Considering how rapidly the final season of Dexter cratered, one could be forgiven for expecting the worst with each new episode. But for some reason, I’ve been able to approach each episode without holding a grudge against the episodes that preceded it. Actually, that might be a little generous. I’ve been able to approach each episode aware of the potential for Dexter to win the expectations game. Once the bar is so low, even Dexter could manage to stumble over it, so each week I think this could be the episode that’s not quite as horrific as I thought it would be.
I can’t say “Monkey In A Box” is that episode; in terms of storytelling quality, it’s about on par with the narrative meandering, inscrutable characterization and flat-tire pacing that has characterized the season. But what made “Monkey” semi-tolerable is that it provided a few brief moments in which the season’s inert plotting wasn’t in the foreground. It contained shards of ideas that could fit into anyone’s concept of a penultimate episode of Dexter, and sort of flicked at the themes that drew viewers to this show in the first place. Dexter leaving Miami Metro, parting ways with Deb, outgrowing Ghost Harry, and suppressing his compulsion to kill are all elements the audience could imagine as part of Dexter’s end game, and seeing those moments offered the faintest of glimpses into what those elements might have looked like in the right hands.
But those half-strengths were whole weaknesses when those scenes came within the context of the story written by this team of writers, which has an almost impressive ability to climb over all of the good and mediocre ideas to find the absolute worst ways of executing every single thing on this show. “Monkey” was terribly boring of course, which is to be expected from a table-setting episode in a season in which episodes that felt like that could conceivably lead to something interesting in the future were the best of the bunch. More than that though, the episode went out of its way to point a saturating spotlight at all of the storytelling choices that have made Dexter such an unlikeable, unworkable character, and why refusing to remove even a little of Dexter’s control has made the show so inert.
First, I laughed immediately when the episode started, as Dexter, in his always helpful voiceover, rationalized Vogel’s murder exactly the way I expected him to. The issue isn’t that he should have gotten out of the way of Vogel and Saxon, hauled ass to Argentina with H ‘n’ H and hoped everybody landed on their feet. The issue is that he was trying to occupy two worlds, the world of the dedicated family man and that of the vigilant vigilante, and because he hesitated too long in confronting Saxon, Vogel is now dead, and he’s to blame. So naturally, the only way to correct this problem is to keep going after Saxon, because again, killing Saxon is absolutely mandatory for Dexter prior to leaving Miami.
For a moment, I thought this episode might start to correct the character motivation issues that have become so problematic ever since the Brain Surgeon’s identity was revealed. First, Dexter found himself at yet another bloody crime scene involving someone with whom he had a connection. Just maybe, I thought, this will be one homicidal coincidence too far, and capturing Saxon might be the way for Dexter to clear himself from involvement with Vogel’s murder before leaving for Argentina. No such luck; no one even says “I gotta say, Dexter, it’s awful weird how everybody you know, from your wife, to your neighbor, to the two Miami Metro officers who were suspicious of you, to the forensic psychologist you knew through your father, all wound up dead, often with you the first at the scene.” What show did I think I was watching? Of course none of that happened.
But then, Saxon showed up at Miami Metro unannounced to clear his name on Cassie’s murder. Then he decided he wanted to check out Dexter’s place. Saxon was being creepy and stalkerish in a way that definitely didn’t portend well. One could make a convincing case that Saxon was menacing Dexter in a way that suggested he wasn’t going to sit idle while Dexter and the family jetted off to Argentina. But then a funny thing happened. Saxon offered a truce, telling Dexter he wanted to punish Vogel for refusing yet again to choose her son before others, but now that he had taken care of it, he wanted both of them to walk away from the situation. And honestly? It didn’t sound like a terrible deal. Saxon was in no way saying he would be a continued threat to Dexter once Dexter stopped being a threat to him. He was asking to be left alone, and began threatening Dexter, Debra, and Hannah only to scare Dexter into complying.
Yet again, Dexter chooses what he wants, and satisfying his base needs, which take priority over every other thing in the world. With both of the women he cares most about on either side of him, questioning the wisdom of continuing to pursue Saxon, Dexter still refuses to listen to reason. Debra, who is the closest this show gets to competent law enforcement or basic logic, and has racked up plenty of killing experience lately, says she can take care of herself. Hannah, the love of Dexter’s life, tries to tell him Saxon won’t follow them to Argentina. “What if he does?” Dexter asks. What if he does what? Follows you all the way to Argentina to further terrorize you even though he just attempted to call a truce with you so you would leave him be? Shows you how grateful he is that you accepted his olive branch by stalking you to another country and trying to harm you there?
If this was a show in which every character had their own interior lives, their own motivations, their own desires, their own perspectives and ways of navigating the world, there’s no way that conversation would have happened that way. But because this is Dexter, which portrays a universe in which Dexter is the sun and the gravity, Hannah and Debra basically say “Well you know that Dexter. Once he gets the idea to kill someone in his head, there’s just no stopping him. But I sure do love that knucklehead.” So Dexter’s off to use his supernatural police skills to lure Saxon in so he can Debra can capture him together, which comes together all too easily.
Dexter straps Saxon to his own kill table, and is prepared to take care of his final bit of housekeeping before he flees to Argentina. But then, he has a breakthrough. His need is gone, just like magic. Hannah’s love has redeemed him, and he no longer feels compelled to kill. So, to begin with: Shut up. Secondly: gross. And finally: Please God, shut up. Man, what an awful execution of this scene. Who could have possibly imagined back in season one, that in Dexter’s final run of episodes, he would realize his need to kill was gone, and this would be the way it happened? Season four wasn’t flawless, but the scene in which Dexter killed Arthur Mitchell remains unimpeachable. It shows how far and fast this show has fallen that such a pivotal scene lands with such little weight.
Here, the scene is not meant to stand on its own though, which should have been the case given how much of the show has thematically been about the immutability of Dexter’s compulsion, whether it was something he would one day be able to abandon, or if soaking in his mother’s blood doomed him to a life of finding the most constructive circumstances under which to murder people. But no, it’s the set-up for Saxon to escape, shooting Deb in the gut on his way out. I can say this much: If a few weeks back, someone had offered me the opportunity to fly off to Argentina rather than watching the rest of his horseshit, I’d be south of the border tangoing my ass off right about now.
- This week in Miami Metro: Angie Miller has gone back into hiding. Batista is still a moron. Quinn is still in love with Deb, and even kept her engagement ring! Masuka and his daughter continue to exist.
- Harrison is not very good at combing his hair.
- I will say, I kinda liked Michael C. Hall during Batista’s going-away speech. If there’s going to be a scene in which Dexter is surprised to realize how much he’ll miss the people around him, that was the way to act that scene.
- Yet another bizarre example of life in this Dexter-centric universe is the fact that everyone at Miami Metro seemed far more emotionally affected by Vogel’s death than by the death of LaGuerta. Or Doakes. Or Mike Anderson. In Dexter, that which is important to Dexter is important to everybody.