Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven't seen the Season 8 premiere of "Dexter," titled "A Beautiful Day."
"Dexter" began its final season Sunday night as the TV landscape found itself at an anti-hero crossroads. Two weeks after James Gandolfini's death and at the start of a summer that will see the series finales of "Dexter" and "Breaking Bad," it feels like a TV era is coming to an end.
The big question hanging over this last season of "Dexter" is whether the serial-killer-of-serial-killers we've spent eight seasons rooting for has to eventually pay for his sins. Does Dexter have to meet justice after murdering so many murderers over the years? Does Dexter have to die? That was never an explicit deal "Dexter" made with its audience, but it might make us feel better about ourselves.
"The Sopranos," with its cut-to-black, "Don't Stop Believin'" ending, was David Chase's complicated refusal to answer those questions. Whether you think Tony Soprano died when the show's lights went out, or consider the scene a metaphor for a life of looking over his shoulder, we're left with that maddening, beautiful ambiguity six years later.
So the final season of "Dexter" has a great opportunity to really make its mark on anti-hero TV -- which may be why Showtime decided to premiere "Dexter's" final season two months before "Breaking Bad" presents Walter White's final descent into hell. And after a reinvigorated Season 7 that pulled the show out of a creative rut, "Dexter" is well positioned to go out strong, if the show plays its cards right.
Those are the stakes of this final "Dexter" season. And watching how "Dexter" gets to that conclusion, and debating whether the show's end was satisfying and challenging enough to justify our nearly-decade long investment in watching it will be the fun of this final run.
With all that in mind, let's break down the suspenseful "Dexter" premiere, an engaging hour that ended with an exciting final fifteen-minute flourish that gave us almost everything we've grown accustomed to seeing in a "Dexter" episode: Dexter killing a bad guy, one of Deb's boyfriends dying and Deb telling Dexter that she hates him before ultimately covering his tracks again.
Despite those familiar tropes, there was a darker, grittier feel to this episode, which is a strange thing to say about a show whose hero is a serial killer. This new season picked up with both Dexter and Deb spiraling dangerously out of control in different ways, and it kept the episode totally on-edge.
Six months have passed in the show's timeline since Deb shot La Guerta in that trailer, and Deb has turned into a total mess since walking out on Miami Metro: snorting coke, smoking weed, and living off a prescription buffet of Xanax, Paxil and Adderall. She's working so deep undercover for private investigator Jacob Elway now (Sean Patrick Flannery) that she's having sex with coke dealer and jewelry thief Andrew Briggs (played by Rhys Coiro, aka Billy Walsh from "Entourage). So yeah, Deb is in a bad way.
On the surface, Dexter is doing a better job than Deb of keeping his life together. He's been coaching Harrison's soccer team, got his bowling team back together, and met a new lady with fake boobs. But while he said in the episode's opening narration that La Guerta's death "helped solve all [his] problems," the strained dynamic that it created between him and his sister has caused plenty of new problems.
Dexter tried to pull Deb out of her tailspin, and tracked her down at a convenience store after she'd gone MIA for a few weeks. But she rebuffed him with a slurred, but still signature Deb f-bomb: "Do you want to know why I'm not returning your phone calls? Because I don't want to talk to you, and I really don't f--king want to see you ... because you made me compromise everything about myself that I care about, and I hate you for it ... I shot the wrong person in that trailer."
Deb's snub, and seeing her at this low point, sent Dexter sliding out of control too. When a guy cut him off on the highway after he left the store, Dexter chased him down, stormed out of his car and strangled the guy, as his horrified young son looked on from the backseat.
Road rage against bad drivers is not covered by Harry's Code, and it was one of the more uncomfortable acts of violence I can remember seeing Dexter commit. That guy wasn't "in the game," as Omar from "The Wire" might say. Not only was the scene a sign that Dexter is slipping, but it was a clear signal from the show's producers that they intend to deal with the side-effects and collateral damage of Dexter's violence and uncontrollable rage in this final season.
