Dexter Finale: Everyone’s favourite serial killer limps off with a whimper

September 24, 2013 in Best Of, Reviews, TV by pacejmiller

dexter finale

It’s kinda sad that I watched the series finale of Dexter as the appetizer to last night’s main course, the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad. I didn’t watch it first because I wanted to see it more — it was because I had accepted that, given the way this final season 8 has played out, the ending of Dexter would be an inevitable disappointment. And if I had watched (the newly crowned best series Emmy winner) Breaking Bad first, the contrast between the quality of the two shows would have been even more depressing.

NOTE: There will be spoilers about the final episode in this rant: you have been warned.

I first got into Dexter while the show was in its fourth season (2009). I had heard rave reviews about it from a friend — a serial killer protagonist with a sense of righteousness working as a Miami Metro blood splatter analyst — and decided to start right from the beginning, binge watching the first three seasons in a matter of days. As it turned out, season four was probably the apex of the entire series thanks to John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer, arguably Dexter’s biggest nemesis. By the time I got through season four, which had one of the best finales ever (with Dexter coming home to find his wife dead and his son in a pool of blood), I was convinced Dexter was one of the best shows on TV.

What was so good about it? For starters, the writing was amazing (emphasis on WAS). Dexter was charismatic, awkward, hilarious and lovable. He killed people who deserved it and you rooted for him to get away with it. The supporting characters were awesome too. Masuka, the pervy lab geek, provided a lot of laughs, and Dexter’s sister, Deb, was a foul-mouthed breath of fresh air. The fact that Dexter had to maintain his disguise as a family man added a whole other dimension to his character. And most of all, the villains were formidable and made you feel as though Dexter was in real danger. That was the most appealing and compulsive aspect of the show — that he was constantly hunting killers while also being hunted by killers and law enforcement; he was regularly pushed into a corner and forced to make difficult decisions,  leading to cliffhanger after cliffhanger.

Unfortunately, when you reach a height like the show’s makers did in season four, the only place to go is down. Season five was a bit of a downer despite the introduction of Dexter’s first partner in crime, Lumen (Julia Stiles), but it was still compelling television for the most part. Season six, to be honest, is a complete blur. I don’t remember much about it except that it starred Colin Hanks, son of Tom. Season seven was more of the same despite an attempt to change things up introducing a new killer love interest (pun intended) in Hannah McKay and having Deb in on the secret. You would think that would keep the show interesting but the changes never had the intended effect as the show kept getting flatter. The only good thing about the whole season was killing off the annoying LaGuerta.

And so as we ventured into season eight, the final season, there was some hope (albeit low expectations) that the show would give Dexter Morgan the sendoff he deserves.  By this stage, Dexter had become one of those shows that outstayed its welcome and only hung on because of loyal fans like myself. I did the same thing for Smallville, which was pretty much trash by the time it hobbled into the 10th season, and I stubbornly kept watching the final seasons of Prison Break (despite it becoming laughable), Heroes (which got so bad it was abruptly cancelled), and to a lesser extent Lost (the ending of which I am still trying to figure out).

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Season eight, as it turned out, was one of the worst, if not the worst seasons of the show. It was as though the writers were as sick of the show as we were and decided to just get it over with. Phone it in. The story wandered aimlessly, directionless, unsure of what it wanted to do or say. It felt like they were winging it, episode to episode. Was this final season about Dexter finally letting go of his Dark Passenger? Was it about him becoming undone? Was it about him coming to terms with who he is? Was it about love and sacrifice? Was it about all of these things or none of these things? No one could tell.

The structure was all over the place. We started off with Deb reeling from killing LaGuerta and Dexter trying to keep everything together. He then meets Charlotte Rampling, who reveals herself as the woman who essentially created him and his code. Quinn starts a relationship with Jamie, the babysitter. Masuka discovers he has a daughter (this strand never got resolved — in fact, Masuka is left out almost completely towards the end). Hannah McKay returns. There’s some kid who reminds Dexter of himself. And as it turns out the final villain is Rampling’s son, who doesn’t even appear in the season until the final episodes and is a bit of a piss-weak ultimate boss.

My head hurts from thinking about all the things that went horribly wrong in the final episode:

1. Deb’s arbitrary death — she dies because someone important has to die the finale; I just wish she could have had a better send off, rather than succumbing to some lame post-surgery complication and being carried out from the hospital and dumped into the ocean, somehow without anyone seeing it.

2. Batista and Quinn doing basically nothing. I can’t even remember seeing Masuka in the episode.

3. Saxon, the final big boss, going down in the lamest way possible — first being arrested without a struggle, and then killed with a pen. I feel bad for him.

4. Dexter somehow keeping his Miami Metro ID despite no longer working for them, and using it to first trick a stewardess at the airport and then getting into Saxon’s cell to kill him. And then inexplicably gets away with it.

5. What was Dexter trying to do in the end? Kill himself or fake his own death? If it was the latter then isn’t driving a boat into a tidal wave a bit too much of a risk?

6. Pretty dick move by Dexter leaving his kid with Hannah. I don’t know who to feel more sorry for.

7. So Dexter’s solution is to let people pretend he is dead and just live out the remainder of his existence in some isolated place like Walter White in a cabin? But as we see in the epilogue, there are still people around, and he is a serial killer by nature, so how does that really solve anything?

8. No humour at all. What made Dexter so great was its dark humour, and the final episode (final episodes, in fact) had none. Waaay too serious.

My theory is that the show began falling apart when Michael C Hall and Jennifer Carpenter split up but were forced to continue playing brother and sister on the show. They are great actors, but the chemistry was off, and since their relationship is the core of the show that affected everything and everyone else. The alternative theory is that the show just went on for too long and the writers got fatigued and ran out of good ideas.

The show’s producers have a different explanation — it was all part of their grand plan.

Nonetheless, I’ll still remember Dexter fondly for the first four seasons. I just wish it could have been more like Breaking Bad, a show that knows exactly what it’s doing and knows when to wrap things up. Can’t wait for next week’s finale!

PS: I’ll finish off with this legendary season eight promo, which was probably better than the entire season put together.