‘Dexter’ – ‘The Big One’: Out out, brief candle

Senior Television Writer
12.13.10 101 Comments

My review of the “Dexter” season five finale coming up just as soon as I bring a date to a first birthday party…

Going into the season, the “Dexter” creative team said that this year would be about our man experiencing Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous stages of grief. I don’t know if I went through all five (or seven, depending on your interpretation) of those stages over the course of these 12 episodes, but by the end of the finale, I knew I had cleared one of them:


“Dexter” is not the show that I want it to be – nor, judging by the early comments on Fienberg’s finale review  from last night, the show many of you want it to be. It’s not interested in maintaining the sense of danger from the first season or two. It’s not interested in shaking things up. It’s not a show that wants to let any other ongoing characters in on Dexter’s secret, not a show that would ever – other than in a final season that is many, many, many years off, considering it’s by far Showtime’s biggest hit – expose Dexter’s true identity to the world, or have him pull up stakes and re-establish himself somewhere else, or turn into some version of the Bixby/Ferigno Hulk, moving from town to town, killing the local bad guy and always staying one step ahead of the law.

It’s not going to do that. The show is what it is. It has a formula, one that’s been very commercially successful, and that formula ain’t changing, even in seasons that we’re told are supposed to be at least a little off-formula. We were told going into this year that there wouldn’t be another Big Bad who wound up strapped to Dexter’s table in the final episode, and we got… a Big Bad strapped to Dexter’s table – albeit with actual straps rather than plastic. (Paradigm shift!)

There are hints of potential messiness in the finale, but none that have me feeling all that optimistic. Quinn now knows something is up with Dexter, even though he’s decided not to tell anyone because of his feelings for Deb, but he doesn’t know very much and, because of Deb, doesn’t seem all that interested in finding out more. Deb finally winds up in one of Dexter’s kill rooms while he’s still there, but thanks to the Strategically-Placed Plastic Sheeting of Plot Necessity, she never actually sees him or Lumen. Her decision to let the two of them walk suggests a Deb who’s finally on the road to being someone who might not immediately want to slap handcuffs on her brother should she ever find out the truth. But if feels awfully late in the series for her to just be starting on that road, and the various creative teams have such a bad track record of teasing us with “Is Deb going to find out?” that I have absolutely no faith they will ever do that until the hypothetical final season. Lumen is still out there with knowledge of his secret, but unlike Lila she doesn’t seem the type to cause him further trouble. Killing Jordan really did heal her, and while I would have liked for Julia Stiles to stick around – even as an understanding but non-killing girlfriend – that clearly would have been too big a change for this bunch. (If Dexter has Lumen to come home to, does the show still need Harry’s ghost, for instance?)

But if I can let go of my preconceptions of what the show should be, rather than what it is, and regardless of how anything in this episode plays out long-term, how did “The Big One” work as a finale?

Not exceptionally well, I’m afraid.

Even within the confines of the formula, everything seemed to come a little too easily, just as it did last week with Liddy’s murder. Even though Dexter clears Quinn of the blood evidence, for instance, what happened to the matter of all of Liddy’s phone calls to Quinn, or Quinn’s (forged) signature on the forms for the surveillance equipment?

And even though Jordan Chase was admittedly without his support system and freaking out because one of his victims escaped and is fighting back, he proved to be a pretty lousy evil mastermind in these last two episodes. I still have no idea what his plan would have been had Dexter turned up with Lumen last week, and his plan this week required Dexter to be too distracted by a conversation with his father’s ghost to do some basic defensive driving. And long-term, short-term or whatever, the plastic sheeting was just silly.

So the show will have its formula, and it’ll have a great performance from Michael C. Hall, a very good one from Jennifer Carpenter, a bunch of supporting characters who provide little more than giving Hall a manageable workload (or, in the case of Masuka, the occasional laugh), and we’ll be reliant on the guest-casting and the writing of those guest roles. Some years, you get Trinity; some, you get Miguel Prado.(*)

(*) And in fairness to Jimmy Smits, I’d say most of the issues with Prado were on the writing level, not with his performance.

There were a bunch of strong performances this year. Though Chase ultimately turned out to be a hapless loser, I thought Jonny Lee Miller played evil quite well. Before he got bumped off in routine fashion, Peter Weller was having himself a damn entertaining time as Liddy. And I liked Julia Stiles enough that I wish they had considered keeping her around. (Her movie career’s at a point where I think she might have actually considered it.)  

But that’s not the sort of thing “Dexter” is going to do, clearly. We have to accept that. And if we do, is the safe, predictable show about a serial killer entertaining enough? I don’t know. But I know that if I do watch season six, it will be with absolutely no expectations of anything but the formula I’ve come to know and feel lukewarm about.

What did everybody else think?

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