I could make this post 20,000 words long. There are so many low points of "Dexter" over the past---well, pretty much the entire run of the show except for the first season (which not coincidentally was the only season based nearly entirely on the source material in the books). I think most "Dexter" fans (if fans is even a word to use) would call this the low point of the series. What Tom Hanks has in acting chops, Colin Hanks lacked in that scene. "Dexter" has declined over the past eight seasons in nearly every aspect a television show can decline. The writing, creativity of the storylines, ability to surprise the audience, acting, and plot developments all declined dramatically. What's inexplicable to me is the audience did not decline dramatically. "Dexter" kept picking up new viewers even as the show continues to grow shittier and shittier. I say this, but week after week I watched the show and comment on just how much the show is declining, so I guess I am partially to blame. If you don't watch the show, Dexter is a serial killer who kills serial killers and is also a forensic tech for Miami Metro Police Department. If you didn't watch the show, just know that and move on with your life. I tend to get the seasons of "Dexter" confused since they all pretty much have the exact same formula of (spoilers to follow through the rest of the column), which I attribute to lazy writing:
1. We are introduced to someone who is a serial killer.
2. Dexter kills a person(s) who meet his "code" while investigating the serial killer. The "code" doesn't matter really other than to allow Dexter's dead father to show up periodically and ask idiotic questions and narrate what the viewer can already see is happening on-screen. Apparently if you die and come back as a ghost, you come back as a really stupid ghost that only communicates through exposition and serves only the purpose of stating the obvious.
3. The serial killer starts to slowly focus on Dexter and Dexter begins to wonder what intellectually and morality-wise separates him from the serial killer.
4. Someone at Miami Metro may possibly, sort of, but not really suspect Dexter of being a serial killer. Alas, the writers find a way for this person to not suspect him. More than likely, this person will be killed.
5. Dexter meets someone who likes to kill people or has a super-dark secret. He finds companionship in this person and this person is totally cool with Dexter being a serial killer because he only kills bad guys...except that one time Dexter didn't kill a bad guy...well and the two policeman that Dexter directly or indirectly killed who dared to out Dexter as a serial killer.
6. A lot of boring shit happens that delays the inevitable showdown between Dexter and the big bad serial killer which results in the season being wrapped up in a nice little neat bow with none of the guest stars on that season coming back for the next season, except in very rare situations like when Hannah McKay was brought back since the writers were totally out of creative ideas for Season 8.
I don't know of a better way of detailing "Dexter's" decline other than to go season-by-season and rehash the plot and point out where the writing has declined and where the writing went horribly wrong. If I get the details about a season wrong, I'm sorry, but the seasons really start to run together for me. The very bottom line is this was a show about a serial killer who only kills bad people. Viewers love an anti-hero and a "good" serial killer is ripe for a good anti-hero where the writers and viewers can explore ethical nuances of being a "good" serial killer.
"But fuck that," said the creative team, "let's not raise and ethical nuances and just make Dexter an outright hero and always try to redeem him while treating all the normal people around him, whose lives he ruins like they are the scum of the Earth they are, in a shitty fashion. In fact, let's not even flesh out the supporting characters over 8 seasons. Good deal? Break! (claps hands together)"
The writers worship the character of Dexter and it ruined the show. He does no wrong, even when he is doing wrong. You can't take an anti-hero who kills people for pleasure and turn him into an outright hero. It just doesn't work. Every season the writers take pleasure in eliminating anyone who suspects Dexter of being a serial killer, whether by giving them amnesia (but not really giving them amnesia, they just sort of forget they suspected Dexter of being a serial killer) or killing them off. It reaches a point where the stakes aren't high because I know the writing team won't do anything negative to Dexter's character. If a show isn't going to be strong in terms of plot, it should at least be fun to watch. Unfortunately "Dexter" became neither.
