In the ever-evolving landscape of fandom, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved geek properties.
Fair, warning, we’re going to spoil the hell out of the series finale of Dexter here.
Writing the conclusion to any long-running TV show has got to be tough. When a show faces cancellation, it goes away like ripping off a band-aid. It’s a different story when a show gets to run its course and reach an organic end. No matter what, it’s a classic “You can’t please everyone” scenario. After eight seasons, Showtime’s Dexter reached just such an end on Sunday. Reactions have not been positive, mostly because it was awful.
Overall, Dexter’s final season has faced some tough criticism. Aside from some questionable plot choices, the main complaint has been that it didn’t “feel like a final season.” On one hand, that’s certainly hard to quantify. Who decides what does and doesn’t “feel like a final season?” On the other hand, it totally didn’t feel like a final season. Instead of focusing on an overall arc, there were a series of little mini-arcs that didn’t really start to ramp up to a conclusion until the final few episodes. After a strong debut, the show floundered in the middle as Hannah McKay (the worst fugitive in the history of forever) was reintroduced into Dexter’s life. It took forever and wasn’t all that interesting. Once the pieces started coming together, it didn’t get much better.
As the chips started falling, it became clear the Dexter wasn’t going to get his happy ending. It just wasn’t going to happen. It was all set up to look good, but to ultimately fail. The plan was going too smoothly, so of course it was doomed to fail in some way. For all of the armchair and twitter analysis, I don’t think anyone saw the ending coming until it was happening. Then it became a train wreck I couldn’t help but watch. In short, here it is:
**Spoilers from here on. You’ve been warned. Twice**
After Deb dies from complications from her gunshot in the previous episode, Dexter kills Saxon and fakes his death, thus abandoning his son with his lady friend Hannah in Argentina.
There’s a whole lot wrong with that sentence. For starters, it’s a complete bummer that Debra died after everything she’s been through. If anyone on the show deserved a happy ending, it was Debra. It’s not the ending she deserved. She was completely robbed of her chance at redemption. From a storytelling standpoint, it was a copout. She was fine after surgery and then she had a massive stroke between scenes. That’s tacky and disingenuous to the audience. You can call it a “swerve,” but it felt cheap. Dexter takes the news hard and kills Saxon since he feels responsible for letting her killer live, but then pulls the plug on Deb. That part does make sense. He wouldn’t want her to live as a vegetable. Dumping her in the water makes a bit less sense. Sure, he feels responsible, but it feels disrespectful to think that he would put her on the same level as his victims.
Where it really falls apart is when Dexter abandons all of his development over the course of the series and decides that he can never be happy and that he will always be a danger to those around him. The entire show has been about Dexter’s growth and if the final season did have a theme, it was one of exceeding expectations. Dexter was coming to terms with being more than a monster. Even the super shrink Doctor Vogel was surprised at Dexter’s depth. He put his life on track in a way it’s never been before. This season was the culmination of his whole character arc and maybe in that way alone this season felt like an ending. We could know somewhere deep that he may not get his happy ending, but at least he’d know himself better than he did before. Instead, all of that is abandoned in a split-second decision.
Speaking of abandonment, the entire life Dexter has planned for himself is washed away when he sends his son off with Hannah. Dexter has been really good about not treating Harrison as an afterthought. A lot of shows fall apart when they bring in a baby, but Harrison was yet another part of Dexter’s growth (thanks to the most flexible babysitter on Earth). His love for his son was genuine, further driving home that he’s more than just a killer. But nah, he’ll be fine living with the worst fugitive EVER. Seriously, there’s never been a fictional fugitive less interested in not getting caught than Hannah McKay. Haircut? Nah. Die job? Get real. This chick couldn’t even be bothered to wear sunglasses in an airport when she knew Elway was onto her. She was perfectly content to walk around Miami (the city she was arrested in) looking exactly like she does in the photos blasted all over the news. The epilogue to the show should have been Hannah going back to Miami in the spring to order Girl Scout cookies and going to jail. She’s awful.
Dexter buries his sister at sea and then decides he’s too dangerous to anyone he loves. So he (and I can’t believe I’m typing this) drives his boat into a hurricane and somehow lives. Death by hurricane would have been a pretty big copout, but fake death is even worse. We see in the epilogue that Dexter survives and is now a logger, living somewhere logging is a thing you can do for a living. Hannah can’t get on a bus without getting caught, but Dexter can survive a hurricane and make it to logging country. There’s a somewhat interesting ambiguity in the ending in as much as we don’t know if he’s still killing people or not, but by that point, I don’t know that anyone cared. The entire finale was a runaway train of disappointment.
It’s odd to consider just how disappointing an ending where Dexter lives as a free man is considering how certain many viewers were that he’d end up dead or incarcerated. Death or prison would have been so much more substantial. That’s a fate directly driven by Dexter’s actions. That’s facing real consequences. That’s justice. This self-imposed exile is something else altogether. It makes Dexter into a coward. After eight seasons of facing anything thrown at him from any angle and facing so much loss and tragedy and always growing somehow, Dexter runs away. In spite of Hannah being a walking obstacle, they’d won. All he had to do was wait out the storm and hop on a plane. This could have been the final step in Dexter’s evolution, but it was squandered. It’s a disservice to the character and it was wholly disappointing and unsatisfying. It would have been better to see Dexter meet his end with a needle in his arm than with his tail between his legs.
Doakes didn’t die for this weak-ass ending. RIP, Doakes.