On…Season 8 of Dexter

***SPOILERS FOR ALL SEASONS OF DEXTER***

Overall, Dexter is a fantastic show with an interesting premise and brilliant characters who live in a slightly crazy but still believable world. It’s thoroughly entertaining, with moments of comic genius as well as moments of genuine human sentiment. Whilst the plot lines aren’t always flawless, the show is engaging enough to ignore some of the weaker plots. – On…Dexter, 11 Jul 2013

That’s what I wrote 3 months ago about Dexter. The reason I put this here is to serve as contrast to some of the comments I’m going to make about the last season of Dexter. I re-read my review of Dexter in preparation for this one, because I wanted to remember why I even watched the show in the first place. So let’s just put it out there: the final season of Dexter is just bad. Now that it’s finished, dressed all in plastic and dumped in the ocean, I can get all my vitriol out at once and forget about it. I hope. Spoilers abound obviously.

There are just so many things wrong with this season I barely know where to start. It was just such a mess of loose storylines, terrible plot points, awful character development and just all around nonsensical writing. There just wasn’t any level of care involved when constructing these storylines and it shows.

The Brain Surgeon – Saxon

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Let’s start with what is usually the main conflict of Dexter seasons: the antagonistic serial killer. In Season 8, that honour goes to someone called the Brain Surgeon. This serial killer is linked with Dr Vogel, a psychologist who has published books about psychopaths, and turns out to be the person who created the code and worked with Harry to create the ‘Dexter’ that we know. Vogel believes that the Brain Surgeon is one of her old patients, but she enlists Dexter’s help to get him killed because telling the police would expose some of her unorthodox medical practices. Honestly, it’s not the worst premise I’ve ever heard but bear with me.

Essentially what happens is that the Brain Surgeon, after a number of red herrings, turns out to be Vogel’s son. Suddenly Vogel calls off the hit and wants to bond with her son. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were someone who was a psychologist specialising in serial killers, I might predict that hanging out with serial killers is hazardous to one’s health. Inevitably, Vogel is killed by her own son, going by the name Oliver Saxon.

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This leads to Dexter hunting down Saxon. Only when he captures Saxon, he doesn’t kill him. Saxon is left in Debra’s custody and he escapes and shoots her. Then, Saxon returns to the hospital to kill Debra where he gets arrested by Miami police.

Whilst in custody, Dexter talks his way in to do a forensic test on Saxon. He provokes Saxon, and Dexter ends up stabbing him in the throat and killing him. He pretends to be shocked. Quinn and Batista review the footage of Dexter killing Saxon and conclude that it’s self-defense. Dexter gets away free, and Saxon is dead.

Now let’s examine what’s wrong with this plot line. I have to say, it has a lot of promise. The character of Dr Vogel was interesting enough, though made me question why we had never heard of her before season 8. I could deal with that if her character wasn’t just so mind numbingly stupid. She is absolutely insistent of her view of psychopaths as emotionless robots and has an unnatural sympathy for serial killers. She seems to be completely unable to understand Dexter’s behaviour despite often claiming to have ‘created’ him and truly ‘knowing’ him.

Then, the serial killer Oliver Saxon was just completely two-dimensional. There’s a brief part where he asks his mother, Vogel, to help him live a normal life, perhaps opening up an interesting discussion about whether serial killers can adjust to normality. But within hours, he kills her mercilessly which also ends that plot point. Then the way he pursues Dexter’s loved ones is just downright retarded. Why would you go into hospital with blood on your shirt and holding a gun in plain sight in order to kill a heavily guarded police detective? Especially seeing as your face is plastered all over the news, and videos of your kills are readily available for people to watch. Well, Saxon does that anyway and of course he gets caught.

Then in jail, no one even blinks at the fact that Dexter stabbed Saxon with a pen. They review the footage and can clearly see that Dexter was faking his anguish and he clearly antagonised Saxon first. Oh and let’s not forget that Dexter doesn’t even work for Miami metro anymore! But that’s all shaken off and Dexter gets to walk free with no further investigation, not even a statement taken.

The Sister – Debra

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I thought this series started very strong for Debra as a character. Following the end of last season where she found out Dexter was a serial killer and ended up killing La Guerta over it, Debra is clearly a psychological mess. I loved that they acknowledged how messed up the situation was. It was great to see Debra spiral into recklessness, alcoholism and bad relationships with bad men (though she does have a history of this anyway). Plus the way it changed the dynamic of the Debra and Dexter relationship was quite a refreshing change.