This is without a doubt the best season of "Dexter." I remember first watching the show and really enjoying the mystery of who the Ice Truck Killer was (it was Dexter's brother), while also trying to figure out how I could cheer for a serial killer to save the day. The writing is tight, it makes sense as much as writing on television makes sense, and the mystery is compelling. The idea of a serial killer trying to make a life with a completely normal woman, Rita Bennett, while also being a completely abnormal person devoid of any humanity or ability to have human feelings for another person (outside of his sister Debra) was interesting to watch. Dexter Morgan is a really weird guy trying to navigate his way through the world. We learn more about Dexter and the code that was created by his father (and we later learn someone else contributed too, but this was one of many plot points on this show that just didn't matter) as to who Dexter should kill and avoid getting caught. This is a season where many of the supporting characters are actually given something to do that doesn't revolve around Dexter. For seemingly the rest of the series the characters have no important plot line that doesn't directly involve Dexter, which is one of the weaknesses of the series. So good job Season 1! You were a season that started with a universe around the main character and then that universe was severely reduced down to a universe of one character with a bunch of orbiting characters who only exist to further the one character's need.
This season focuses on Dexter's relationship with Rita, his affair with a lunatic (which will be the first of four times I am counting over the 8 seasons when Dexter has an affair with a lunatic...gotta keep going to that well if you are the writers) named Lila, and how Miami Metro was searching for the Bay Harbor Butcher who is none other than Dexter himself. Bodies were found in the ocean where Dexter dumped his victims (and then he continued to dump his victims in the ocean for the rest of the series despite the fact it was clear that was the Bay Harbor Butcher's m.o.---it doesn't fucking matter I guess, but it would just make sense that Dexter changed his method in disposing of bodies to avoid getting caught...which is something that would never happen because the writers can't accept Dexter being seen as wrong in his actions and therefore wouldn't dare have him get caught) and Miami Metro was searching for the person doing these killings.
At the time, I was a little disappointed in Season 2 of Dexter, but in retrospect it was one of the better seasons in the series. It does have a lot of the hallmarks that would later plague the series, mainly leaving supporting characters with very little to do. The exception to this rule was Debra, who always ended up traumatized by something Dexter had done, and basically just had to get over it because the writing team certainly didn't have time to look into any moral ambiguities about how Dexter lives his life. Sergeant Doakes suspected Dexter of being the Bay Harbor Butcher. Frank Lundy was an FBI agent who specialized in serial killers and he was brought in. I liked his character, but of course much like any other character with an IQ above 94 he had the chance to eventually suspect Dexter of being a serial killer so he had to eventually die. I'm not asking for realism. It's a television show and isn't realistic simply because of that. I simply get frustrated when any character who gets in the way of Dexter's ultimate goal or would present an obstacle to Dexter never changing as a person is eliminated by the writing staff.
So Season 2 wasn't bad, though the ending still feels like a clusterfuck to me. Sergeant Doakes is killed while investigating Dexter, though not by Dexter because that would make Dexter a bad person and that can not happen. He is killed by Dexter's lover, Lila, who is killed by Dexter after serving her purpose to the plot of killing Doakes. LaGuerta (ANOTHER character who is killed in the process of showing the world Dexter is a serial killer) vows that Doakes is not the Bay Harbor Butcher as he was framed to be and vows she will get to the bottom of this...which she does five seasons later.
This is where the series started to go downhill and the "Villain of the Season" arc started to show some wear. This year "The Skinner" was the main antagonist and he was fairly forgettable. What I remember best about him is that he skinned people (there's a shock) and he attacked Debra's jazz boyfriend. Also, Dexter got married and found out he will be a father, both of which sound like really exciting premises the show could explore until the writing staff decided it's no fun to ground Dexter to the real world and seeing the effect of his actions on his family might make the audience not like Dexter, which meant Rita (Dexter's wife) had to die eventually and Dexter's son (Harrison) would essentially become an orphan, passed around to whoever was willing to take care of him so Dexter could continue murdering people.
Oh, and Jimmy Smits was on this season and became the annual "Person who finds out Dexter is a serial killer and doesn't give a shit and doesn't let it slip because then Dexter would have to account for his actions." Needless to say, to keep Dexter's secret Jimmy Smits' character had to die at Dexter's hand. But it's okay, because Smits' character liked killing which made him a bad person and it was all right for him to die. This is not to be confused with Dexter, who likes killing, but he's not a bad person because the writers don't want him to be.
