Once upon a time, I really enjoyed Dexter. I thought it was a bold show. It took normal TV tropes and turn them on their heads. I mean, a serial killer of serial klllers! (Serial serial killer killer?) Eventually successfully created its own series of tropes that became just as tired, but it broke some new and exciting ground on the way.
Then it ended. The way it ended was really unfortunate. No, scratch that, a disaster. No, scratch that. DEXTER SHIT THE BED with that last episode, and even moreso considering that it simultaneously didn't rescue itself from the downward spiral of this mess that was season 8 and in a weird way reputed the overall plot arc of the season in a way that made it nearly irrelevant. I haven't seen TV writing this bad since Heroes. SO SPOILERS ABOUND BELOW.
First, I actually enjoyed many seasons of Dexter that sane people hated. Dexter delivered three stellar seasons (1, 2, 4), two mediocre seasons (3, 7), one season apparently only I thought was tolerable (5), and two truly horrific ones (6, and 8). It also proved beyond a reasonable doubt that attempting to cast Colin Hanks as a threatening and villainous serial killer for anything other than comic effect is not the most egregious sin a show can make. Let's break it down.
We've Been Here Before
Season 8 decided (apparently) that one of its central question would be about whether a serial killer can have a real life. We already did that in THE BEST season of Dexter (ahem, John fucking Lithgow), and answered emphatically "no." Maybe they would do it this time but come to a different answer for different reasons?
We know the answer to that now. Just like Season 4 was all about proving that Dexter was toxic to everyone around him and got Rita killed, the same thing happens again! Yes, there are subtle differences. The plot is nonsensical, the villain toothless, and the character motivations a tornado of idiocy. So there's that. Either way, after literally building an entire season suggesting that Dexter might actually live a normal life and conquer his addiction, the show 180s and the rug is pulled out from under him in the most abrupt and jarring way possible. What does he decide to do? Walk away and give up on everything. Like we all should have with this show long ago.
Dr. Vogel offered a compelling new point of departure this season. A surrogate mother and hidden element of Dexter's backstory that puts him in a new light. She helped Harry construct the code and believes psychopaths like Dexter are the next stage in human evolution or some such. She helps Dexter see himself in a new light. She convinces Dexter to help teach others the code, even convincing Deb to go along with her plans. This all seems like it might be going somewhere interesting, with this woman building an entire micro-society of killers with her as some sort of surrogate mother. This could go all sorts of fun places, especially if Vogel began bending Dexter and his new protege to sinister purposes. Would Vogel be the villain? Would Dexter in the end realize he'd been manipulated and have to off her, confronting the fact that the root of his entire code was evil? It has all the makings of a fascinating exploration of Dexter's psyche and roots.
Of course we can't have that, though. This is Dexter! Instead the Brain Surgeon who's been stalking Vogel turns out to be her son. As soon as this becomes obvious, Vogel's character flips. You see, she has a blind spot for her son. A once compelling and coldly rational character turns into pure sentimentality out of the blue, changes her entire personality, and is killed by one of the blandest antagonists Dexter has ever faced. At least Colin Hanks spouted religious nonsense and hallucinated Admiral Adama. He had that going for him. This guy just had mommy issues.
Oh, Deb. This is the part that makes me saddest. Not because I'm sad about the fact that she would die. That was telegraphed a million miles away. Getting her life together? Getting back together with Quinn? This is Deb we're talking about. She's not allowed to have nice things.
Deb's death is nonsensical, a ploy to get an emotional response from the audience and a chance to provoke some last-minute change of heart from Dexter himself that itself is senseless. She risks everything to give Dexter an opportunity to have the getaway and the family he wants in Argentina. But what does Dexter do after this sacrifice? He walks away. Again, like we all should have ages ago with this show.
Deb sets her own destruction in motion when she unwittingly summons that U.S. Marshal to pursue Hannah, the same Marshal who lets Blandy McBlanderson the Brain Surgeon out of his restraints. I don't get what the writers were trying to stay there. Don't do what Dexter wants and you get killed? Get close to Dexter and you get killed? Everyone dies? Nevermind, The only thing they end up saying is that they don't know what to do with Deb as a character.
Deb was the best character on the show. Many times, a better character than Dexter himself. Her weird and dramatically inert death isn't climactic or emotionally affecting the way it should be. It's inept.
Enough 180s and You End Up Back Where You Were
So in the end, all of the efforts Dexter took over the entirety of Season 8, to get away, to leave his Dark Passenger behind, he suddenly abandons in one moment. Dexter rides off into the hurricane. Oh, except when he resurfaces as a lumberjack. I don't even want to ask what the fuck that was about, because in the end I don't even want to know.
Congratulations, Dexter. Just like Dexter himself pretended to be a normal person for so long while murdering people for so long, you pretended to be a real television show. One that murdered hours and hours of our lives we'll never have back.