Loosely based on the novels by Jeffery P. Lindsay starting with Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Showtimes' Dexter series tells the tale of a serial killer under the moniker "The Bay Harbor Butcher", who kills other serial killers. However unlike most of Dexter's victims, Dexter is comprised with an innate sense of justice and deep enduring empathy in searching for a sense of connection and meaning in his life.
I came into Dexter during it's 5th season, as I previously did not have Showtime, but also being a Hannibal Lector fan, I was skeptical that I couldn't appreciate another story with similar subject matter with the same veracity, but luckily I was very very wrong.
A couple of key differences in those two characters is that the viewers have the luxury to hear Dexter's thoughts that often humanizes him and gives Dexter's story a more compelling narrative. Additionally Dexter is not a great materialist, verbally struggles to express himself, and doesn't really understand humanity the way Hannibal does. In some ways Dexter's vulnerabilities often shine through and their is a greater sense of of innocence lost and a niaveness that comes with the pitfalls of some of Dexter's choices and his reactions to those unforeseen consequences.
The series is also unique because it is able to genre bend. It's not just a crime drama, or a psychological thriller, but it also has a cheeky and comedic elements filtered through Dexter's humor, Latin-American/Art Deco/Pop Art aesthetic, fun word play, and audaciously fantastical nature of karma that seems to exist throughout Dexter's event history, which gives the series a bit of a satirical edge.
But underneath it's controversial premise is really a look at the flaws of humanity through a grand spectrum of characters and contrasting situations that provide a complicated pallet of emotional dysfunction, in which survival of fittest seems to come down to obsessive feelings with unforeseen consequences along with a touch of fate. It's like every season we see certain characters react in a way they never would before as if each season was a slightly new alternate universe with the exception of the character Angel who seems to represent a standard of goodness.
Born out of Blood
The first season starts with another killer reaching out to Dexter, while also exposing the viewers (and Dexter) to part of the truth behind Dexter's past. We learn Dexter was adopted by Harry and Dorris Morgan, whom already had a daughter named Debra. We also learn how Harry, whom is also a cop, was able to teach Dexter a code that would keep him out of trouble by only killing other serial killers and by being very meticulous.
The beginning of the first season presents Dexter as more sociopathic killer with little to no remorse, until he finds out the playful "Ice Truck Killer" is actually his biological brother Brian Moser. Brian is able to make Dexter remember his past, which includes Dexter and Brian witnessing the gruesome blood-laden murder of their mother, Laura Moser, inside a shipping container being hacked apart by chainsaw all due to Laura snitching out her drug-dealing husband and cohorts to her friend and Miami Police Officer, Harry Morgan.
Brian, hoping desperately that his brother will become his partner in crime, becomes jealous over Dexter's affection for his non biological sister Debra, a now promoted homicide detective, as he dates her and puts Dexter in a situation where he has to choose between Brian and Deb. To Brian's astonishment, Dexter chooses Deb and eventually kills Brian in effort to protect Debra from him for good! -But truth be told, the fantasy of what Brian represented, having a partner in crime and not having to hide his secret is what ultimately motivates Dexter to explore the possibility of it for many seasons to come.
Playing with Fire
For the next two seasons we explore Dexter evolve into more of a family man through his relationship with his girl friend (eventually married partner), Rita Bennet and her two children Cody and Astor. But we also see him meet other people to whom he can share some of his secret with. Lila West, although not a serial killer, is definitely a person who could put you in a precarious situation. Her lack of emotional self control is what comedically and tragically ends the second season with the death of Sargent James Doakes, a detective and former black opps officer hot on his trail.
Hello, Dexter Morgan (And Goodbye Rita Bennett)
Some will always feel that season four featuring Arthur Mitchell is the most important season and most iconic antagonist of the series. And although I would agree it was a very memorable well written and fantastically well-acted season due to John Lithglow's magnificent performance and surprising story lines, I still think that it's legacy could not be achieved without the foundation of the first season, which opens the door for all of Dexter's quests, trials, and errors.
But it is this season, featuring the deaths of desperately needed parental figures (Rita & Lundy), who serve as love interests to both Debra and Dexter, that begins to touch on spiritual and/or religious themes, karma, and dogma that the rest of the series plays through in relation to Arthur Mitchell's family being not as they seem and leaving us to worry about the fate of Harrision.
The loss of Rita and Debra's love interest Frank Lundy truly put Dexter and Deb through the ringer, but both eventually find temporary solace in other love interests, love interests that are a little more like themselves and less like long lost parental figures.
