How the Mighty Have Fallen: Dexter On Its Last Lap, A Fan’s Lament [Obsessive Friends: Mike]

OBSESSIVE NOTE: My friend Mike is by far the biggest Dexter fan I know. As such, he has kindly offered to contribute his thoughts on the series’ past, present and increasingly limited future. You can follow him on Twitter at @IAmMikeWhite.

– Matt (@ObsessiveViewer)

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“The mask is slipping,” a line from a second season episode of Showtime’s long running mega-hit  Dexter, is forever tattooed on the side of my foot – a constant reminder of one of my favorite episodes in one of my favorite seasons of one of my favorite shows of all time, and now a reminder of how far the show has fallen. I got the tattoo (during Dexter’s fourth season) as, both an homage to a fantastic show, and a way to say that good things happen when we reveal to people who we really are; for better or worse. I also really liked Michael C. Hall’s reading of the line. But man, maybe Dexter should have left the mask on a little longer…

Dexter, now in the smack-dab middle of its final season, is truly limping toward the finish line. It’s ratings are still tops over at Showtime, but more people watching the show doesn’t mean that old fans are liking what they see, and the show is severely showing its age.

I identify two major drops in quality for the series. Dexter hit its peak in the fourth season finale with the death of Dexter’s wife, Rita, at the hands of John 27dexter-600Lithgow’s Trinity Killer. It was unexpected, but completely earned; the emotional and storytelling implications of which were heavy.

The fifth season failed to keep the promises made by the stellar fourth. It was underwhelming to say the least. While the fallout of Rita’s death was addressed, and the first few episodes were compelling, the middle four episodes fell into a deep mid-season rut – a trend that Dexter would maintain every season since. The fifth season was plagued with plot holes. It ignored prior character development, and featured a lackluster main villain or “big bad” as the showrunners are wont to call it. The season finale was a disaster filled with contrivances and one particularly offensive disservice to a great character. Deb, Dexter’s sister, is a great cop, but she let the two vigilantes she is trying to catch (one of which is Dexter, unbeknownst to her) free. Jennifer Carpenter, the actress who plays Deb, has even mentioned in interviews that she had trouble with the decision.

The other main drop in quality is the entirety of season six. Aside from the game-changer ending in which Deb discovers Dexter mid-kill, Dexter0612-DebFindsOut-e1362988313806the entire season could be forgotten both because it’s bad, and because there is absolutely no character development. The season was touted as the one where Dexter struggles with his thoughts on religion, but he winds up in the same place he started the season.

It should be noted that these drops in quality coincide with dramatic changes behind the scenes. Sara Colleton is the only remaining producer from season one. After season four (remember: the peak) executive producer and showrunner Clyde Phillips as well as head writer Melissa Rosenberg left the show. Chip Johannessen took over showrunner duties for season five, and was replaced by Scott Buck, who remains in charge.

It’s clear that Scott Buck has had a vision from the start of his tenure, and all three of his seasons can be linked by tone, but more obviously by the fact that the relationship between Dexter and Deb has become the focus of the show. The seventh season was actually pretty good. It dealt, in real-time, with Deb reacting to the fact that her brother is The Bay Harbor Butcher, but after the surprise seventh season, here at the end, we find it’s the same old hat. What happened?

At the time of this writing, there are five episodes left of Dexter. So, why is it so ho-hum? Why am I now embarrassed to admit that I still watch the show religiously? How come when I watch these last episodes, I’m really only counting down until the next episode of Breaking Bad?

dexter-season-8The eighth and final season came out the gate running. The addition of Charlotte Rampling as Dr. Evelyn Vogel, a psychiatrist who specializes in serial killers was a smart one. We learn (in an irksome, but ultimately forgivable ret-con) that Dr. Vogel helped Harry Morgan, Dexter’s adoptive father, invent the “code” by which Dexter lives and kills. She has come to ask Dexter for help in tracking down a possible former patient that is threatening her. The premise is interesting enough, and Dexter’s new internal conflict is fresh, albeit surprisingly late. Did Harry and Vogel do the right thing for young Dexter? It’s a question that should have been addressed this deeply much earlier in the show, but I’m glad it’s here. Vogel is also here to help Deb and Dexter reconcile after Deb spun out of control in response to her killing an innocent to save Dexter. Again, this was interesting. The problem is, after Vogel’s threat is disposed of, and Deb and Dexter make nice, Vogel’s presence in the latest episodes seems useless.

The show has taken other liberties with logic this season that I won’t go into, but worse, for three episodes now, I’ve been left asking, “so, what?” With five episodes left of the entire series, the intensity should be ratcheting up at a rate unlike any season before, but were left with the same ol’ mid-season slump. The return of Dexter’s serial killer girlfriend Hannah ?????????????????poses interesting problems for both Dexter and Deb, but what end are these means going to produce? This should be the season where Miami Metro finds Dexter out, this should be where Deb has to kill Dexter. We should be worried about Harrison, Dexter’s son, but right now, and I’ll repeat for emphasis, with FIVE episodes left, none of these are threats, whatsoever. I’ll compare again to Breaking Bad. In the first episode of its last eight, the drama was tighter than ever, and while I have no idea how the show will end, we have an idea of how it might. We have possibilities, and more importantly than anything, we have a threat. By what does Dexter or Dexter have to be threatened? I hope that the next episode or two give us something. If not, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do every time someone sees the blood spatter font inscribed on my foot.

