Dexter: A Retrospective for The Future
Part 2: How it fell and ended… and now it’s coming back
Even nearly a decade later, I’m still not sure just how the writers of Dexter could have fallen so badly in the last three years of the series. If it were just the reversion of Dexter from family man to lone wolf, it would have been hard enough for the show to recover — any reference of Rita’s children who were vital in their own ways to the first four years was a major misstep. The fact that they spent the next three years dealing with killers which were generally far weaker than the ones in the first five years — usually surrounding them with horrible twists — was even worse. But what in my mind was the biggest blow was how the remainder of the cast of the series completely regressed as well.
I never understood why having spent two years building up the relationship of Angel and LaGuerta, they broke it off in one scene for no reason. Angel never recovered, and LaGuerta reverted to the cliché of full on bitch that had only been hinted at in the early years. Quinn spent the next three years up and down, becoming an alcoholic in Season 6, going into recovery, then completely forgetting it in Season 7, and finally just become an extra for the last year. The truly unforgivable sin, however, was what happened to Deb.
It was bad enough she spent most of Season 6 dealing with a promotion to lieutenant (misguided) and having incestuous feelings for her brother (creepy). But the straw that broke the series back was how she handled things when she finally learned her brother’s secret. Any aspect of her character that was enjoyable was completely submerged by the utter horror she felt holding on to this secret, which led to her act of killing LaGuerta, who had figured out her brother’s secret. The series could never justify it, and never tried. She spent the last season working as private eye, unable to carry a badge because of the guilt, and basically becoming an alcoholic herself. Even Jennifer Carpenter admitted she hated to have to play Debra those last few years.
And that was before the utterly horrible finale. In one of my biggest mistakes, I tried to justify that it was actually a fitting farewell for the series which in retrospect, it was universally loathed by critics and fans. It’s imdb rating is currently 4.6, which is only a little better than Game of Thrones controversial last episode. I would argue that Dexter’s was probably more disappointing, because even though the reviews of the series had been bad for awhile, there’s always hope that the last episode will redeem. If anything, the final episode amplified every problem. Debra, shot in the penultimate episode, but seeming on the verge of recovery, ended up in a vegetative state caused by the last and weakest of all the killers the show would produce. Dexter would kill him — in front of cameras- and endure no penalties. He would disconnect Deb from life support, and dump her in the water — untouched, unlike all his other victims. Then he would drive his boat into a hurricane. And then rather than try and have the presumed happy ending with fellow killer Hannah McKay in Brazil, he would abandon her and his young son for a life as a lumberjack. I don’t know if there was a way the writers could have ended the series by not satisfying any possible angle, but they seemed to miss every opportunity.
Or at least, that was the record showed — until Wednesday. When it was announced that Dexter would return for a ten-episode limited series.
Now as anyone whose read my column knows, I’m not a huge fan of the reboot/sequel. Usually it seems that the series that are brought back are inevitably series that seemed to wrap things up well. And to say there’s been a decidedly mixed response is the understatement of the Golden Age — for every Twin Peaks, there’s a Murphy Brown, for every Deadwood: The Movie, there’s a Prison Break.
Now the argument for a follow-up such as the one Dexter is getting is: the show was left open ended and it was popular. Left unsaid, of course, is the fact that this is the chance to fix a major mistake. The problem is — how?
Michael C. Hall will be back no doubt. The question is, what world would Dexter come back to? Most of the other characters that made the series work — Rita, LaGuerta and of course, Deb are deceased. Mind you, Dexter has the habit of seeing dead people (his father Harry showed up as part of his subconscious for much of the series) but that would be far too much like Hall’s other major series (which did end perfectly)
More to the point, what would bring Dexter out of seclusion? A new kind of serial killer? Some kind of threat to his son, who he abandoned? Maybe someone figures out who he really is. But all of those sound way too much like another police procedural which involved killers far less subtle than Dexter’s.
Finally, and this critical, how do we end it? Everybody was pissed because Dexter didn’t get the right ending, but I have yet to see a consensus with what the right ending would be. Everybody tuned in week after week to see Dexter get away with murder, and when it ended with him doing just that, people were really upset. Indeed, the fate that everybody seemed to want for Dexter was for him end up (if I may quote The Sopranos, a series whose famously ambiguous ending has not diminished its reputations) “Dead. Or in the can.” We say that would have been the perfect ending. But is it really worth just bringing Dexter back to trap him and kill him?
It is possible that I’m underestimating how Showtime can handle this. They did, after all, successfully revive Twin Peaks and their new edition of The L Word has been earning raves from fans and critics alike. And Showtime has been able to surprise more often than nearly any other cable network.
I’ll admit it I’m curious, and I’ll probably be one of the ones watching. But I have the suspicion that this revival of Dexter will end like the original series: a bloody mess.