It’s over. Eight years after meeting America’s favorite serial killer, it’s over. And we were left wanting more, but not in a good way.
If you haven’t seen the series finale yet, I have two bits of advice: Don’t read the rest of this post, as I am most certainly including spoilers. BIG spoilers. Also, don’t watch the finale. Go back to the season 7 finale and watch that again, and do your best to forget season 8 even exists. Fail to heed either of these, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Season 8 was a hot mess. I realize every episode can’t be Shakespeare, but the entire season was utterly lacking in direction, coherence, or really any sort of point. And the most egregious of all the episodes was the finale. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So many subplots, none of them going anywhere. Dexter wants to regain Deb’s trust after the enormous cliffhanger of her saving him from LaGuerta and compromising all her principles. Dexter meets Dr. Vogel, the criminal psychiatrist who helped his dad write The Code he lives by. Dexter starts to go after the Brain Surgeon, sort of. Dexter meets Zach, who he wants to mentor in The Code, sort of. Masuka meets his daughter, who he wants to get to know and be a good father to, sort of. Quinn wants to be sergeant, sort of. Hannah reappears and wants to make a go of it with Dexter, even with Deb glowering at her constantly. Dr. Vogel’s son turns out to also be a serial killer, who challenges Dexter, sort of.
I haven’t read the books, but it’s like they had four more to go and only one season to include them all. Enough with the freaking subplots!
This show has produced some very memorable villains. Trinity. Doomsday. Dexter’s brother. Saxon, “The Brain Surgeon,” will go down in the history of the show as one of the least impressive of the lot. Not only because we don’t even meet him until five episodes before the ending; he’s just plain boring. His motivation is simple psychosis. There’s no rhyme or reason to choosing his victims, and there certainly is no grand scheme. He’s bland, banal, forgettable. Doesn’t even succeed in creating the illusion that he could ever come close to giving Dexter a run for his money. I’m afraid the only reason he appears to stay one step ahead of Dexter is because Dexter spends most of this season in a fog, or distracted with petty subplots that the rest of us were utterly uninterested in.
Dexter struggles with a lot of new emotion this season (although his soothing, steady narration remains as impassive as ever), so perhaps his lumbering steps to becoming more human were supposed to be the REAL Big Bad. He realizes he loves Hannah for reals. He forms an unconvincing attachment to Dr. Vogel as a sort of mother figure, though I really didn’t feel it, even when he cradles her dying body in his arms and appears devastated. He’s excited at the thought of mentoring Zach (although blows him off an awful lot), forgetting he already has a son (albeit one he perhaps doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps). All those “sort ofs” I typed above were what I felt this entire season — endlessly branching crossroads, and I personally didn’t particularly care which, if any, were taken.
Dexter spent seven seasons being a man of action, who saw what needed to be done in any situation and did it, no matter how distasteful (sometimes the more distasteful the better). I admired and envied him because he had simple desires and a primal talent for feeding them, and the water wasn’t ever muddied with doubt or hesitation. Season 8 Dexter is a man crippled by emotions, who spends so much time contemplating his options that often they expire while he does nothing. Not the Dexter we’ve gotten to know and love, more like Hamlet wasting entirely too much time analyzing every insignificant detail (don’t get me wrong…I love Hamlet. But he’s not exactly edge-of-your-seat cable TV viewing).
The penultimate episode, in which Dexter and Hannah decide to run away to Argentina, consists almost solely of thrilling scenes of Dexter packing and selling his things for the move. He finally gets Saxon on his table, but realizes he doesn’t want to kill him (or, more precisely, could kill him, could walk away, it’s all the same — wishy-washy is not a good look for a serial killer). He walks away and Saxon escapes, which didn’t really come as a surprise knowing we still had the finale to get through, which promised more exciting travel plans and house hunting had Saxon only been taken into custody.
We’re used to holding our breath through the last five minutes of an episode, followed by turning to each other with a look of helpless shock and despair that we had to wait another week to find out what happens. Not so with this episode. Even Deb suddenly getting shot by the fleeing Saxon inspired only a “meh” reaction in us. No, not the Dexter we love at all.