An Ability to Love
The fifth season was generally a hopeful one, where Dexter could help Lumen seek the justice she needed and his relationship with her illuminated the possibility for Dexter to have a better future, despite his recant set backs, but also highlighted his empathy, his fatherhood, and positive light on vigilantism, as even Debra finds herself touched and moved by "barrel girl" and her knight in shinning armor's ability to stay by her side and help her seek justice, which becomes a rather foretelling tale in terms of Debra's actual feelings for Dexter, and also in paralleling Debra's past and future.
But season five ends on a somber note with Deb rejecting other Miami Detective Joesph Quinn's marriage proposal and Lumen's cycle being fulfilled leaving Dexter behind only to be even further heart-broken.
The Countdown Begins
Season six is a stark contrast to season 5 and is IMO an underrated season. It's true it's different than all of the other seasons, as it's central antagonist, Travis Marshall, was not a playful one. Travis represented something more introverted and tragic. His delusions and extreme religious beliefs reminded the audience that Dexter is still very much a psychological drama and highlights the subjectivity of one's reality. But Dexter's problems with Travis also have to do with a lack of focus on Travis to begin with along with trying to turn a leaf by believing he can change just like the faithful Brother Sam. But the "Dooms Day Killer" and his counting down themes take great presidance when Brother Sam is killed by drug addict, Nick, which sends Dexter and his new found belief system to hit a major left turn, which results in a temporary change of dark passenger from Harry to Brian, and connects Dexter back with the family of "The Trinity Killer", who's son has now taken on in his father's moonlighting practices, as he peg's the murder of his mother on his father, whom viewers know, no longer exists.
This season then also exposed us to father and son generational themes, as Dexter was also spiritually inclined not just because of his own losses, but because he didn't want his son, Harrison, to end up like himself. "The Doomsday Killer's" symbolism also carries weight through the mirror of Travis' dark passenger and his tether to his sister with the theme of siblings and teachers which escalates to not only Dexter almost loosing his son to Travis, but his rejection of Harry and the code leading Debra to find Dexter at the alter murdering Travis Marshall, and the downward spiral of their unraveling relationship that played out until the very end of the series!
No Man's Land
Season 7 returns to more playful story, but with no real central antagonist, as whom is an antagonist keeps twisting and turning, while Debra and Dexter's unstable relationship pushes them to do things neither has before, exposing the audience to different sides and not really knowing how the season was going to exactly end with these two.
If I hadn't mentioned it above, I will now, but this story is just as much about Debra, as it is about Dexter. The characters have always been uniquely contrasted with Debra being overly verbally expressive, insensitive towards others, and with ever-changing belief system. She, more than Dexter, lacks an identity, as she emotionally experiences one trauma and/or life-changing experience after another and without the foundation that Dexter has through Harry, and by extension, Dr. Evelyn Vogal. It's for this reason I believe the character over emotionally reacts and seeks attention from many of the male characters in series and why she sometimes very thoughtlessly severs those relationships, as she changes her mind about what she's going to do next and leaves them feeling used.
The end of season 7 is marked by Deb's lack of reasoning, as she seeks Dexter out at a shipping container where he is about to make it look like LaGeurta and Stradda have killed each other. With no real plan Debra walkes in on the scene, pulls out her gun, forces Dexter to drop his weapon, as LaGuerta pleads for her life and for Debra to kill Dexter. Debra listening more to Dexter, whom reassures her she's a good person and she has to do what she has to do kills LaGeurta and goes running towards her body and holds her, while Dexter responds nearly emotionless. The final scene is the pair walking out under the fireworks celebration on New Year's Eve, marking a change in the tide.
Season eight then plays out the final 'so say we all' in terms of love, friendship, and the writers final stance on justice and destiny in relation to Dexter's and Debra's place in world, as season 7 ended with the Debra making an at first seemingly regrettable choice in killing LaGeurta, who was hot on Dexter's trail due to a blood slide found at Travis Marshall's crime scene, instead of killing Dexter, or having any kind of back up plan.
Debra completely broken, leaves Miami Metro and works for a private eye, Jacob Elway, where she has distanced herself from Dexter and is counting down to her own demise with excessive drinking and drug overdose, while going undercover and being in romantic extremes with the criminal, Andrew Briggs, all for the sake of some stolen jewelry that leads Dexter to become concerned and leaving Debra in a pickle with a hot-headed man nicknamed "El Sapo", whom Debra eventually kills.
