Everything I read over the last few weeks as Dexter neared its end—tweets, blogs, professional TV reviewers on news sites—was pretty much negative about the entire final season, if not the last two or three or four.
But not me.
I’ve been hooked on the entire run, fully suspending disbelief since first stumbling on it well into the first season, when I channel-surfed into the one with a scene of Debra and her boyfriend–who soon proved to be the Icetruck Killer and Dexter’s brother—together with Dex and Rita, and was so blown away by Jennifer Carpenter’s acting that I finally paid attention to Howard Kaylan—who tried to sell me on the show a couple months earlier at at a Turtles show.
I’d been fine with these last few seasons, and all of this one (loved Charlotte Rampling and the return of Yvonne Strahovski)—once I caught up after missing the month of August due to the Time Warner Cable/CBS blackout. I’ll admit to feeling kinda stupid reading the kind of in-depth, scholarly analysis that I never understood back in high school and ever after, and I forgot a lot of stuff that happened in the eight years of Dexter, but I never felt a wrong move—within the context of the show’s fanciful if not ridiculous concept.
Until the last episode, that is. With the last two seasons focusing on his emotional growth, Dexter somehow found true love—with another killer, true, but one who likewise managed to defeat her own demons. This, perhaps, was the problem for the show’s creators and detractors: How to reconcile a serial killer, albeit an ethical one, with living happily ever after?
Except, why not? The whole thing with Dexter, thanks to the wonderful characters of Dex and Deb—and especially the incredible acting by Carpenter and Michael C. Hall—was that you cared about both of them, very much so, and in Dexter’s case, you were allowed to because of The Code: As far as I remember, he never deliberately killed anyone who didn’t have it coming—even if he conveniently got saved by others who finished off the two big threats to his secret, Doakes and LaGuerta, thereby continuing to allow us ethically to stay loyal to him.
This isn’t to discount the dilemmas posed by those two killings—and Dexter’s framing of Doakes and readiness to do in LaGuerta. And turning Deb into a killer was problematic, to say the least, but not out of the context of her fucked-up character, particularly in its relation to her fucked-up brother.
That said, Dexter’s ending did a disservice to that relationship under the guise of honoring it, especially as Deb had absolved him of all responsibility and blame, essentially releasing him to in fact go off with Hannah and live happily ever after. She was right in doing so, and he was wrong in not accepting it—let alone not accepting himself as the good person she rightly believed her protective big brother to be, not to mention the finally complete, healthy and adjusted person that the whole arc of the last two seasons had built up to and climaxed with in Dexter’s penultimate dispatching of Harry and embracing of Hannah and fatherhood.
What appears to have happened is that the producers, writers, and maybe even the cast second-guessed itself somewhere along the line, maybe fearful of potential criticism that letting Dexter off the hook in the end would be morally wrong and too fairy tale. As an aside, I’ll admit that the first time I met John Lithgow, long before Dexter, I practically dropped to my knees in confessing how much I loved him in Harry And The Hendersons, to which he looked down at me and with a Trinity Killer smile replied, “Oh, you’re just an old softy.”
Yes, Trinity, I’m an old softy. But I bet I’m not alone in feeling cheated of the happy ending that Dexter deserved, and by his own irresponsibly selfish self-sacrifice at the cost of his son’s growing up without a father, at the very least.
If none of Dexter could be believed, the quick turnaround, in one episode, to Dexter’s emotional death after finding life and love after a lifetime of suffering, could not be believed even more.
Except I always believed Dexter. Just as years earlier, I believed in another TV hero, Thomas Magnum. Sadly, Dexter now follows Magnum, P.I. with an ending that goes against the nature of the main character: In Magnum’s case, he rejoined the Navy, after spending his own eight years as a free-spirited, anti-authoritarian, non-conforming man of action, whose actions, like Dexter’s, were taken in the spirit of helping those in trouble.