Dexter ended its eight season run last year, and I finally caught up with it. What follows is not just a review of that final episode, but an overview of the entire series. If it’s not obvious yet, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!!!
So who is Dexter? For those of you who don’t know (if so, why would you be reading this?), Dexter Morgan is a serial killer who works for the Miami Metro Police department as a blood splatter analyst, and uses his position to secretly kill criminals who have slipped through the cracks of the justice system. Time and time again, he reminds us that he doesn’t do it because he’s a vigilante, but because his carefully crafted “code” tells him that killing criminals is easier to get away with than killing innocents.
His code was crafted by his adopted father Harry Morgan who recognized the “evil” within Dexter, and decided to channel his murderous tendencies in a positive direction. It helps that Harry was a bitter cop who was tired of criminals getting away with their crimes.
The show was actually pretty good. It had enough of that Premium Channel goodness to hook us in early and then threw in some juicy drama to keep us watching. Unfortunately, the show started to lose steam around the fifth season and hit an amazingly bad low point in the sixth.
So when the final season rolled around, I didn’t expect much from it. The show was gasping for air, stumbling around, and was desperately trying to reach the finish line before passing out. I was actually surprised that it was a pretty good season overall. A lot of that had to do with the fact that Charlotte Rampling was a major character throughout most of it, who is one of those actors that’s so good they’ll never be in a movie most people will see.
While the final season made an admirable effort, the finale was the show tripping over and smashing its face on the ground mere inches across the finish line. It gave us enough closure to be a decent final episode, but some of the decisions they made were just stupid, and I’m glad we don’t have to suffer through another season. I’m going to go in depth about why in a second, but to basically sum it up, I think the show runners had the wrong impression about its audience. This isn’t a deep examination into the human psyche and society at large (from what I’ve read, the books do a better job of that than the show), it’s just a fun splatter fest that’s crossed with a soap opera. Still, it wouldn’t be so bad that we got this kind of ending, if it had been done better. Even though it’s clearly the end of the story, there’s too much left open for it to be satisfying. It wants us to think one thing, but we’re not stupid enough to think it’s actually going to work out the way the show is telling us it will. Dexter is still a great show to watch, particularly the fourth season, but the second half of the show’s run averages out to being passable. Anyway, SPOILERS AHEAD!!!! We’re going to go head first into that final episode, and tear it to pieces, or should I say… ‘slice’ it to pieces?
So where does the final episode start? Dexter and his son along with his girlfriend (Hannah McKay, a wanted killer) are about to flee to Argentina to start a new life where Hannah can actually go out in public. However, he’s probably not going to leave just yet because Debra (Dexter’s Sister who found out he was a killer at the end of season 6 and is also a cop) was shot by this season’s big bad guy (Daniel Vogel, the son of Charlotte Rampling’s character). Daniel was caught by Dexter in the previous episode, but instead of killing him like he normally does; he decides to let the police handle this, which of course goes horribly awry. Hey, it’s the final episode, so don’t expect to understand this if you haven’t actually seen it.
The episode starts with Hannah stuck in the airport bathroom because Jacob Elway (Private Detective and Debora’s former boss) is on to them, and is waiting in the airport for her to show up.
I have a hard time accepting that this one dude is the only person standing between Hannah and South America, especially considering that we saw in an earlier episode that she was recognized by hospital staff. How are we supposed to believe that Airport Security isn’t as sharp as a surly receptionist? [insert joke about TSA here]. Anyway, Dexter being his resourceful self comes up with a plan that in no way should work but of course does. He goes to an airport store, buys a backpack and a clock, and then tells the Gate Agent (for his flight) that Jacob left a ticking bag under a chair. He even tells the woman his name and job, but isn’t asked to stay and write a statement or anything like that. Some goons carry off Jacob, Hannah gets past security, and they get on the runway to board the plane.
I doubt that I need to explain why this doesn’t work, but what the heck. First, he bought the backpack and clock not 200 feet away from where he dropped it off, he not only showed his face to both the clerk running the store AND the Gate Agent, but even told the Gate Agent his identity (which can be easily tracked down because he works at a damn police station), and maybe… JUST MAYBE when the TSA finds out that Jacob is chasing a serial killer, they might just figure out they were taken for a ride. Dexter has pulled off some insanely risky things in the past, but they’re usually a lot more thought out and don’t leave as big of a paper trail leading back to him.