Dr. Vocal: A Voice of Reason
In season 8 we also learn a new truth about Harry and "The Code". As it turns out, it wasn't all Harry's idea. He had met with sociopath specialist Dr. Evelyn Vogel. Ironically Vogel is there in Miami at the beginning of the season trying to help Miami Metro find a new killer dubbed as "The Brain Surgeon", as he removes parts of his victim's brains.
Vogel quickly becomes a spiritual mother figure to Dexter, as she reveals to him the truth about herself and Harry, but also asks for his help in finding and killing "The Brain Surgeon", as she is pretty sure these killings are a personal message to her. But soon enough it becomes clear that Brain Surgeon knows that Dexter is helping her and they set out on a journey of process of elimination that points out that Dr. Vogel may not have helped a lot of her patients after all.
Make Your Own Kind of Music
It's final season harks to what we should have been thinking about all a long. If Dexter has right of passage due to the code and really what justice is in the Dexter universe. It also comes back to the learning curb in the sense that we all learn from other people, as many people in our lives can be a great parental influence, but also that we have to learn from our own mistakes. Dr. Vocal being a mother figure to Harry's father figure role, provides nice closure and brings the first season in full circle, especially since she suffers from Dexter's same pitfalls.
A Tropical Depression
The bottom line is that Dexter is a tragicomedy reminiscent to Grecian plays or even the plays of William Shakespeare, as it's anti-hero and most of it's main characters seem to fall pray to the inextricable entanglement of their own flaws with plots that have 'Dues Ex Machina' qualities to them, that play to inadvertently bad timing and even with the concept of the finale's 'Mother Hurricane' providing for more dire circumstances, proves once and for all to the viewers that there is something bigger than our own individual existences in which we have little to no control over. But Dexter is not a complete and utter tragedy, as it's MO seems to have always been with every silver lining comes a black cloud and visa verse. And as mentioned above, most the characters come with extreme personality traits and make choices that often don't seem consistent to other choices they have made in the past. The series surely examines that perhaps there is a little crazy in everyone, since feeling is what might make us more flawed and politically driven to railroad others for the sack of our own selves.
But character like Angel Batista and Hannah McKay bring elements goodness, as Angel has always been supporting and never too extreme in his personality, judgement, or choices and Hannah embodying a trilogy of the best traits of the three other women Dexter had been intimate with, represent something "whole" and perhaps extremely adaptive, as Hannah in her own right has a gentile disposition and personality with a kind of class and taste that many of the other characters in series lack, as she isn't completely ardent in her motives, may also suggest that the series examines the extreme and unbridled thoughtless emotions that ultimately create bad results. There might be something to be said about patients and not loosing perspective.
Additionally it's also true that we see that the code did not exactly work, not because it couldn't have, but again because Dexter's emotions often led him astray and led him believe that he was more invincibly super human than any other man in existence.
A F****ing Black Hole
Jennifer Carpenter also needs to be commended for her fantastic job on playing one of the most hilarious, but ultimately emotionally, at times, one of the darkest female characters on TV. In a lot of ways Debra was Dexter's Ying to his Yang, as both character were opposite in that Dexter sought for real connections (just often to the wrong people) and struggled to emotionally express himself to others, making him some what of an introvert, where Deb constantly verbally expressed herself, often without thought and in the same way would seek to create emotional drama, but both characters were ultimately lying to themselves. Dexter believed that he had to kill and he didn't really feel, while he constantly tried to reset himself every season until he could no longer deny his true feelings. Deb lied to herself at times about being a good person and believing in love and justice. She seemed to signal out young youthful sexual female types and condemned them, while she would hook up with whomever behind closed doors under pretty bad circumstances, but then often turned on them, acting stereotypical like some of us might think an older man would to his definition of a lesser female.
Deb is a great escapist as she is able to gain much empathy from mostly male characters, especially Dexter and Quinn. Quinn is written much in line with Harry, which explains to some degree his relationship with both Deb and Dexter, as Deb, like Dexter, uses Harry to hide behind, but Debra's blinding indulgence comes out more in the beginning when she finds herself very attracted to Brian Moser, another indulgent character, and also in beginnings of the final season, where she recklessly takes unnecessary risks and then also tries to kill Dexter along with herself, using LaGauerta's murder, a murder where she was not forced to make the decision she made, as an excuse to fuel this behavior that we have seen on and off in smaller tangents through out the series.
