(Warning: This piece is filled with spoilers; oozing with them, I tell you! If you haven’t seen the series finale of Showtime’s Dexter first aired on 9/22/13, don’t read this! OK, we warned you.)
So, the latest TV series finale is out of the bag as Dexter says goodbye after eight seasons of vigilante serial killing.
And, surprisingly, to me at least—people hated it. HATED it. Here are some reactions I’ve seen on social media:
“Worst ending ever, you ruined my night, and you should be ashamed of yourself. If you were a person, I would drop-kick (you) in the face, with boots that have poison ivy all over them.”
“Worst series finale of any show EVER!!!! I am extremely disappointed and wish I never watched it! The ONLY episode of the 8 seasons I did not like. I wish they just ended it last week.”
“Sad ending … big let down.”
“I hated the ending, why couldn’t it be a happy ending? Now I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“So sad and hated the ending. Dex and Deb deserved a happy ending.”
I find that last two particularly interesting, and they may be at the heart of what people hate so much about the finale: It wasn’t a happy ending.
But should it have been?
Let’s look at what happened. (OK, LAST WARNING: It’s Spoiler Time!)
Dexter’s (Michael C. Hall) lack of humanity, and search to find it within himself, has been an important theme throughout the show’s eight seasons, and as the final one drew to a close, it seemed he had found it. Dexter had found love, real connection, with another human being—Hannah, a hottie serial killer (but we won’t hold that against her), who had also connected with his son Harrison in a motherly way. As the second-to-last episode ended, Dex was ready to leave everything behind—Miami, his job, his “hobbies”, even the one person he was closest to—his sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter).
Of course, this being Dexter, there was a badguy he had to deal with, Oliver Saxon, who lives without the “code” that Dexter lived by to ensure his kills were justified.
Thing is, Dex’s newfound humanity led him to do the thing he’s never done before: walk away from a kill. He had Saxon on his table, ready to be done away with, and decided he didn’t really want to.
This was new, because even though Dexter only killed people that deserved it (in accordance with his code), we also knew, thanks to Hall’s frequent voice-overs, that he also really enjoyed it.
But now, of all times, with his new life ahead of him, he decided he didn’t want to kill anymore. That was bad timing, because his lack of action had consequences. Saxon shot Deb, who was in surgery as the final episode opened. It looked like she was going to be OK, and get the happiness her storylines had denied her throughout the series.
No such luck. Deb had a stroke, and was brain-dead. He quickly took his revenge on Saxon, killing him with a pen during a jail cell visit. Reviewing a video of the killing, Dexter’s cop friends looked the other way.
Things still looked positive at this point. Hannah and Harrison were on their way out of the country, and Dex was going to meet them. A happy ending seemed possible.
But there was one matter left to take care of. With no one looking (amazing for a modern hospital, but whatever), Dexter took her off life support, felt her last breath on his cheek, and wheeled her out of the hospital on a stretcher (again, no one seems to notice when Dexter does this stuff).
Then he took her on his boat, Slice of Life (nice name), which he’d always used to dump the bodies of his victims. Uh-oh. “Where are we going with this?”, I and many other viewers asked at this point. Thing is, there was a storm brewing—a big, nasty, CGI hurricane kind of storm. Not a good thing to motorboat into.
On the boat, Dex called Hannah, said what seemed like a final goodbye without outright saying it, and threw his cell phone into the ocean.
Another bad sign—that cell phone has gotten as much play over the past eight seasons as any other character on the show. It felt like he was throwing away his final connection to his life.
Then Dexter dumped Deb into the ocean—his final kill, except for one more victim: himself. After a final bit of voice-over, in which he declares that only brings death and destruction to others and can’t be this to his family, Dexter drove his boat right into the heart of the storm.
Then the screen went black for a second, and I thought “Oh no, a repeat of the Sopranos ending?”
Not this time. We cut to a shot of Hannah and Harrison in Buenos Aires, I believe, having ice cream—a banal scene to be sure, but an indication that they would be OK together. And when Hannah sees a news story about Dexter’s boat disappearing, and that he was presumed dead, well, that wraps up that storyline, right? Dexter is dead, and she’s going to raise his boy. Roll credits.
