“There will be people who hate it, but we can’t try to anticipate that or put it through the lens of any other show’s finale, because that was another show. This is our show. This is Dexter.” — Executive Producer Sara Colleton
First, a few deep, meditative breaths to calm myself down. Because generally, when someone vacillates between hysterical giggling and apoplexy this rapidly, he gets placed under state care. The Dexter team outdid itself. Some folks would say “This show is as shitty as it can possibly be, so now we can rest on our laurels.” But not Scott Buck and his team. They never stop striving to create the most offensively stupid show on television. And look, if that was the objective here, a slow clap is in order.
Granted, there was no way for “Remember The Monsters” to be good. This season has been in a steep nosedive for so long, it wasn’t like Dexter was going to right its course in its final hour. But I thought my expectations were low enough that, while the finale would disappoint me given that Dexter started off with so much promise, it wouldn’t stun me. I figured I’d watch it finish circling the drain and be mildly annoyed, but no worse for the wear.
In other words, I thought I’d feel watching the Dexter finale the way I felt watching the final episode of Weeds, another show I stuck with until the bitter end. There’s been much comparison of Dexter and Breaking Bad in recent weeks, and I’ve done it as often as anyone. But after thinking about it, Dexter has far more in common with Weeds. Both feature antiheroes struggling to balance a domestic façade with a life of crime. Both ran for eight seasons and reflected a steady decline in quality, save for a short-lived renaissance in later years. (For Weeds, that resurgence came at the end of the sixth season, and for Dexter, the beginning of the seventh.) Both are series with inherently self-limiting premises that gradually lurched into self-parody because Showtime refused to let go of a ratings success, and the folks making the show liked having jobs.
But even Weeds bested Dexter, because Weeds rebuked Nancy Botwin early and often. It made no attempts to rationalize her selfishness, her flightiness, or her neglectful parenting. And its finale demonstrated how Nancy’s life was cumulatively affected by her bad choices. What’s so baffling about “Remember The Monsters” is that it’s obvious the writers thought they were doing that. They thought they were making Dexter pay a great price, and showing the audience he finally understood the impact of his actions. They were wrong. They were showing Dexter Morgan as he always was, and will apparently always be—an addict, as selfish and self-absorbed as any other who, in the upside-down world of this show, is treated like a god among mortals.
Let’s not jump right into the Big Brawn of it all. Let’s pretend for a moment that there was no insane coda, and the episode ended with Hannah reading that Dexter was presumed dead on the front page of Miami’s daily newspaper. “Remember The Monsters” would still be a complete disaster. Because after ambling in no particular direction all season long, Dexter finally had an opportunity to wring some decent television out of Deb’s death, but because of the execution, what was intended to be a gut punch felt more like a slap in the face.
The first problem with the handling of Deb’s death is the lead-up to it, because Dexter is a show about what his titular character wants, and Dexter stopped giving a shit about Deb quite a while ago. Sure, Dexter has paid lip service to how it’s a priority of his to protect his younger sister, but the Dexter who was redeemed by Hannah McKay’s love isn’t the same one we saw in the first half of the season.
The season began with Deb’s downward spiral, and Dexter hoping Vogel could reunite them after he realized how important Deb was in his life. But once Hannah waltzed back into the picture, Debra became an afterthought. Dexter didn’t care that Deb hated Hannah. In fact, he leveraged his sister’s unconditional love so he could use Deb's home as Hannah's safe house. Oh, and that time Hannah tried to murder Deb with a drug-laced drink? Bottled water under the bridge. When Hannah asked Dexter to come to Argentina and leave Deb behind, he said yes before she could even finish the question. Then, when Dexter told the allegedly all-important Deb he was moving to a foreign country, and she was bummed about it, his response was basically “Yes, but think what you can do with the frequent-flyer miles! Priority boarding. Complimentary business class upgrades. You’re welcome, sis!”
Figuring out Dexter’s basic motivation has been nearly impossible since the season premiere. But Dexter’s throughline can be summarized thusly: “It’s crucial to win back my sister, but she isn’t all that important after all if I can be with Hannah, and neither of them is as important as killing one guy for reasons that remain unclear.” A reasonable person would expect that at some point, Dexter would cut his losses and try to move on, lest everyone in his life get killed because he can’t simply stop pursuing one guy. But no, he’s still going full-bore to neutralize Saxon because he says he has to keep Deb safe, and still, the audience is supposed to be on board with it.
All season, I’ve argued Dexter declined because the writers refused to tell any story that might turn the audience against Dexter, or even feel slightly conflicted about his actions. I still think the Evelyn Vogel character was, at its core, a solid idea. With Debra convinced that Dexter had destroyed her life, it was shrewd to set up a dichotomy between Deb’s rejection and Vogel’s embrace. But as usual, the writers went the route of acquitting Dexter at all costs. Vogel became Dexter’s tireless publicist, spinning his shit into gold, even guilting Debra for running their car off the road and saying it represented the “rock bottom” phase of her post-LaGuerta decline. Every character, every plot development, every bit of dialogue was in the interest of burnishing Dexter’s image.
That unfortunate trend continued in “Remember The Monsters,” with a gutshot Deb recovering in the hospital, and pleading with Dexter to flee to Argentina as soon as possible, and not to carry an ounce of guilt over any of the horror she’s had to deal with as a result of keeping him in her life. “I don’t want you to feel guilty about this,” she tells him. “I don’t want you to feel guilty about anything. You were meant to be happy, so you need to go fuckin’ be happy.” When Dexter mentions to Deb that they missed the flight to Argentina (because meddling Matthews insisted on calling Dex in spite of her wishes), she apologizes to him.
