Sepinwall will probably do his reaction to Sunday’s (Dec. 12) “Dexter” finale on Monday morning, so I view this post as nothing more than a placeholder til he gets his analytic groove on tomorrow.
If you’ve been reading Alan, you’ll know his increased annoyance with the direction “Dexter” has headed this season and how closely it mirrors the direction that “Dexter” manages to head each and every season. I highly doubt that this finale will have changed his mind. You either love “Dexter” and its very familiar rhythms or you figure the show should have ended after Season 2. Or I guess a third category of viewership would be one where you marvel at how the show manages to lather-rinse-repeat-and-repeat-and-repeat in what wouldn’t seem to be a narrative that would sustain such a high-wire act each and every year.
I’ll confess that, more often than not, I fall into the latter category. Every season pushes Dexter Morgan to the brink of capture and then every season allows Dexter to squirm out, while nearly every season has ended with Dexter learning a Great Big Lesson About Himself, usually one that gets explained in conversation by the season’s Big Bad and in interior monologue by Dexter. “Dexter” is a show that likes to leave you guessing on its seasonal thematics for weeks at a time, but darned if it doesn’t like to spell everything out in its finales.
I don’t think I’m gonna do a full-on recap… Perhaps a little discussion, a personal query and then some random thoughts on the season… That’ll be after the break, where I can spoil things…
Before the start of the season, one of the big claims the showrunners made was that in this transitional season for Dexter, his first season without Rita as his normalized beard, we wouldn’t have a Big Bad. I’m not quite sure what happened to that plan. I guess we didn’t have a single superstar Emmy-bait 12-episode adversary, like we did with Jimmy Smits and John Lithgow the past two seasons, but the Barrel Girls were introduced in the second or third episode and alert viewers first spotted Jonny Lee Miller’s Jordan Chase in the third episode. By the end, Miller got to do nearly as much scenery chewing as Smits and Lithgow and his death was every bit the climax of this season that their deaths were.
The key difference is that Dexter didn’t actually get to kill Jordan Chase. Or he didn’t choose to kill Jordan Chase. Instead, he let his new protégé Lumen (Julia Stiles) do the dirty work. This season’s main icky theme appeared to be Empowerment Through Murder. Jordan Chase transformed himself through the rape and not murder of a gal from his summer camp, going from chubby wallflower to wealthy life-changing guru, regenerating his powers through watching his campmates commit a slew of ritualistic rapes and murders. Me? I befriend my camp friends on Facebook and then never communicate with them again. Jordan Chase and I are different in that way.
Similarly, Dexter empowered Lumen to strengthen herself and recover her identity through a series of revenge killings, even letting her kill the last two herself.
Yes, this season, Dexter learned how to share. Perhaps that was meant to echo the childish lessons being learned by his son Harrison, the scratcher.
But Dexter proved to be too good a mentor. While his Dark Passenger found purchase in his youth and gnawed deeply into his psyche, Lumen’s Dark Passenger was a new creation. And while Dexter’s Dark Passenger has proven to be insatiable, Lumen’s was easily satiated. Turns out all Lumen needed was revenge. All Will Hunting needed was to be hugged and told repeatedly that it wasn’t his fault. All Lumen needed was to track down, torture and murder the men who raped her and left her for dead.
In one piece of theme explication, Jordan tried telling Dexter, “You can save one thing to make up for another Dexter. It’s just not the way the world works.”
What Jordan didn’t understand was that even if Dexter was doing that, Lumen’s desires were far more linear. Chica wanted vengeance, nothing more and nothing less. And the next day, weight lifted off her soul, Lumen was done. Murder as emotional purgative. Why not. This was totally foreign to Dexter, who was already planning their life in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a Saran Wrap-lined Killing Room. Dexter understands only entropy. Killing silences the Dark Passenger, but chaos reigns again. In their mutual disorder, he saw the chance to be whole — like that darned ceramic bowl he was holding — and her confession that she’d recovered left him shattered — like that darned ceramic bowl he threw against the wall.
So here’s my question and really my only reason for writing this recap:
Does Dexter kill Lumen?
I’m gonna say “Yes.”
I *want* the answer to be yes. Because Dexter putting Lumen on a bus or on a plane is dreadfully uninteresting as a way of ending a season. Dexter taking the lessons Lumen taught him and killing her anyway? That’s provocative.
I don’t care that Dexter grew to love Lumen throughout the season and that she loved him for him and blah blah blah blah. He talked in many similar ways about Lila back in Season 2. Lila loved him for him. She saw his darkness. She didn’t know the full extent of the darkness, right? But he was amazed that unlike with Rita, he wasn’t play-acting with Lila. Lila made it so that she couldn’t mutually exist in the same world as Dexter. Similarly, though, Lumen knows everything about Dexter and just as Dexter wasn’t exactly sure what to do with her at the beginning of the season, there’s no reason he should be comfortable with her knowing about him now. She loves him? He loves her? So WHAT? If possible, a temporarily readjusted Lumen is even more dangerous to Dexter than an unhinged Lumen. She’s back in a place where someday she might feel guilt or remorse. We never heard Harry’s opinion on keeping Lumen alive, but I highly doubt Papa Dexter would be a fan of any plan where somebody who knows Dexter’s secret is allowed to roam free.