The finale is riddled with ludicrous plot twists and painfully out-of-character moments. Deb comes out of surgery for her gunshot wound and appears fine, only to suffer a blood clot that renders her virtually brain-dead and vegetative (finally discovering the only thing that would halt the endless stream of expletives that comes out of her mouth). That I don’t have a problem with. But this leads Dexter to seek out Saxon being questioned at the station and killing him with a fountain pen, in full view of security cameras. There’s nary a feeling of satisfaction or closure to be had from the act. He might as well have been stomping on a spider. A numb and seemingly barely-there Batista and Quinn accept it almost without question, more of a shrug and a “sure, self-defense, even though you had no business being in there in the first place. Now get out of here, buddy, you’ve got a plane to catch.”
Meanwhile Hannah is on a bus headed for a different airport to get to Argentina with Harrison (having shaken Elway, the P.I. tracking her, in Miami). She chats with Harrison about their journey, then settles back in the seat — only to suddenly find Elway seated directly across the row from her. Really? It seems like it would take a special kind of unobservant for her to not notice him boarding the bus and sitting right next to her. Hannah isn’t dumb, but the writers must think we are to accept this. The show has never (or hardly ever) insulted the viewers, and it’s anyone’s guess why they decided to start now.
It gets worse. Dexter unplugs Deb at the hospital, a mercy killing, which I totally accept. What made me roll my eyes was when he then proceeded to wheel her cadaver on a gurney out to the conveniently unoccupied boat slip just outside the hospital, without so much as a lab coat for a disguise, in full view of hospital staff (who granted are busily preparing for a big tropical storm, but come on…NO ONE sees this, even out of the corner of their eye?) He gets her onto the boat and out to sea, where he dumps her alongside his many victims. Not sure she would appreciate THAT send-off.
Then he drives off into the storm, presumably killing himself. His boat is found wrecked the next day and he’s assumed dead. But no….the silly denouement shows that he became a lumberjack, in Canada beside Wolverine, looks like. Which I didn’t have a HUGE problem with, until Tery asked, “What about Harrison? Does no one wonder where he disappeared to?” (Although typing this, it occurs to me he might have been assumed to also be on-board. Except as Quinn and Batista survey the wreckage, there’s no thought spared for the boy. Can’t blame them, as most of the time Dexter didn’t seem to notice him either.)
Tery and I sat there stunned as the final credits rolled. We really, really wanted to like it, to find anything redeeming about it, but it was just…not good. Most of the fans on Facebook seemed to agree with us, from the comments I skimmed through. Too many subplots. Too much hasty character development in too short a period of time. Would have been better ending with season 7.
One girl suggested four or five alternate endings, most involving finding Harrison later in life on a path to killing even in dad’s absence. All of these sounded better than this ending. I posited that it would have been more interesting to see Dexter almost getting caught (especially after Deb’s jaw-dropping turn in season 7 finale); then I realized we’d already been there in season 2, with Doakes closing in on him. A co-worker said they should have saved the Doakes storyline for the last season, because back there in season 2 we were reasonably sure Dexter would come out on top, it being only two seasons in and a hugely popular show. I think invincible and infallible gets boring — this is why we prefer Batman to Superman. A little vulnerability makes a character vastly more interesting.
Dexter is at his finest when he’s cornered. But every single one of these subplots felt like something he could easily walk away from, take or leave, kill or not, whatevs. The whole season felt phoned in, like the writers were already thinking about their next projects. “It’s just a TV show,” you say. But it’s a show we’ve spent eight years falling in love with, with more or less consistently excellent writing and a character I liked so much I dressed as him for Halloween last year:
If they want us to watch for eight years, they can’t fumble the ball in the end zone (is that a thing? I don’t know sports) My co-worker (who evidently watches A LOT of TV) ticked off several kick-ass series finales (we disagree on the quality of a few of them *COUGH* Battlestar Galactica *COUGH* but there are still plenty out there).
Do yourself a favor. Call season 7 the end. Don’t waste your time with this season. Go watch some Breaking Bad (we’re still on season 3 of that, so no spoilers please — but word on the street is the finale was better than Dexter).