Dexter series finale recap: Our take on that shocking, strange ending
The rumored leaks were wrong about the ending. That's the good news.
The series finale was the best Dexter episode in years. That's the great news.
It was also one of the strangest episodes in the show's history.
Sunday's hour was grounded, sober, heart-felt, intense and focused. There were no irrelevant subplots. There was hardly any Dex voiceover. No silly Ghost Harry. The musical score was prominent and engaging. The production values were high. You can't help wondering: Why wasn't the rest of the season — hell, the last several seasons of Dexter — more like this episode? I'm not talking about the dramatic twists, but the style and the tone of the writing, directing and acting. "Remember the Monsters?" is a odd beast. It's like watching a different series, one that was more compelling than the show it served to close.
At the end of this recap, I'll give you my take on what the finale got right and wrong. But first, we gotta start at the airport:
Dexter (Michael C. Hall) wants to fly to Argentina with Harrison (Jack Alcott), but Elway is stalking them and Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) is hiding in the bathroom. Dex leaves a backpack in the lounge and tells an airport staffer that Elway dropped this suspicious package. Airport security swarm Elway as Dex quips that he put him on "the no-fly list." But it also means the whole terminal gets evacuated, delaying their flight plans. (At this point, the episode was tracking so close to the faux finale spoiler description that "leaked" on Reddit a few weeks back that I was getting a sinking feeling — that version ended with Quinn (Desmond Harrington) taking on Dexter's cause and becoming a serial killer.)
Meanwhile, gut-shot Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) is being loaded into an ambulance after her run-in with the brain surgeon. "I thought I was gonna die," she tells Quinn, a bit presumptively optimistic. "I thought I was getting what I deserve." Quinn assures "the good you do in the world sort of cancels out the bad." We like Quinn here. Before going into surgery it sounds like Deb says she loves him.
Dep. Chief Matthews phones Dex to let him know what happened. So change of plans: Dex and Hannah leave the airport and get to his SUV, which has a rather amazingly great parking space right outside the terminal. He tells Hannah to go to a hotel. "Don't worry, we'll make this work," Dex assures. We don't know what's coming, but we know that's not true.
We get a quick shot of ice being unloaded (ice truck killer reference?) as Hurricane Laura (as in Dex's mom, Laura Moser?) closes in on the city.
Deb wakes in her hospital bed to find Dexter. She asked how come they never went hiking when they were kids. "Why are you looking at me like that?" she says blearily. "Or is that just your face?" Jennifer Carpenter is always at her best when Deb is messed up — drunk, on coke, outraged, etc. Here we see one last new type of Deb inebriation — post-surgical anesthetic Deb.
"I screwed up your life," Dex says mournfully, while Deb insists, "I don't want you to feel guilty about anything." She tells him to scoot to Argentina. "The next word I want to hear you say is 'goodbye,'" she says.
This is Dex and Deb's last conversation ever. We don't know that at this time. They don't know it either.
We then get a flashback to Dex and Deb at the same hospital right after Harrison was born. The most striking thing about this scene is we see super happy peppy Deb, a reminder of how she was before Dex's darkness engulfed her life.
Because the thing is, Dex is right. He did screw up her life, utterly and completely. The past few seasons it's felt like the writers still think Dexter is a sympathetic hero whose needs are more important than any other character's despite the innocent people who have died along the way to support his addiction. So when Deb tries to make Dex feel better, I felt like the show agreed with what she's saying — that Dex is fundamentally a great guy and shouldn't feel bad about what's happened to her life and deserves to run off to Argentina. But if he truly loved his sister he would have tossed aside his knife and said "I give up" in that shipping container when Deb caught him with LaGuerta last season. What comes next in this episode, however, suggests that maybe, finally, the Dexter team gets it.
In the hallway, Dex bumps into Elway, who is all crabby about not finding Hannah and accuses Dex of helping her. "Storm's coming buddy," he growls. "And it's gonna be real hard to find a way out. Don't go down with her, Dexter." Oh, go drink some homemade electrolytes.
