Oh, Dexter. I’m watching you because I feel I have to. Because, after committing to you for seven seasons, of once loving you, I feel like, what’s one more season? I might as well get closure and watch you, I don’t know, die? Get caught? At least see how this all plays out.
I once cared about you, the series, and the serial killer, deeply. Dexter, you were once my favorite serial killer — I never knew I could have such a thing, a favorite serial killer. Yet you won my heart: And you’d even become creatively bruised, bloodied, readied for slaughter as if you’d become one of your own victims on a table covered in layers of plastic. What changed, Dexter, what did you do to my anti-hero? How did a beloved show that oozed intelligence transform into such a clichéd piece of genre television? Why does every plot in this final season — Vogel, Quinn’s Job, Masuka’s daughter, Deb’s shady boss, the Brain Surgeon — feel as if it belongs in a throwaway episode of Law and Order?
Ironically, much of my Dexter ennui stems from what seduced me in the first place. The premiere season took a beloved genre trope, i.e., the serial killer, and turned it on its head to create the murderer I first fell for, the man who used his powers for good by only killing those who stand outside the reach of the system. This in of itself would have made for interesting TV, but the premiere season created a narrative in which we watched you give birth to yourself through discovering your past, and molding your present. Like a teenager, I was rapt as I watched you accept your sociopathy while you determinedly attempted to enjoy a normal existence, one rife with epiphanies and, more often than not, mistakes and awkward courtships and social encounters, occasional passionate sex, and assumptions of responsibility. Your “dark passenger,” which others might just call the evil inclination, or id, encapsulated this complexity. Throughout the season, you came to embrace or at least became resigned — well, accept — the demands and limitations of your dark passenger, which felt universally triumphant for all human beings struggling to accept their own weakness and strengths.
And Dexter, the series, brilliantly offset this macabreness with humor and a great cast of characters who were at turns vulnerable, hilarious, loving, and disgusting. Your foul-mouthed but vulnerable foster sister and now-boss Deb, for example. And your colleagues, especially the supremely dirty-minded Masuka, and the naïve, fiercely loyal Angel. Those guys were good friends to you. But of course you needed people to keep you on your toes, like the power-mad, slyly sexy Lt. Maria LaGuerta, and many years ago, your bull-headed, suspicious and righteously humorless partner, Sgt. Doakes.
You gave me so much to love in those initial heady days of your first two seasons, (I admit I consumed the first two seasons in two torrid nights.) Sometimes, I cannot tell where my life ends and your life begins. I cherished every second of the first few seasons, my mind chewing on scenes when I was away from the screen. Countless times, I’ve obsessed over the image of you, dressed in his uniform of all-white, fainting in a roomful of blood as your memories flooded your mind. Many more scenes and attending distilled feelings are now seared in my brain as odd touchstones of emotion. The show, like all great TV, was multilayered, each layer complementing the other. Underneath the more melodramatic spurts of violence and blood was a raging heart confronting our sense of morality and fairness. What does it mean to first take interest in, then root for, then ultimately fall in love with a serial killer, to desire more and bloodier violence with each episode?
Whereas your first season mined your past, the second season explored your present, while you challenged your father’s code. Lila, an explosive character, tantalized you with her uninhibited lifestyle, offering you the potential for complete freedom from codes of any sort. Again, I found myself torn: Did I want you to walk toward the light of Rita or the darkness of Lila? These two seasons took countless TV tropes and placed them in the arena of archetypes and mythology. Your choice of Rita or Lila signified considerably more than different lifestyles: the choice between id and superego, between animal and spirit. Like all great mythology, the choices you made felt important, monumental, as if the fate of the world hung in the balance.
The first two seasons teased questions of good and evil, with you balancing on the tip of one of your own finely sharpened (and mildly blood-stained) knives: Were you a sociopath born of circumstance, or were you simply ignoring your emotions and moral compass? Your entrancing, unblinkingly honest, inner monologues, lent viewers insight into your tortured persona. But this couldn’t last, I should have realized. Such a conflict, such a see-saw, could only be sustained for so long. At some point in the third season, you transitioned from being dangerous, from something elemental, and attained stasis. No longer would the show grapple with the overarching themes within your tortured psyche — the formula now began: Dexter would be in danger, would outwit the danger. Deb would have her life turned upside down. The various supporting characters would go through standard sitcom fare to maintain interest (promotions, marriages, divorces, career changes, all occurring with clockwork regularity).
Because, and I know honesty hurts, but since then, with a few punctuating exceptions, watching you felt more like a familial obligation than an opportunity for excitement. I loved your duel with the frightening Trinity, culminating in perhaps one of the most traumatic moments on TV. Yet, after that, everything else fell by the wayside, the seemingly burnt-out writers lazily were churning out one repetitive plot line after another. How many times could you come this close to capture? Or have life-altering epiphanies? They stop being epiphanies when they start to pile up. Father figures came and went, and so too did investigators into your life. And the acolytes? Imitators? Nemeses? Temptations? It was getting ridiculous.
But I had to see you to the end. So here we are at the final season. Dr. Vogel, played by the normally exquisite Charlotte Rampling, is standing in for your dad, and the first big baddie turns out to be a baffling and sort of lame serial killer that just fizzles out into a confusing plot line. (So the Brain Surgeon has mommy issues that Vogel can exploit? And Vogel has sent a patient for brain surgery and she never thought to mention it to you?) Vogel allows us to open the overly pondered question of whether or not you’re evil. Oy. Writers, really? This is the best you could come up with? And, much as I love Deb, you’ve written their drama right into the wall. Or, rather, into the water, with Deb behind the wheel of your car, nearly drowning you, only to save you. All this to have, yes, an epiphany, to realize what we had already discovered: that she loves you.
I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you to death. That would be an artless way to kill a serial killer. Especially one I once loved. Besides, Dex, I will always love you. But like all relationships that go on too long, we have to break up. I’m just relieved you decided to be the one to take the initiative to call it quits.
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