After eight years, the exploits of everyone’s favorite serial killer drew to a close on the finale episode of Dexter. The episode proved be an emotional knockout punch, as a distraught Dexter loses his beloved sister and decides to leave his old life behind. Judging by the considerable backlash across the internet, it looks like many viewers were not happy with this outcome. The general consensus seems to be that Dexter, as well as his fans, „deserved better“. Here I have to disagree. I feel that the end we got was a fitting one. I don’t think a happy end was ever in the cards for our friendly neighborhood killer.
On the surface Dexter appears have a a lot in common with a hero like Batman. Both are shaped by childhood trauma. Both have strange ways of coping with that trauma. Both fight crime with compulsive obsession. However, while Batman is usually considered a hero within the confiness of his ficitional domain, Dexter has to be considered a „bad guy“. The DC Universe is a world teeming with super-powered heroes and villains, where vigilantism is a more or less accepted part of life and masked avengers often serve as the extended arm of the law. Dexter’s world, on the other hand, is for all intents and purposes our own. This casts his actions in a decidedly different light. Although Dexter is, of course, the hero of his own story, we cannot treat him as a hero in the traditional sense of the the word. I think even the most dedicated fan would be hard pressed to call him a role model or an ideal.
Dexter is presented to us as a man with little to no regard for others, who constantly and without remorse manipulates those around him to advance or cover his deadly schemes. He may „only“ kill criminals, but that’s just making the best out of a bad situation, as Dexter is driven by a compulsive need to kill. The responsible thing to do would be to address the issue. Instead, Dexter chooses to indulge his Dark Passenger. Even when he „slips up“ and kills innocent people (which happens at least four times throughout the show), this does not move him to question his course of action. Dexter is driven, stubborn and ultimately selfish. In any other story, he would be the villain.
The series finale delivers the inevitable comeuppance, as his actions cause Dexter to lose the few people he actually cares about. Feeding his Dark Passenger has been his primary concern since the beginning, so in the end it’s the only part of his old life that endures. Worse yet, he is finally forced to realize this. Speaking with the season’s big bad, Dexter admits:
I wish I could blame you for everything. […] But I know it’s all my fault. […] What you’ve actually done is open my eyes. Force me to look at myself. 1
Even Dexter’s original showrunner, Clyde Phillips, always envisioned a dark end to the tale. He recently shared his idea for the show’s final moments:
Dexter’s opening his eyes and he’s on the execution table at the Florida Penitentiary. They’re just starting to administer the drugs and he looks out through the window to the observation gallery, and in the gallery are all the people that Dexter killed. […] Everything we’ve seen […] has happened in the […] seconds from the time they start Dexter’s execution to the time they finish […] and he dies. 2
Whether this end would’ve been „better“ than the one we got is up for debate, but it certainly wouldn’t have been a happier one. Frankly, Dexter did very little to earn a happy end. Throughout the show’s eight-year run, he is given many chances and reasons to change his ways, all of which he willfully ignores. He can’t bring himself to stop killing for the sake of his unsuspecting wife (who, in a shocking twist, is killed by one of Dexter’s ‚targets‘). He can’t bring himself to stop for the sake of his son. He certainly never considers stopping because what he’s doing is wrong. He is utterly uninterested in the idea of „redemption“.
When we fade out on Dexter, disheveled, depressed and alone in the middle of nowhere, that’s not a happy end, but it’s the end that the past eight years have consistently built up to. For some longtime viewers, fitting is not good enough. To me, it’s a testament to the subversive quality of the show that it actually made me want a happy ending for an unapologetic serial killer.
- Dexter, Remember the Monsters? ↩
- ‚Dexter‘ final episode: Alternate ending revealed by ex-showrunner ↩