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Dexter Season 8 Review: Dead On Arrival
Like Dexter plopping a victim on his slab, this isn’t going to be pretty. You might want to avert your eyes because with this heavy spoiler filled review I’m about to murder the last season of Dexter.
It’s hard to think of a modern TV show that devolved so drastically, becoming a pale shadow of its former self. What started as a subversive and darkly humorous study of a killer ended up a cartoon soap opera with a hero seemingly cured of his serial killer tendencies not through rehabilitation and drugs, but through the power of…love! That’s all you need to treat someone with an urge to kill and no empathy, you just need to love their killing ways and be understanding about it.
DISSECTING THE LAST SEASON
The last season of Dexter picks up in the aftermath of LaGuerta’s death. Debra is a bit off the rails, having left Miami PD and working as a bounty hunter of sorts. Estranged from Dexter, who crosses paths with a criminal psychologist Dr Vogel (Charlotte Rampling) who retcons Harry’s past by explaining that she is in fact the person responsible for Harry’s Code. Not Harry.
Season 8 features Batista trying to get Quinn to take a sergeants exam, Masuka finding out he has a daughter, and Jamie also asks Quinn to move in toge-WHO THE HELL CARES. Seriously, who cares about these worthless cardboard cut-out characters? Anyone? Hilariously the show tried to shoehorn another detective into the main crew, Angie Miller (I had to hunt her name via Google, she is portrayed by Dana L. Wilson) then promptly forgot she existed in the last half of the season.
Just a handful of episodes into the season I realised I hadn’t seen a season of TV that had as many exposition scenes than this. Endless over-the-shoulder shots of actors remaining static at their spots, bringing viewers up to speed on events and incidents, just massive info-dumps garnished with pointless voice over and Harry ever-present and now a parody of himself, simply stating the obvious. Like the writers were afraid their audience demographic is actually made up of 5 year olds and need their hands held constantly.
There was no momentum, almost every scene was lacking in narrative drive, and yes in true Dexter fashion we were constantly stuck with characters we just don’t care about. It felt laborious to get through each episode, and it’s how I’m going to remember this show, which is a shame because I can vaguely remember a time when I thought this show was exciting and unique back in season 1. After season 3 it began to lose the magic for me and never got its mojo back, though last season was an admirable attempt. Basically any season with Doakes, and Jimmy Smits was my favourite. Everything else has been mostly flat to me. Though I did appreciate John Lithgow hosting the world’s worst dinner in season 4. Interesting to note the show has gone through multiple showrunners, and the original showrunner of the first 4 seasons, Clyde Phillips, has recently voiced his opinion on the finale.
By season 8 it was a mediocre cartoon, with cartoon logic (in Miami you can euthanise someone and then walk out with a corpse in your arms and nobody will care) and we should consider ourselves lucky that a show like Hannibal has swooped in to save us in our time of need.
In terms of characters, ignoring the utterly useless bunch already mentioned, Jennifer Carpenter’s portrayal of Debra felt like one of the few performances keeping this corpse of a show alive. Even her belligerent boss Elway (Sean Patrick Flanery) felt like he was actually giving a damn. Michael C. Hall was saddled with bad writing and there wasn’t much he could do but stay the course. Hannah was completely nullified, just dead weight constantly nagging Dexter, a hindrance, an exposition tool, a damsel in distress. She had zero personality or bite, she sucked the life out of every scene, and it’s not Yvonne Strahovski’s fault, as with all things this season it’s the writers to blame for having her be useless. I love how Dexter thinks rather than sending Harrison to stay with his siblings Astor and Cody, it’s a better idea to have the boy live the rest of his life in Argentina with a killer who specialises in poisoning people. Another highlight of the last episode was after Batista and Quinn witness Dexter brutally killing someone on camera, their response is: “Huh, self defence I guess. Ok, off you go then.”
