My first thought: What a cheat! My second thought: Maybe not.
The question of what Dexter was going to do about Doakes, a decent and innocent man, was one I think the finale should have answered directly. If Dexter’s instincts for self-preservation did indeed prevail, then that would involve him killing or framing a man simply to avoid being caught, which would be something to hang on his conscience. And if he let Doakes go, what then? There’s really no scenario I can imagine that would allow both Dexter and Doakes to be free, since Doakes isn’t the sort to retreat quietly into the background, knowing what he knows. But it was Dexter’s decision to make, just as it was Dexter’s choice whether to kill his sister, an innocent who knows nothing about his secret self, or his brother, who knows him and accepts him for who he is.
For the writers to dodge that choice and have Lila do Dexter’s dirty work feels like a cheat, because it’s completely out of his hands; he may have created a monster in Lila, but having that one degree of separation between himself and the cabin explosion lifts any lingering clouds of guilt from his conscience. Indeed, he’s utterly ecstatic (and scarily revitalized) to see that the heavens have intervened on his behalf; hence, the inspired and hilarious redux of the opening credits 15 minutes into the episode, which reminded me a bit of the “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” sequence in Spider-Man 2.
The other thing that bothered me on first viewing was the tidiness of the ending. Doakes has been tagged as the Bay Harbor Butcher under a mountain of evidence against him, Lila eventually gets wiped out in Paris, and Lundy moves on to another case—in other words, every possible loose thread has been tied up. Dexter has been given a new lease on life, and even the trail of bodies he left behind him in the past has been tied to something else, so he can start fresh. Obviously, if Dexter is going to continue as a series, our hero can’t be sitting in jail or on Death Row, so the writers have to contrive some way for him to slip the noose. Yet in doing so, I felt they may have wiped the slate too clean, as if Dexter has made no real progress as a character. It’s a little like going on a long drive with interesting little detours and realizing later that all you’ve done is driven around the block.
And yet, on second viewing, it struck me that the slate really wasn’t clean and that Dexter has changed to some extent into an ever more dangerous creature. For one, Maria isn’t going to accept the party line on Doakes, which opens up the possibility of her being the new Doakes in future seasons, poking around to find the real Bay Harbor Butcher and clearing her friend’s sullied name. (Not that I’m anxious for more scenes with Maria, but at least she’ll have more to do than sleep her way into a position of authority.) For two, Dexter has learned from Lila to accept who he is and not fight it; as he says, “some force wants me to keep doing what I’m doing,” and his promise at the end to “evolve” and “explore new rituals” hints at a renewed fervor for serial murder. His tone recalls Malcolm McDowell’s devilish line reading at the end of A Clockwork Orange: “I was cured, all right.” Self-help philosophy for Dexter, much like therapy for Tony Soprano, has worked to empower him to become a better psychopath, and liberate him from responsibility for his impulses. Neat trick, that.
In other news, the Deb/Lundy hookup ended on a predictably anticlimactic note, with Deb choosing to help find Rita’s kids rather than taking the next flight to Oregon. This isn’t much of a decision, given that the kids are in imminent danger and she could always take a later flight, but apparently it was just the epiphany she needed to stick around. After being so central to the plot last season, it’s a shame that Deb was largely relegated to the sidelines this time around; somewhere down the line, she’s going to have to find out about her brother, and perhaps we’ll get a little payoff then. As for poor Keith Carradine, it’s a little sad how he faded down the homestretch, especially since his instincts were still telling him Doakes was the wrong man, even as most of the evidence suggested the contrary. Onto the next case, I guess.
Lastly, there’s Lila, whose craziness found new depths before she was finally put out of her misery. Some had speculated that Lila, when forced to confront the truth about Dexter, would recoil in horror and that Dexter misjudged her as a potential confidante. Clearly, that theory went up in smoke just like the cabin. To me, that’s a disappointment: It’s easy to say that Lila was simply nutso, but it’s another to show how Dexter crosses lines other people—even those hip to dysfunctional men, like Lila—wouldn’t dare to contemplate. Now she seems like a mere plot device to gum up the works for awhile and send Dexter on his way as a new man. And that’s a letdown, I think.
Still, I think the finale was for the most part exciting and satisfying, and that the season as a whole was stronger than the first, if only for putting the emphasis more on character than plot. I’m anxious to see how the show will evolve from here, which I suppose is the ultimate mark of a quality production. What did the rest of you think?
• “He would rather burn than get burned.” Masuka has a line for his screenplay.
• “How can you be so relaxed?” “I’m good at compartmentalization.”
• Nice touch having the rejuvenated Dexter bring donuts to the office, completely oblivious to the fact that his officemates might not be in the mood for sugary treats at the moment. (But really, aren’t donuts good for any occasion?)
• Line of the night, voiceover Dexter (regarding Lila): “You’re going away with me, all right… in a garbage bag.” Weirdly enough, I wonder if Dexter might have run away with Lila had she not repeatedly revealed herself to be a nutjob. He longs for someone who knows him and accepts him for who he is, right?
• It’s been fun going through this show every week with you and I learned a lot from the people on the board. Hope you got something out of it, too, and I hope to see you again in a few weeks, when The Wire, Season Five kicks off. Woo-hoo!