This article contains spoilers for all of Dexter.
Sometimes it’s hard to casually enjoy a television show or movie when there is so much critical analysis and even baggage attached to it. We want to go into something with a clean slate, a fresh canvas to which we can paint our own opinions without the influence of others. There’s perhaps no greater example of this than the final season of the megahit Showtime series Dexter.
Running from 2006 to 2013, this Michael C. Hall vehicle went toe to toe with other prestige dramas of the era like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and more and still carved out a deservedly large audience. Dexter Morgan was an antihero unlike any of the others, a serial killer who was actually highly relatable as a father, a husband, and human being who desperately wanted to fit in with society much more than he had ever originally imagined. Using an internal monologue technique along with a running dialogue with his dead father, Dexter had a lot going on in his head that helped serve as a mirror for the audience to contemplate their own musings on life.
The show famously dipped in quality from the beginning of the fifth season onward, especially when it hit its eighth and final season, or at least this is the narrative everyone runs with. The series finale ends in an explosion of rushed events, famously killing off Dexter’s sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and faking Dexter’s death in the middle of a Miami hurricane only for him to appear in an unknown location as a lumberjack in the final scene. And while the writers of Dexter obviously didn’t have a cohesive and comprehensible ending for their show, it should be argued that the path to the climactic hour is very fascinating and character-development dependent. Audiences are so caught up in the negative hype that they didn’t appreciate several of the very humanistic elements that demonstrated the show’s greatness right up until the end.
Dr. Evelyn Vogel
Therapy is one of the most often-used tropes in television drama because it helps the audience to understand what the true intentions of a character are. Tony Soprano famously had Dr. Jennifer Melfi throughout the entirety of The Sopranos, and Dexter introduced its own version of this relationship in its final season to a very effective degree. Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling) re-enters Dexter’s life without the latter knowing that she was the one who helped to construct his entire moral code to begin with. Dexter’s father, Harry (James Remar), was friends with Dr. Vogel when Dexter was very young, and her backstory is revealed in small chunks throughout the eighth season of the show.
Dexter was always the type of program to introduce new characters for a single season, with many hits and misses along the way. Dr. Vogel turned into a true shining spot in the last dozen episodes of the series because she was able to reflect Dexter’s emotions and thoughts back onto the audience with revelatory clarity. She wasn’t just a tool for analytical purposes, though. Dr. Vogel served as a biased source of information, forcing the viewer to decipher what to take from her as absolute truth and what to filter.
Dr. Vogel doesn’t understand Dexter’s emotions directed towards his sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), or towards his responsibility as a boyfriend or father. She uses her previous experience with psychotic individuals to label Dexter’s feelings as superficial. Dr. Vogel doesn’t have the same relationship with Dexter that we do. Viewers have lived with the character for so many episodes that we fully understand how much Dexter has changed for the better. His double life has actually become his real life by the time of the eighth season, and Dr. Vogel challenges all that we’ve come to discover about Dexter. The way the eighth season asks audiences to weigh the opinions of this newly semi-unreliable source with what we already know to be true makes the show much more thought-provoking than most give it credit for by this point in its run.
Debra and Dexter Reunite
The sibling relationship between Dexter and Debra was always one of the best TV had to offer. Debra was blinded by Dexter’s aw-shucks demeanor most of the show, almost to a ridiculous standard. Debra not finding out Dexter’s murderous past and present until the sixth season finale was a poor decision, something that made the show drag in the middle. There is redemption for this decision in the final season, though.
After Debra commits her own murder to protect Dexter in the seventh season finale, she is shattered. She comes to understand that Dexter needs her more than the other way around, and this realization is incredibly telling. The rest of the season helps to put both characters on the path back to one another, establishing a common ground built on more trust and mutual love than was ever present in previous seasons of the show.
In the first six seasons, Debra has an irrational and naive adoration for Dexter. This changes when she discovers his murderous endeavors, and it also puts a wrench in her potential romantic feelings toward her step-brother. This was always a desperation heave at the buzzer by the writers of the show, an ill-advised idea that made it to screen because they didn’t know how to close the sibling dynamic effectively. The last season puts all of the cards on the table, allowing a more natural conclusion to their friendship. Without the last season of Dexter, the sibling relationship that is the bedrock of the program would have never been explored to its fullest potential.
Dexter’s Lack of Kills
Everyone has a favorite kill from Dexter. He famously covers a room in plastic wrap and dismembers his evil victims with profound efficiency. You’re just probably not going to list any of the kills from the eighth season as being on the forefront of your mind when thinking back on Dexter. This is because the character barely takes anyone out in these last episodes, preferring to spend time with Debra, his son, Harrison, or his girlfriend, Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski). This should not be viewed as the negative that so many fans portray it as. Unlike other antiheroes who continue to fall deeper into deplorable acts, Dexter has admirable aspirations in the last season. Seeing him pursue a life that comes as close to “normal” as he can is the right thing to do with his character.
Dexter was always so much more than just a violent psychopath. He’s a man who is wandering through life without a purpose, and the final season puts that purpose in the forefront of our minds. The show should be praised for these intentions, even if the final episode doesn’t execute them as efficiently or creatively as some hoped. We still get to the core of the character’s intentions, and we see his heart. That’s a lot more than we see from some of our other favorite TV characters.