None of this matters because Dexter finds out that Deb was shot and postpones their escape to see if she’s alright. While this is happening, our big baddie Daniel for some reason is trying to get back to the hospital to finish off Debra. Again, it’s hard to buy what the show is telling us which this time is that Daniel apparently hates Dexter enough to try and kill a cop that he just freaking shot at a hospital where she’s clearly being protected. We already know that Daniel is insanely patient considering he waited over twenty years to kill his mother. Why would he do something this risky to get back at Dexter? Anyway, he brains a dude in a parking lot in broad daylight without anyone noticing him, so maybe he does have a chance of pulling this off.
Debra makes it through her surgery, and her and Dexter have a nice moment together. When they finally dropped the “Debra finds out about Dexter” shoe at the end of season 6, it genuinely breathed some new life into the show. It was long overdue, sure, but everything with Debra since then has been great. She’s being torn between her sense of right and wrong and her love for her brother. She can’t turn him in and feels horrible about it every day, but over time she’s been able to accept it at least on some level and is trying to get her life back on track after what she’s had to do since finding out. Jennifer Carpenter isn’t the strongest of actors, but she embodies the character in a way that reminds me of Arron Paul on Breaking Bad.
After this, we get some flash backs to Dexter and Deb at the hospital after Harrison’s birth, and Jacob (presumably post cavity search) goes to the hospital to try and rattle Dexter and gives him one last chance to turn in Hannah. Rather than force Hannah to stay until Dexter can take care of Daniel and ensure Deb’s safety, he tells her to take the next plane to Argentina along with his son. Hannah has always been an interesting character for the show because we are never sure whether to trust her. She’s the one person who’s able to not only understand Dexter’s dark side, but love him despite it. She’s been pretty underhanded herself though, so Dexter leaving his only son with her is a pretty risky decision, but one that we can understand him making. After that, we get more of Daniel acting like a bad guy (in case we weren’t already convinced), and he ends up sneaking into the hospital while the staff are busy dealing with a guy who just got his tongue cut out. Guess who did it.
Dexter’s at the hospital too however, so it’s time for the final showdown. Both men, both killers, outside Deb’s door. This is not only their final confrontation, but the final confrontation of this series. Oh wait. The room was being protected, so the police catch Daniel immediately and arrest him.
And thus, everything turns out fine. Except that Debra is now brain dead due to post surgery complications.
So here’s where I realized that they had no idea what kind of show they were actually making. Debra dying was always a possibility and would ultimately be the turning point for Dexter’s tragic downfall. The problem is that I don’t think the show ever really deserves to have that kind of poetic justice. It comes down to the fact that we actually like Dexter. This isn’t like Walter White where we like him while accepting that he’s turning into an awful person. The show goes out of its way to soften the edges around Dexter so that audiences will never have a reason to turn on him. Ask yourself this. Whenever there’s a brutal death, is Dexter usually responsible? No, all his deaths are either chaste stabbings to the chest, or done off screen. Did you ever think that (in the show’s version of reality) he wasn’t always justified in his killings? Did you notice that they never show Dexter cutting up the body before dumping it in the ocean? See, Dexter Morgan isn’t as hard of a sell as the show thinks he is. I mean, we’ve always had a thing for vigilante justice. We watch Batman movies, read Punisher comics, and made Clint Eastwood one of the biggest stars of all time. If the show runners were expecting the audience to say “well, as much as I liked him, he had this coming” then they are idiots. Not only that, but they fucking half ass it. I’m jumping ahead a bit, but the death of Debra is simply Dexter pulling the plug on her life support (an EXTREMELY justifiable act considering she’s completely brain dead). If you want to go with the “Monster gets what he deserves” angle for this finale, then you have to actually show him being a monster at least once in this episode. You can’t buy into the tragedy here because it’s not Dexter’s fault, and it comes out of fucking nowhere.
Anyway, to get back to where we were, Hannah is taking Harrison to Argentina while this is going on. Jacob tries once more to get Hannah, but fails miserably.
Dexter goes to confront Daniel under the pretense of collecting his DNA for lab work, which is a pretty decent scene where Dexter reveals that he’s lost all hope for his happy ending in Argentina. Daniel seems content in his victory, even though Dexter kills him right then and there with a pen. Again, this is (in terms of TV logic) a completely justifiable killing in the eyes of the audience which will only underscore the weakness of what happens later.
