Where’s his laboratory?
For eight seasons, we’ve been following the adventures of Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under) the serial killer who only kills other murderers. Now, in this final season, Dexter’s bloody journey comes to an end.
Following the shocking events at the end of season seven, Dexter begins season eight on top of the world. He’s gotten away with murder. He still has to deal with his rocky relationship with his sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter, Quarantine), and his friendships with his fellow detectives at Miami Metro. Dexter’s life is complicated by the arrival of Dr. Vogel (Charlotte Rampling, Swimming Pool), a friend of Dexter’s late father, who says she knows all his secrets. Then life gets even more complicated when serial poisoner Hannah McKay (Yvonne Strahovski, Chuck) returns, and her presence has Dexter reevaluating his life and his future.
What a sad thing it is when a once-great TV show sputters and dies with a whimper in a weak final season. All I could do was sit there with my jaw continually clanging against the floor as I watched once creative misstep after another throughout this season.
First, what works: The introduction of Dr. Vogel is at least an interesting idea. While Dexter’s father has been a key part of the series since day one, with Vogel Dexter now has a mother figure. An expert on serial killers and an old friend of Dexter’s father, Vogel was instrumental in coming up with the code Dexter lives by, even if Dexter doesn’t know it. The theme of the season appears to be family, seen especially in one scene in which Dexter, Hannah, Deb, and Vogel sit down for a dinner. With no secrets at the table, everyone is able to as open about serial killing as they want to be. Normally, the intense kill room scenes are the only times when Dexter gets to be himself, but in this dinner scene, he gets to be the “real” Dexter in a different context, which was interesting.
How unfortunate, then, to see Dexter acting so out of character throughout the rest of this season. The first episode shows him getting mad and bursting out in anger against a complete stranger. Dexter has, historically, shown a lack of understanding of normal human emotions. It’s what made him an outside among others, and also gave him a big secret to keep. This made him interesting and it gave actor Michael C. Hall several layers of character to work with. That’s all gone in this season, though, as it seems Dexter has merged his secret self with his public self into some new character, and I just don’t have a handle on exactly who this new Dexter is.
The reason Dexter has changed this season is the same reason why so much of this season is a misstep: Hannah. The creators really, really, really want us to be invested in Hannah, because once she reappears, the show becomes all about her. Dexter falls so totally, completely in love with Hannah that everything he does from then to the finale is motivated solely by his pure love for her. Hannah becomes the center of the series, with all the characters revolving around her. Basically, Hannah hijacks the entire show. Once she arrives, the only motivations the rest of the characters have is to serve Hannah in some way or another. The problem is, Hannah was originally introduced as a source of conflict between Dexter and Deb. Now, we’re asked to change our perception of her, so that instead of a source of conflict, she’s a source of light, a person of pure golden radiance who’s worth risking everything for. That’s too much a leap for viewers to take.
So, when the final few episodes build up to the big finale, instead of being on the edge of our seats, wondering how Dexter’s carefully-constructed life may or may not come crashing down around him, we’re instead frustrated, wondering why the show is so enamored with Hannah instead of Dexter. Add to this a series of baffling logic holes, mostly having to do with the characters running around a hospital, getting away with sneaky, illegal, and murderous actions that no one would ever be able to get away with in a hospital. The hand-waving explanation for this has to with the hospital being evacuated due to an oncoming hurricane, but it seems to me that if a patient in critical care under police protection up and disappeared during the evacuation, someone would notice.
Other characterizations suffer as well. As the season begins, Dexter’s sister Deb is a physical and emotional wreck as a result of the previous season’s cliffhanger. I went ahead and assumed her newfound self-destructive ways would be a new direction for her, one to be explored throughout the entire season. Instead, she conveniently snaps out of it after a few episodes, and goes back to being the regular Deb we’re familiar with. It’s abrupt, and feels more like the writers merely changed their minds instead of anything resembling a character arc. The rest of the cast falls into random subplots of who’s sleeping with who, or various office politics around the police station. The most interesting subplot is Matsuka (C.S. Lee) learning he has a daughter. It’s good in that it gives Matsuka something to do other than be comic relief, but it’s not as good in that the subplot doesn’t relate in any way to the main story.
Production values remain high, with the bright, sunny Miami setting contrasting nicely with the darkness and blood of the serial killing underworld. All this translates nicely to Blu-ray, with rich, vivid colors and remarkable detail. There are a series of featurettes, looking at construction of specific scenes, Hall’s turn in the director’s chair, and reminisces of the show coming to an end. The set also includes two episodes of Showtime’s new show, Ray Donovan.
All the good stuff we enjoy about Dexter is gone this time around. Dexter’s meticulous planning and preparation in pursuit of his enemies, Dexter’s quick thinking and narrow escapes to protect his secrets, and an adversary who is, in some way, his equal…say goodbye to all of that. Same goes for the show’s witty dialogue and its macabre sense of humor. That’s the big downer—Dexter: The Final Season just doesn’t feel like Dexter anymore.