Tuesday, 24 September 2013

DEXTER, 8.12 – 'Remember the Monsters?'

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

written by Scott Buck & Manny Coto | directed by Steve Shill

From the very beginning, fans of Dexter have speculated about the very end. It seemed inevitable the show would resolve with either serial killer Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) murdered by one of his quarry, or his secret exposed to the world and made to pay for his crimes. I'm sure everyone reading this review has dreamed up their own series finale (mine involved Dex being given the lethal injection, watched over by his workmates and spectral father), so the challenge for the writers was to do something unexpected. I think they achieved this, for the most part, which meant the finale was interesting and one of the better episodes this season. It was pretty good and a decent finale, but I'm very disappointed the writers never embraced the possibilities a final season presented them with. It was a chance to do something truly radical and memorable. Some will also argue the ending was cowardly, for reasons I'll expand upon below...

The most predictable aspect of "Remember the Monsters?" involved Dexter being made aware of Debra's (Jennifer Carpenter) gunshot wound and having to make alternative arrangements with Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) as they tried to evade Elway (Sean Patrick Flannery) at the airport and abscond to Argentina. A sizable chunk of the episode also came down to Dexter having to find and kill the man responsible for endangering his sister's life, Oliver Saxon (Darri Ingolfsson)--who became even more of a 'metrosexual Terminator' this week; asking a vet to stitch up an arm wound, then wandering into a hospital to finish off Deb despite the inevitable police presence. Ingolfsson may have a brilliantly steely stare with a sly smile you want to wipe off his smug face, but he was also one of the show's stupidest villains ever.

The rest of the episode was less predictable, which was actually a relief. I didn't expect them to actually kill Deb, although that was a popular theory for a series-ender. It made perfect sense in retrospect. Dexter's life was torn asunder with his sister's diagnosed brain dead after a blood clot caused a stroke, and his work colleagues even got a glimpse the predator in their midst when he later killed the imprisoned Saxon in "self defence". The scene with Angel looking half-horrified by the video-tape of Dexter slamming a pen into Saxon's neck is about the closest we ever came to him realising his best friend's a seasoned killer.

The episode certainly managed to bring a few lumps to my throat. First with Dexter's realisation his sister's never going to pull through and be swearing like a sailor; and then that fantastic sequence when he killed her out of kindness in hospital (turning her life-support machine off and removing her tubes), then took her body out into the ocean on his speedboat to give her a private burial at sea. Both were obviously intended to show a tender, loving version of Dexter's usual killing methods—particularly with Deb's body draped in a turquoise bed sheet.

And then the final moment, with Dex realising everyone he loves ends up dead, which prompted him to end his own life by voyaging into the oncoming hurricane... to later be pronounced lost at sea by the newspapers, after the coast guard discovered the wreckage of his boat. I thought it all worked very well, although lord knows what Deb's friends made of her body vanishing from hospital... although I suppose it doesn't take a genius to assume Dexter took her and they both died at sea. But will everyone assume Harrison was taken for the ride, too?

Sadly, I think the episode's coda was ill-advised. It showed a bearded Dexter (having survived his nautical suicide) now working as a log truck driver... where, I suppose, we're to assume the only thing he's now cutting up is trees? His final cold stare into camera hints the character can be revived if Showtime ever need this franchise back on the airwaves, too, with a change of location to somewhere less sunny. Will that ever happen? Probably not, but the door's open if Michael C. Hall ever wants an easy pay-cheque for a TV Movie revival at the very least. Hopefully he'll escape this character's gravitational pull, though--unlike Kiefer Sutherland and 24's Jack Bauer.

I think this finale worked well as an hour's entertainment because it felt oddly separate to the rest of season 8—which hasn't been a good year of the series. It wasn't as dull as season 5 or as risible as season 6, but it was several leagues below what the show was capable of until season 4.

The writers should have done something more game-changing this final season, and I can't deny I'm disappointed they weren't brave enough to kill off their eponymous anti-hero. It was also a shame Dexter's big secret never came out, because that alone would have fuelled a six episodes of amazing drama and huge repercussions. Talk about a narrative hand grenade! Maybe the writers thought it would be too damaging to the show's tapestry if Dex's secret every got out? They may even be right; but we'll never know.

I guess it may have also stretched credibility if professional dolts like Angel (David Zayas) or Quinn (Desmond Harrington) suddenly made the deduction that Dex is the Bay Harbor Butcher, eight seasons after missing the obvious signs. And there's also case to be made for saying you'd never eclipse the season where Deb found out what's going on, because there was a more personal connection there.

Overall, I'm actually not as disappointed or enraged as I was expecting to be having watched "Remember the Monsters?" I don't think this was the best way to end Dexter, but it did something few people had predicted and managed to include a few emotionally-charged scenes that lingered. That moment Dexter turned off Deb's life-support was heartbreakingly beautiful; and the sequence with Deb's face disappearing beneath the water, leading to Dexter zooming away into the hurricane to "die", also induced the intended goosebumps. Why bother with the silly coda and instead have the bravery to kill Dexter, though? It would have raised the episode a significant amount in my estimation.

Oh well, I'm sure others are very happy the character may return some day...

  • I wasn't crazy about the use of a flashback to show Dexter and Debra in happier times, welcoming baby Harrison into the world. I can understand why it was there, but it felt a little shoehorned in. It would have been the perfect opportunity for a cameo by Julie Benz as Rita, too, so I'm surprised that didn't happen. Maybe it was intended but the actress wasn't available because of her work on Defiance? If so, shame.
  • Desmond Harrington's a poor actor, isn't he. His response to being told Deb (his true love) is going to be in a permanently vegetative state was pretty laughable. I swear a grip was probably stamping on his foot to provoke a few tears, off-camera.
  • Good to see that Hannah managed to take care of herself on the coach, having become something of a liability this season. The writers seemed to forget how independent and capable she was last season, so I appreciated the moment when she escaped Elway by sticking a needle into his thigh. Although who carries horse tranquilliser around with them, if they started the day intending to catch a flight?
  • How do we feel about the "happy ending", with Hannah and Harrison now living together in faraway Argentina? I'd have liked more emotion from Yvonne Strahovski in that moment, having learned of her lover's disappearance and likely death. It all felt a little wooden to me; but that feeling has infected a great deal of the Dexter/Hannah scenes this year, which were significantly sexier and more believable in season 7.
  • A few hours after writing this review, I read this EW article where original showrunner Clyde Phillips revealed what he'd have done for the final episode. Bizarrely, it's very close to my own musings I've had for a long time now! That really would have been the best way to end it.
22 September 2013 | Showtime