Though Showtime’s “Dexter” is three episodes from the series finale, it’s time for the show to be wrapped in plastic on one of Dexter’s kill tables.
Spoilers abound from here on out.
Most TV shows starring an anti-hero come baited with a savory hook – the idea that the show’s founding premise will be his or her ultimate demise by the end of the show’s run.
If a show casts a protagonist of questionable character, it allows for the same vicarious thrill as a roller coaster. The audience explores the moral ambiguities without ever feeling the consequences.
In order to make these scary monsters palatable, they often require a less-heinous confidant. Their nemeses are often ruthless, unquestionable, gaping-black-hole-of-scary evil.
For Showtime’s “Dexter,” this formula was distorted.
After dozens of hours of premeditated murder, the writers have eschewed the notion that Dexter, a blood spatter analyst for Miami Metro homicide, must pay a karmic price for his life. Being caught by the authorities has been reduced to a nuisance, a fly buzzing around the kill table.
Their “big bad” villain for this final season is shaping up to be the son of Evelyn Vogel, a psychiatrist specializing in psychopaths who helped Dexter’s father craft the “code” for who is kill-worthy. Vogel’s son is a less cuddly monster than Dexter, but he’s also one who was just introduced, about whom we know next to nothing and we know poses no actual threat to Dexter.
In the formula, that leaves the less-heinous confidant. For “Dexter,” that’s his sister by adoption, Debra.
Foul-mouthed, law-upholding detective Deb was the conduit to the show for many viewers. She was its creamy moral center before the writers of “Dexter” compromised her one flawed, major step at a time.
In successive season finales, the once-unflappably moral Deb let a pair of vigilante killers go free, caught Dexter in the act and, last year, shot and killed her own boss, Maria LaGuerta, when she had Dexter red-handed.
This doesn’t even mention the subplot that involved her realizing she doesn’t just love her brother, but she’s in love with him, a writing decision that not only defies probability since they met as toddlers, but cheapened any personal growth Deb had during the series.
Deconstructing Debra robbed the show out of what could’ve been a spectacular last hurrah. In different hands, she could’ve been one of TV’s greatest heroines.
The Debra from the show’s early seasons – the one who said “maybe it’s true some people deserve to die, but I’m a cop and I don’t make that (expletive) decision” – chasing after her own sibling to bring him to justice would’ve been riveting.
In portraying Deb, actress Jennifer Carpenter was up to this challenge. Fans carped about her delivery of the character in those early seasons, but her flaws were so authentic that some mistook them for the actresses’. It’s also possible dislike for her blossomed from how Deb’s laser-pointed morality buttressed against Dexter’s murderous side too much for those enjoying the show vicariously.
A Deb vs. Dexter showdown would’ve been great. One imagines the law-abiding Deb deciding that if it meant falling on one of Dexter’s knifes to put him away, she would’ve done it. Longtime viewers are almost certain that’s not going to happen now.
Instead, with three episodes left, the promise of Sunday nights is greeted with a shrug.
Knowing what an audience wants in an ending is important in crafting it. At every turn, “Dexter” has bucked expectations – and not for the better.
By not giving Dexter a worthy foe or bringing him to justice, as it seems likely, the writers are trying to make the point that he isn’t a bad guy to have in the world. That’s an amusing literary fantasy, but an unsettling real-life scenario.
Equally troubling is the message that Dexter’s villainy is so all-consuming that he swallowed someone of such strong convictions and values as Deb.
That makes her Dexter’s greatest victim. His preferred method of execution is wrapping his victims in plastic, stabbing them through the heart and then shoving them off his boat in pieces.
This is Deb’s symbolic fate.
The writers stabbed her in the heart and, piece by piece, tossed her away until she became a faint memory of the eager, morally righteous, wide-eyed vice cop who started the series.
And “Dexter’s” final bow is all the weaker for it.
To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.