Dex is worried about Deb's safety with the brain surgeon still loose. He tells Hannah to take Harrison and get on a bus and make their way toward Argentina. "He'll be safer with you," Dex says. On couches everywhere, viewers go, "Uh, I'm not so sure about that." Wouldn't Harrison would be safer with Jamie or Batista or pretty much anybody else except a wanted fugitive traveling by bus across Florida while there's a hurricane en route?
Dex reassures his son he'll join them soon: "It's just for a little while," sounding like one of those dads putting their kids onto a Titanic lifeboat. "We're all going to a really cool place and you're going to get there first."
Meanwhile, brain surgeon Oliver Saxon threatens a veterinarian into stitching him up. The scene is pretty tense. "Do what I say and you won't get hurt," Saxon says, which is always a scary sentence. Saxon has the vet drive him to the hospital where Deb is being kept. The vet staggers into the hospital and gushes up blood — Saxon has cut out his tongue. In a rare perfect use of voiceover on the show that actually makes a scene better, Dex sees the commotion and quickly thinks: "All eyes on the victim. The perfect distraction. Saxon."
Dex rushes to Deb's room. He sees Saxon outside it. There's a great beat where they stop and stare at each other. You think they're just going to charge each other like rams on a hillside. Then Batista smoothly puts his gun to Saxon's head — he's caught!
Yay! We're relieved. Deb is safe. But… Dex finds his sister missing from her room. Where did she go? Our first thought is Batista had her moved to another room in case Saxon showed up, like Michael Corleone hiding Vito. But no. Instead we're in for what might be the most unexpected twist in Dexter history.
We learn Deb had a blood clot. Massive stroke. She's now basically brain dead and on life support. She is, for all intents and purposes GONE. And it happened off-screen. This is a very bold choice and the more I thought about it the more I liked it. It's completely unpredictable and the way this plays out is very non-traditional — you find out about her fate like the way a relative of somebody who's in the hospital might find out, not like a person who's watching a TV show where the camera always stays with its main characters when they're in jeopardy.
Dex is stunned. Quinn is crying. We're told it would take a miracle for her to improve. "I've never seen a miracle," Dex says.
We get another flashback, to Deb asking Dex if he remembers the monsters — scary shadows on her bedroom wall when she was a kid and how Dex explained them away "in your dorky little voice." It's an effectively poignant flashback.
Hannah and Harrison are sitting on a bus waiting to leave Miami. Harrison is bugging Hannah, wanting to know about Argentina. Look Harrison, it's a place your dad thinks you'll be safe because the country doesn't have a lot of treadmills, okay? "I like penguins," Harrison contributes.
But danger — Elway on board! He sits next to Hannah. He explains, as the bus begins to leave the curb, that their next stop is Daytona and when they arrive they're going to get off the bus together and he's going to bring her to justice and–
Wait, what? Why isn't Elway taking them off the bus right there in Miami? Why go with them to another city? It's not like they're on a plane that just left the runway, they're on a bus! Oh Dexter, I'm gonna miss your plot holes!
So we think: Hannah is gonna kill this guy. She gets out a thermos of tea and offers Elway some. "How stupid do you think I am?" he asks. Then she stabs his thigh with some sort of injectable that sends him to dreamland. Aww, she's learning not to murder too, just like Dexter. How sweet!
Now we come to my favorite sequence of the finale, my favorite sequence of the season, my favorite sequence of the past several seasons of Dexter:
We see Dexter, who is just cold dead deep anger at this point. He's never wanted to kill anybody so bad and now he apparently can't. In the interrogation room, Saxon asks "Who's Deb?" and Quinn loses it. Yes! Real raw emotion on Dexter! Saxon wants his attorney. I don't believe Batista and Quinn wouldn't beat the living crap out of Saxon just on principal, but they restrain themselves.
After they leave, Dex goes to visit Saxon with a lab kit. He calmly takes a seat across from Saxon as he goes through the motions of a lab test. Notice what you're feeling right now? It's suspense, big time. One major reason for that is not what's in this scene, but what's missing — no voiceover. Without voiceover, without Ghost Harry, we don't know what Dexter is going to do.
