How Did We End Up Here?
Well, I thought that was a pretty great season finale. The flashbacks alone (those were real flashbacks, right, to real episodes?) were worth the watching – I had forgotten just how awkward and dorky Dexter used to be in relation to all his colleagues (not to mention how dorky and exuberant Deb used to be – love the bangs!). In something like Dorian Gray or Breaking Bad, the juxtaposition of awkward Dex and eager Deb with their season 7 counterparts (smooth Dex and pill-popping Deb) revealed just how devastating Dexter’s ways have been on his sister. As Dexter has learned to live his fake life as the real one, it seems to me that it’s Deb who has paid the price most brutally. Like the mirror in the attic, Deb’s now panicked, shaking movements reveal the emotional toll of Dexter’s evil. I would never have thought that a comparison between Dexter and Breaking Bad would have Dexter come out on top…but I couldn’t help but think about Skyler’s deadened attempts to put a stop to the meth dealing Empire in which she is utterly implicated in relation to Deb’s eventual decision to stand by Dexter while giving up her own soul to do so. I’ve always said Jennifer Carpenter is pretty much the best thing about this show in my view – but the simultaneity with which she shot Maria and lept onto her body in dissolved sobs moved me to tears. Her anguish and seeming knowing realization that she was making an utterly self-corrupting, self-destroying choice to save her brother was pulled off stunningly, I thought. So as Dexter and Deb both move out of their own personal codes, their own adherence to their particular understanding of The Law together, I have to wonder next season: which one of them is going to unravel faster and how?
Nearly every, if not every, season has had a little epilogue on it – Dex going to back to kill Lila, or the revelation of Rita’s death after Dex has killed Trinity, for example. The absence of that epilogue from this finale felt stark to me, and I thought it worked. Of course, Hannah’s delivery of the black orchid to Dexter’s porch hung in the background memory like an epilogue. But in the final cut, it was Dex and Deb together as the full and complete end to the story. I couldn’t help but wonder why tomboy Deb was wearing a sparkly dress for all this action too (and shouldn’t that dress have been covered in Maria’s blood? But I’ll let that go). The dramatic costume shift emphasized her sexuality and seemed, to me, to indicate that now that Dexter’s rules around his own taboos are all broken, perhaps Deb’s will be too. A few other clues hinted this way, I thought – that Deb moved over Hannah’s plant to sit down on Dexter’s desk, essentially displacing ‘the other woman,’ and that Dex and Deb had their significant conversation in the car, which has this season been an erotically charged location for them (as we’ve noted in other posts). Mix into this that Dexter is on the rebound and desperate to be understood, and perhaps now Deb has some inkling of understanding…I feel some very awkward scenes coming up next season!
Some stray thoughts in closing: I’m sorry to see Maria go, and have to wonder too if her death will pull Angel back into the force. I thought Lauren Velez acted her heart out in her last episode, and wished, just wished, that Deb had admitted everything while Maria gave her the option. I also wonder if Jaime is the one who is going to find that plant on the porch and suffer its trap – especially now she’s snuggling up to Quinn…I can’t imagine that poor guy will ever get lucky in love. We’re also left with the possibility of Hannah’s return, and I’d be up for that! I loved her candid admitting that she always thought it would be Dexter who would end up dead or in jail and even her goading of Deb’s hypocrisy – I can’t help but wonder if she was setting the thematic scene for the next season, and perhaps even her role in it. I also noted that they used a pretty classic Death of Marat style pose with Hannah on the hospital bed about to revive…which I’m pretty sure they used (in a more contextually appropriate way) when Rita died in the bathtub – so that was some nice symmetry.
I’ll leave the larger questions of choice, as well as Dexter’s willingness to have Deb kill him to protect her to you two…watching that messed up sibling love play out was pretty devastating, I thought – each one willing to fall on their sword for the other with dramatically self-giving, self-destructive conclusions to either landing.
Would you prefer my normal method of conflict resolution?
Natalie, I think I agree with you about the episode overall. Despite me being the resident party-pooper for these discussions on Dexter, I did find myself entertained throughout the entire episode. There were many times where we, the audience, were asked to suspend our disbelief pretty far (like Deb’s clothes being completely free of blood like you mentioned, Natalie), but I can overlook them a little better because the episode was pretty engaging. The flashbacks were really well done. I enjoyed a fresh storytelling idea from the show. I’m not sure that they were “real flashbacks.” I looked briefly for them, and could not find them. (Side note: did you ever realize that the homicide department looks nothing like it did in the first episode? It looks more like really large high school science classroom in the pilot.) I think these were embellished to really fit the story. Regardless, they were awesome. Even though Doakes was pretty one-dimensional (yet tons better than Quinn), I miss him and how ridiculous he was. This is still one of my favorite Dexter moments of all time.