We know we didn’t see a farewell scene, with Lumen at the airport gate or Dexter at the bus station. How ’bout taking it one step further? Perhaps Lumen finally breaking up with Dexter was completely in his head, a manifestation of his need to sever ties with her for good and to sever ties with the absurd fantasy future he had planned. In that circumstance, the fantastical nighttime body dump, beautifully lit with unnerving happy music and that huge smile on Lumen’s face? Maybe that was the start of a fantasy?
I don’t need to tell you that “Lumen” means “light.” And I also don’t need to tell you that the finale ends with Dexter blowing out a candle, extinguishing a light. At the very least, it’s a metaphorical extinguishing of light, signifying Lumen’s temporarily absence, but in what way would it be out of character for Dexter to have made that corner of darkness permanent? Yes, Lumen “saw” Dexter. Yes, she loved the “real” Dexter. But that was Damaged Lumen. Dexter fantasized a life with Lumen that was an extension of his current life, where they were partners. Dexter loved Damaged Lumen, but Damaged Lumen became magically repaired when she reached her kill quota. She ceased to be Dexter’s potential partner and became just another threat.
Did she offer hope? Absolutely. But she ceased to be that hope herself. Totally fine. For now, Dexter has his family, his work family and hope. All he’s lacking is a sex-and-killing companion, but he lives in Miami where there seem to be a dozen active serial killers working at all times. He can find a less easily repaired soul mate at a different time. Now he knows it’s possible.
Dexter observed, “Lumen said I gave her her life back, a reversal of my usual role. Well, the fact is she gave me mine back too and I’m left not with what she took from me, but with what she brought — eyes that saw me, finally, for who I really am and a certainty that nothing, nothing is set in stone, not even darkness.”
So you can go and think that Lumen is back in Minnesota and that the season had a happy ending for her. I’ll prefer to think that Dexter noticed the change in Lumen earlier and worked his own particular, “You can’t break up with me, I’m breaking up with you” magic. That seems more interesting to me. Lumen served her purpose. Just as Julia Stiles was only contracted for one season and never felt likely to become a permanent part of the Miami scene, Lumen wasn’t long for this Earth.
Some other quick thoughts on the finale:
*** Another season, another step closer to Deb being ready to accept Dexter for who he is, even if she doesn’t know it. In the finale, Dexter and Lumen only escaped because Deb was able to cease to see the world in a detective’s black and white and to sympathize with the idea of a vigilante killer being capable setting things right outside the law. Deb giving Dexter and Lumen an hour to clean up their mess just positioned her closer to being able to do Dexter the same courtesy when there isn’t a dirty plastic sheet between them. I’ve read interviews where the writers say the show is over when Deb finds out. I think that’s a failure of creativity. The plastic sheet was Dexter’s most flimsy evasion-of-capture yet and its inevitability kept me from getting wrapped up in the tension of the finale. There are still things the “Dexter” writers can do that would surprise me, but none of them happened in the finale.
*** So Quinn didn’t instantly narc on Dexter because he knows how much Deb loves her brother. And Dexter fudged the bloodwork on Quinn’s shoe because he knows how much Quinn loves Deb? But now Quinn suspects Dexter of *something*. And Dexter knows that Quinn knows *something* but he doesn’t know what. I’m not sure where that goes. I guess I’m interested, though.
*** “Dexter” is a show that functions almost completely because of shoddy police work, but the failure of anybody to look up land-holdings for Eugene Greer is nearly as embarrassing as the fact that they hadn’t found out that Jordan Chase was an adopted name to begin with. That’s several episodes of plot that could have been erased through a little common sense. And speaking of shoddy police-work/writing, the street vendor who stands at a four-way stoplight and when he’s asked what’s down the road in one direction says that the *only* thing down that road is an old abandoned summer camp that hasn’t been operational for 20 years? That’s horrible writing. Or maybe it’s just horrible municipal planning, because one of those directions probably doesn’t need a light, because there’d never be any reason for somebody to drive down that road that way.
*** BTW, Jordan Chase’s full-on transformation into Jason Voorhees, complete with abandoned summer camp trauma? A little fun and a little cheesy. I loved Jordan’s retort, “You’re laughing like there’s some polite way to do this, like there’s some etiquette. Killing is killing, Dexter. Let’s be honest about that.”
*** I expected some sort of payoff for Maria Doyle Kennedy as Harrison’s nanny. She still gives me a creepy vibe and I’m not convinced we’re not headed for some “Hand that Rocks the Cradle”-style crazy next season.
Tick… tick… tick. That’s the sound of this season of “Dexter” running out. What’d you think?