Disclaimer: This post is riddled with Spoilers. I saw no other way to do this analysis/review of everything that went wrong without spoiling most of it. So the only people who should read it are the ones who don't care about spoilers or have seen it.
The last season of Dexter is now over. Where will we turn to for our favorite serial killer? I for one don't have any trouble finding something new to watch. Dexter hasn't really been that fascinating since season five. While the seventh season was putting things on the line and treading the borders between fantastic and utterly fascinating, the magic since season one and two is nowhere to be seen. Season six with it's serial killer and his imaginary friend was abysmal. It was all about putting the pieces together so Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) would find out Dexter Morgans (Michael C. Hall) secret identity. And let's not forget that they painted Debra's character into a corner by making her fall in love with her brother. Fortunately this was course-corrected pretty fast and the dumb story line was thrown away.
Season eight starts out pretty strong and there are some really fascinating characterization. Dexter is living with the aftermath of having his sister choosing him over Maria Laguerta (Lauren Velez). He is also trying to juggle his work life with killing lowlifes and the parenting of his son. His life is still really not that easy, and we see Dexter trying to fix everything. Most of that fixing goes towards his sister. One of the more fascinating things in the season is the revelation he has about his relationship with his sister. We always thought that she needed him more than he needed her. What if it was the other way around? This gets thoroughly explored with his talks with Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), who also was instrumental in Dexter's killer code. Her characterization early in the season is off to a rough start but when episode two rolls around I find her both disturbingly cold, while utterly fascinating. The seasons new Big Bad is The Brain Surgeon, and while his run starts out strong, it fizzles out pretty quickly after the first four strong episodes (he comes back later, but then we've lost all momentum).
Debra is still suffering after she killed Maria last season. Her self-destructivness is utterly fascinating to watch however short it is. All to soon she is dragged out of it and is basically fine. I'd wish they would have used this to put a bigger wedge between her and Dexter (and it ending with her and the police hunting him down). After Maria's death, Angel Batista (David Zayas) comes back to lead the police force because of his loyalty to her. He still proves to a frustrating character with the interactions with his sister Jamie Batista (Aimee Garcia) and one of his best friends, detective Joseph 'Joey' Quinn (Desmond Harrington). Vince Masuka (C.S. Lee) is still his perverted self, but gets a new story line really not worth mentioning. In the episode Scar Tissue his newly found daughter Niki Walters (Dora Madison Burge) comes back to spend time with him. Hannah McKay (Yvonne Strahovski) also comes back, but in a pretty thankless role.
Blundering through the finish line
The season starts out strong with Dexter and Debra at odd ends with each other. It was really weird seeing Debra so strung out, and it did feel kinda out of character. But then again, it had been such a long time since I last watched season seven, so that should be excused. The season starts with the writers tying up the loose ends from the last season, while also setting up new, or old, elements. Dexter's code have been a element that's been discussed all through the series, but we've never gotten a look at the making of it. So it makes sense that we see more clearly how the serial killer Dexter was created. It was a really good idea to bring in the person responsible, because I guess I never thought that Harry Morgan (James Remar) was the sole culprit behind the code. Harry still plays a big role in Dexter's life. But it's never made clear if he is his conscious or just a part Dexter's mind. We also get to see never previously seen footage from Harry's sessions with Evelyn. The whole process starts to question whether Dexter ever will be a whole person, or just stay as the serial killer. They get deep into it, but it feels like a missed opportunity that Dexter never gets hunted or that at least everyone find out that he was the killer all along. When I think about it, it should have been done a long time ago. And I have always thought season twos hunt for The Bay Harbor Butcher should have been preserved for later. I mean, I always thought the arc for Dexter was kind of wasted, they never laid the best groundwork. Like most series, things are never planned out in advance and even though the two first seasons are really great, that's where the perfect arc stops and what we get is unfocused and no complete arc.
One of the problems with this season is that they should've ended it years ago. Halls performance is still good but most of the time it seems like he working on autopilot. His role with Dexter have always been understated and it has always fitted the character. But the main problem with this so far into the game, is that it doesn't seem like Dexter is ever going to change. I don't mean that he should turn good, I think it would be better for the show if he somehow got enveloped in his serial killer game, so that it would be no turning back. He is an good actor, but playing a character for so long got to do something with you. Unfortunately, except for the first four episode, it seems like he is bored through every scene. He's got his moments for sure, but his best years as Dexter is definitely behind him.
