Deeply Disappointing Dexter - Putting the Writers on the Table
After eight years of slashing his way through the pop culture landscape, "Dexter" finally comes to an end this Sunday, Sept. 22nd. And for those of us who've sat through this god-awful final season, it’s not a moment too soon.
Just like when the finale of "The X-Files" aired, most people will find themselves camped in front of their televisions one last time only because of a sense of duty. It will probably score more record ratings for Showtime, but let’s face it: Nobody truly cares what happens - most of all the writers.
While the mainstream press has been tight-lipped about the show’s declining quality, one visit to any online "Dexter community" shows a hurt and angry fan base. Even Showtime’s official forum can’t escape the backlash:
The network and show staff have most likely buried their heads in the sand while pointing to steady ratings as a reason for their continued success. But there’s a reason we’ve all slogged through the last interminable seasons of this once-fun show: We all wanted to see how it ends.
Over the years, we’ve read numerous fan theories and all of them - from Dexter going on trial to Doakes returning like Dr. Phibes - have proven more imaginative than anything the writers have excreted. For eleven agonizing episodes, there has been absolutely no indication of an ending. No stakes or sense of urgency. "Dexter" has lethargically plodded along with poorly constructed character drama and goofy contrivances that are on par with most daytime soaps. For God’s sake, we’re one episode from the end, and the most exciting development has been Harrison falling off a fucking treadmill.
Now the writers have finally revealed their half-assed endgame: Debra took a bullet from a psycho her brother left her alone with (and will most certainly die as the obligatory sacrificial lamb), leaving Dexter to fight yet another serial killer so he can run away to Argentina with his latest love interest: a wanted fugitive so stupid she won’t even go incognito in public. She could have at least taken a cue from Walter White.
It may be a dead horse, but there’s a reason everyone keeps comparing "Dexter" to "Breaking Bad." Both are character studies of dark men and their secret criminal lifestyles that are in their home stretch. And what one show has done right, the other has done so mind-scathingly wrong. The writers of "Breaking Bad" have gone out guns blazing with a string of meticulously plotted episodes that pay off every dark deed committed over the course of the series. Meanwhile, the writers of "Dexter" can’t even be bothered to remember the events of last year.
You would think LaGuerta discovering the real identity of the Bay Harbor Butcher, telling her superiors, then winding up dead would cast the slightest inkling of suspicion towards Dexter Morgan. But no. It’s business as usual for the functionless characters at Miami Metro. And that has been the show’s downfall for many seasons. Like Debra’s miraculous transition from guilt-ridden junkie back to loving sister, nothing has any real impact or lasting consequences. For a show about skeletons in the closet, you’d think they would’ve hired writers who could grasp basic elements like cause and effect.
This is all the more unforgivable since the threat of Dexter being discovered by his peers has loomed over the entire series like the Sword of Damocles. Making that the focus of the final season would have paid off the show’s numerous loose ends, added real dramatic stakes and most importantly, given every single supporting character something to do. But somehow the writers thought we’d be more enthralled by Masuka’s illegitimate pot-smoking daughter, Quinn’s love triangle, and Batista’s multi-episode arc struggling with which detective to promote.
Not even the great Michael C. Hall has been able to elevate the material this year. Every terrible monologue and ghost-dad conversation continuously hammers us over the head with stuff we already know (at one point, Dexter sees his sister and the monologue sound off: “It’s Deb.”). Maybe Dexter has taken one too many bumps on the head since he’s inexplicably gone from a highly intelligent, calculated serial killer to a bumbling moron who stalks people with black gloves in broad daylight.
To be fair, "Dexter" was never really known for great writing. Even in its prime, the show would put its anti-hero in incredibly sticky situations without really knowing how to believably get him out. But we went along with it because of the show’s great cast and pulpy intrigue. The years following John Lithgow’s unforgettable turn as the Trinity Killer saw every character reduced to one-note personalities and stories packed with hacky, predictable twists (who didn’t call the Olmos thing almost immediately?) and cop-out endings. Even Deb discovering her brother’s identity was nothing more than a development the writers had wimped out on the previous year. And that’s the biggest problem with "Dexter:" It actively ran away from its own ludicrous premise, endlessly repeating the same formula without taking any risks along the way. It became more routine than a Monday night sitcom.
But perhaps the show’s greatest sin is not addressing the elephant in the room: Dexter is a serial killer. HE MURDERS PEOPLE. And this character has never faced the consequences of his actions, even when they result in family members getting killed. The writers have been so caught up in the skewed pop culture love for the character that all moral ambiguity has gone completely out the window. Dexter good. Other serial killers bad. It’s hollow revenge fantasizing at its worst.
When all is said and done, "Dexter" should have been one of those three- or four-season shows. Eight years later, we find ourselves staring into the creative abyss of the series finale, knowing that whatever tricks showrunner Scott Buck and his staff pull, they ultimately won’t matter. And realizing that we, the viewing audience, are accomplices in this show’s extended fall from grace.
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