Buried under Sunday night’s 65th Annual Emmy Awards and Breaking Bad’s penultimate episode was the finale of Showtime’s Dexter. The season/series end of the anti-hero serial killer Dexter was…not great.
Dexter’s finale can’t be tackled without first addressing the excess fat that was the series’ latter four seasons. After the much-talked-about fourth season with the “Trinity Killer” (John Lithgow) Dexter had no other moves besides a sequence of shark jumps. Season 5 dealt with Dexter’s grief over the murder of his wife in the form of a battered woman played by Julia Stiles. Season 6 gave Dexter a return to passable storytelling with the “Doomsday Killer” as well as the taboo (but admirably risky) choice of Dexter’s adopted sister Debra realizing that she may be in love with him. This interesting turn was thrown out the window in Season 7 to focus on Deb’s reaction to the discovery of Dexter’s killer tendencies…and a horrendously-stupid plot involving the Ukrainian mob.
So here we are with Dexter’s eighth and final season. Deb blames Dexter for her decision of killing Captain LaGuerta and becomes a boozy mess. Dexter meets his pseudo-mother Dr. Ellyn Vogel, who helped create Harry’s “code” for Dexter’s killing. And on top of this we have Vogel being stalked by a serial killer known as the “Brain Surgeon,” who most certainly wasn’t going to come to the forefront of the season’s end. Somewhere in between all of this, Dexter’s completely implausible love interest/fugitive Hannah McKay returns and she and Dexter plan on running away together.
The problem with Dexter’s series finale (along with its final season) is one that the series has had all along: its inconsistent storytelling. Many of the events of the past few seasons felt forced and completely inorganic to the progression of Dexter’s plot.
Problem numero uno is the supporting cast. Dexter certainly has a colorful array of background characters that provide brief respites of comedic relief, but beyond that they were unfortunately nothing more than scenery pieces. Frequently throughout the seasons these characters were given minor subplots that added up to nothing more than time-fillers (ex: this season’s arc of Masuka and his daughter.) Spending less time half-assing these characters and more on the central characters of Dexter and Deb would’ve strengthened the series as a whole.
Every Season Needs a Big Bad:
The second problem that Dexter ran into was one that it had unintentionally set itself up for: providing a worthy opponent for Dexter. With escalating levels of villainy in its antagonists, Dexter had written itself into a corner with an expected structure of bigger and badder serial killers for Dexter to hunt down. After “Trinity” however, the season’s villains felt like a rag-tag bargain bin assortment of killers; with the average “Doomsday Killer” topping the list.
Dexter Morgan, Killer God
One of the most exciting elements of Dexter that later got lost in the shuffle was how risky everything felt for our anti-hero. The guy was regularly stalking and killing bad guys that his own Police Department was one step away from; the chances of him getting caught were extremely high. The back half of the series downplayed this more and more however, leaving Dexter with relatively zero personal stakes. By the eighth season the drama wasn’t in “Will someone find Dexter out?” but more in “Will Dexter’s girlfriend that no one cares about get caught by this random U.S. Marshall?” The end result was a less personally-invested audience; Dexter seemingly could do whatever the hell he wanted with no consequences. The height of this was in the series finale when Dexter mercy-killed comatose Debra and simply carried her body out of the hospital. “Ha ha! Thanks to this hurricane no one will notice me take my sister’s body away on my boat!”
Too little over too long
Eight seasons is a long run for a TV series; even The Sopranos only had six (technically seven) seasons. One of the main problems with Dexter was the amount of time it took for things to get accomplished. It took Debra Morgan, Miami Metro’s top cop, six seasons to figure out who Dexter was. In the novels that the series are based on, she found out at the end of book one (which the first season is heavily based on.)
Dexter was very much a child-like robot, constantly learning things about the human condition and what it meant to be a human. In spite of this fact, the rate at which he developed was extremely slow; at times he even regressed as a character for no other reason than to drag out the series as long as they could. Dexter arguably learned that he was the center of the chaos at the end of Season 4 when his wife Rita was killed. Yet it took him four more years to realize that the best thing he could do for the people he loved was to leave.
The way that the series killed off Deb (its only true hero) was pretty shameful. After agonizing over her choices of protecting her brother for a handful of episodes, Deb forgives Dexter for everything, including everything that led her to getting shot. It’s this kind of quick-turn character choice resolution that really makes parts of Dexter ring untrue.
Dexter’s series finale (and its last four seasons) undervalued its character and its audience. The finale had no central character theme that attempted to bring the series full-circle; it was just another episode where crap just happened.
By the end of Dexter’s eight-year-run Dexter was supposedly a more caring individual, while its audience became blasé with indifference. Stay in your cabin you silly bearded man.