"I wish I could blame you for everything," Dex says mildly. "But I know it's all my fault." He tells Saxon he's forced him to look at himself, and the "trail of blood and body parts" he's left in his wake. "You took away this foolish dream that I could have a happy life."
Then Dex says: "I'm here to kill you with that pen."
Saxon grabs the pen and stabs Dexter in the shoulder. Thank you! In a flash Dex grabs the pen back and plunges it into Saxon's throat, brutally killing him.
Dexter hits an alarm button with a calm flick of his finger. As guards rush in his faces breaks into a play-act of anguish. This scene is Hall at his best as Dexter.
Later, a confused Batista and a notably less confused Quinn watch the video of Saxon's murder.
"You don't even work here anymore," Batista says. "How are we going to explain this?"
"I wanted to make sure everything was handled perfectly," Dex says. "I wanted to look him in the eye."
On the video playback, we see again that awesome alarm-button finger flick — a little movement that says so much about Dexter's icy calm mental state right after murdering Saxon.
"Obviously self-defense," Quinn says helpfully.
Dex goes back to his apartment and thinks a very key line that pretty much sums up his entire journey after eight seasons: That all this time Dex has wanted to feel real emotions. "Now that I do, I just want it to stop."
And now… and now… things get a little weird.
Dex drives his SUV (hey, wasn't Astor supposed to get that?) back to his apartment (wasn't he selling that?) and goes for a drive on the Slice of Life (wasn't he selling that, too?). At this point, if not sooner, you're probably noticing the music this hour. It's been much more prominent and evocative than usual.
We see at the hospital all the patients are being moved due to the hurricane. Dex goes to Deb's room where she's laying brain dead. We wonder why he's wearing his stalker-kill outfit. Or maybe we don't. "I'd change everything if I could. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I can't leave you like this. I'm your big brother."
Then he unhooks everything. Dex tells Deb he loves her.
Deb is gone. Okay. Then he's wheeling her body right out of the hospital. At this point you're going: Huh. Then he's just picking her up and carrying her right past everybody outside. Now you're going: What the hell is he doing? And then he gets into his boat which is parked right in front of the hospital. And now you're thinking: My god, this guy gets amazing parking spaces everywhere!
Now Dex driving the Slice of Life into stormy hurricane seas. Once again, I'm thanking the producers for the lack of voiceover. I'm half-expecting Ghost Harry to pop onto the boat and go: "Hey, Dexter? I'm a mental projection from your own mind and even I don't know what the f–k you're doing." And then Ghost Harry would vanish in a puff of exposition.
Dex stops the boat and gives Deb a burial at sea. He has a phone chat with Hannah and Harrison. Hannah is super happy. Dex tells his son, "Daddy loves you."
In voiceover, Dex explains he destroys everyone he loves and can't let that happen to Hannah and Harrison.
So he drives his boat toward the hurricane. We think he's going to go full Perfect Storm up a wave. Then it cuts….
Post-hurricane: Slice of Life wreckage. Batista getting the news of Dexter missing. Hannah reads the news at a street cafe, presumably in Argentina. I half expect to see Alfred and Bruce Wayne nodding at each other at nearby tables. Hannah makes a comment about going to get ice cream and she takes Harrison down the street.
We get a crane shot that suggests a fade to black is coming… then we get an actual fade to black… then we get a beat…
And everywhere Dexter fans start to compose hate tweets about this ambiguous ending where we didn't know if Dex was alive or dead when suddenly–
The show comes back. Whew! There's more. We're in Oregon at a logging operation. We see a bearded Dexter Morgan. He finishes his shift. He doesn't talk to anybody. He goes home. He sits in a barren room. He looks into the camera, nearly as vacant as Deb before he pulled the plug.
