By James Hibberd
Updated September 20, 2013 at 05:57 PM EDT
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On Sept. 22 you saw the final episode of Showtime’s Dexter. Producers are very confident they have a strong finish, a conclusion they’ve been crafting for years. The eighth season premiere, too, was quite strong. But then there were all those episodes in between. Fan reaction has been unkind. Funny or Die wrote that Dex should kill the writers. Recappers like AV Club have been brutal. One blogger last month wrote an open letter to Showtime pleading with the network to just skip to the finale. The show’s hardcore supporters on Reddit turned sour and even Dexter‘s former showrunner bashed it. What happened?

Here are the most common gripes:

1. The final season didn’t tell the story fans expected and wanted: Dexter Morgan is an unassuming police lab tech hiding in plain sight as a serial killer. Especially after last season’s finale, where Deb killed Capt. LaGuerta, fans have naturally assumed the final season would address that central tension and focus on Dex’s secret unraveling and the hunter becoming the hunted — which is the route the similarly conceived Breaking Bad took this summer. Instead, season 8 felt like a typical season with Dexter battling new external threats instead of a final season that felt like it was building toward an epic conclusion.

2. Those subplots. Masuka finds his biological daughter. Quinn tries to pass the sergeant’s exam. Jamie and Quinn’s romance is rocky. Fans wondered: Why? Why, in the final season, are we watching low-stakes side-stories? These characters should ideally be involved somehow in the central storyline, but they were shoved aside to appear in their own USA Network-style mini-dramedies.

3. Soft new characters: Dr. Evelyn Vogel was a strong addition to the show. But what is the point of Jake Elway besides barking at Deb and drinking electrolytes? Why was Deputy Marshall Clayton added to the show a few episodes before the finale to track down Hannah? Consider: This is a show full of cops and its the last season. If somebody is going to track Hannah and get stabbed to death by the Brain Surgeon. Why not give that story arc to Batista or Quinn or, heck, even Elway?

4. Miami Metro clown college. We accept that Dex is smarter than his colleagues and he gets away with a lot of homicidal shenanigans right under their noses. But season 8 took Miami Metro cluelessness to new level. First we learn that Dex successfully covered up LaGuerta’s murder last season because his bosses let him work her crime scene — even though she accused him of being a serial killer in front of the whole department shortly before she was killed. We’re told Batista has a box of evidence from LaGuerta in his living room which might incriminate Dex and Deb and we assume he’s going to look through it — he never did. Then Miami Metro lets Dex work another crime scene of somebody he’s close to — his cute neighbor’s murder, even though they dated and she lives right next door. Deb even CONFESSES to killing LaGuerta and Quinn refuses to believe her. When Dexter quips that the murder solve rate in Miami is only 20 percent, you know why — you literally can’t get arrested by Miami Metro!

5. Convoluted Big Bad. In last week’s penultimate episode, Oliver Saxon (aka The Brain Surgeon) became a rather effective icy villain. Yet for most of the season, Dexter kept trying to fake-out fans on The Brain Surgeon’s identity. By the time he was revealed as Dr. Vogel’s son, the storyline had become so tangled it was difficult to feel emotionally invested. Here’s one EW recap reader’s summary of the Brain Surgeon storyline that was posted in the comments last week:

Vogel: Dexter, I want you to kill the Brain Surgeon.

Dexter: I don’t want to.

Vogel: Please kill the Brain Surgeon.

Dexter: I will kill the Brain Surgeon.

Vogel: Kill all these serial killers.

Dexter: Okay. I found one named Zach Hamilton. He will die.

Vogel: Don’t kill Zach Hamilton.

Dexter: I NEED to kill Zach Hamilton.

Vogel: Don’t do it.

Dexter: I will not kill Zach Hamilton. I will teach him the code!

Vogel: Cool.

Dexter: He cannot be taught the code! I must kill him!

Vogel: Don’t.

