There was a time when I did single episode reviews and then season recaps on “Dexter.” A lack of time put that practice by the wayside, but I’ve remained a massive fan of the show. It was the driving reason behind my having Showtime in the first place. So what caused me to break my long running silence on the show I love? My complete bewilderment at the final episode. I’m sure mine will be only one voice of many sorely disappointed fans, but I can’t keep silent. And I’ll say it now to be clear: SPOILERS THROUGHOUT!
Dexter ended its eight year run with the episode “Remember the Monsters?” and it should be pointed out that even before the first minute this episode is already at a disadvantage. Season Eight as a whole has had a fundamental issue: it felt forced. The basic plot points (Dr. Vogel, the Brain Surgeon, Zack, Hannah’s return, etc.) are all fine, and taken unto itself the season isn’t bad. However as a final season it’s just a bad fit. In many ways “Dexter” shot itself in the foot by peaking with Season Two. That’s not to say that Season Two was a “jump the shark” situation, but the feel of what Season Two was should have been saved for the final season.
For those who don’t remember: Season Two, rather than featuring a rival serial killer for Dexter to confront, focused on the police and FBI hunting down Dexter himself when his dumping grounds were discovered. So the whole season had this fantastic tension as his own coworkers drew in closer to catching him. That feeling of “oh my god, he’s going to get caught!” is what should have permeated the final season. Except it was already used for Season Two (and then revisited with LaGuerta in Season Seven) so that left us with yet another serial killer face off for the final season when it should have been something else right from the start.
Another season long issue is that the show has overestimated the importance of Hannah. In Season Seven she was fascinating and brought out very interesting things in Dexter. However her story felt very well concluded at the end of that season. What’s more, there was no lingering feeling that Dexter was supposed to end up with her or that they were somehow soul mates. Yet the show has been playing it like they are since bringing her back. The show desperately wants fans to be rooting for Dexter and Hannah to make a life together in Rio, in fact it’s banking on it heavily. While the chemistry is there it’s just not potent enough to make this extreme development work, and it never was.
So the final episode is already at a disadvantage given what’s been going on in the season as a whole. But it still had the chance to do something bold, to roll the dice on a big idea or at least really make it seem like Dexter’s world could truly come apart. Instead the episode takes a very lazy pacing, with very little happening over the course of the hour. Everything is more drawn out, which was probably meant to heighten the emotion but really just comes across as needlessly nostalgic or sappy. The flashback of Deb and Dexter when Harrison was first born is the worst offender of this ill fitting vibe.
If there’s one thing that has been the driving force of the entire show from the first episode it’ s tension. There is t ension in Dexter’s latest kill, tension in the hunt, tension that he might be caught, and tension in a truly worthy foe. This episode is almost entirely devoid of tension of any kind and that is what makes this such a massive disappointment, even more so than the questionable events that take place over the course of the episode. Even something that should be earth shattering, like Deb dying, is handled in a way so tension free that it loses almost all of its impact.
The feel of the entire episode is ethereal, almost dreamlike. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s not what “Dexter” is. What’s more, it never has been. “Dexter” is visceral and at its best it grabs you by the throat. This episode leads you gently by the hand, and that more than anything else is a fundamental betrayal of the character and the show as a whole. Even the moments that should be tense (Dexter facing down Saxon, Elway on the bus with Hannah, etc.) either have no tension or it’s extremely fleeting. There is no satisfaction in the kill of Saxon, which really is a first for any kill in the show. The kills have almost always been cathartic , especially when it was the season villain dying . This time it’s just perfunctory : something that has to be done to tie up plot.
The final images of the show almost add insult to injury. While the idea of Dexter allowing himself to die so he can’t hurt the people he loves isn’t exactly an appealing one, it’s at least a fairly bold choice. But then the show cops out on that move as well in its final moments, which add nothing but frustration. The simple fact is that if Dexter is going to cut himself off from what family he has left it should be because he’s never going to change. But the final scene doesn’t give any confirmation of anything other than the simple fact that he’s alive and hiding. Even the kill tools being on the table would have been enough, but there isn’t even that. Without some confirmation that Dexter is still killing there is literally no point in his still being alive. He had two things going for himself: his loved ones and killing. If he abandons one he needs to be embracing the other. But by all indications in the final scene he isn’t killing anymore either, and if that’s the case it makes his sacrifice and self exile completely pointless.
It should be stressed that any show as dark as “Dexter” is difficult to bring to a close because it resists the normal happy ending, but at the same time that doesn’t mean fans want to see their favorite characters killed or left miserable. However the failure of this episode to maintain the feel of what made the series great as well as its failure to stand by one of the few bold choices that was made makes this one of the most infuriating series finales ever put on television. Almost nothing about the choices the writers made or the execution of those ideas rings true to the characters or the show as it has existed up to this point. Dexter the character may live, but “Dexter” the show is dead. And it died in a pitiful fit while begging audiences to love it one last time. But what we were given is not what we came to love, so this show dies alone.