Season finale review: ‘Dexter’ – ‘Surprise, Motherf—er!’

A quick review of the “Dexter” season finale – and season 7 as a whole – coming up just as soon as I put on a diaper and come out as Baby New Year…

You may recall that, when the seventh “Dexter” season began, I was very pleased with the first few episodes after spending several years feeling deeply ambivalent about the show before giving it up altogether early in season 6. I was pleased that Deb not only knew Dexter’s secret, but that she actively dug into it after he told his initial lie (it was a way to undo the lame coincidence of the season 6 finale). I was pleased that the show was again grappling with the idea that Dexter’s choice of victims doesn’t make him all that heroic, and that seen through Deb’s eyes, the violence and collateral damage of his “dark passenger” isn’t the neat and tidy thing he’s always made it out to be. And as he developed an unexpected friendship with Isaak, and then a romance with Hannah – more characters who knew exactly who and what Dexter was – the show forced Dexter himself to grapple with his true nature, with what Harry taught him, whether he has control over his impulses, and all the other most interesting parts of this premise.

It felt, in many ways, like the season the show should have done immediately following season 2, if the goal was to tell the best story possible rather than staying on the air as long as possible. And the return of Doakes in flashbacks last night – the first one providing the episode’s title – made those connections even more explicit. Season 2 was the last time the show seriously suggested Dexter was something other than a vigilante with an odd motivation.

But even season 2 ultimately took the easy way out by having crazy Lila murder Doakes rather than have Dexter do it. Season 7 didn’t take quite the same route (which would have involved Hannah poisoning LaGuerta); Deb murdering a fellow cop to protect her brother’s secret is an enormous deal for the other character with an interesting emotional life. But it’s still another case of Dexter avoiding that big step – none of us like LaGuerta, but it would still be a more selfish act coming from Dexter than Deb (even though LaGuerta had evidence linking Deb to things) – and the entire climactic scene felt off, as if the writers knew what they wanted the end point to be and didn’t quite bother thinking through how to get there. I’m not entirely sure, for instance, why LaGuerta – who had spent all season being smart enough to put all the Bay Harbor Butcher pieces together – was suddenly too stupid to wonder if this was a trap and bring backup. And while Deb shooting LaGuerta was the point of that scene, I don’t know that I buy her – the lieutenant of Homicide, even in a moment of complete shock and horror – just aiming her service weapon at a commanding officer and shooting her, as opposed to grabbing Dexter’s knife or one of his other tools.

But there was a lot of jumping from Point A to Point C without first passing B in these last few episodes, I felt. Hannah went from an interesting foil and confidante for Dexter to an unstoppable supervillain, and much as I like Yvonne Strahovski, I think I’d rather that plant she left for Dexter be a goodbye gift, rather than the next stage of her master plan

Ultimately, though, there was much more good than bad in this season, and assuming everyone sticks to the plan for next year to be the last, I’m hopeful that the creative team will take even more of a damn the torpedoes approach than they did this year. Deb knows – and is now deeply, deeply compromised – LaGuerta’s dead (though her death/disappearance will no doubt inspire Angel to delay retirement), and Dexter has more or less accepted that the Code is gentle nonsense created by Harry to make himself feel better about raising a monster, which makes him a much more complicated and interesting character the rest of the way. (And that he’s finally accepted that his cover identity – and the emotions that came with it – is real also sets up a lot of interesting possibilities for next year.) There are a lot of good ways this can go. But in its two best seasons – this one and season 2(*) – “Dexter” has never really stuck the landing. Can they do it next year, for good?

(*) Many people are fond of season 4, but I would call that a case of a great guest performance by Lithgow elevating a very formulaic season for the show.

What did everybody else think? For those of you, like me, who came back after recent frustration, was season 7 ultimately satisfying to you?

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