The ‘Dexter’ Postmortem: The Series Finale, The Final Season & The Show’s Ultimate Legacy
Seven years ago, blood spatter analyst Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) hit our television airwaves and a new kind of anti-hero was born. He was anything but typical: a family man, a beloved co-worker, and of course, a serial killer. From a very young age it was clear Dexter wasn’t normal, having been orphaned at the age of three upon witnessing his mother’s murder. Taken in by police officer Harry Morgan (James Remar), it was apparent early on that Dexter had anything but typical urges and thus Harry taught him The Code, a way of channeling his need to kill by preying on those who were killers themselves. Last night, after eight seasons, Dexter came to a close in a series finale that will no doubt keep people discussing the titular anti-hero and his ultimate place in the television lexicon.
For me personally, it’s hard to come to terms with my exact feelings on the end of Dexter. At one point in time, it was one of my absolute favorite television shows. The way it balanced it’s bloody subject matter with a darkly-twinged sense of humor was something different for television and with each coming week my anticipation for the next episode grew exponentially. After four highly enjoyable seasons however, Dexter became something else. It was now a television show steeped in mediocrity and that clung to a formula that was anything but inventive. The seventh season of the show made a comeback of sorts, focusing on the relationship between Dexter and his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) to great effect, and introducing a worthy foe in the form of Isaak Sirko, played brilliantly by Ray Stevenson. I finally thought the writers had realized their past mistakes and were now on the path to giving fans a fitting end to the tale of Dexter Morgan, and then of course, came the final eighth season.
Where do I even begin? The eighth season of Dexter may ultimately be its worst. One of the keys to the success of early seasons was the ‘will they or won’t they find out about Dexter’ dynamic. As has been the case in many of the recent string of anti-hero led television dramas, our protagonists’ leading less-than-noble second lives unbeknownst to their peers is a constant source of tension and drama. Whereas these other shows have ultimately led their characters down paths to getting their comeuppance, the final season of Dexter is not interested in doing that in the slightest. Instead, the show’s focus this season was on the relationship between Dexter and mother-figure Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling).
Now first of all, it’s hard to argue against the casting of Charlotte Rampling, a fantastic actress who undoubtably brings more to the role than most would. The problem with the storyline is that it is ultimately not a great source of any kind of dramatic tension or conflict. Yes, the fact that Harry Morgan ultimately created The Code with Dr. Evelyn Vogel may be an interesting side-note, but to base the entire final season around this notion is incredibly underwhelming. I, as many fans, assumed the final season would revolve around Dexter finally being revealed as the Bay Harbor Butcher, but instead the writers chose to focus on inherently undramatic and uninteresting aspects of its characters.
The writing staff stated coming into this final season that the story’s focus would be on Dexter ultimately coming to terms with the cost of being human. Now, while the series finale ultimately did focus on this, the entire season preceding it did anything but. Masuka has a daughter. Okay yeah, so? Did it serve any purpose? No. Batista was typical Batista. He’s in charge of Miami Metro but ultimately serves no dramatic purpose in the show whatsoever. Quinn? Well, he’s dating Batista’s sister whose encouraging him to get a promotion but he’s not really all that interested and still has feelings for Deb. Yeah, but what does that ultimately have to do with anything? The problem with much of the final season is that it focuses on events that ultimately lead nowhere and have nothing to do with the story of Dexter himself.
Dexter’s story in the final season begins in the aftermath of Deb’s shooting LaGuerta as Deb is now in a dark place. She and Dexter are estranged, something Dexter himself can’t come to terms with. Deb is one of the few people in his life he actually cares for and without her he is clearly lost. Now from my point of view, this is an inherently interesting set-up with two characters who have a history together now at complete odds with each other. Unfortunately, the storyline is anything but interesting. Dr. Vogel brings Dexter and Deb back into each other’s lives and while she notes that Dexter’s love for Deb is unusual for a pyschopath, this notion is ultimately not focused on again until the finale. It is discarded for an uninventive storyline in which Dexter must hunt down the latest serial killer to take Miami, the Brain Surgeon, who turns out to be Dr. Vogel’s real son.
While ultimately the eighth and final season was a big disappointment, the series finale was something different. It wasn’t just dark, it was pitch black and actually chose to focus on some interesting aspects of Dexter Morgan. Finally choosing to follow up on Dexter’s cost for being human, the writers chose to focus on ultimately what Dexter has done not only to himself, but to those around him. After being shot by Oliver Saxon AKA Daniel Vogel AKA The Brain Surgeon in the previous episode, Deb is taken to the hospital in critical condition as Dexter is on his way to Argentina with Hannah and Harrison. Dexter gets the call about Deb and rushes to her side. Deb tells him that he deserves to be happy and should go to Hannah and Harrison and he obliges, but not before he can bring Saxon to justice. A little later however, Dexter learns shockingly that Deb has gone into a coma and that her brain was deprived of air, pretty much assuring that she will never live as she did. Dexter fittingly is a wreck and ultimately kills Saxon in a fit of rage while in police custody. Dexter than proceeds to unplug Deb and remove her from the hospital, sealing her fate. He takes her onto his boat, dumps her into the ocean, and then drives his boat into the on-coming hurricane, knowing full well that he is the reason that all those around him suffer. Although Dexter doesn’t die, he is presumed dead by everyone. He leaves Hannah and Harrison to live out their lives peacefully in Argentina and in the end, Dexter is shown working with lumber and living alone. It is the price he must pay to keep everyone safe.
For me, this was an incredibly strange yet moving conclusion for Dexter. Although it certainly doesn’t forgive any of the past decisions by the writing staff, it at least made an interesting statement about the character and ultimately served him a fitting fate. Although I would certainly argue that they still should have revealed Dexter to be the Bay Harbor Butcher, they at least tried to give him and the characters around him a conclusive end.
Showtime has recently stated that they’re interested in producing a spin-off to Dexter. With the show ultimately making the network what it is today, I can certainly understand why network execs would try and avoid just letting the show fade into the sunset. One of the many reasons Dexter suffered in later seasons however, was because of the network’s insistence on keeping it going, in addition to its ever-revolving door of showrunners. If there is anything this recent golden age in television has taught us, it’s that when a show is run by a single individual or a group of people with a singular vision it often ends before it is allowed to circle the drain of television mediocrity. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Dexter and a spin-off would only make these flaws even more apparent.
Although Dexter will not ultimately go down as one of the greatest television shows of all-time, it is certainly a show that will be remembered. From its first few fantastic seasons to a great central performance by Michael C. Hall, the show provided audiences with something different in the ever-changing television landscape. While I will ultimately remember it as one of the great missed opportunities in television history, I will also remember it for the good times and the incredibly bleak yet interesting series finale. So long Dexter. You were good when you were good, and damn you were bad when you were bad. But hey, there was a point in time when you were among the best shows on television. That’s gotta count for something.