One particular scene which stands out to me was Debra attempting to do a murder-suicide with Dexter. It was actually a nicely written scene I thought and really conveyed the seriousness of Debra’s despair. But unfortunately, the writers dropped the ball on this and they were both ok and then never really spoke about it again. I think if someone tried to kill me, let alone my own sibling, I might be a bit more concerned beyond being slightly annoyed.

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Anyway, once Debra recovers (thanks in part to Vogel’s therapy), her character just takes a bit of a downward trajectory into the pit of stupidity that all the characters reside in. She basically has a huge blind spot for Dexter, letting him indulge in his serial killer activities as well as an incredibly dangerous affair with Hannah McKay (who has escaped from federal custody and is a wanted fugitive). After last season with Debra constantly in turmoil over whether to accept the moral implications of having a serial killer for a brother, this season, she seems to have just magically accepted it. Even on her deathbed, she is telling Dexter to go be happy with Hannah! It stretches the credibility of her character beyond belief.

Then, of course, the way it all ends is just utterly asinine. She is shot by Saxon after Dexter neglects to kill him. For a moment, it seems she might recover as the doctors tell Dexter that she’s going to be ok. But complications happen, and it turns out a clot led to a stroke which led to Debra being effectively brain dead. What a terrible way to go out. I suppose it was included as a way of showing the consequences of being a serial killer and meant to be almost a karmic punishment to Dexter. But really, Debra didn’t deserve to go like that. I would have preferred for her to just have straight up died from Saxon’s shot.

Plus it meant we had to endure the flashbacks to Debra and Dexter holding baby Harrison just after he was born. They were just far too soppy and gratuitous for my liking. The wig that Debra had to wear was awful and it felt like they really butchered her character from the start. The early seasons Debra was never that joyous and would have spat before she uttered such soppy nonsense about being a great father/brother.

Then the way it dragged on when it was revealed that Debra was brain dead, allowing Dexter to turn off the machines and smuggle her out of the hospital and onto his boat was just ridiculous. Because apparently when a storm’s brewing in Miami, you can just kill people in hospital and wheel them out with no one noticing. You can also park a private boat right on the medical dock and take a patient out there with so much as a how do you do.

To be fair, I thought it was nice the way Dexter took her out on his boat and then dumped her in the ocean. It reinforced the idea that ultimately, Debra was Dexter’s victim and Dexter took full responsibility for that. But the ending was marred by the fact that it was also such an irresponsible way for Debra to go. What about her friends? How do they explain where her body went? She’ll never get a proper state funeral. Frankly what Dexter did was utterly disrespectful.

The Femme Fatale – Hannah

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I could have done without the whole of this Hannah McKay storyline in the last season. It only served to complicate matters beyond hope. When she returned and poisoned Debra and Dexter, I was slightly intrigued. Then of course, like every other plot point on this show, the poisoning ended up being a big fat steaming pile of nothing.

Dexter’s pursuit of Hannah makes no sense when you consider what happened last season. He ultimately chose Debra over Hannah, when Debra was threatened, he turned Hannah in. This season though, Debra is threatened, actively complains about her hatred of Hannah, and what does Dexter do? He makes Debra his accomplice in harbouring a fugitive, one that Debra utterly despises, but somehow is okay with because well, Dexter did flutter his eyelashes oh so sweetly. And Hannah does make some killer eggs.

Then, not only was Hannah’s inclusion thoroughly bewildering, but it’s as if the plot writers forgot what made her interesting. Hannah’s background was pretty spectacular and her cutthroat ability to just poison the people who get in her way made her a true femme fatale. She was, at least, much more interesting than some of Dexter’s other flings (ahem, Lumen, cough) Some of that was rekindled when she murders her rich husband who helped her to escape; but then the moment Dexter enters her life again, she becomes this completely helpless little lamb on the run, hiding in plain sight, desperately calling on Dexter whenever any little thing goes wrong. Oh except for the one time when she really should have called and waited for him, which is when she went to the hospital completely undisguised with a bleeding child.

"Dexter" - "Make Your Own Kind of Music"

Still, I’m glad she got to confront Elway and wasn’t completely at Dexter’s mercy. The way the federal marshal died was a bit convenient but seeing Elway pick up the slack was nice. But still, I wish she had just straight up murdered him. Being tranquilised only sets herself and Harrison up for trouble. Elway saw her escaping with Harrison; hell he even listened into the conversation about Argentina! Another loose end that will never ever be resolved.