This is a redeemable season with a pretty generic bad guy played by the excellent John Lithgow. This is one of the few instances where excellent acting has overcome the increasingly horrendous writing on the show. Lithgow played "The Trinity Killer" who Dexter originally befriended (in a rare attempt by the writers to maintain tension throughout a season...what a concept!) and then Trinity figured out who Dexter was and that Dexter was a killer too, which of course meant despite the fact Trinity was an excellent character who could provide an antagonist popping up every once in a while to torment Dexter, he had to die. Plus, there is a rule in the writing room of "Dexter" that no antagonist can survive from one season to the next. The "Dexter" writers are so dedicated to keeping Dexter a character who is redeemable and wonderful, they even forsake pursing exciting and entertaining plot points so they don't ruin their hero main character. Of course, Dexter is an anti-hero to everyone who watches the show, but who cares about the viewers of "Dexter" and fuck them.
I would sum up what happens with the supporting characters, but they don't matter on "Dexter" and are only there to be increasingly stupid and ignore the fact everyone around Dexter dies a violent death. One exception is the writers brought back Frank Lundy from Season 2. Lundy was played by Keith Carradine and was a smart, interesting character. Naturally, because he is smart, he would have figured out Dexter was a serial killer so he had to die. See how these writers work? Smart people die because otherwise they would figure out Dexter for who he is and THAT CAN NEVER HAPPEN. Nothing bad can ever happen to Dexter. Everyone around him has to suffer, but at no point should Dexter be forced to look on his own actions and how they hurt those around him.
(Just as a note, I enjoyed "Dexter" until Season 6, at which point I kept watching because I had already invested so much time in the show. Many of these revelations and comments I am making are a result of taking in the series as a whole, so I didn't have these feelings at the original time I watched the show...though I did notice a drop in quality)
Now that Dexter has been freed from the chains of having a wife (though he still has those pesky step-children and Harrison, his child with Rita), the show doesn't have to worry about character development for Dexter anymore. This is the season where Quinn, Debra's sometimes boyfriend when the plot called for it, suspected Dexter of Rita's death. Then, of course, Quinn drops it and never suspects Dexter again of being a killer. By the way, Quinn is a detective. Like he works for the police as a detective. He finds evidence, follows the evidence, and then is supposed to find out who is responsible for a crime. Quinn thinks Dexter knew the Trinity Killer and then drops it despite the fact the Trinity Killer is never found and a witness says a guy who looks a lot like Dexter was hanging out with the Trinity Killer. So yeah, a serial killer was on the loose, and Miami Metro Homicide lets it drop because no other killings match the Trinity Killer's m.o. and then one of the detectives suspects Dexter, then doesn't suspect Dexter because that's how the writers wrote the script. Damn logic.
Oh, in this season Julia Stiles was raped by a group of guys and Dexter helps her get revenge. She finds out who Dexter really is and then has to leave town in the finale because that's what the script called for. It's pretty forgettable. I am skipping parts for the supporting cast because there's very rarely anything notable to discuss. The "Dexter" writers are like parents who have a favorite child and they will not allow their other children to get in the way of their favorite.
This was the worst season of "Dexter." The only notable things to come out of this season, other than plot twists everyone saw coming, is the following:
1. Colin Hanks is not as good of a dramatic actor as his father.
2. Debra gets promoted to lieutenant and LaGuerta isn't happy about this, because LaGuerta's role on the show is to not be happy about things and then die once she finds out Dexter is a serial killer.
3. Debra sees Dexter kill the main antagonist of this season and finds out her brother (Dexter) is a serial killer.
4. Mos Def appeared. He was an interesting character that could have played a role in the series as an angel on Dexter's shoulder or caused him to question his life where he commits murders at a rapid pace. Needless to say the writers were not happy with a moral character who would in any way question Dexter, so Mos Def had to die, which made Dexter really, really sad until he was no longer sad and moved on with his life.