As for the future of Dexter and Deb, I think you are right about lots of awkward conversations. They seem to be setting up for the incestuous relationship angle again, and it seems like they might be in control of the story a little more than they were last season. I noticed Deb pushing Hannah’s plant out of the way as well, and I think you might be right on with that. They made a point of having the plant around a lot this episode, so I am curious to see how it plays out with the new plant that Hannah dropped off.
So, what does the future of Dex and Deb look like now? How will Deb be able to handle being in Homicide, knowing that she killed the captain of the department? Will she develop some sort of Stockholm Syndrome with Dex? Will she just decide that surviving is the only thing that is important? At this point, where will she stop to keep Dexter from getting caught?
I liked the moment of Dexter realizing that all his years of killing haven’t been as special as he thought they were. In reality he is just a “creep motherfucker.” This obviously points back to Harry and the code; why did Harry think that Dexter could be special? How is Dexter different than Estrada now? He is just killing not to get caught. And, how is Deb different than Estrada? Obviously, Deb has spent her life upholding the law and for the most part “doing the right thing,” but when backed into the corner she is willing to claw her way out, even if she hates it immediately afterwards.
Natalie, you noted the significance of not having an epilogue. I noticed that as well, and I also thought the use of “Auld Lang Syne” was nice (even if it was a little cliche). By Dexter standards, it was a masterful use of subtlety, “Should old acquaintance be forgot?” As Dexter pointed out to Estrada, it’s supposed to be a rhetorical question, but how can Deb forget her relationship with her brother and turn him in? How could LaGuerta forget Doakes? How can/will Hannah forget Dexter and how he betrayed her? How could Dexter possibly forget his past as a killer and become an upstanding citizen?
I know I mostly just asked a lot of questions, but I think that is the point of an episode like that. Kathryn, do you have any answers?
Are we really that fucked?
I mostly just want to pick up on points each of you made and how together they sort of tied the season up for me. Natalie, I agree completely that part of what worked so well with the finale were those flashbacks and the way they let us see how much our characters have changed and how much for the worse. Unlike Dorrien Grey, though, the effects of this moral degradation are showing in real lives, not just in some mystical proxy hidden from view. Hannah may not know Deb well, but her comments about her slippery morality went straight for the jugular and Maria’s own dissection of Deb in her mini-interrogation hit on the ways that Deb’s moral cover is starting to slip (I loved that scene for exactly these reasons. Deb is usually so in control and so quick to take the defensive “fuck-you” stance. But for a moment she is vulnerable and you can feel the panic attack bubbling in the pit of her stomach, her breathing shortening, her shoulders clench as she struggles to figure out how to handle this most bold-faced lie). I also loved that in a rare moment of self-restraint Dexter did not give us any voice over explanations of how much he and Deb have changed; we were allowed to see and feel it for ourselves.
I also agree that this is a glimpse of the moral price Dex’s “normalacy” exacts. Every season has explored different facets of “real life” and how and if Dex can integrate into it. But this season, aside from a few “could I really be in love?” speeches (which felt out of place since, as we all noted, yes of course Dex can love; he’s been doing it for years now), we watched Dexter trying to integrate the real life he has built for himself into her self-understanding. He is not worrying about faking it anymore; he is defending the very real life his so-called faking has helped him build. But that has meant letting go of The Code, or at least loosening its grip. And it has meant saying goodbye to his past. I found it fascinating that Dex’s kill of Estrada, which in another season might have been the main plot, built up for episodes, happened so quickly, and ultimately as part of his plan to frame Maria. What should have been a moment of intense catharsis – the final vengeance for the trauma that started him down this path – was actually the turning point to a new path.
Which is to say, Bryan, that you are also so right: where are these characters left, but in the web of relationships that have defined them? These ties that bind – through trauma, love, deceit – cannot be undone so quickly, even if trying to honor those relationships radically changes, perhaps destroys, our characters in the meantime. Maybe this is the way that Harry’s Code has screwed Dex up most profoundly. Harry created a self-fulfilling prophecy: Dex cannot love and will only ruin other lives if he tries to love. It turns out that Dex is very capable of love, but given the kind of person he has become and the death, deceit and manipulation it takes to maintain the life Harry convinced him was his only choice, his love does, in fact, destroy all those it touches.
I really hope next season is the last. Not because I haven’t sort of come around to Dexter again – this season was uneven but ultimately I was satisfied – but because a definite ending point might help the show figure out what it finally wants to say about this strange character and his crumbling moral code.
Thanks for blogging this season, both of you! It was a lot of fun and I look forward to catching the new beginning/beginning of the end next year!