It's a different story for Carpenter, and her portrayal of Debra, except for the horrid "I love Dexter", who's become more and more riveting for every season. To think I wasn't a big fan of the character in season one and two is kinda of ludicrous. Even though I wasn't a fan of her in the earlier year, I can see that Carpenter was a good actor but I guess I never really saw her for what she was. In this season she gets a lot to work with, especially the first four episodes. Her depression from killing Maria really gets to her. The whole thing could've been perfect, except that she seem to get over it pretty quickly after she tries to kill Dexter and herself. The stake would've been pretty high if Debra or Dexter had died, it could've sent either of them into a rage that propelled the season forward. But as it went, it just made them closer to fast and we get no actual payoff for it. Still, even if she gets over it, it's still pretty fascinating to watch the character's journey through the season. Though she unfortunately slowly but surely gets defined by the relationship she starts up again with Joey. For one I don't understand how she could go back to him. Not because they are right for each other. Not because the have a fantastic chemistry, which they clearly do not. It's way to telegraphed and I think I would rather she ended up alone. But because of what happens later the writers need an emotional fallout. Still, her interactions and interplay with Joey early in the season paints a better picture then how it ends up to be.
And now for the mastermind behind Dexter's code. I have to admit that I wasn't the biggest fan of Evelyn when she entered the scene. She was way too clinical and cold, and I wasn't really excited by her acting. When episode two rolled around I still wasn't elated, but she became more and more interesting. Her layers were clearly showing. The most fascinating thing about her was that she was clearly connected to Dexter beyond the code. It was almost as she thought of herself as his mother. In ways you could look upon her like that, since she was the one who created him, but more like a spiritual mother. For some reason I thought the reveal about was that she was his real mother. And boy am I glad that didn't happen, because that would've been too much of a cliche. Rampling's acting suits this character perfectly, and even though I thought that the coldness was just bad acting, it was deliberate and I love it now. But as the season progresses, she unfortunately becomes less riveting. Even though Ramplings acting is still riveting there is something really odd about it.
Then we have the side-characters, who is the worst thing about this show. They haven't really evolved much since the first season, and we kinda forgive them for that because they have so small story lines. This is the same in season eight, except that this time their story lines seems like even more wasted space. Angel goes back to the police force and the only thing he does is encourage and antagonize Joey for a promotion. And then he doesn't give it to him. I mean, I still don't think Joey should become a sergeant, but it wasn't fair of Angel to do that. Except for that Angel doesn't get to do much.
Joey however, even though this is a character I love to hate, gets some decent amount of screen time in the beginning of the season. He's a less of a fuckup than in the previous seasons, and that isn't saying much. Still there is a potential with this character that never was explored. Harrington plays fine with what he's given. Not a bad actor, but like most side-characters he gets sidelined by horrible writing most of the time.
Angels sister still is the super nanny, and although it's not as bad as it was, she still is just the love-interest to Joey and Dexters saving grace when it comes to his son. Garcia is okay in the role.
Vince also gets to play with his own story line. At first I was happy for him since he rarely gets to play in the spotlight. But then seeing how his relationship with his daughter progresses, it feels like they gave him a story line just because. His daughter find him and it seems sweet, but then the writers don't really know what to do about it and it gets sidelined.
Lastly Strahovski returns as Hannah, and I must admit I was glad to see her again (I did like her in season seven). The problem is the way her character is written in this season, which is far from how she was screwed together when we first met her. In season eight she's delegated to the girlfriend. Along the way she becomes the love of Dexter's life, but Lumen (Julia Stiles) and Rita (Julie Benz) was that too. They felt more genuine, and even though Lumen was just season five, they built that relationship pretty well. And Rita had the first four season to make that connection. My point is that Strahovski is a pretty good actor, and because they really didn't know what to do with her she just got to be the love-interest again. For my annoyance in women delegated to this role, see my long awaited article about female agency in tv-shows coming soon. Either way I think Strahovski did a decent job with what she got. She showed promise when she showed up again in the episode Dress Code, but that evaporated quickly.
The first four
So yeah you've guessed it, I am not a big fan of this season. Before I doom it to oblivion, I have to talk about how good the first four episodes. I have already covered it with talking a lot about Debra's breakdown. But there is even more juicy stuff there. Debra has been in a depression since she killed Maria for Dexter. Even though she meant it then and there we can clearly see that she regrets ever doing it, she blames Dexter, and rightly so. Debra's psyche is fringing all over the place. Here we get to see Carpenters actress chops coming through like never before. If there is a star of this season, and lights up the scene every time she is on it, it's definitely Carpenter. A lot can be said about this actress, and I have already explored that pretty much.
