Television series are often judged by their series finale, for better or worse. Here at 25YL, we’re going to be looking at both the best and worst finales and what made them so great…or not so great, in our “Art of the Finale” series. Got a finale, for better or worse you think should make the list? Be sure and let us know!
How does one make a television series finale so bad that even the most dedicated weekly viewers of the series can’t defend it? Ask Scott Buck, co-writer of the Dexter series finale and the showrunner for the series final three years. Before I sat down to watch this truly terrible series finale again for this article, I hadn’t seen this episode since its original airing, and I had forgotten most of the details of not only the final episode but the final season in general. I had put up a Dexter mental block, remembering only the good times a.k.a. the first four seasons, when Clyde Phillips was the showrunner. Couldn’t they have just ended with the Season 4 finale instead of ruining four outstanding years of television with four bad ones after? I digress. Let’s “Remember the Monsters.”
I’m going to spend a vast majority of this article talking about everything that was wrong about this episode, but I’ll start off by giving it one bit of credit: Dexter Morgan had an impressive set of obstacles in his way to start Dexter‘s final hour. They set the table well with an impending storm, a bounty hunter hot on the trail of Dexter’s girlfriend, Deb being shot and a killer on the loose that Dexter would surely want before escaping the country with his girlfriend Hannah and his son, Harrison. Many good to great finales have a series of pitfalls designed for their main character to either triumph over or be thwarted by and Dexter surely would have to be on his A game to overcome the stacked odds against him. (End of nice things I’ll be saying).
Now on to the many issues I have with this finale, let’s start with Dexter’s foe, Oliver Saxon. Maybe it’s because Dexter had such quality foes in year’s past, but the character didn’t feel like a threat to Dexter. He seemed more like a foe in a 3 episode arc that Dexter disposes of en route to whomever his ultimate enemy for the season would be. I had a really hard time buying that he made Dexter “remember who he was” or anything like that. Sure, he shot Deb, and that had an impact on Dexter but to attribute a complete turnabout in life plans to Saxon always felt very far fetched to me. He simply came off as generic when compared to some of Dexter’s previous opponents.
Most of this finale episode focused on how Dexter felt about his sister, whose life was hanging in the balance for most of the hour. No issue with that whatsoever, it made complete sense when taking the larger story into account. What doesn’t work here is the use of flashbacks and how that plays into Dexter’s decision-making process. After Dexter initially visits Deb in the hospital, Dexter begins a series of flashbacks to when his son Harrison was born, all involving Deb. We see brother and sister discussing how Dexter is now a father, and Deb is now an Aunt, how their lives will change because of this, how Dexter doesn’t feel prepared and his sister encouraging him. Deb tells Dexter that he will be a good father because he always protected her. Conventional wisdom says that these flashbacks would serve to tell us that now that he no longer has Deb to protect, Dexter would focus on his son and honor his sister’s memory by being the father she told him he could be. Instead, we see Dexter leave his son with his girlfriend, abandoning them in what came across as self-pity and childlike behavior and rationale—“Everyone around me gets hurt.” Dexter not being reunited with his son at the end of this episode made these flashbacks meaningless and also cheapened Deb’s death, which should have been the emotional climax of the series.
When Dexter learns that Deb will be in a vegetative state for the rest of her life, he decides two things: To kill Saxon himself and to end Deb’s life. On paper, both of those ideas work but once again, the execution was terrible. I think its safe to say that a majority of people watching wanted Dexter to kill Saxon but to have Dexter kill him while he’s in police custody and have his friends on the police force say “Self defense – you can go!” deprived the viewing audience of a true ending, Dexter finally being apprehended and exposed. It was always far fetched that Dexter worked for the police, killed police officers, and got away with it every time. This murder, the one avenging his sister’s death, could’ve given us a true ending that could’ve achieved the same effect they went for in the actual ending: Deb’s death, which Dexter takes the blame for, makes him feel that he deserves to spend the rest of his days being punished. Why take the story to a far fetched place of having Dexter fake his own death and live the rest of his life as a lumberjack when he could’ve been arrested for killing the man who killed his sister and spent the rest of his days behind bars? That would have providing a more realistic ending that gave the same emotional impact as what the writers went for with their chosen ending. Everything could’ve meant more—Deb’s death, Dexter not being with his son and his permanent solitude had he finally not got away with murder here.
The sequence of events where Dexter enters the hospital as the storm is hitting to take Deb off life support and then dump her body in the ocean should’ve been much better than what it was. The only thing I can think of is that the writers and director felt the backdrop of the storm added something to the emotion of the scene, but it didn’t. Sure, it makes sense that Dexter didn’t want his sister to spend the rest of her life in a hospital bed, completely unaware of everything around her so the taking her off life support part makes sense. Dumping her in the ocean though? Sure, the visual aspect was dramatic, but why would Deb receive the same ending and be in the final resting place as all of Dexter’s victims? What symbolism does it hold? Does Dexter think all dead people belong in the ocean? It makes zero sense to be discarded in the same manner as countless of bad people. Much like Dexter’s decision to fake his death and never see his son again and how that ruined what could’ve been touching flashbacks with Deb, giving Deb the same goodbye as the show’s villains ruined what should’ve been an emotional goodbye between brother and sister.
Ultimately, the worst part of this finale was the complete betrayal of who the character of Dexter Morgan was. Dexter, despite his struggles with his own (lack of ) humanity, always took responsibility for his actions and tried to take care of those he cared for. I suppose defenders of the finale (Scott Buck and 2 or 3 of his relatives) would say that Dexter did the right thing by getting his son far away from him and making his sister’s corpse shark food. I saw cowardice in the character for the first time. Dexter dishonored the sister the show wanted us to think he cared so much about by abandoning his son and going into hiding instead of living out her dying wish, for him to live his life and be a great father. I’m not saying by any means that the ending should’ve been a happy scene with Dexter, his son and girlfriend in South America. I’m firmly in the camp that thinks Dexter should’ve finally been caught, as I mentioned earlier. If the writers wanted him to be a truly tragic character, which is what they were trying to achieve, Dexter sitting in prison thinking about how his actions got Deb killed and cost him his relationship with both Harrison and Hannah would’ve been much effective. They still could’ve ended the series with a bearded Dexter, staring blankly at the screen. Behind bars, that scene would’ve been much more effective and not the punchline it’s known for being instead.