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Showtime (ended 2013)

Dexter S08E11: "Monkey in a Box"

Watching a television series is actually a lot like watching sports. Set aside even the more obvious similarities—they both air on TV within the construction of a yearly season, everyone iprobably on some kind of drug—and you'll find some interesting relationships between the two. Following a young TV show as it slowly progresses and matures easily reminds me of watching a sports team with a bunch of young players start putting things together. Unfortunately, the idea works both ways. Old TV shows are like old teams: There's still hope that everything can come together and be like it was, but once a few things start to go wrong, the wheels come off. HOWEVER, in the case of a veteran show (/team), the wheels usually come off slowly, leaving fans to struggle through week after week, game after game or episode after episode, just waiting for it to be over. 

That's where I am with Dexter. There's no reason to be mad anymore, there's no reason to throw much of a fit about what could have been or should have been. The show is one hour away from being over forever and while it's given us a lot of great things in its eight years on the air, this final season won't end up being one of them. "Monkey in a Box" wasn't appreciably worse than the last few episodes, it just hurt a little more because there's always that twinge of hope with those shows we've stuck with that somehow, some way, it all won't end like shit after all. HA, NOPE.

After Saxon killed Vogel last week, the lame writing was on the wall: Deb (and/or Hannah, maybe) was next. That's really the sole card the show had left to stir up one final ounce of tension and emotion and thus, watching this episode became an exercise in resigned patience. It was coming. We just had to wait for all of the characters, Dexter chief among them, to act like complete and utter fools in order to get us there. And by the end, there it was: The show's most ineffectual Big Bad of all time (at least Travis and his ghost advisor had a little creativity and flair for the dramatic with their crime scenes), not really outsmarting Dexter and Deb, or taking the show to some deep, dark place. No way. Instead, he just popped Deb once in the gut with a gun, then slithered out of the room. I'm not opposed to a sudden, almost matter-of-fact death, and Deb's not dead yet, but that felt like the true manifestation of the shrug the writers undoubtedly did in some crappy conference room six months ago. "Meh." 

If there's one thing that this final season will be remembered for—well, other than Masuka wanting to bang his own daughter—it's just how hilariously stupid everybody on the show became. To be fair, most of these folks have acted ignorantly or irresponsibly for years. But in the final season, they've set up camp at the top of Stupidity Mountain—which, by the way, is located right in the middle of the Giant Coincidence Plains. Last week, it was Hannah rushing to the hospital after Harrison tried and failed to master the art of the treadmill, despite knowing that she couldn't leave the house without risking her and Dexter's future. This week, Hannah used Deb's computer to look up flights and didn't delete the search history. ROOKIE MISTAKE, BLONDIE. Meanwhile, Dexter and Deb spent most of the hour talking in circles about what it would mean for Dexter to: 1.) Leave Miami, 2.) Not kill Saxon and just have him arrested, 3.) Maybe kill Saxon, 4.) Try denim for once. It was literally as if we were back in Season 3, with Dexter "helping" the police just enough to help himself, only this time at the last minute he decided that the best way to stop a serial killer without killing him would be to just walk out of the kill room and go pack a bag. Sure, that'll probably work great. 

"Monkey in a Box" was an appropriate episode title because was random, referring to a single line in the episode. But it worked because this was the series' penultimate installment, and yet we had to watch Dexter try to sell his boat (unsuccessfully, bummer) and pack his apartment countless times without actually packing anything, all while Batista turned a crappy wake for Vogel into a celebratory goodbye party for Dexter, and Masuka and his daughter's storyline literally ended with a "I'll have a Diet Coke." So not only is the primary villain a nondescript, boring type, but there are less than 100 minutes left in the series and Quinn and Deb are flirting over how he didn't return the engagement ring he gave her ages ago. Yes, that happened in this episode.

At the end of the day, the show wants us to think that Dexter's choice to not kill Saxon is the BIGGEST DEAL, but it's not. As I've said 100 times this season, it could have been, if the writers had made any visible attempts to give Dexter an arc that really led to him realizing that he could fill his heart with love and not murder, or whatever. But the season began with Dexter shrugging off the things he made Deb do, or did to her, and nothing really changed after that. When Hannah showed up, it's not like Dexter was in the midst of an all-time murder spree. So what's the real revelation? That Dexter can't even muster up the juice to kill Saxon? Is that just a metaphor for how the show's writers felt at the end of their run? 

Deb's possible death is a real consequence for Dexter, particularly because his "I'm out!" moment more or less caused it. If played properly, you could imagine a version of an ending where everything comes crashing down on him because he let this happen to his sister. But there's literally nothing in the last 11 hours of this show that make me think that Dexter will face any substantial consequence or blowback, even if Deb does die in the series finale. By this point it seems pretty obvious that the writers think Dexter deserves a happy ending, or at least the happiest ending that he can find with a blonde and his future monster of a son. Not only is that so boring and so hetero-normative, but it's just a fundamental acknowledgement that this was never really a show about why a person would take on this life, and what it would really do to them. 

Along the way, though, Michael C. Hall just kept chugging along, like that star playing on the aging team. Dexter's arc makes very little sense and certainly hasn't even approached the ballpark of consistency this year, but Hall's been doing everything he can to make it work. The scenes with him just looking at stuff—the apartment, the boat, Jamie's ass... you know the IMPORTANT THINGS—really conveyed the sense of ending and completion that nothing else in the episode could match.

This has simply been a bad, bad final season. There's no better way to put it. Thankfully, it's almost over. Let's just get through this last week together. 


– I've seen some people comment here and elsewhere that maybe the show went off the rails because Showtime decided to bump up its start date, and that's pretty interesting. The first three episodes do feel like they came from a completely different writers' room atmosphere, especially in retrospect. It's hard for me to imagine that the show went completely bonkers, apropos of nothing. Right?

– My favorite part of watching this episode was thinking of how closely it all lined up with those seemingly wild and stupid spoilers posted on Reddit a few weeks back. The hurricane is coming, and if the finale actually follows that pattern, we're all going to have a GREAT time next Sunday night. (Also: Can you believe the series finale is airing opposite the Emmys, at least on the East Coast?)

– Elway is somehow still alive and now following Hannah to the airport and zzzzzz. Remember when all he talked about were electrolytes and it was cool?

– This may've been the end for James Remar and Harry. He did solid work in that final moment, even if the character overstayed his welcome by about 64 episodes. I'm glad Remar could collect that Showtime money, though!

What'd you think of "Monkey in the Box"? What are your predictions for the series finale?

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