Later, Saxon somehow justifies Dexter’s concern for Deb’s safety by showing up to the hospital even as he’s wanted city wide. I don’t even want to get into how little sense this makes, because there’s never any attempt to explain what Saxon has to gain by continuing to pursue Dexter and Deb any more than there was an attempt to explain why Dexter couldn’t leave well enough alone with Saxon. But after Saxon is captured, Deb takes a turn for the worse anyway, after a blood clot deprives her brain of oxygen, leaving her in a vegetative state. And Dexter is granted the opportunity to be her protective big brother one last time, as he shuts off the machines keeping her alive, and carries her out of the hospital wrapped in a sheet, which apparently you can do when everyone is super-busy with hurricane stuff. Dexter takes Deb’s body onto the Slice of Life, disposes it in his ocean current of choice, then barrels the boat directly into Hurricane Laura, prepared to rid the world of the scourge that is Dexter Morgan, or something.
It’s clear Dexter’s writers have absolutely no clue how to hold Dexter’s feet to the fire, but it’s never been more clear than with the death of Deb, which is supposed to be the most significant trauma Dexter has dealt with since he became who he is, yet it occurs completely on his terms. Deb dies after Dexter has already made the decision to leave her behind anyway, and only after she demands that he absolve himself of any responsibility for anything that has happened to her. Saxon’s bullet doesn’t kill her; it allows Dexter one more opportunity to exemplify what passes for heroism in the Dexter universe, ending Deb’s life his way, and disposing of her body in the manner most satisfying and symbolic for him.
Then in one final act of supposed heroism, Dexter, finally understanding the gravity of his choices, decides to fake his own death, so Harrison can grow up fatherless and Hannah can raise his child in his absence in a foreign country. Worked out for everybody then, I suppose? And after cutting to black, the episode fades back in to show that Dexter is not actually dead, but has restarted his life…as a lumberjack.
Again, “Remember The Monsters” wasn’t going to be good. But it did have a shot at not being an affront to the suckers who spent 96 hours watching Dexter. That’s four entire days. Think of the books you could have read. The hobbies you could have cultivated. The trees you could have planted in blighted neighborhoods. The Big Brawn epilogue is a knife through the heart of any Dexter fan. I can imagine no worse way to end the series than with a shot of Scott Buck hopping into the back of a limousine to leave the set on the final day of shooting, with his arms wrapped around a bag of cash so large he struggles to hold onto it.
The issue with Sara Colleton’s “some will love it, some will hate it” comments is that Dexter’s desire, above all else, has been to continue killing with impunity. So when a Dexter fan hears that the finale is likely to be polarizing, the reasonable assumption is that different viewers would respond differently based on whether or not they wanted Dexter to get away with it. What no one could have expected was that the show wouldn’t really choose either option, and even in trying to choose something more ambiguous, the writers would still botch the landing.
It’s unclear whether Dexter actually decided to abandon killing (which would have seemed the more redeeming option than becoming a deadbeat dad), because even after claiming to have lost his urge to kill, he dispatched Saxon and wasn’t charged—an especially implausible moment in a show teeming with them. So what exactly is Dexter doing now? Clearing his head? Giving the serial killers of Saskatchewan what for? Repenting for his past crimes? It’s anyone’s guess. It seems the goal was a final moment on par with the last shots of far better anti-heroes in the finales of The Shield and Damages. But all I could do was laugh.
And besides the ponderous final shot being incredibly silly, it’s the one time the writers decided to be ambiguous in a moment that didn’t call for it. I don’t want to be beat over the head with the idea that Dexter is a superhero and that Deb forgives him for any and everything he’s ever done. I do want some kind of idea of what the writers think his latest incarnation as Big Brawn Dexter means for the character, or for his future. And given the show’s general aversion to subtlety or ambiguity, the final scene doesn’t come off as an assured artistic choice so much as a non-ending inserted because there were no better ideas.
It’s a feat for a finale to make you regret having watched a single moment of the series, but “Remember The Monsters” made it look easy. The first and second seasons of Dexter were enjoyable, sure, but they also lined up the first dominoes in a chain of contrivances that allowed Dexter to skirt apprehension and win new allies rather than be made to deal with the consequences of his actions. There was a time when I’d have recommended those seasons, but now I couldn’t even do that in good conscience, knowing they could be the gateway drug to subsequent seasons.
As a rule, I think it’s ridiculous to judge someone for liking or disliking an artwork. But I have to be a hypocrite here: If, after watching “Remember The Monsters,” you still consider yourself a fan of Dexter, I’m judging you. Not quietly. Loudly. I’m in your face with a megaphone, yelling “WHAT IS YOUR DEAL? CAN’T YOU SEE HOW AWFUL THIS IS?” You may be thinking, “Why are you yelling into a megaphone? Isn’t that redundant?” But you love a show that, for the better part of eight seasons, has used voiceovers and ghost dads to call your attention to things you’re currently looking at with your eyes. So you’ll forgive me for thinking redundancy is your thing, won’t you?
- The sum of the Masuka stuff with his daughter? Nil.
- The purpose of Angie Miller existing at all? None.
- The likelihood of me ever again watching a show run by Scott Buck? Zero.
- My concern over Homeland as it goes into its third (of 11?) season on Showtime? All-consuming.
- There is one happy ending here: Michael C. Hall and his ex-wife Jennifer Carpenter no longer have to spend long hours at work together, which must have been supremely awkward.
- Somebody give Amy Pietz a gig, please. She doesn’t deserve that.