The Deb and Dexter storyline culminated in the episode's climactic final scene. Deb's guy Briggs had recently robbed a mob-affiliated jewelry store, and the word was put out on the street that nobody should buy his stolen goods. There was one interested buyer, though, a "fence" named "El Sapo." But Dexter discovered that "El Sapo" was actually a mob hitman, who was going to take Briggs out, and probably Deb too, if she was in the way.
So Dexter raced over to the Pink Motel to get Deb out of harm's way. But because Harrison's babysitter Jamie Batista took the night off to have sex with the office dirtbag Quinn, Dexter had to bring his son along for the ride.
From outside her room, Dexter got Deb's attention warned her about the hitman coming their way. But Deb didn't care. "I'm gonna make a f--kload of money," she told him. When Dexter tried to plead with her to leave to avoid getting killed, she exploded and yelled, "I don't f--king care!"
Then Briggs came outside to see what was up, and the situation got scary. Dexter tried to grab Deb's arm to take her home, but Briggs pushed him away. So Dexter switched into serial killer mode and pushed him into the motel room, where he picked up a knife that Briggs was lunging for and stabbed him in the chest, killing him.
And just like that, yet another guy Deb was sleeping with was killed off the show. She really knows how to pick 'em. And she was livid with her brother. "What did you do? I felt okay around him! F--k! F--k!" Deb yelled. Later, she continued, "I am not lost. I know exactly where I am. I am in some shitty f--king hell which is exactly what I deserve. But you ... you are lost!"
But Deb being Deb, she called the murder in to the cops, and covered Dexter's tracks again, because she just can't quit him.
Dexter got back into the car only to discover Harrison had gone missing. There were a few moments of sheer terror before Dexter discovered he was just wandering around the parking lot, and hadn't witnessed what just went down. As Dexter hugged Harrison with a bloody hand, he did not exactly look like the father of the year.
Did Dexter kill Briggs in self defense? Maybe, and the guy was a scumbag who was putting Deb in danger. But like the road rage strangling, this stabbing fell outside the code, which is collapsing under the weight of Dexter's aggression. That development is a positive sign about the ambition of this final season, and the dark places it could be going.
A few more scattered thoughts on the episode:
- There's a new serial killer on the loose in Miami. His M.O. is apparently to shoot his victims in the chest, slice open their craniums and scoop out a little piece of their brain ... the specific area of the brain that controls empathy, as Dr. Evelyn Vogel pointed out.
- Speaking of Dr. Vogel, what do we make of this Charlotte Rampling's new character? She is a neuropsychiatrist known as "the psychopath whisperer" who has written a text book about "the brains of psychopaths." She and Dexter exchanged many uncomfortable glances and had several loaded conversations. "We both chose murder. Maybe we're both a little crazy," she told him in the crime lab, while asking about the Bay Harbor Butcher.
Later, Vogel met Dexter in the park and presented him with some of his childhood drawings depicting him murdering stick-figures. As Dexter pushed her up against a wall and demanded to know what she wanted from him, Vogel dropped a bombshell (if you haven't read any of the interviews with the show's producers about Vogel's role.)
"You can't kill me," she said. "It doesn't meet Harry's code." Little does she know, that may not be such a safe assumption these days.
- Deb's bank password was 'f--kingpassword,' which was so Deb. (Thanks for catching that, commenters.)
- It can't be too long before Batista re-examines La Guerta's suspicions about Dexter and Deb. But for now, he was still lamenting that her obsession with the Bay Harbor Butcher case got her killed. Even after Dexter exploded at him, yelling, "[She] so tragically died? She died because she wouldn't leave things alone!" Batista didn't catch on to the subtext. "I hope you find it in your heart to forgive her," was all he said. He will have his "Hank on the toilet" moment soon.
- What would have been more psychologically damaging for Harrison to witness: his father killing someone, or Quinn having sex with his babysitter?
- Showtime has put the full "Dexter" premiere on YouTube. You can watch it below:
What did you think of this "Dexter" season premiere? Leave your thoughts and theories in the comments.
"Dexter" airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.