The main stayline of the four first episodes are the debates between Dexter and Evelyn about psychopaths, and his role in all this. They really get in to it about everything we've seen through the series. Dexter's struggle to be a normal guy and at the same time kill people who he thought deserved it. Evelyn is really surprised about all the thing Dexter say about this. She is most surprised about his relationship with Debra, and how much he wants to save her. Evelyn is the one who comes up with the revelation that Dexter needs Debra more than she needs him. Debra might've needed Dexter more in the earlier years, but as Dexter clearly doesn't think like everyone else does; he kinda misses this. And it is true even though the "I love Dexter" happened last year it was a mishap from the writers and doesn't ruin the character that much. When we get into the season they start to discuss Dexter's relationship with Hannah. Evelyn doesn't understand this either. But after a while she sees he has changed, and that he is able to do this. The problem is that all this buildup gets destroyed when The Brain Surgeon gets revealed. The season could've been a fantastic end to the season, but ends up promising to much, but don't delivering.
The first four episode ratchets up the excitement and promises to deliver a great final season. And for these four episodes I believe the writers. We get to see Dexter interact with the maker of his code, and I love this. We get to see him fight with Debra who clearly blames him for everything. And we also don't get a simple solution for her depression until she directs Dexter's car into the river. After this it slowly but surely goes down the wrong path. While this could've been a pivotal moment, we instead get to see easy solutions clinging to the screen. After this incident Dexter and Debra fight some more, but halfway through the episode proceeding it, it's seems like they've put it aside. There are still some tension through the season, but even here it seems like she's gone back to protecting Dexter for everything it's worth.
Treading dull lines
Then the seasons starts covering elements that are not so interesting. We have The Brain Surgeon that suddenly disappears, and then coming back just as sudden. He is apparently Evelyn's son that she has yet to mention. We knew it was someone connected to her, but we were given no hints as to who it might have been. Had this been built up better, it might've been something cool to end the season with. It certainly doesn't help that the actor playing Oliver Saxon (Darri Ingolfson) was not a well suited option. He doesn't come off as threatening as he should be. And the dumb mistakes he makes at the end of the season doesn't help either. This is also where the stupidity of the last season becomes evident. All the characters do a lot of stupid stuff that doesn't make any sense. Dexter wheeling out his sister in the last episode comes to mind. This just reeks of bad planning and a rush work that doesn't suit the end of a series. It doesn't help either that Evelyn turns into something else than previously advertised. Sure she loves her son, but she was working with psychopaths and had knowledge about them. How could she be so blind to her own son? I guess it's just the mother instinct that drives her or just lazy and bad writing.
And let's talk about the last episodes shall we. It all goes sideways when Dexter suddenly finds out that he doesn't want to kill Oliver even though he has him strapped to the chair. Sure I understand that he suddenly have found his path. But the problem is that this path doesn't feel earned. No matter how much he has gone through in the series, the writers and producers never laid the necessary groundwork for this. This all of course leads to Debra getting shot, Oliver escaping and then later getting killed by Dexter because Debra has floated into a coma. The choice to make Debra being the one who gets killed was a bad idea. I think it would've have been even better if Dexter had been the one to be killed. This would ratchet everything up and would send Debra off the deep end. It might end the series with her becoming Dexter.
The last episode could've been something really cool had everything preceding it been fulfilled. But it seems like the writers had some puzzle pieces they wanted to put out there, but had no actual plan on how to do it. Instead the show ends up like a parody of itself. The death of Debra could've been something more tangible, had it not been so telegraphed. Also the flashback of her and Dexter was haphazardly put together. The wigs really didn't sell it. We understand the love and devotion this two has for each other, but how it happens is just, well I have no words for how bad the final episode is. Let's just leave it at that.
About Dexter himself, I feel I've lost the emotional connection a long time ago. The series never was itself after season two and onwards. I liked season three and four, but not the last one as much as everyone else. I felt it was really overrated. And this comes back to the problem of the series continuing for too long. I feel that the series would've been better had they gotten a more cohesive arc for Dexter and then really paid it off in the last season. Since they never went this road thoroughly, it just seems haphazardly put together. And not making them hunt Dexter or him owning up to his killings, not even someone else know, seems like a wasted opportunity. I also feel that not starting the season where the last one left of was a big waste. We lost a lot of emotional fallout, and maybe Debra's way back could be savioured?
The last season was promising in it's four first episodes and it promised a lot. I shouldn't really have been surprised when it ended up not fulfilling it. Even though season seven was the best season in a long good while, the two first was miles ahead in quality town. Dexter himself seems like a ghost and keep drudging through the scenery with no real focus. I thought the inclusion of Evelyn might spruce it up, but it ended up fizzling out of focus. Even Evelyn as The Big Bad might have saved it all, even though it was kinda telegraphed. Carpenter is the big star of the season, and even though Debra gets little to do except watch over Dexter, Harrison and Hannah, she still shines. The season feels like a wasted opportunity with bringing back the code and then squandering it with characters that won't live up to the promise. Not an awful season, but far from an excellent riveting one. Color me dissappointed.