Dexter gets hauled into the Miami Metro Police Department, and is put under arrest for murder. Oh wait, that’s not what happens. Two people he’s worked with for years watch the surveillance footage, declare it self-defense, and TELL DEXTER TO GO TO ARGENTINA!!!!
Holy fucking shit. How fucked up does this look? You just gave a free pass to a dude who’s worked there for years. How the hell do you have jurisdiction on this case!? Conflict of interest!!! And the icing on the cake is the fact that the police just told him to flee the country. Holy shit, is this thing over yet? I don’t think Miami Metro could get any more incompetent without turning it into a part time strip club. Anyway, Dexter goes back to the hospital, walks right into Debra’s room, has a moment before pulling the plug, and then walks out with her dead body without anyone noticing him or stopping him. Oh, a hurricane is coming, and they are moving patients. Ok, fine. I might be able to buy it except for the fact that he’s clearly not taking the body to any of the emergency vehicles, and instead is taking it to his boat. Wait, since when are hospitals on fucking boardwalks?
In my utter disbelief at what I just witnessed, I kind of skipped over the scene where Dexter is forced to kill Debra. It’s a great moment where Dexter is feeling guilty about all the things that have led to this moment. He regrets letting Deb find out about him, and how he was unable to protect one of the only people he truly cared about. He carefully takes off the medical equipment, and we can tell how much pain this is giving him. All his life, he’s loved to kill people, but this is the one time where he wishes he didn’t have to do it. If we had gotten here more organically, or if the show doesn’t end the way it does, this would have had more impact, but it just feels like the best thing in an ocean of crap.
After getting on his boat (which he was somehow able to dock right next to the fucking hospital doors), he drives out to the middle of the ocean, and sends Deb’s body to the same watery grave that countless others were sent to after Dexter was finished with them. Hannah calls Dexter, and he gives her and Harrison an evasive goodbye (i.e. he doesn’t spell out that he’s not going to Argentina, but his word choice makes it pretty obvious).
And so, the series ends with Dexter driving his boat head first into the hurricane, leaving nothing but a destroyed boat. Except not really, because he (somehow) escaped the hurricane and is now a lumberjack in the northeast, living all alone and looking haunted in the camera’s general direction.
So this is how it ends. Guy’s sister dies, so he fucks off to Washington to cut wood and NOT raise his son. What I thought when I first saw this was “Do they really expect me to believe he deserves this?” Like I said before, Dexter isn’t a character they want you to hate until the last fucking minute. They gave us almost 8 seasons of following this guy around while praising him every single moment of it. Rarely would the show give us a questionable decision, and whenever they did it was almost always out of Dexter’s hands. Doakes died, but it was Dexter’s crazy ex-girlfriend who did it. Laguerta died, but Debra was the one to do it. Hell, the show just told us that he SHOULD have killed Daniel when he had the chance which would have kept Debra from dying. Don’t try to pull a 180 at the last second and expect me to go along with it. You made him the hero of the story, and never asked us to question him. The show was trying to have its cake and judge it at the same time. Dexter’s self-imposed exile is also bullshit because there is literally nothing keeping him from going to Argentina and being with his child. He’s either going to go back to him at some point, or he’s going to let his misplaced guilt keep him from doing what he should do, which frankly makes me lose any interest in him as a character. Just to be clear, he never expresses guilt for killing ANYONE except for his sister. He feels he’s unworthy to be with the rest of humanity because he couldn’t protect his sister. Well sorry dude, but that’s life. People are killed all the time and there are parents, brothers, spouses, children, etc who wish they could have done something about it. You’re not special because your sister died, and you’ve got a kid who loves you and needs you. See, this ending could have worked if Dexter ACTUALLY had a hand in the death his sister, like maybe he killed her by accident because she was protecting someone Dexter was going after. It would at least be SOMETHING that would have us agree with Dexter’s decision to run away and grow a beard.
It’s not deep, it’s incredibly shallow. Shows like Breaking Bad EARN their bittersweet endings. If you don’t work for it, then you’ll just get a lot of pissed off people with bad tastes in their mouths.
Dexter is an incredibly fun show to watch. It’s first few seasons are a blast, and are definitely worth your time. It’s just a shame the show ended up losing the courage of its convictions and felt the need to ‘punish’ him in the end. It’s unnecessary, but it doesn’t ruin the show. Watch those first few seasons, and you’ll have a great time. You’ll probably watch the others seasons too, but there’s still enough good in them that you won’t regret giving them a shot. Even season 6 is fun to watch for how stupid it gets at points.