And we are done. Overall it looks like there's a lot of online outrage about the finale. Is it better than the somewhat similar finale for The Shield? Absolutely not. I'm not making an argument for canonical greatness (I've been blunt about the show's flaws this season). But given the episodes we've seen, especially in recent weeks, I was surprised that this finale was this polished and effective. Here's what I thought worked and did not work:
1. Dexter's fate. Admit it: When trying to guess Dex's fate before the finale, you never once thought "lumberjack." This was the most important element and I think the outcome is solid. You want to avoid Dexter being killed by somebody or ending up in jail — those are the all-too-obvious choices. Here Dex has chosen exile. He's a shell of his former self, avoiding all human contact. As the producers point out in our interview, he doesn't even have his voiceover now. Basically, his ending is unexpected and fair (and, let's face it, leaves the door open for Dexter to return in another series).
2. Debra's fate. Not a home run, but interesting. On an emotional level, there's something a bit disappointing about not having Deb expire in a more active guns-blazing way. She basically died without knowing she died. In the show's kill room scenes, Dex often extracts some valuable growth lesson from the person he's dispatching like he's some sort of self-help vampire. Those victims are murderers, so we don't mind him leeching off their deaths as a growth opportunity. But here, that's also what's happened with Deb. The point of her death seems to mainly serve as one final lesson for Dexter. It would have been nice if Deb's death also somehow accomplished something for her character's arc and struggle which have been so compelling over the last couple of seasons. Instead, Deb was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and got shot by a psycho that Dex decided not to kill — whoops. I suspect some viewers who have strong anti-euthanasia beliefs will be upset Dex did the full Terri Schiavo, but that didn't bother me — Deb wouldn't have wanted to "live" like that. (By the way, not that it matters, but doesn't she have a couple hundred thousand worth of stolen jewelry back at her apartment? Yeah, that's right, bet Dexter writers thought we forgot about that).
3. Saxon's fate. We didn't care all that much about the brain surgeon this season, but as I already detailed above, Dexter and Saxon gave us an excellent final face-off in that interrogation room.
4. Production values: The acting, writing, direction, music… all great.
FINALLY: What DIDN'T work
1. Harrison's fate. The show tried mightily to convince us Hannah is a great surrogate mom. In this episode once again we have Harrison gushing about his affection for Hannah. But Hannah was a dangerous serial killer last season who we didn't remotely trust. This year she comes back, drugs Deb and Dex, and murderers her husband. Then Dex and Hannah seem to rather abruptly declare their love for each other an episode or two later and suddenly they're making plans to flee the country. There just hasn't been enough groundwork laid in the series for us to feel hugely comfortable with the idea of Hannah taking care of Dex's young child. If this is the direction the show wanted to go, Hannah should have returned earlier in the season and not made her entrance by drugging the Morgans. And, perhaps she could have had a couple of compelling scenes with Harrison where you felt like she added value to his life, preferable with Dex observing this (instead of the instantly notorious treadmill scene).
2. Miami Metro's fate. The gang back at the station never learned Dexter's secret. We got a fun substitute scene in that interrogation room with Dex, Quinn, and Batista, where the show flirted with Miami Metro getting a clue. But when a series launches about a guy who's a serial killer working at a police department, the central tension is "When will his coworkers find out and how will they react?" We got that to a degree in seasons 2 and 7 with Doakes and LaGuerta. But I really wanted Batista to have a juicy arc this season and see how he would react to such a huge betrayal. And can you imagine how Masuka would feel after working side-by-side with Dex and admiring him all those years? Moreover, twice the show has set up a huge ethical conflict where Dex is forced to choose between himself and a colleague, then maneuvered to have another character get Miami Metro blood on their hands instead of Dex. The writers let Dex off the ethical hook about what to do with Doakes when Lila killed him. Then they let Dex off the hook again with LaGuerta when Deb shot her. Would Dex have killed likable big-hearted Batista or wimpy-funny Masuka to save his own skin? We'll never know.
I highly recommend you check out my finale interview with showrunner Scott Buck and longtime executive producer Sara Colleton. We talk about this episode, what Dex's fate means, and they have some compelling explanations behind some of the controversial creative choices from this season. If you want to focus on the negative, here is my list of the 10 biggest fan gripes. We also have eight never-before-seen behind-the-scenes photos. Tomorrow I'll have my updated list ranking the Dexter seasons from best to worst. Thanks for reading.
Michael C. Hall plays a serial killer who only murders evildoers in this gruesome drama