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OBSESSIVE NOTE: You can read more of Mike’s contributions to the site here. You can also follow him on Twitter @IAmMikeWhite and hear him on several episodes of The Obsessive Viewer Podcast. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook.

– Matt (@ObsessiveViewer)

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13 responses to “How the Mighty Have Fallen: Dexter On Its Last Lap, A Fan’s Lament [Obsessive Friends: Mike]

  1. So agree with this. Dexter lost all its magic and “must-watch” factor since that stunning end to the fourth season. Such a shame!

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  3. I agree a 100%. This is the final season of Dexter and yet it feels just like another season. They are hitting the usual points and introducing new characters with no real sense of urgency when there are only a few episodes left. I think that season 5 should have been the last season. They should have used Rita’s death as the beginning of Dexter’s downfall. Instead he was cleared of her death after 2 episodes and the reason of the season was spent on the lame Lumen storyline. I have fallen out of love with this show mainly because it feels like there are no real consequences. It feels like Dexter always dispatches the big bad and gets away and all is well, with some minor changes. Even when major characters are killed such as Doakes in season 2 and LaGuerta last season, it feels like there are no serious repercussions for anything. I have feeling this season will end with Dex going on as usual after maybe killing Deb or something. I have feeling the series will end like almost every season of the show, with the status quo being reset and no major impact.

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    • I can honestly say I have NO CLUE how the show will end, but I mean that in a bad way. My example from my article was that Breaking Bad has possibilities. There isn’t even a threat for Dexter big enough to warrant excitement about the last season.

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  4. Wow, this pretty much sums up exactly how I feel about Dexter. On the one hand I want to consider it among my favorite shows (seasons 1-4), but on the other hand I can’t just ignore the incredibly mediocre and stagnantly paced seasons. It becomes an entirely different show after the Trinity arc. Such a shame. I agree with the commenter above me, there should have been massive repercussions after Rita’s death and it should have resulted in Miami Metro, Deb, everyone, finding out about Dexter. Seasons 5-8 could have easily been condensed into one amazing final season where Dexter’s entire world comes crashing down.

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    • I agree 100%. While I was all for more Dexter after season four, I think it definitely suffered from producers having dollar signs in their eyes. I think a six-season run would have been perfect, and season 5 and 6 deal with the repercussions of season 4.

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  5. Absolutely brilliant article and spot on. Mirrors my thoughts precisely, though I actually didn’t mind season 6 so much. It didn’t move things along as it should but I really enjoyed Colin Hanks’ Doomsday killer and some of the big death scenes where brilliant. Still, Season 4 remains the best! Check out my thoughts on my blog if you like, we echo a lot of points.

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  6. So, I only started watching Dexter about a month ago, then I binge viewed all 8 seasons and now we are here with only a few episodes left. You are absolutely right, should have been a 6 season show. Would have been perfect. Also, I disagree about Season 5. Could have been a little better but I totally bought into Lumen being the perfect healing process for Dexter. Hannah on the other hand makes no sense to me and she needs to go away forever.

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  8. Even though I’m late to the discussion, I have to agree with you, Mike.

    When showrunner Clyde Phillips and head writer Melissa Rosenberg both departed after season 4, the show died.

    Every season after the 4th is nothing but a chore to watch. Also, with the departure of the show’s original writers and showrunners, new showrunners and writers were brought in, and the writers that have stayed after the fourth had no direction to head in.

    Since the new showrunners had no new ideas to come up with, they simply rehashed the story arcs and ideas from the first four seasons of the show, only that they didn’t carry of what made the first four seasons so amazing and enjoyable to watch.

    Especially season 7. Even though Dexter’s sister found out about him, the story arc was basically a regurgitated version of the second season. It hit the same beats as the sophomore season did – Dexter is in danger of being exposed, a femme fatale serving as Dexter’s love interest, the others tracking down Dexter’s secret, a character who tries to expose Dexter dying in the finale, etc. It’s like a band performing a cover version of a song you enjoy, but with none of the magic, power and strength of the original version.

    When you compare the Dexter/Miguel storyline of the third season to the story arc of the final season, you’ll see that the writing, dialogue, cinematography, sounds, and acting are completely different. Such a downfall in the quality of the show.

    Yes, starting with season 5, the cracks started showing and all when Chip Johanssen took over as showrunner, but as season 5 ended and Scott Buck took over for seasons 6 to 8 of the show, the quality deteriorated even further at a faster speed, until finally hitting rock bottom in season 8.

    That’s like if Vince Gilligan left Breaking Bad at the end of the fourth season of the show. Everything that makes the show good in the first place goes along with the departing original crew.

    Also, it’s not just Sara Colleton who stayed post-season 4. John Goldwyn also stayed with her until the end of the show.

    Scott Buck truly lacked the original showrunners’ vision of the show. He ran the show into the ground. The lack of humor in the later seasons also made into a dark fantasy/romance soap opera-type of show. The first four seasons were a blend of dark comedy, horror, and crime drama.

    It’s sad to see a show that could have been so great as it was in the first four seasons fall into mediocrity and become unbearable in the end. It sure has overstayed its welcome.

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