Well, it’s been a while since I ranted about anything, so I thought… why not? After all I did watch what was probably the most disappointing hour of television I’ve seen in a decade last night. Not that I was surprised, mind you. Dexter hasn’t really been good since season four, but I continually held out hope that the writers would get back on track.
The great news is that I am not alone in not being super satisfied with Dexter as of late. In fact, my good friend Frank Taylor (aka Paceaux) wrote up some of his own thoughts, including what he would have liked to have seen from seasons 7 & 8.
Before we delve into the actual finale, let me tell you some of my disappointments in the character of Dexter. I’m not even going to get into plot holes or unbelievability or anything else, just where I think they went wrong. It’s important to note that I have never read a Dexter book – so if Dexter in the books is different, then this obviously doesn’t apply. These are just my thoughts on how he’s presented in the TV show.
1. Dexter never really had to make a moral choice – there was always an easy way out or the shield of “The Code” to hide behind. Dexter should have been forced to make a choice in season 2 – does he or doesn’t he kill Doakes? If Dexter didn’t kill him, he should have lived and Dexter lived with the fallout of his choice. If he did, there should have been consequences for that as well. This was the first time we ever had to consider the fact that Dexter does a horrible thing for “good” reasons. Because of that – is it okay to do some really bad stuff (ie: kill a good person) in order to keep doing good (killing “bad people”)? Instead someone else killed Doakes and Dexter used it to escape trouble and we avoid ever dealing with the morality of Dexter.
2. Dexter’s ooey-gooey center: Somewhere along the way the writers decided that Dexter was only a monster on the outside and that inside he was secretly a good guy. This was cemented in season 4 when Dexter shows true emotions for Rita and Harrison. Now the moral quagmire from point one is forever done away with because now the entire show is about whether or not Dexter can discover the goodness that lies inside of him.
3. If Dexter is discovering his inner humanity, fine. That’s an acceptable (albeit lame) choice for his character arc. That said, there should be a. consequences and b. guilt just overrunning his life. The most accurate count I could find, which does not include most of the final season, lists Dexter’s known and confirmed kills at 132, not including the deaths he is technically responsible for, but did not personally commit. That seems to be something that should probably wreck someone who has just discovered their soul.
Those are the major issues I have with his character. We’ll gloss over the fact that everyone near him is constantly killed or injured, he’s never home, has a nearly-live in nanny who raises his child for him and yet doesn’t ask what he does all day, and somehow is active for nearly all 24 hours in a day and never seems to fall asleep at work and jump right into the finale.
First, we once again are denied Dexter dealing with the morality of what he does in any way. During the last two season Dexter destroys the character (in the sense of uprightness) and is eventually responsible (in more way than one) his sister Debra’s death. The last thing she tells him is that he deserves to be happy (by running away with a woman who once tried to kill Debra). Really? Debra compromised her morals, threw away her career, realized that Dexter was responsible for their father’s suicide, and tried to kill herself multiple times this season because of the reality of Dexter, but he’s basically a good guy who deserves to be happy? Ugh.
Second, Hannah is presented (and accepted by the aforementioned and plainly insane Debra) as the best possible choice to raise Harrison. Yes, because emotionally unstable, completely self absorbed, serial killing women make the absolute best mothers. This was just dumb.
Third, Harry basically disappears. Dexter had been talking to the imagined ghost of his father for several seasons now. He had basically become his evil Jiminy Cricket. He kept Dexter killing and adhering to the code, constantly telling him that he NEEDED to kill. Then in season eight, Harry makes a 180 in most regards, spending all of his time arguing with Dexter and trying to talk him out of killing. Great – so he’s now become the ooey-gooey conscience of the ooey-gooey, deep-down good Dexter. I can live with that, though I still think it’s lame. However, apparently he took one look at all the crap going on in the finale and said, “Dex, you’re too messed up for me. You’re on your own.” So, no closure on the “just how crazy is this guy who talks to himself all the time” angle.
Fourth, on what planet or in what alternate universe would Dexter’s kill of Jaxon have lead to absolutely ZERO investigation/temporary holding/arrest of Dexter? On camera, clearly in calm control and then visibly “acting” once help arrived… all caught on tape. Just lazy, sloppy, and dumb on the writer’s part.
Fifth, what the hell is up with the Debra death and burial? I get Dex pulling the plug – I can see him doing that. And yes, I understand a hurricane is coming in and headed (apparently) directly for the hospital. But Dexter, in his “kill clothes” could not walk out with the body wrapped in a sheet and carry it to his waiting boat with absolutely no one seeing him. And forget logistics. Dexter puts on his kill clothes, kills his sister, and then buries her at sea with all of his other victims. It wasn’t enough that he actually ruined her life (and killed her), but he mentally relegated her to the same status as all the “bad people” who “needed to die”? So wait… Deep down inside Dexter is good and has a soul, but he’s still a sociopath? Make up your mind.
Dexter’s fake death. Great, Dex fakes his death and runs away because he realizes he will always be a killer and no one he loves is safe. Since when does personal introspection and discovery equate to someone being able to swim out of a hurricane? Seriously. He drives his boat into the hurricane, the coast guard finds it destroyed, and he is in Oregon? There’s something missing here… ah yes, logic.
The “batman ending” (thanks for the term Paceaux) does one unforgivable thing. It undoes the entire series. I talked about how I thought the direction for Dexter’s character was lame – but the writers should have committed. We have spent the last four seasons being told that Dexter isn’t evil – he can be good – and he deserves to live a normal life and be happy. Then right at the very end… BAM! Just kidding. He has to kill, it really is something he can’t control, so he can’t be human and happy and has to run away to be an axe-murdering lumberjack. There’s no ambiguousness in the ending. There’s no question that he is still a murder. If he could merely turn it off and finally be good, he would have shown up in Argentina. Nope, the writers wanted less closure and the ability of a second show and so Dexter goes to Oregon with his humanity shut away so it won’t hurt him, back to square one.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am totally okay with the antagonist still being an antagonist at the end of the show, but not if you’re going to fake a change to protagonist for multiple seasons and just drop us off back at the beginning. If you’re going to pull that crap, I’ll just go back to re-watching Lost.
The final mistake that the Dexter show runners and writers made was a tactical one. They limped along on a show that had jumped the shark and gave us a lame duck ending… while airing at the exact same time as Breaking Bad’s final season. Breaking Bad took their protagonist and made him a horrible, loathsome antagonist, took half the cast with him, redeemed a small few, and had characters that actually grew and changed, while challenging the viewers to examine who they actually root for. It did it unapologetically and created 5 of the greatest seasons in television history. It did all of this in the same time slot as Dexter and showed us how a show with a bad guy as the central character should be written, and Dexter just limped away into our collective memory dust bin.