And let’s not forget, she got to deliver the last lines ever spoken on Dexter which were, so poignantly, “Want to go get ice-cream?” to which our completely underdeveloped Harrison goes, “Yeah.” Thrilling stuff.

The Psychopath – Dexter

Remember the fake empathetic sociopathic Dexter from the first season? That character is pretty much gone. I’m not saying that’s necessary a bad thing. Character development, after all, reigns king in long-running television series like these. Unfortunately, I do feel that the final result is a muddied one and not one that makes a whole lot of sense. You watch a show like Breaking Bad and you can see exactly how every little event has contributed to the end result. Dexter, however, seemingly jumps between wildly varying characterisations in rather unrealistic ways.

Anyway, I think it’s fairly clear that by Season 8, Dexter is completely amoral or emotionless. After the birth of his son and the death of Rita, it’s clear that Dexter is capable of forming real, genuine connections with other people. Furthermore, the relationship he has with Debra is tested to its limits and I think Dexter comes out strongly on the side of truly loving Debra unconditionally.

"Dexter" - "Make Your Own Kind of Music"

This season explored the idea of ‘psychopaths’ being unable to have genuine emotions or create real bonds with other people through the character of Dr Vogel. She constantly emphasised to Dexter that the ‘feelings’ he felt were merely a façade and that it wasn’t possible for him to really love someone. Obviously, having watched Dexter for 96 episodes, we as viewers know that simply isn’t true. Season 1 Dexter might fit that description, but the events of the other 7 seasons couldn’t have worked the way they did if Dexter didn’t at least form some kind of intimate relationship with various people in his life. At any rate, I think it’s fine for Dexter’s character to have real lasting emotions and relationships and to be honest, the idea of psychopaths being more nuanced than Vogel gives him credit for is a really interesting idea.

What I don’t think is okay though is how Season 8 completely steps on his need to kill. Sure, give him emotions, but at the end of the day, the tag line of this show is about a serial killer who kills other bad guys. If he doesn’t kill anyone, it might as well be any other character drama on TV. We barely saw Dexter’s signature kill room. I just think that given it was such a big part of the drama, such a clearly embedded code in Dexter’s psyche, the complete lack of any real orchestrated kills makes no sense.

Of course we later find out that Dexter has ‘lost’ his need to kill because of his love for Hannah. A bit soppy and contrived, but I could live with it. It does feel a little stupid though given that of all the women in his life, he clearly loves Debra more than anyone. In the previous season, he chose Debra over Hannah. Yet, despite seeing Debra’s immense pain over Dexter’s killing habits, and his self-confessed sorrow, Dexter never attributed his loss of his ‘dark passenger’ to Debra.

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The final episode however, then inexplicably reverses all that character development. He supposedly loves Hannah so much that he no longer wants to kill Saxon. Yet in the finale, he refuses several times to run away and start a life with her, because he’s so hell bent on pursuing Saxon. His first excuse is Debra’s injury, but that excuse doesn’t fly when he’s told that Debra’s going to make a full recovery. The second excuse is that Saxon is still out there and dangerous and could attack Debra again (though why he would is beyond me and Debra does have police protection…). But then Saxon is arrested and given the wealth of evidence that Miami metro has on him, he was already surely going to end up in the electric chair. Yet, Dexter still orchestrates an incredibly transparent ruse to end up in a situation where he could kill Saxon, risking his own life just to kill a man he literally spared a few days ago.

The next sequence of events is just as ridiculous. I can get on board with tossing Debra into the ocean. However the whole sailing into the eye of the storm thing was firstly, really cheesy, and secondly, incredibly badly done CGI-wise. It was excessively indulgent though fine, I can understand his concern about bringing death and destruction to all that he loves. It would have been a great ending I think if he did commit suicide.

But then, bam, the finale throws you a curve ball and it turns out Dexter is…a lumberjack? What the hell? He’s effectively abandoned his son to a fugitive living in Argentina. My god, I was so enraged that he didn’t even have the audacity to kill himself. Then he gives that slightly odd stare towards the camera at the end, which I suppose is left to interpretation. For me, I thought it was an indication that he’s still got his ‘dark passenger’ and he could never live a life of normality with Hannah because of it.