Maybe I don't know my limits
Debra Morgan is constantly blaming others for her own actions without taking responsibility and although I would agree like with so many of the other characters of the series, she has a reason to be that way, being perhaps emotionally abused from a young age, she still is a character that then also emotionally abuses others, blaming them, using them, and really punishing them for the lack of love she had as a child due to Harry's choices and her own mother dying of cancer. In season 8 she accuses Hannah McKay of being this big black hole, but Hannah represents something opposite to a black hole, a holy enduring trinity of good traits the other 3 women in Dexter's life had and begins to be his salvation. In some ways, as Dr. Vogel suggested, Debra was really a kind of black hole, at least until she hit a turning point around the time of Dr. Vogel's death, where she no longer was a spiteful person. I think it's fair to say that Harry's guilt of not being able to save Laura Moser transferred onto Dexter and Dexter subconsciously associated that failure on a need to protect Deb, which gave him an excuse to kill. But one nice thing the series did, was make her take responsibility at the very end and admit some of her own flaws, but also loving embrace her brother despite everything. There was true growth for her as well in those final episodes, but it is also written in a way where it's really Deb's own meddling that costs her her own life...
The Man Behind the Curtain
The final episode of the series however, leaves viewers with a type of uncertainty of whom Dexter really is. He had spent so much of season 8 expressing himself to others and deeply believing he could change and have a fresh start with Hannah in Argentina, that the final episode's turn around leaves one in a mysterious fog, as Dexter blatantly kills Saxon with a pen after Debra is injured and in one way or another plans on leaving Harrison behind with Hannah.
One brilliant thing the finale does is the lack of a dark passenger and the near lack of a voice over. It points out just how hard it is to understand someone, without knowing what they are thinking, and in this case, had been Dexter's saving grace in viewers acceptance of him. Another is Hurricane "Laura" and Dexter's release of dead Debra into the ocean depths and some kind of transitional rebirth back into Laura.
Watching it a second time, I don't believe Dexter intended to survive the eye of the storm. I think it's pretty suicidal to drive into it, especially just after previously stating that he does not believe in miracles.
Go take a hike, Dexter?
But the truth is in it's final scenes we really don't know what's happening. We don't have the luxury to hear Dexter's thoughts on his new life. There's no murder scene. No contact with other human beings. No proof that Dexter is still a serial killer or even if Dexter truly knows he's Dexter? Only a rustic contrast to Miami, his work as a lumberjack, which may point out both a "tall tale" element and/or a spiritual one (wood is used for carpentry/building let alone an irony that he still hacking apart limbs, just of a differ ant variety), and that this town seems to have mountains in which he could honor Deb's last wish of wanting to have gone hiking. (Although Showrunner Sarah Colleton insists in a post finale interview that Dexter made this choice to exile himself, which establishes that he does know whom he is.)
The Great Escape
But what the ending provides is justice in that Dexter does deserve to live, but that it came with a price, but what that price exactly is still remains ambiguous since futures of certain characters, including Dexter's, remain open and unknown, but for now at the very least it seems to be the loss of his sister, his right of passage as a parent and significant other, and some kind of solidarity lifestyle.
I had predicted early in the season given talk of a spin off, that Hannah raising Harrison seemed a likely choice and honestly I feel certain that Yvonne Strahovski could easily carry a spin off in Argentina raising Harrison and the crimes she has to commit in order to survive, along with Harrison seemingly to be special one way or another. Even an older Harrison could be interesting with this ending. A spin off is a good way for Showtime to hold onto one of greatest works on their network and certainly there is room for Dexter to reemerge later in that series, which could provide more insight into that scene for those who need it. I only bring this up, because it could be another reason for not tying up Dexter's story too tightly, but rather leave him in a pivotal moment in changing chapters. True to Dexter, does Dexter always think he has control over his situation(s), when he usually doesn't and it's probably still the truth even with this attempt of solidarity...
In short Dexter's last victim, his sister (and other half) is out of love and his ability to attempt to punish himself solidifies his transformation, as it shows regret and remorse, despite that maybe one day he''ll come out of the wood work...
As stated earlier, the show has a spectrum of sociopath/pathological behavior shown through many of the characters and not just the killers. It makes looking at justice and existence hard, because it has been presented so carefully colorful and with maddening contrasts. Much like seeing a painting from looking at the chaos of a crime scene, is Dexter a beautiful masterpiece of a television series that gives enough evidence to emotionally intrigue you with a story all coming from the great possibilities of one's own mind.