewers to decide. But writing Dex in a softer light alienates the audiences and turns the complex relationship into something more sophomoric.
The last episode, “Remember The Monsters?” suffers from both of those things, but still manages to come together fantastically well. I’m sure it will alienate people – and the buzz around the episode has ranged from mediocre to hateful – but I think it was a fitting ending… mostly.
When the episode begins Dex, Hannah and Harrison are on their way to Argentina when Dexter is called back to the hospital. (Let’s forget the implausible bomb threat moment, shall we?) There, he learns that Deb has been shot and is in critical but serious condition. But things turn for the worse and, while Dex is out trying to capture Saxon, Deb has a stroke. Pronounced essentially brain-dead, Deb’s story line is put on hold for a moment for Saxon’s to conclude.
After being caught at the hospital, Saxon is hauled off to Miami Metro where an emotional Quinn interrogates him. But before a trial could be arranged, Dex infiltrates the prison and confronts him. "I wish I could blame you for everything," he says icily, "But I know it's all my fault… You took away this foolish dream that I could have a happy life." It’s a wonderful back-and-forth, reminiscent of Dexter emotional breakdown after Rita’s death. It lets Michael C. Hall stretch his fantastically honed acting muscles and features some unusually strong writing. Before leaving, Dex stabs Saxon in the neck, claiming self defense, and walks back to the hospital.
In the episode’s best moment, Dexter sits by Deb’s bed and, for the first time since Rita’s death, has to contemplate the role his Dark Passenger has on the people around him. He tearily apologizes and, in a moment that borders on brilliance, shuts off her life support. For Dexter, killing was always something done out of anger, desperation and revenge, death was a way to satiate his dark needs in way that borders on humane. What an interesting idea then that his last kill would be out of love and kindness. A kill so that his sister wouldn’t have to suffer.
Amidst the approaching hurricane, Dex manages to leave the hospital with Debra’s body (it’s an emotionally honest and beautiful shot scene, so much so I’ll forgive it’s complete implausibility). Boarding his boat, the place where he has dispatch so many, he rides out to sea and buries Debra among his other victims. For in a way, she is; a victim of his fierce stubbornness and ego, a victim of circumstance, a victim of Dexter putting his Dark Passenger ahead of everything else. I thought that was a fitting ending but then Dex calls Hannah and Harrison, safety escaped to Argentina, and tells them he loves them before throwing his phone in the water and driving his boat straight into the eye of the storm.
While this twist didn’t sit well with many, I really liked it. Of course it makes perfect sense that Dex’s last victim is himself. If his code is that he must only kill people who deserve it, who destroy lives and cause pain to those around them, Dexter’s mission is clearly a kamikaze one, whose only fitting end is his own death. With no Harry to guide him, Dexter realizes that his impulses will only continue to harm those he loves. So he scarifies himself to the ocean, home to hundreds of other lives lost at Dexter’s hand, to save them. He is killing to prolong life rather than end it. As he rides headfirst into Hurricane Laura (no doubt a reference to his mother Laura) he returns, in blood, to the beginning of his journey.
It wouldn’t make everyone happy, but it was sorrowful and beautiful and fitting for this complicated series.
But then, oh, Dexter messed it all up. In a epilogue, we see Hannah and Harrison, fatherless but happy, living in South America and the crew at Miami Metro going about their job. But then the screen fades to a small Northern mining site where a bearded Dexter gets off a rig and goes home to a barren cabin and sits, unflinching, staring at the camera.
It’s a cop-out, just in the way the ending for The Dark Knight Rises was. If Dexter had indeed sacrificed himself, it would have given the show ultimate meaning. He finally realizes death is the only alternative to murder. Or, to put in another way, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind and killing can only end up in death. But this bait-in-switch doesn’t really tell us anything about the character. Is it that he never really cared, on a deep level, for Hannah and Harrison and Rita? Like Vogel said, did he just think that was way he was supposed to feel? Did he give up his Dark Passenger in the water or is it still following him around up north? It’s a shame. Without those last two minutes, I would have given the Dexter finale a solid thumbs up. But with it, I’m not so sure if Dexter did what it was supposed to do. Were any questions really answered? Was there really a point to all that death and soul-searching? That trail of "blood and body parts?"
The series finale didn’t end with Miami Metro figuring out Dexter’s secret as many had hoped for. That didn’t bother me, although the show did tease that thought for 8 whole seasons. To me, Dexter is all about identity. Each one of these characters has a mask that separates their outside life from the inner-thoughts. Each of these characters had inner secrets kept unsaid because of social norms or their jobs or their family. Dexter, the character, was a way at trying to chip away and understand exactly what makes someone who they are and what happens if that lifestyle has to be kept quiet. It’s a noble premise, but one the show couldn’t quite answer ultimately. It’s a shame, what was once one of TV’s best dramas ended in a whisper than a bang.
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