5. A forensics tech who is obsessed with serial killers starts working at Miami Metro. He could be the main villain for Dexter the next season since he seems to know Dexter's brother was the Ice Truck Killer in Season 1. He's smart and always one step ahead of Dexter. Then Dexter kills the tech in the first episode of Season 7 because fuck dramatic tension.
This season started off promising after Debra found out that Dexter was a serial killer. She struggled to accept it, but eventually the writers got tired of Dexter not being the hero they wanted him to be and decided they would get back to their "Villain of the season" arc. This season the villain was a Ukrainian mob boss and Hannah McKay, a female serial killer who Dexter falls in love with. This is the season where LaGuerta decided she wanted to avenge Doakes death in Season 2 because she found a blood slide at a crime scene similar to a blood slide the Bay Harbor Butcher used (it was found near to where Dexter had killed Colin Hanks' character) and this reminded her to avenge Doakes' death.
Anyway, Dexter becomes friends (more like they were brief frienemies) with the Ukrainian mob boss and Hannah McKay eventually skips town. Then LaGuerta figures out Dexter is a serial killer and the Bay Harbor Butcher, which means she has to die. She is killed because Debra shoots her. One would think the next season (which was the final season) would be a season of soul-searching for Dexter about how his actions have caused his sister to kill a policewoman in cold blood, while Miami Metro desperately searches for who really killed LaGuerta. One would be wrong. Miami Metro builds a bench to honor LaGuerta and then forgets about her completely because if they remembered LaGuerta and investigated her death then they could figure out Dexter is a serial killer, and again, THIS CAN NOT HAPPEN. Not even in the final season. It's a tough position for the writers to be in. How to create dramatic tension when they have no interest in creating dramatic tension that could negatively affect Dexter.
Debra is sad about killing LaGuerta. She has quit as a policeman and is now a private investigator. Batista (have I even mentioned him yet? He's a character who spent 8 seasons on the show and didn't really do much of importance) quit to open a restaurant and has magically sold his restaurant and is back on the police force. It all doesn't matter because this season could have been wrapped up in a two hour finale and covered as much material as the twelve episodes did. Let me talk about the series finale, which was the worst season finale I have ever seen. Easily the worst. The writing was just so unbelievably bad and somehow the finale made me feel stupid for watching the rest of the series. In fact, the entire last season which moved slow, had no dramatic tension, no developments that entice viewers to keep watching, just sort of rambled to an end. Season 8 was a "fuck you" to the fans of "Dexter" for watching the show. A series finale is supposed to be one last chance to see the characters you have been watching for a few seasons and to see what happens to them. A good series finale leaves you satisfied and sad the show is over with hints about the world of the show once the viewer leaves it ("The Wire"), a great series finale does that by ratcheting up the tension and making the show thrilling to the end ("The Sopranos," "The Shield," and "Breaking Bad") and a great series finale that doesn't require tension still causes you to miss the characters and gives you a reason to keep watching because you care so much about the characters and rewards you for caring ("Six Feet Under"). The series finale should leave a viewer saying, "I'm really, really glad I watched that show." "Dexter" did the exact opposite of that for me. The viewer didn't get to see what happened to the supporting cast after the series ended. I mean, the writers gave supporting characters season-long arcs and then just dropped them in the finale because that's how bad the writing was. So who knows what happened to Masuka and his newfound daughter? Why would the viewers care about a character they have watched for eight seasons when that character's arc is simply dropped in the finale?
(As a note, the last six minutes of "Six Feet Under" absolutely nailed how that series should have ended. If you have seen the show, go back and watch the last six minutes again. That last six minutes messed me up for a while, but in a good way. At the two minute mark I realized "Oh fuck, they are doing this aren't they?" It was brutal, but again, in a good way. I mean, Nate running to catch up with the car...that was a pretty strong small part in itself but only led to a stronger set of scenes, like David seeing Keith again...you know, I'm going to move on now...)