The only good thing about the last episode was Debra being Dexter’s last victim, but even that was ludicrous in its concept and execution. When the very last scene of the episode finishes, all you’re left feeling is “what was the point of this show?” and there are no answers to that question. An adept series would have ended with a climax revolving around an issue or problem that the show began with. An earlier season of Dexter had the character hallucinating his brother, which would have been perfect for the last season, which instead concerns itself with running away with Hannah and Harrison. The very last scene was also just a devastating kick to the nether regions. At least end the show with Dexter in the woods hunting an animal or working in a slaughterhouse or something, the final shot is so underwhelming.
I think the devolution of the character from ambiguous anti-hero to relatively functional hero coincides with the popularity of the show. The more people tuned in each season, the more generic the character became to cater to the masses and their sensibilities. It would not surprise me if the primary demographic of this show is the same kind of people who watch soap operas at noon.
It’s interesting because there’s a debate going on in Breaking Bad circles about how some viewers can still root for Walt after everything he’s done, but to me it was far more disturbing that every viewer rooted for Dexter, who was a serial killer. Indeed, after a certain point it was the show’s intent for us to root for him. They rendered the man’s insatiable need to kill as nothing but a trivial pesky habit. Or maybe worse, they seemingly cured him of it, because in this last season we never really got a “I have to kill someone soon or I’m going to get the shakes and go crazy” vibe from Dex.
This was the point of Harry, to be his inner voice telling him what he needs, rather than what he wants. But by season 8 Harry was pointless and just paraphrased what Dexter said or vice versa.
What I liked about Dexter in the beginning was the protagonist who was well aware he lacked empathy for others, and was trying to act a part to fit into society. That felt real and subversive. But by the end the way he turned out feels like irresponsible writing. I can imagine misinformed and impressionable viewers entertaining the notion that serial killers, or other people suffering conditions similar to Dexter, can just overcome them without any serious medical and psychological help. All you need is the love of another killer!
They totally ruined Deb’s character by making her a love-struck accomplice. For me, she should have been horrified by what he was, and the last season should have been the disintegration of their relationship with her hunting him down, and in that process of trying to figure out where he was and relying on predictable traits she thought she knew of him since a kid, ultimately realising she never really knew him at all. Perhaps before she puts him down she gains some understanding of what he had to suffer over the years, always hiding his true self, but regardless she puts him down anyway. A nice emotional climax, that would have felt more real than the soap opera cartoon nonsense we’ve seen the last several seasons.
Whenever Dexter refrained from vigilante killing it resulted in catastrophe. And yet by the end the show is saying that he hurts everyone in his life if he does continue to kill. So which is it? Does anyone involved in the show know or care?
Breaking Bad and Dexter are night and day in many ways, but especially in terms of structure. The last season of BB deals with issues prevalent from season one. Fans call these things ‘callbacks’, but that’s missing the point. The point is the main character’s climax has to tie into whatever set them off on their journey in the first place. I don’t even know what Dexter’s last season is about, it’s so scatter-brained. What seemed to be driving the story was his attempt to escape the country with Hannah and Harrison, who are worthless characters, just dead-weight. The best option would have been to have him outed as the Bay Harbour Butcher, and dealing with the fallout of that, but nope they had to retcon his father’s past for no good reason.
Just disappointing all around. But I’m looking forward to seeing what Michael C. Hall does next. As for Dexter’s legacy, there have inexplicably been rumours of a spin-off show in the pipeline. I would like to add my own pitch, which I believe is appropriate to the tone of the show as it ended:
Batista: Angel Cake Chronicles
Dexter is over, but Miami still seethes with a criminal element. Washed up ex-cop Angel Batista makes a second attempt at running a restaurant, but trouble comes calling in the form of a sister in need. Jamie’s penchant for rough sex has ended in tragedy. Pulled into a conspiracy and with no back-up from Miami Metro, Angel must use all his skills to swim out of the dark waters of Florida’s most dangerous city.
Batista: Angel Cake Chronicles charts the stunning tale of family and honour in the face of culinary disaster. Join us for the viewing event of the year. Coming Fall 2014. #AngelCake