Dexter: My mistake. He’s cool. I’ll teach him the code again.

Dexter: That guy you wanted me to kill wasn’t the Brain Surgeon. Instead, your SON is the Brain Surgeon! I will kill him!

Vogel: Don’t kill my son the Brain Surgeon. All he ever did was kill my other son and threaten my life.

Dexter: I NEED to kill him.

Vogel. I know, but don’t.

Dexter: Okay. (I’m really going to, though)

Vogel. What a relief.

Dexter. Look at this video of your son killing Zach Hamilton.

Vogel. The horror! Dexter, please kill my son the Brain Surgeon.

Dexter: Will do.

Brain Surgeon: You picked Dexter over me! I will kill you AND Dexter!

Dexter: Okay, now I REALLY need to kill Brain Surgeon!

Brain Surgeon: Sorry Dexter. Can we forget all this if I buy your condo?

Dexter: I don’t want to kill you, I want to bang my girlfriend.

Brain Surgeon. Okay, thanks for letting me go.

Dexter: Nope. I’m calling my sister right now to arrest you. Also, please don’t tell on me for my serial killing even though I told on you for all the brain surgery.

NEXT: Reasons 6-10: Bad romance, Argentina, plot holes and THAT scene

6. Bad romance. Deb has returned to Quinn and Dex has returned to Hannah. It’s hard to get excited about romance when it’s a rerun of partnerships that didn’t work out the first time. Dex’s master plan this season is to move to Argentina with Hannah and Harrison. That makes Dex just about the worst father ever, dragging his child to Argentina because he’s fallen for a woman with a long history of poisoning people, including the Morgans. Harrison tells us he loves Hannah, but what does he know? He’s four!

7. Plot contrivances. Dexter has always existed in a heightened reality that required you to accept a fair degree of implausibility. As long as the storytelling was strong, fans went along with that. This season, spotting plot holes became a spectator sport: Dex and Deb crash a police pool car into a lake and almost drown and there’s no questions or consequences. Hannah poisons Dex and Deb in a major cliffhanger scene — then next week we find she simply left Dex on the side of the road for no discernible reason. Dex “stalks” the Brain Surgeon by standing in front of a diner window staring at him for nearly an hour then marvels when he’s spotted. Dex finally captures the Brain Surgeon after hunting him all season, then decides to give him to Miami Metro even though he’s certain to reveal Dex is a serial killer. Most commented on by fans was that notorious fugitive Hannah kept strutting around Miami — including on the arms of a famous billionaire — without making any attempt to change her appearance, even after learning that U.S. Marshall was closing in.

How not to stalk:

8. The Breaking Bad comparison. It’s probably unfair to compare any TV drama to Breaking Bad, especially this season. But if you’re watching both shows, it’s tough to avoid: They’re dark cable dramas about a seemingly ordinary guy who’s secretly a murderous criminal mastermind and they’re airing their final seasons in the same time slot. Except Breaking Bad put the focus where fans wanted — on the other characters realizing Walt’s secret and his behavior throughout the whole series having huge and devastating consequences. Every scene clicks neatly and logically into the one before it, like Lego blocks, with each character on the show having a crucial role to play. Here’s a cartoon that’s been making the rounds poking fun of Dexter‘s penchant to over-explain itself:

As one recap reader joked: “And then half the episode follows Steve Gomez thinking about starting a restaurant.”

9. Dexter’s too happy. Dex hasn’t been deeply challenged. Who would have suspected we would have started the final episode with Dexter still working at Miami Metro, happily dating his ex-girlfriend, nobody suspecting him and all the show’s regular characters still alive? The big life concept he’s been debating this season with Dr, Vogel is whether he’s taking on too much by juggling his job, Hannah, and the Brain Surgeon. If that sounds familiar, it’s roughly the same idea he wrestled with in season 4, whether he could “have it all.” He already learned he can’t, or so we thought.

10. This:

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