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Looking Back On “Dexter”: What made the show so great and frustrating all at once?

22 Sep

dexter-poster(Spoilers for the whole series) We’re near the end, folks. After 8 seasons and 96 episodes, the once beloved serial killer drama is at the finish line. I thought I’d take a second and reflect on what place this show has in our cultural landscape, as well as offer a final evaluation of the show sans finale.

Let’s head back to October 1, 2006, the day of the Dexter series premiere. The show premiered in that space right after the end of “The Sopranos”, during the run of “The Shield”, and before the start of “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad”. It was, and still is, a television world dominated by anti-heroes. Dexter Morgan fit right in.

Michael C. Hall, fresh off of “Six Feet Under”, was cast as the titular character, a likeable blood spatter analyst that spent his nights offing criminals. It was an intriguing premise, and we were asked to think about our morals for a second: Is this right? Is this a person I should be rooting for? Yet, most people overwhelmingly said yes, choosing to ride along with Dexter as he navigated the fine line between crime and clean up. We watched as the first season, filled with so much potential, threw us into this world, exploring the relationship of Dexter and his brother. We watched breathlessly as the second season forced Dexter to cover his tracks more than ever before, playing off the tense, darkly comedic dichotomy of Dexter and Doakes. We watched Dexter find someone else like him in season three, and we watched Dexter deal with a terrifying family man (and one of the best villains of all time), the Trinity Killer, in season four. We then watched as Dexter went downhill from there, and here we are.

What made people stick so long with the show, though? Why did we even get into it? I’m sure everyone has a different answer, but here’s the main foundation: this is a guy that never wanted to be this way. He was always an outsider, and he has had to act his whole life. Yet, the show also plays off the idea that every single one of us has a Dark Passenger, just like him. The character of Dexter Morgan is a safe place to turn those thoughts to, and we don’t suffer the consequences. We can sympathize and relate, and it makes him much more compelling.

Dexter-cast-says-goodbye-at-Comic-Con-3Back to 2006. Dexter-mania swept across the nation. We nominated the show year after year, we bought T-shirts and other products, and we idolized the character. He was always a steady force, never changing, Yet, this is what hurt the show in the long run. “Dexter” is a show that is able to sustain itself for eight seasons, but it’s a show that shouldn’t do so; this is especially the case for a show in which the main character is pretty much the only interesting character (with the exception of Deb and several villains). I knew Showtime was going to milk as much money out of it as possible, and I accepted that it would overstay its welcome. I was right.

In fact, the show was starting to show signs off this at the end of season 2. Doakes was killed, and Dexter got off without facing consequences. That would’ve been fine there, but year after year afterwards, he never had to truly come to terms with his life and its consequences. Even after Rita’s death, we didn’t feel as many reverberating effects as we should have. Debra Morgan, played by the magnificent Jennifer Carpenter, found out about Dexter’s secret, and then what? At first, that arc was brilliant; Deb had to struggle over whether or not to side with her brother or the law, and her choice made sense. The thing is, when that storyline still hasn’t come to a resolution, you know there’s been a lot of wheel spinning going on. The first few episodes of this final season dealt with this, but Deb eventually wandered off on her own.

While we’re at it, let’s come back to the present and look at the final season. It is a season of wasted opportunity that started near the end of season 7, the season that wasted the brilliant Isaac Sirko and introduced the middling Hannah McKay. I don’t buy Dexter and Hannah’s relationship, and I wish it never came to fruition. In fact, he had more chemistry with Lumen. Dexter should’ve been on the run by now, and his biggest problem shouldn’t be whether or not he catches his flight to Argentina. He shouldn’t have to be dealing with the multitude of new characters; he should be facing both his inner demons and his friends/family. He was never a monster, but he does have to pay.

seriesfinaledexterPerhaps I’m being too nitpicky about an idealistic show in which a regular guy goes around dispatching baddies. Still, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for one of my favorite shows to actually have an endgame. Whether or not the finale is a convoluted mess (more likely) or a masterpiece, one thing is for certain: “Dexter” will always remain one of the most iconic shows of all time. I’m not sure how I feel about that argument, and I wish I could agree…if only the show hadn’t been elongated due to greed, and had scratched the surface of the characters.

Still, I’ll be watching tonight. Farewell, Dexter. Don’t drop Harrison in the water by accident or something. Actually, that would be hilarious.

Credit to Showtime and Dexter for all pictures. I own nothing.

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