In Which I Argue the Dexter Finale Does Not Go Too Far
***** SPOILERS AHEAD***Stop reading if you have not seen the episode
I don't usually do TV writing, but I love Dexter. It is one of the few shows I watch regularly and I feel the need to defend the season finale for some reason.
Heather Havrilesky writes really great entertainment pieces and I usually think her analysis is spot on, but this time I respectfully disagree. Dexter did not go too far. I'm sorry, Heather, but Rita had to die.
The stakes were just too high for Dexter to walk away unscathed this season. He got too close to Trinity and he messed up too many times, made too many bad choices, for there not to be any consequences. Trinity couldn’t be just another kill after all of the existential angst he put Dexter through, all of the comparisons and trying to figure out who he was and wasn’t in relationship to this monster. And if we are to believe that Trinity was the big baddie that he was, one of the most successful serial killers ever, for him not to inflict some collateral damage after getting so close to Dexter just isn’t believable. Dexter would come off as bulletproof and- well- that’s an entirely different kind of show isn’t it? One where you always know how it will end, where there’s no real risk or danger and he always gets his man, just a matter of how. Kind of like Columbo. Which isn’t bad, but it isn’t Dexter.
I realize I am arguing for the necessary death of a good woman and it’s not something I take lightly, even though I found Rita to be an annoying little sugar cookie sometimes. I understood she had to be a foil for Dexter. She had to be as sunshiney-bright as he was dark and he could be really dark, so I came to respect Rita’s role. And when faced with her death it hit me like a gut-punch too. I think that’s brilliant. So few shows affect me like that anymore. I respect the writers tremendously for not letting us see it coming. I’m a pretty jaded horror and mystery aficionado and I can often see three steps ahead of a story and it annoys the bejeesus out of me. I consider it lazy writing. The whole point of this kind of story-telling is to have your breath taken away, to feel the floor drop out from under you. It should feel like the plummet from the highest peak of a roller coaster when it’s working.
Now that feeling can certainly make some people sick, so I understand Havrilesky’s discomfort. But I also have to ask, where were you in season one when we witness the moment of Dexter’s “birth” as a serial killer? That scene is far more disturbing to me than the season finale.
First of all, Dexter is older than Harrison and more able to grasp his very bad situation. He was left alone in a shipping container in ankle-deep blood (yes a wee bit over the top for me too) for days. Stop and think about that for a minute, alone with corpses including your own mother’s for days and no reason to believe anyone was going to be looking for you. And the most horrifying thing of all, worse even than the sight of a baby in a pool of blood, was the exchange between Dexter’s mother and her killers. Do you remember? As a mother it gave me nightmares. Laura begs her killers not to do this in front of her children and she receives only inhuman silence in response. She then turns to her child and whispers, “Don’t look. Shut your eyes.” It chilled me. To have so little power to protect your children.
I understood why the scene had to be so horrible though. It’s necessary to be carried along on the premise that Dexter becoming a killer was inevitable. If we come away thinking, “Wow that would really fuck him up, but a killer? I don’t know.” The whole premise of the show falls down. We have to believe that this turned him into a killer and that scene made me believe. (I think it's also possible that they are going to have Harrison follow in his father's footsteps eventually. Dexter mentors Rita's kids in the books because they are much more damaged by their father's abuse than they are in the tv version.)
Rita’s death plunges us back into the moral uncertainty that was so present in season one. We weren’t sure how to feel about this guy, Dexter. Who is he? Is he a force for good? Should we like him? He became so likable and identifiable in the following seasons that we got too comfortable. The writers had to shake us out of that because Dexter is nothing without his divided self. We should be a little uncomfortable, we are talking about killing people after all. Should that be completely unproblematic? Rita’s death brings us back to the very interesting question Dexter asked of himself early on, “Am I a good person who does bad things? Or am I a bad person who does good things?”
I think next season is going to be very interesting.