It’s hard not to think an era of television came to an end with Breaking Bad‘s finale last night. Sure, Mad Men and Parks and Recreation are still going, but with many of the biggest shows of the last decade relegated to sweet box sets, it feels like a new age has begun. Before we say goodbye and pass the torch onto new hopes, like, uh, Masters of Sex, I guess, it’s worth reveling in the greatness that was Breaking Bad. And, before we do that, let’s talk about another surprising juggernaut, Dexter.
Dexter had two really promising seasons, then a bad one, then another great one. I still prefer the intensity of Doake’s hunt in season two than the titanic work of John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer in season four, but regardless, for about four years, Dexter was a show worth watching. “The Getaway,” the episode that saw Dexter finally kill Trinity only to find Rita dead, aired December 13, 2009. It was the last episode of the show anyone should care about. It was episode 48, out of a total of 96.
Half of Dexter was bad. It’s been many years and episodes since it was good. Say what you will about The Office going on too long, it wasn’t bad for half its run. This presents a dilema: could I ever recommend this series to someone? Could you? Could you tell someone to invest in a show that at least half of is practically unwatchable? It was good in the beginning, right? Or maybe it was always terrible… This is the kind of doubt such a string of badness can instill.
I stopped watching at the beginning of season seven, somehow longer than most everyone I know, despite turning on the series before most. What did it for me was the idea that Debra, Dexter’s by-the-numbers police captain sister, could allow Dexter to get away with murder. And then not just get away with it, but see Dexter’s murderous ways as a societal good. It’s one thing for a deluded sociopath to believe murder is justified, it’s quite another for the show’s moral compass to hop onboard the crazy train.
The core tension of Dexter, at least in the beginning, was that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. All his friends and coworkers were unknowingly hunting him, and he had to stay a step ahead or risk destroying the lives of the people he cared about. At least, that’s why I was watching. Naturally, I thought the ending would revolve around Dexter’s murderous ways finally being discovered. That tension was what the show did best, and I thought that was intentionally the focus of the show.
I was wrong, Dexter was about a misunderstood super hero learning to come out of his shell and get everything he wants. By the finale, “Remember the Monsters?”, Dexter not only has a son and girlfriend who love him unconditionally, but Deb is completely on his side, his therapist surrogate mother approves of what he does, and everyone at Miami Metro thinks he’s just about the greatest guy of all time. Let me explain.
You know about Harrison, he doesn’t matter. Dexter’s girlfriend, who we’ll call Miranda from Mass Effect because I don’t know her name, I guess was a serial killer in her own right before. But she quit, and now Dexter is learning to let go if his dark passenger too. God, doesn’t the whole dark passenger thing seem dumb now? Dexter wants to go to Argentina with Harrison and Miranda, because she’s on the run, presumably because of the murdering. And Deb’s ex-boss is on the case.
You see, after basically deciding murder was cool, Deb had something of a mental breakdown. She ended up leaving Miami Metro and becoming a drunk-ass PI… But I guess she’s good now, because in the finale she’s sober and loves Dexter and back at Miami Metro somehow. Isn’t that nice. Not only is she protecting Miranda, but she actually leads her former boss and Lem from The Shield off the case, giving Dexter and his new family a chance to escape.
Charlotte Rampling plays a therapist who worked with Harry when he found out about Dexter’s craziness. She was a presence in this season as she helped Dexter feel great about himself and Deb feel bad for thinking murder is wrong. Anyway, she gets killed by her son, who’s also a serial killer, because OK, which means Dexter has one last kill to do before he can head off to his perfect life in Argentina.
So Dexter and Deb double team the son guy, and Dexter takes him off to a murder room. And Dexter’s all, “you shouldn’t’ve done that.” And the murderer guys all, “you’re a dick.” And then Dexter realizes killing people is a shitty thing to do, so he calls Deb to pick up murder son while he heads off to the airport to join Miranda. What he doesn’t know is that Deb’s boss is following Miranda and Lem is following Deb.
So Deb shows up to arrest murder guy but Lem gets there first and Lem’s all confused and angry and shit. He lets murder guy go just as Deb walks in the room, and murder guy stabs Lem to death and shoots Deb. Oh no! It would be dramatic if it wasn’t oddly shot terribly. Dexter helps Miranda escape Deb’s boss by creating a bomb scare at the airport, but don’t worry, it’s not like it’s hard to commit crimes at the airport, they don’t have cameras or anything. Then he gets the call and rushes to the hospital, while Miranda and Harrison go to another airport.
Deb’s in the hospital, dying of being shot, when Dexter shows up. And instead of Dexter perhaps learning a meaningful lesson here, Deb basically says, “you’re the best fucking guy ever, sorry I fucked up the one fucking job I had” (she swears a lot). And then falls into a coma. Meanwhile, Miami Metro, in a shocking display of competence, arrest murder guy. So Dexter goes to question him.
Obviously in reality Dexter, a blood splatter analyst, wouldn’t be allowed to interrogate a murder suspect, but whatever. Dexter basically goads the guy into stabbing him with a pen, so that Dexter can then remove said pen from his chest and stick it in murder guy’s carotid artery, killing him. Despite being stabbed in the chest, Dexter seems to be fine.
Quinn and Batista question Dexter, watching the tape of him killing murder guy with dumbfounded expressions. At this point, I’d like to remind you that a couple seasons ago, Quinn hired RoboCop to prove that Dexter was a serial killer. This time, after watching the tape, the two best detectives in Miami seem to realize that Dexter went in there to kill that guy, but say, essentially, well, it was self defense, get out of here, you silly goose. So officially everyone in this show is accepting of murder, except for maybe Masuka.
Dexter goes back to Deb in the hospital and unplugs her from life support, making her his last kill. He takes her body to his boat and drives off into a hurricane for some reason. The series’ ever-present narration and ghost Harry are nowhere to be seen. We just watch silently as Dexter throws his sister’s body into the ocean and apparently commits suicide, despite that not being Deb’s wish and him having a perfect life waiting for him in Argentina. He drives into the storm, fade to black.
We cut to Miranda and Harrison at a cafe in Argentina, they made it! Wait, is Dexter going to do The Dark Knight Rises ending? No, it’s not, Miranda and Harrison are just having a great time in Argentina. The show cuts to a lumberyard somewhere, where a Dexter has apparently become a lumberjack and grown a beard. He goes into a tiny house, sits down, and stares at us. The show ends.
What the fuck is this shit? The show was basically never ambiguous in its eight year run, but tries to get artsy in its final five minutes? Why would Dexter do this? What possible reason could he have for abandoning the love of his life and his child for? Is it some sort of penance for getting Deb killed? That seems dumb. Is it because he thinks they could never be safe with him there? Why would that possibly be? He’s killed everyone who could possibly be a threat to him, and says he’s lost the need to kill. This is ludicrous.
What an utter betrayal. This show needed to end with Dexter exposed… He can’t just get away with it. He didn’t necessarily need to be arrested or killed, but someone at Miami Metro needed to find out the truth about Dexter. It needed to get out, otherwise what was the point of spending so much time having those detectives almost find him? How could this ending possibly be seen as acceptable?
Simply because the fans and writers Dexter still had at the end saw him as a real hero. Not an antihero like Walter White or Vic Mackey, even though he did worse things than either of them, but a real hero. Like Superman. And I’m tired of being disappointed by Superman stories.