The question that seems to spark the most lively debate among Dexter fans is: How long has it been since Dexter has been a good show? Was the first season the only one in which the promise matched the product? Was it season two? Did John Lithgow raise the high-water mark in season four, or was that merely a casting coup that belied the quality of the show going on around it? The question I’m toying with, though, as Dexter’s final season winds to a close, is how long has it been since Dexter has been an urgent show?
How long has it been since you’ve felt an urgent need to watch it? How long since its characters have communicated an urgency to what they’re trying to solve, obtain, avert, or accomplish? When was the last time the world of Dexter Morgan and Miami Metro felt eventful, or auspicious or tense, like at any moment everything might shoot right off the rails? If I’m being generous, I would say the last time Dexter had urgency was early in season seven, when Dexter seemed to be genuinely overwhelmed for once, burdened with his addiction, while trying to keep Debra from unraveling as Isaak, one of his most formidable foes, circled and plotted his revenge.
Season eight lacks that urgency, and as the show heads into its inevitable mid-season trough, I’m surprised by how little momentum the season appears to have. In the final season of a show like Dexter, there should be a feeling that the plot is careening, the brakes have failed, and a collision is just ahead. The final season of Dexter is ambling, taking its sweet time to ratchet up the tension, and as much as I’d love the writers to pull off a spectacular ending to the show, at this point I’m starting not to care about where the show ends up, as much as I care how quickly it gets there. The pace simply isn’t nimble enough.
Maybe that will change with the return of Hannah McKay, who sauntered in during the final moments of “A Little Reflection.” I wasn’t necessarily thrilled to see Hannah, as my feelings towards the character were never more than a step above outright ambivalence, even as her desire to get rid of Deb added a little intrigue to the end of season seven. But while season eight shifts gears for a little while as it sets up for the “one last thing” of the Vogel/Brain Surgeon story that seems inevitable, bringing back Hannah is as good a way to keep Dexter busy as any other, I suppose. But the path to that final reveal was a leisurely one, and to the limited extent that season eight has been satisfying thus far, little of what created that satisfaction was on display in “A Little Reflection.”
The bulk of the episode deals with Dexter’s efforts to justify killing Zach Hamilton, despite Vogel urging him not to in the belief he can be trained and rehabilitated much like Dexter was. (I have to assume at this point that Vogel’s website is search-optimized so she’s the first thing that comes up when you Google “I think my son might be murdering people” and “no police” and “Miami.”) It’s yet another angle on the season’s overarching thematic exploration of family ties and the limitations of so-called unconditional love. But Dexter’s budding paternal relationship with Zach isn’t as ripe with possibility as was his relationship with Vogel, because Dexter already has a son, and the show has already spent a lot of time ruminating on Dexter’s role as a father and how his homicidal compulsion bears on it.
That said, the plot did bring up some interesting contradictions within Dexter: how much he values the code but also views it as a cruel experiment; how he views his psychopathic uniqueness as a curse, but also treasures it as a component of his identity; how it bothers him to feel like perhaps there are other murderers capable of redemption. Dexter’s eagerness to kill Zach, even in light of the season’s revelations into how he became who and what he is, speaks to a compulsive need to feel singular. It feels like he’d sooner kill Zach than believe there could be another Dark Defender.
But Dexter warms to the idea by episode’s end, after a tearful Zach lays on Dexter’s table blubbering about how all of his murderous behavior was just a way to save his mother, who’s been reduced to drinking to deal with the Senior Hamilton’s infidelities, and who Zach loves as fiercely as Dexter loves Debra. And with that, Dexter sets him free, resolving to take on Zach as an “intern” and learn the ways of constructive homicide. It’s a development that could bear fruit, as it’s something at least slightly different than what Dexter has done before, but I wish there was a better performer in the role than Sam Underwood. Underwood has the bad-seed glower nailed, but his scenes with Hall are mostly flat.
Meanwhile, as unfortunate as it was to watch Debra’s steep decline, her recent rehabilitation-via-murder-suicide has taken some of the wind out of season eight’s sails. The writers have been positioning Elway as a potential love interest for Debra since the season began, but the possibility of new love for Debra seemed like a far more interesting proposition when she was completely ill-prepared to deal with it. Now that the murder of LaGuerta is apparently a faint memory (save for the handsome, memorial bench), Debra is slowly getting back to being the steely, self-possessed woman she was before, which makes Elway less of a complication and more of a legitimate opportunity.
As a complication, Elway was much more attractive, a cagey, shady private investigator inclined towards using people’s secrets against them. Those qualities are still present even as pairing him with Debra becomes more feasible, but the less desperate Debra is, the harder it becomes to sell a Debra-Elway pairing because the chemistry between the characters is so lacking. Even in the “Debra and Elway are having a moment” scenes that have been sprinkled throughout the episodes, I’ve accepted the characters are supposed to be having a moment because that’s what the script said, without completely buying into those moments myself.
Perhaps Hannah will breeze in with enough trouble to reanimate this final season, but with too little Vogel, too much Zach, the Brain Surgeon out of the picture (at least for now), and Debra more or less back on the straight and narrow, what should feel like a sprint is feeling far more like a lackadaisical stroll.
- As expected, Quinn lost the sergeant promotion to Miller, who I guess was off celebrating because she was nowhere to be found.
- I suspect we’ll be hearing much more about Vogel’s husband in the weeks to come.
- I wish there was more consistency to the idea of Dexter as a sexual being. In the first season, he was asexual and played the role for Rita’s sake, then became quite sexual with Lila in season two, then went dormant for a while until Lumen appeared in season five, and he was quite the playboy at the beginning of season six. Then Hannah entered, so on and so forth, but it mostly seems like Dexter gets horny when the plot calls for it.
- Showtime signed showrunner Scott Buck to a development deal, which sparked spin-off speculation. Let’s all pitch ideas in the comments. I’ll start: The Mamas and the Papa’s, a half-hour single-cam sitcom in which Batista struggles to manage his restaurant with the help of his meddling mother (Rita Moreno) and Jamie, who is expecting Quinn’s baby.