Predictability, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, can be good. As viewers, we want to be surprised and bamboozled by what happens on television, especially during season finales, but when a good story builds to a likely and relatively believable conclusion, it can be just as satisfying as a MAJOR TWIST.
Last week, I postulated about a version of the Dexter Season 7 finale that involved sizable reveals about Deb poisoning herself to set Hannah up and what would happen to the two women in Dexter’s life once he discovered that powerful truth. If the show’s writers would have crafted that story, I’m willing to bet that the finale would have been more overtly exciting. However, the more I think about the one we did receive, I’m satisfied with the direction it took—because it’s the direction the show absolutely had to take. While “Surprise, Motherfucker!” had its problems, it also delivered the fitting end to the season Dexter needed, even if it was a conclusion we saw coming weeks ago.
For a season of Dexter that often engaged in a compelling meta-deconstruction of so many of the show’s big tropes, plot tricks, and rhythms, it is no surprise that the finale chose to dial back the shocking moments and instead dance with what brought it here in 2012: conversations, honesty, and a whole lot of Deb’s tears.
Weirdly, a good portion of the episode lacked the urgency that has defined so much of the season, but it ended up working out for the better. The first five minutes wrote Hannah out of importance with a surprisingly brief conversation between her and Dexter. Despite everything that's happened between the two of them, there’s still an attraction, and if their confused feelings are to be believed, there's love as well. Hannah did, in fact, poison Deb for the obvious reasons, which undercuts my big theory from last week, but ultimately better serves the characters. The conversation between Hannah and Dexter not only set up stories for next season—because Hannah later broke out of police custody and is therefore totally coming back in the final run—it also set up Dexter’s headspace for the rest of the episode.
All season long, Dexter has considered and then reconsidered a lot of things in his life. Now, that’s not particularly novel because the show has gone in that direction before, but for the first time in a while, it felt like Dexter’s voiceover monologues about family, identity, and whatever else had a real purpose for the character (and not just that episode’s plot). Dexter has finally started to embrace the fact that he can, at least in this show’s warped universe, have both parts of his life. He can fulfill his urges and kill whoever he thinks he needs to (and now he can hopefully do so independently, without the silliness of the Dark Passenger), but he can also try to keep his small family unit intact.
His feelings for Hannah are real, albeit conflicted and troubling for any normal, non-TV character, and we know that he cares about Deb and Harrison even more. Dexter’s altered relationship with Deb and his new one with Hannah showed him that he doesn’t have to hide who he is. For all its blood, violence, and terrible police work, Dexter is, at its core, a show about family. So much of what Dexter is inside is based on his familial experiences and relationships. While I’ve been disappointed with the kind of lip service the show has paid to “family” as a concept in the past, that hasn't been the case this season.
Thus, when LaGuerta arrested Dexter at his home, brought him into the station to embarrass him in front of all his co-workers, clamped down hard in the interrogation room, and eventually revealed to Deb some hidden information provided by dead cop Mike Anderson*, the stakes were very high and very real. Dexter has been able to weasel his way out of ridiculous situations a number of times, but here, Deb was in trouble too and Dexter actually considered his young son as well. A season’s worth of pretty solid storytelling helped make something involving LaGuerta bearable and even fairly interesting.
*I’m still conflicted over the random appearance of the gas station camera evidence. It was a nice way to further reinforce that LaGuerta is a credible threat to the Morgans and it was a fine callback to the season premiere, but it also came completely out of nowhere, and the way it had to be explained with a mouthful of exposition rubbed me the wrong way. It served its purpose, however, even if it felt a bit hackneyed.
What of course made the story work even better is what made much of this season great throughout: Deb. As I said, we’ve seen Dexter in these kinds of situations before. He knows what he has to do, even if it means throwing out the code and killing for “normal reasons.” But for Deb, the danger of being caught is still new and traumatic. She could barely keep it together when LaGuerta fired up the DVD of the security camera footage and was more or less a mess from there onward. Even though she begged Dexter not to take care of LaGuerta in his typical fashion, there was a sense that Deb had no idea what to do. She thinks she knows what is right and what is wrong, but she also knows that she loves and adores her brother. This has been the primary conflict of the entire season, and it’s fitting that it played a major role here.
With Dexter’s soul searching and Deb’s hysteria, the episode, while light on massive twists and turns, really serviced its two main characters in the proper fashion. And as a result, once Deb discovered Dexter’s kind of brilliant, kind of stupid plan to kill Estrada and LaGuerta but make it look like they killed one another—so he was going to shoot a bullet through the stab incision and that was just going to completely remove any evidence of the first wound? Okay, sure, show—both characters were almost primed to make drastic choices.
After a season of covering for Dexter by lying about procedure and tinkering with evidence, Deb was forced to consider what it truly means to be involved with this version of her brother. It’s not just killing people who probably deserve it. It’s not just covering up tons and tons of crimes and lying to friends and co-workers. It’s not just the morally gray. And after a season of thinking about what it means to be a killer and a family man, Dexter recognized that maybe this has gone too far for far too long. Harrison doesn’t deserve this and Deb certainly doesn’t. I think maybe he realized, in that moment, that he should never have let Deb see the “real him” after all. Dexter gave himself up, willing to die to save Deb’s sanity (and I really believe he was doing so and not just posturing to convince Deb to take out LaGuerta). But as we know, the Morgan siblings will always, always, always protect one another, no matter the cost. They just keep pushing the boundaries of family.
Were the episode and that final sequence pretty predictable? Of course. We knew that as soon as Deb showed up at the shipping container that she was going to have to kill LaGuerta. But the sequence worked so well precisely because we knew that Deb was going to have to make a choice. She had to know what it was really like to be Dexter (and almost to an even more disturbing degree). For the true impact of Dexter’s choices to be felt, he had to, inadvertently or not, pull Deb so far into his bloody, murderous lifestyle that she would have to make unbelievably tough calls like this one.
It was a predictable move, but a powerful one. A season full of dramatic, honest Dexter-and-Deb interactions ended with Deb first screaming and sobbing, but ultimately in complete shock. Who knows what’s going to happen to her in the future. But all she could do was silently grab Dexter’s arm. At this point, it’s all she has, whether or not it’s the right or healthy thing for her.
What a nice capper to a darn good season of television. Dexter always has its ups and downs, but as long as Dexter and Deb’s relationship is treated with respect and the awful stuff keeps getting heaped upon them, the show works. I don’t want to make any grand proclamations about this being Dexter’s best season, but I will say that it is certainly my favorite. Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C. Hall were so good here, and they’ve been so good all season long. The way in which they portray this deep, but mutated, bond between two people is really something to be admired. And they manage to make the big scenes like the one in the container, with all the crying and yelling, so great, but they do the super quiet ones—like the final walk through the party—even better. For the first time in a few years, Hall will deserve his Emmy nomination and dammit, Jennifer Carpenter deserves a first nomination herself.
It’s nice to have the good version of Dexter back. Let’s hope it’s here to stay in the final season. Until then.
– Thanks for reading and commenting this fall, folks. I’ve really enjoyed your insightful thoughts and feedback; you made this cool gig even cooler.
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