So Hannah McKay has come back to town in the finale and she and Dexter are leaving with Harrison to move to Argentina. Except Dexter won't leave until he has killed "The Brain Surgeon," (he was the big bad for Season 8) despite the fact "The Brain Surgeon" confronted Dexter and said, "Leave me alone and I will leave you alone." This sounds like a great idea considering Dexter was moving to fucking Argentina, but because the plot required it, Dexter stayed in town (and a hurricane is coming because weather is scary) to kill him. Dexter is ready to kill "The Brain Surgeon" when he realizes he doesn't want to kill anymore. So he leaves "The Brain Surgeon" on the table, doesn't kill him, and then has Debra arrest him (oh, she's back on the force because she is back on the force). Except a US Marshall looking for Hannah McKay lets "The Brain Surgeon" loose in the two minutes since Dexter left the room and "The Brain Surgeon" kills the Marshall and shoots Debra. That's where we are at the beginning of the finale.
Debra is okay and says it isn't Dexter's fault she got shot. Mind you, she killed a co-worker in cold blood because Dexter is a serial killer and she just got shot in the gut because her brother who has killed hundreds of people decides on a whim he is done killing, while leaving a serial killer strapped up alone in a room for Debra to arrest alone. What's the harm in killing one more person so you don't leave your sister alone with a serial killer? These are questions I would have asked Dexter if I were Debra, but she says it's not his fault she got shot, despite the fact it clearly is. The writers need us to know that Dexter is not a bad person, so his sister (who hated Dexter and tried to kill Dexter six episodes early) forgives him for getting her shot. Long story short, Debra dies eventually, but not before telling Dexter to go follow Hannah to Argentina, which Dexter doesn't do because he has decided he wants to kill "The Brain Surgeon" again. So Dexter sends Hannah and Harrison to Argentina without him so he can kill "The Brain Surgeon (TBS from now on)." At no point does Hannah say,
"Wait, so you had me stay in Miami for two extra days, while running the risk of getting caught by a US Marshall, so that you could come with us to Argentina after killing TBS? Then after spending extra days with me in hiding you decide you DON'T want to kill TBS and your sister gets shot and dies because of this. You endangered the two of the three people you claim to love to kill a guy that you decide you really don't want to kill after all? Then, as we are leaving to move to Argentina you decide you want to kill this guy again and leave me alone to go to Argentina with your son?"
Hannah doesn't ask this because it would show the shoddy writing and logic used, as well as reflect negatively on Dexter. Anyway, Dexter kills TBS in front of a camera, which Miami Metro covers up for him because they are shitty at their job already and may as well just start becoming corrupt, and then sneaks his sister's body out of the hospital. Because sneaking bodies out of a hospital is really easy when you can park your boat at the exit. Yes, Dexter parked his boat the hospital exit and then carried a dead body out of the hospital without anyone noticing. Dexter then dumps his sister's body in the ocean at the same spot he dumped the bodies of hundreds of criminals after he killed them and then drives into the storm because he realizes he has caused so many problems for people he loves and it would be better to saddle Hannah with Harrison and make Harrison an actual orphan than to continue being around them. Yes, he is self-aware he hurts others and corrects this by continuing to hurt others.
So Dexter is dead, Hannah is sad, except it turns out Dexter faked his death and we see in the final scene he became a lumberjack. Yes, Dexter became a fucking lumberjack. So the need to kill is still there presumably, he just has caused the woman he claims to love to believe he is dead while orphaning his son. This was after Dexter got his sister killed by not killing the same kind of serial killer he had killed without remorse for eight seasons. Dexter is the hero of the story by the way.
It was the worst series finale ever and made me regret watching the show. The final scene was basically the writers taking a shit all over the audience and laughing. "Dexter" is a great example of a television show whose writers fell in love with the main character and continued to coast on the ratings while providing a continuously inferior product to the viewer. The writers ignored dramatic tension and served up a rambling, mediocre last season simply because they could. Maybe the viewers are stupid for watching the show. I know I sure feel dumb for sticking through it and wish I had never watched the show from the beginning. Let's just say I am worried about Season Three of "Homeland" now. Season 2 had a dip in quality and it could very well take the same track that "Dexter" ended up taking. It takes a super-shitty show to cause a viewer to worry about the writing and content of other shows on that same network.