But according to the showrunner Scott Buck, that’s not what the ending meant. Instead, Dexter is living a life of self-imposed exile. Apparently death would have been the easy way out. Instead living as a lumberjack allows him to reflect on all the bad moral consequences of his serial killing activities. http://insidetv.ew.com/2013/09/23/dexter-interview-series-finale/

But come on, that’s a completely ridiculous justification. Firstly, Dexter was never made to answer for being a serial killer. He was never caught. The real Bay Harbour Butcher was never revealed. To all his loved ones and friends, they just think he died in the storm; in fact, they probably toasted his heroism and loving nature at his funeral! Saying that Dexter has had to live with the consequences of his morality just over losing Debra is a complete cop-out. He still has a son right? He had a woman who loved him. His friends still think the world of him. The world remembers him as a cool blood spatter analysis guy who did good work for Miami metro.

Secondly, life as a lumberjack is hardly the worst solitude ever. It’s not like he’s some exiled hermit living in the Siberian tundra. He has a alright looking shed, he’s got good solid work, he has enough to live on, he has company…honestly if I were a  lumberjack I’d be frankly offended at Scott Buck’s implication that the job was some sort of self-imposed punishment.

Overall, Dexter’s character has been completely butchered, sawn into parts and dumped into the Miami harbour. The affable charms of his socially awkward monologues have been entirely traded out for half-assed melodramatic quotes. Whilst Dexter’s always had a flair for the dramatic in his voiceovers, they were always with a hint of irony and satire. In the latest season, Dexter’s voiceovers have been seriously lacking in quality and that’s largely a reflection of how far the character has fallen.

Not only has he been made completely unrecognisable from his origins, but Dexter no longer has the moral depth and complexity that the show started out with. It was always supposed to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, with a dark underlying morality to explore. Is it ever morally justified to kill? What’s the difference between a single vigilante killing and state authorised killing in the form of the death penalty? What can a moral person do when they’re living in a world full of injustice and immorality? These were all deep questions that the show highlighted and treaded around, offering small hints and clues, but never really settling for an answer. That was its strength: the way it managed to portray a serial killer in a sympathetic light, but not in a glorifying one.

However, it’s very clear by the end of Season 8 that the show writers intended Dexter to be an unquestionable hero. We see more and more characters support Dexter for his killing tendencies. Even Quinn and Batista basically implicitly give their consent to Dexter’s killing when they watch the footage of him killing Saxon. I mean, Debra even comes out and says that Dexter deserves to be happy, even though she was just shot and is dying because of Dexter’s actions. Honestly I used to think people who complained about the show glorifying death were exaggerating and missing the point of the show; but after season 8, I can completely sympathise with that position.

What’s worse is reading the ending that the original showrunner intended which involves Dexter on an execution table seeing the ghosts of all his victims. This Dexter would have been one which was asked to answer for his crimes: presumably this Dexter would have been discovered, trialled and truly faced the consequences of losing his entire life. Though impossible to tell how well received this would have been, it definitely sounds like a much more compelling ending than the one we got.

Concluding Statements

Season 8 of Dexter was a shambles. It had promising ideas and I stuck with it because it was the last season. But every week, I watched and cried at the completely moronic plotlines, the terrible character development and the awful dialogue. Now, instead of being remembered as a witty, dark and morally complex show, it’s going to be remembered as a cash cow that didn’t know when to stop and just declined into the cesspits of lowest common denominator television. I wish Dexter could have been around to euthanize his own show early as he did to Debra. It just didn’t deserve to go this way.

Bonus Stupidities

*There’s a scene where Dexter reverse hacks Saxon’s computer. Because apparently when you hack a person’s computer it’s a two-way thing. Yeah…

*Hannah McKay never ever thinks that maybe, as she’s a fugitive, she should perhaps disguise herself. Put a fucking hoodie on for God’s sake!

*What was the point of the plot line involving Masuka’s daughter? Considering we didn’t even see him in the season finale, I can only surmise that the entire point of that plot line was to see some boobs.

*Also gotta love that token black sergeant Angie Miller character who never turned out to be anything except a slight foil to Quinn

*Speaking of completely forgettable characters, what about what happened with Dexter’s protégé Zach? What an interesting subplot that was of course, completely discarded and written off within an episode. It’s as if the writers were like “Hang on, this could actually be a good storyline…better axe it before we fuck it up.”

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*How can Hannah get away with raising Harrison? Surely they’d be looking for Dexter’s son after his fake death? Plus Elway knows and he survived presumably. Hannah is still a known fugitive. How could this possibly be the best life for Harrison?

*Speaking of Harrison, gotta love how that how ‘born in blood’ thing after Rita’s death was just never brought up again. I would have really liked to have seen Harrison be somewhat affected by Rita’s death.

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One thought on “On…Season 8 of Dexter

  1. Pingback: http://youtu.be/y27XdcFspGE | Lara Dunning

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