But, no. It wasn’t over yet. We see a logging site. A lone worker gets in his truck, goes home, opens the door, and sits down, alone. It’s Dexter. He’s grown a beard. There is no music, no voice-over. He looks at the camera and closes his eyes. And that’s it.
So, not a happy ending. Sad. Deb was dead, and while Dexter survived the hurricane, he was dead inside. Cut off from his woman and his son. No friends. No more killing. To protect those he cared about, he removed himself from their lives—his final act of humanity, at his own expense.
No, Dexter did not end happily. But should it have? Yes, we might have smiled to see him join Hannah and Harrison to live happily ever after. But did he really deserve that? Dexter killed a lot of people over eight years. He ruined a lot of lives, especially Deb’s. She killed a police captain for him at the end of season seven. Learning of his true nature was a heavy burden for her. At the start of this season, she was snorting coke and living with a pimp. She had a bad ride.
Dexter was cool and funny and about as likeable an antihero as TV has produced since … well, since Tony Soprano. But he was a bad guy. He got off on killing. He was somewhat palatable as a lead character since he channeled his violent impulses towards doing the right thing, but for the wrong reasons. He liked it. He had to pay the price.
Dexter could only have ended one of a few ways:
• Happy—Dexter + Hannah + Harrison get away
• Sad—Dexter gets caught, goes to prison
• Really Sad—Dexter dies
We kind of got option two. While he didn’t get caught, or incarcerated, he did end up in a prison of sorts, of his own making—his self-punishment for all he’d done.
To me, in retrospect, that felt right. It wasn’t what I expected, and it’s so hard to be surprising these days when everything is leaked.
But man, people did hate it. Not every comment was so negative—some folks did like the ending and saw the justice and symmetry of it. But I’d say it was around 70-percent haters to 30 who dug it, and maybe that was more like 80/20.
So why the hate? My thought is that, whatever went before, whatever is the morally right and justified ending that this character deserves, beyond all else, people really, really want a happy ending.
I wonder what the reactions would have been like this morning if Dexter sailed into the sunset with his girl and boy by his side? I’ll bet we would’ve gotten lots of thumbs up from those who hated last night’s conclusion—possibly as a credit to Michael C. Hall, who did a great job of making a serial killer likeable and worth rooting for.
Even so, I’m guessing there still would have been a great deal of thumbs pointing downward.
Why? Because people really, really don’t like endings.
Especially not for TV shows, it seems. We’re conditioned that movies have endings. Two hours, the story ends, credits roll, and maybe you get a sequel if it makes money. Same for books. But TV shows aren’t supposed to end—they’re supposed to come back next season. So when they do end, and the writers wrap up years of plotlines in one or two hours, odds are we’re going to hate it.
It is, it seems, really hard to come up with a satisfying ending to something that people have invested so much time in. How do you wrap up 100 or more hours of story in one? Very, very hard to do.
OK, here’s a challenge: Name a TV series ending you really liked. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Stumped? Maybe. Because it’s easier to name endings people hated:
The Sopranos—The ambiguous “fade to black” closing pissed people off to no end.
Lost—Don’t get me started on this one. Possibly the most misunderstood, misinterpreted TV ending ever, and boy, did people hate it—so much so, that they resented the entire series and wanted the hours they invested in watching it back.
St. Elsewhere—The whole thing was the dream of an autistic child? As Keanu Reeves would say, “Whoa.”
And there are many more. Breaking Bad will be ending soon, and like Dexter, that drama features an antihero who’s done a lot of bad, bad things. That one may not end so happily either, and I wonder how people will feel about that? Possibly different, as that show has been more of a downward spiral of doom. Dexter gave us hope—of a happy ending, of redemption, of Pinocchio finally becoming a real boy—and then took it away in a final scene of bleakness and hopelessness.
Not an uplifting message, but, in my opinion at least, the right message. What Dexter did over the course of eight seasons had a price, and he paid it. Perhaps people will see that with time. Or perhaps their hatred for the finale will grow in coming years, as it seems to have done with Lost. Man, people still hate that show with a viciousness! (And by the way, the castaways weren’t all dead the entire run of the show. Buy me a drink some time and I’ll be glad to explain it to you).
Oh well. Goodbye, Dexter. It’s been a rocky ride, but an entertaining one. It was a good show, with moments of greatness, and now it’s done—wrapped in cellophane and dumped in the ocean, one last time.