Dexter’s Disastrous Denouement

posted by @SKochems

Back in 2006, CBS decided to try their luck with a show which would directly clash with all the crime solving garbage we were (are) being fed. While maintaining the murder/mystery element of the show, the twist came at the end, when instead of arresting the bad guy our hero wrapped him up in plastic sheeting and plunged a knife through his heart. Despite being dropped and moved to Showtime as a result of its graphic content, it became a pivotal part of the change that has brought us to the television programming we see today- anti-heroes and mixed morality. And under the premium channel umbrella, the Dexter series as we know it was born.

Dexter is so appealing because he does what none of us can do but all at some point want to do: when someone deserves to die, he kills them.

This past week, the Dexter series that we thought we knew took one final swerve into the other lane and was promptly hit by a truck- this is a consequence of getting behind the wheel while drunk one too many times. While many can complain about the finale to Seinfeld being bad (whatever), or The Soprano’s (it’s what Tony’s life is going to always be like from there on out! You get it?), the Dexter finale dropped its drawers and crapped on Dexterthe primary thing we all cared about, the thing we all were hooked by from the start. So if the title wasn’t evident enough, there are spoilers below so read at your peril (or relief).

So the logical progression of the series leads to one of two routes:  Dexter gets caught or Dexter gets away. The main tension has always been “can Dexter lead a double life, working for the police while directly violating the law?” Sounds reasonable right?

Wrong. Instead of Dexter being caught and going through two episodes of him being on trial for his massive body count, he drives his boat into a hurricane and fakes his death. Instead of Dexter being investigated for murder and fleeing the country, he drives his boat…into a hurricane…and fakes his death. As dumb as the ending is, it’s even worse because he’s not running from his crimes, but instead the people who love him. This makes him little more than a coward; someone who is giving into the worst part of himself and contradictory to everything we’ve learned about this character.

Remember back in Season 2, when Sergeant Doakes was chained up and Dexter had to make a serious decision: kill Doakes or get turned in? There really wasn’t a clear and clean way out of it. Sacrifice yourself in the eyes of the world, or sacrifice yourself in the eyes of yourself. This type of situation would’ve played really well in the final season. Dexter simply got lucky the psychotic Lila intervened, allowing him to escape with his stasis in Season 2.

Or how about Season 4, when he comes up against another killer who is skilled enough to challenge him? Someone who learns the truth about him and, having little to lose, threatens to expose his Dark Passenger to the world? Saxon sort of fits this bill, but never truly feels like he can follow through. He knows all of Dexter’s secrets and who he really is, so he could theoretically suicide bomb Dexter by going to the police with all the data he had on his computer (yeah, Dexter deleted it, but apparently jump drives are illegal in Miami). His death in the finale is just to neatly tie things up.

Easily the biggest threat looming in this season was that Hannah McKay returned and Dexter simply couldn’t leave her. As a wanted fugitive, this leads plenty of interested parties snooping into her business and in turn, Dexter’s. Discretion has always been his best friend, but now he sacrifices this for love; a reasonable move in the overall arc of our favorite serial killer.

This in turn gives us the biggest disappointment. All the hinting at U.S. Marshals looking into Dexter dies with Deputy Clayton. The focus stays so centered on Hannah being caught, the writers seem to forget that Dexter can get caught too. There are countless ways they could have utilized this dynamic but instead they let Dexter off the hook with little to no doing of his own. Sure, his mercy on Saxon could be construed to in turn get him off the hook, but one can’t really argue he was in much danger to begin with.

The uncertainty the staff had going into this season is really apparent here. In the first episode of the Season, Dexter murders Deb’s fuck buddy and accidentally gets blood on Harrison’s stuffed animal, which resurfaces later in the season and then is never addressed again. All it would take is one search of Dexter’s apartment to find a bloody stuffed animal, a quick check, and he’s tied to a recent murder.

Even worse, there was still hope in the finale as late as 40 minutes in. Dexter murders Saxon in the prison and makes it appear to be self-defense on the camera. Afterwards, he nonchalantly presses the help button and then can be seen going from calm to panicky. Batista and Quinn ask him some paper questions and just let Dexter freely leave the country. Probably would’ve been a good time to maybe ask our forensics analyst some questions- you know, the same guy who was arrested and accused last season for murder and has a seriously shady history of screwing up paperwork for people who then disappeared. Just saying.

It might not be fair of me to criticize, but you come to expect things of a show after a few seasons. And while Dexter hasn’t really been the pinnacle of consistency (see Season 3, 5, 6), it’s place in television history and how it helped the change gives it a certain iconic status. What’s more frustrating is how many possible outcomes it could have had that may be more appropriate.

The fact is that Dexter is so appealing to adults because he does what none of us can do but all at some point want to do: when someone deserves to die, he kills them. But we all have different scales of discipline and morality, hence why murder is illegal and we don’t employ vigilantes. So Dexter is consistently breaking the common social agreement we’ve all come to, which is why it is so important that in the end someone pays for it.

Deb dies in a spoof accident. Dexter runs off because he decides he’s not strong enough to change, something he’s done regularly throughout the series. Quinn falls in love again and loses it. Batista gets promoted. Hannah acquires Harrison all while being an international fugitive with no job prospects. None of those things are really repercussions for the decisions Dexter has made for years, only for the last 3 episodes.

So what did this season really say or accomplish?

It tells me that show grew beyond the capability of its creative team. Staying true to the novels wasn’t an option (Wikipedia them if you don’t believe me) and the show runners just simply may not have known where to go. I got that sense back in Season 6 when Deb fell in love with her step-brother. They couldn’t think of anything else to do with her I guess. But it’s also unfair for the expectation to be held that each season will be better than the last.

If Season 9 comes around, or a Dexter movie, I can’t lie and say I’ll never watch it. I’ve invested too much to give up now. It’s just disappointing the show couldn’t accept it was the end and give a character we’ve come to love an honest send off, no matter if you can bear to watch it or not.

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