Written by Zac Platt.
Dexter began as a show with teeth. It was dark, engaging, and perfectly juggled its high concept with grounded themes of self-discovery and relationships. 8 years later the series’ highest and lowest points are well behind it, and its struggle to stay relevant has become all too apparent. The shows biggest guns were drawn too early, leaving less and less direction each year it rolled on. Season seven saw the writers once again move the plot forward, even managing to create a strong momentum that raised the stakes for Dexter’s final season.
Season 8 starts strong, the tension is high and Dexter’s situation feels unsolvable. The conflict is rooted in Dexter’s serial killer mythos but it is still about him and his family – exactly the ground the final season should be covering. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have told the writers that this would be Dexter’s last adventure. They work relentlessly to maintain the status quo and dismiss the consequences of the preceding season by the time we hit the halfway mark. Instead, we again are subjected with unengaging new characters and more retcons to Dexter’s already convoluted origin.
Dexter himself is the most defanged part of the show. It’s not the fact that he’s less murderous in this season, there’s just no edge anymore. Michael C. Hall has always been captivating as Dexter, but the writers no longer know what to do with the character. Hall’s past woodenness was intentional; a mask he wore to hide Dexter’s darkness. At this stage he’s learned everything there is to learn about himself, leaving his performance to come across as indifferent. The writers are too scared to take risks and the constant retreading just diminishes the strong character work of earlier seasons.
The majority of the story stems from the introduction of Dr Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), an expert on psychopaths with ties to Dexter’s past. Vogel’s crossing paths with Dexter is a little too convenient (though not nearly as contrived as some other developments in the season), but it can be overlooked for the promise of a more personal story. Sadly, their history just serves as a distraction from the more interesting drama between Dexter and his sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter). A few episodes in it becomes apparent that the show’s last season will not be the definitive Dexter story, merely more of the same unmotivated storytelling viewers have become accustomed to.
The “big bad” of the season is its worst problem. Without revealing too much about who the ultimate villain is, they’re just too pedestrian to be engaging on their own or to drive Dexter anywhere interesting. There are some nifty parallels to Dexter’s history, but it isn’t really capitalized on. That being said, the way Dexter does overcome them – and the immediate fallout – are pretty damn fun to watch. Really they just act as a ‘macguffin’ to complicate the other moving parts of the season, but it’s a letdown given how captivating Dexter’s previous rogues have been.
Hannah McKay (Yvonne Strahovski) returns from last season with mixed results. Strahovski remains empathetic and determined as the black widow, but the writers take away that sense of danger she carried previously. It’s perhaps a necessary evil in order to bring her closer into Dexter’s family, but even that makes little sense given the place we last left her.
More successful is Deb. Dexter’s foulmouthed sister has long been one of the show’s strongest characters, and after the last season she was finally getting the chance to come out of his shadow. Confident and crass, Carpenter is easily the most dependable and believable member of the reoccurring cast. There was an untold tragedy in her never knowing how brilliant a detective she was due to Dexter’s constant sabotage, so seeing her adoration of her brother slowly turn to resentment is great to watch. The writers would never go so far as to turn her into an antagonist (or protagonist depending on your view), but when the siblings were at odds the season was at its best. For all its flaws, if Dexter could have followed through with this one plot-line it could have been an excellent season.
Without giving anything away, the show’s ending is an excellent idea poorly executed. Dexter making the decision he makes would have been profound a few years ago, but now it doesn’t really make sense. If the writers had a stronger vision for the series they could have moved the pieces around to justify the outcome a little more. Instead it just feels like they needed to end big, not caring that Dexter had developed to a point where it made no sense for him to go down that path.
For me, Dexter ended after season 4. At that point the show had said everything it needed to say, and in such a beautifully tragic way. I remember how hard that finale hit me. So unexpected yet inevitable, those final moments left me a wreck. Ever since then we’ve just been treading the same ground thematically, and never as poignantly. The fallout in season 5 was handled well and there have been some fun stories since, but ultimately it just dilutes the power of the series in those first 4 years. In its final season Dexter should have been full of revelations and closure, but it already played every good hand it had. Instead it’s just another interchangeable season of the show, and not a particularly good one at that.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10