Tuesday, 20 December 2011

DEXTER, 6.12 – "This Is How the World Ends"

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

... not with a bang, but with a whimper?

Well, not quite. Given season 6's poor quality, I was surprised the finale was as entertaining as this, blessed with a long-overdue final surprise (in the loosest sense of the word). I far preferred "This Is How The World Ends" to  season 5's boring finale, although it was still so broad and silly Dexter is becoming unrecognisable from its earlier years. This year's religious theme was a mixed blessing, because it allowed the writers to go overboard with a grand guignol sensibility, and it didn't always work as well as expected. Of course, for many, the bigger problem was a nine-hour wait for a "twist" many had predicted in episode 2, but that's unfortunately what can happen with cable dramas written before transmission that can't react and adjust to their audience.

The one benefit of having a serial-killer like Travis (Colin Hanks) this year, with a very specific and escalating plan, is that the finale could act like a big crescendo. Most finales have been rushed cleanups with Dexter (Michael C. Hall) trying to keep his identity a secret, but this finale wasn't really about that. It was simply about trying to stop Travis achieve his final tableau, given the atmospheric backdrop of a solar eclipse over Miami, and the added horror of Travis kidnapping Dex's son Harrison to use as a sacrificial "lamb" atop a skyscraper. As usual, Dexter was in the tough position of trying to stop the villain without being detected by his co-workers, but that's a dance the writers have become quite accomplished at.

It's hard to write about this episode without wanting to discuss the final scene, which saw Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) unexpectedly wander into Dexter's church kill-room and witness him plunging a knife into Travis, whom she thought had escaped unharmed after completing his last tableau. The tantalising prospect of Deb discovering what Dexter is has been at the core of the show from the start, and it's about time the show went down this path. Knowing there's just two seasons left means the writers will hopefully find an interesting way to explore the idea that Debra knows her brother's a vigilante serial-killer, trained by her beloved father to target criminals. It may even provoke a change of format, because the show has certainly gone stale after season 4.

I've already heard it theorised that Dex could talk his way out of this situation, by claiming Travis is the first person he's ever killed and giving her an understandable reason (like his kidnapping of Harrison), but that doesn't wash with me. You don't build an elaborate "kill room" and carry around a bag of knives on a whim, do you. The scene Deb walked into was clearly the kind of weird ritual she's used to seeing serial-killers perform, so season 7's premiere will almost certainly have to involve Dexter trying to make his sister understand exactly who he is.

The reveal of Dexter's secret appears to have happened as a means to end the uncomfortable development that Deb fancies her own brother, as she admits to her shrink in this episode after hearing Dex say that he loves her (but not in a sexual way). While having Deb realise she actually loves her brother has been one of season 6's few surprises to me, it still strikes me as being a very dangerous arena. I'm hoping Deb will now reassess her feelings and take a step back, because she clearly doesn't know her brother very well. But I'm not so against the idea that Deb has buried a sexual attraction to Dexter, because it can and does happen with adopted children. I think any negative reaction it gets from audiences is mainly because the show did a terrible job foreshadowing that, as it just came out of the blue a few weeks ago. If we'd always felt that Debra secretly fancied her brother, and perhaps was jealous of his wife Rita, this whole development would be easier to swallow.

As the culmination of a whole season, there were many flaws here. I'm still unclear about who Travis was as a character, because for most of the season he was a conflicted man with mental health issues deep enough to have him imagining the ghost of a teacher he'd murdered, but in recent episodes all of that fell away and he became a bog-standard religious crackpot. Did he have any regret over killing his sweet innocent sister, for instance? I was more prepared for a finale where Dexter brings Travis some peace, by reasoning with his better nature we saw glimpses of all season, but the writers just appeared to wash their hands of all that.

The show's attempts to make Travis into a mirror version of Dexter also didn't work half the time: Travis is religious, Dexter is atheist; both have sister they lover, but Travis wasn't strong enough to prevent her coming to harm because of his "Dark Passenger"; Travis could likewise hallucinate a mentor figure; and this episode even had Travis reverse Dexter's catchphrase by saying "today's the day". It's a shame, because a lot of the ideas surrounding Travis weren't too bad and were worth exploring, but they got lost in the mix. And as we've discussed before, the Gellar-twist should have been revealed about five episodes earlier.

Dexter's own exploration of religion made for some wink-wink references and moments of symbolism, but ultimately he didn't learn anything that was very enlightening. Sometimes bad people use religion as an excuse for their insane crimes, and Dexter's love of his son is all that really matters in the cold light of day? As usual, the show danced around a few ideas when it fuelled the theme of an occasional episode, but there wasn't really much enlightenment going on here. The show just rationalised its own lead character's actions again, because Dexter now thinks he's a darkness that brings balance to the world. I can just about live with that, because I don't expect much more than platitudes from this show.

Overall, season 6 wasn't that good, mainly because it took some interesting ideas and wasted them in various ways. Maybe things would have been improved if Gellar hadn't even been present, although I do hear that some people genuinely got a nice surprise from the reveal he was imaginary (so what do I know!) Maybe Brother Sam should have stuck around for awhile longer, as the general calibre of acting took a drop when Mos wasn't around to play scenes with Hall. Maybe the season needed to kill dead weight like Quinn (Desmond Harringon) or Angel (David Zayas) when it had some chances?

But at least we end with a very real chance for rebirth next season. The writers of Dexter will hopefully take stock of the situation and start moving towards The End with a confident and unexpected two-year plan, by exploring the fact Deb's aware her brother moonlights as a serial-killer. Will she accept him as Lumen did in season 5, try to rehabilitate him with the threat of exposure, or force him on the run? Additionally, how will Deb react if she also learns Dexter was the Bay Harbor Butcher, meaning the late Sgt Doakes should be exonerated for those crimes? How will she take the news that Rita and three children were half-orphaned because of her brother's dealings with the Trinity Killer? Basically, will Dexter confess all, or choose to still keep the uglier stuff a secret? As much as I disliked this season, I'll be back to see how they deal with all this next year.


  • The mystery surrounding intern Lewis looks set to continue into season 7, as the Ice Truck Killer trophy he sent to Dexter was only opened by Travis here. It still seems very likely that Lewis is Dexter's long-lost brother to me, but we'll have to see.
  • Speaking of Lewis, what's all that nonsense Masuka (C.S Lee) was spouting about him not being ready to join Miami Metro full-time? Didn't he help them on a few major breakthroughs recently?
  • Strange how they decided to have LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) go back to being her usual self in the finale, but it did come as a relief. The bitchy side of LaGuerta wasn't any fun this season, although it succeeded in leaving more of an impression.
  • Where did the solar eclipse come from? Did nobody speculate that the Doomsday Killer's tableau's may be leading up to that event before now?
written by Scott Buck & Wendy West / directed by John Dahl / 18 December 2011 / Showtime