Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 15, 2009 4:07PM

In Which I Argue the Dexter Finale Does Not Go Too Far

Rate: 25 Flag

***** 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.

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If not...you really ought to read up on it.
The ending kept me up that night. As much as Rita annoyed me, yes, I also was sucker-punched. And yet, really, how appropriate. Was Dexter really going to learn to feel and sail into the sunset as a family man? Was John Lithgow's Trinity really going to exit as tidily as most of Dexter's other victims? I don't think so. actions have consequences, even actions channeled into a sort of moral code. And of course, I am now thoroughly hooked.
Frank, I'm going to quote you back to you. "Decaf."

That being said, Juli, it might be a good idea to indicate that there are spoilers in your post.
Spoilers do not ruin great shows for me . . . and I can hardly wait to see this season, finale and all.
Frank, Frank, so f-ing angry you are! All those CAPS! And your over-use of that already over-used expletive just weakens your point and mitigates readers' sympathies for your plight. One F- - -ING would have been sufficient. Why didn't you just stop reading after the first paragraph. Juli doesn't give away the store until the third graph. No will power, huh? You just had to keep going. Just like Dexter.
One…I apologize for getting as angry as I did…and for reacting as harshly as I did.

Two…the spoiler (or certainly a significant part of the spoiler) came in the second sentence…long before I realized a spoiler would come without a warning. I’ve read many reviews that simply keep spoilers under covers. This one was out there before anyone could know.

I love Dexter…but we do not have SHO. We watch the series on tapes.

It would have been nice to have a warning…but that does not justify my over-the-top reaction…and I apologize to Juli and all the other readers here.
I couldn't help but read Heathers piece even though we are still waiting for the 3rd season of Dexter on Netflix. We LOVE the show! Now I'll know but won't tell my husband. Good analysis. Did you know that the guy who plays Dexter is in love with the woman who plays his sister? Actually, I think they got married!!
I thought Heather's take on the Dexter finale was ridiculous. Then again, I don't care for most of her opinions because they are jejeune in the extreme. She doesn't appear to have many critical thinking skills, whereas you, JustJuli, nailed it.
I thought the season finale was great. shocking...yes...but we are watching a show about a serial killer. I agree the couldn't walk away unscathed. not this season...
I agree with you too, Juli. And from my point of view, your post's title (the words Dexter Finale should be a clue) lets your readers know that you are analyzing something, and with analysis comes revelation. Back to Dexter: a lot of people die per season, and why is one person's death more over-the-top than any other's? For me, (SPOILER ALERT) the worst death this season was when Trinity forced that woman to jump to her death. That was by far the scariest moment.
Imagine that, a horror show being horrifying or shocking. The reactions to this shouldn't surprise me but they do. It's amazing how, despite Dexter's aberrant behavior, how people still view this show through the same prism of any other family drama. He has dismembered more people than Leatherface from "Texas Chainsaw" but fans of the show still want his marriage to be okay etc. Putting a baby in a pool of blood is just about the only way the producers and writers had left of shocking fans of "Dexter."

Remember, Dexter was likely going to frame Sgt. Doakes just to keep his ghastly enterprise going. There's nothing good about Dexter folks. It's good that Showtime and company put the horror back in the horror show.
I don't watch Dexter, though judging from the comments of regular viewers the ending it obeys one of Anton Chekhov's rules for writing--the ending must be both shocking and inevitable.

Heather's review got me into a more "meta" mode, though, about the responsibility of the critic to the art she is critiquing and the audience she is critiquing for. This is where, as a non-viewer of Dexter, her review fell down for me. I do think reviewers have a responsibility to state when they cannot objectively review something. L.A. Times and NPR critic Kenneth Turan did just this when faced with reviewing The Passion of the Christ. Instead of reviewing the film he talked about, essentially, why he COULDN'T do so instead of just trashing it.

Taking Dexter regulars at their word, it seems that the writers did what good writers should do. If Heather, as a parent, cannot objectively review it, she shouldn't. I would urge her to seek out Turan's "Passion" review--I'm sure it's in All Things Considered's online archive--and use the experience to become a better critic.
My apologies Frank, my draft had a spoiler alert and it was deleted when I navigated away from the page. I didn't realize I hadn't put it back in.

Thanks Nikki- I agree- and I think John Lithgow was too good to just disappear neatly. His performance as Trinity was pretty amazing. I can't wait for next season

Thanks Jeanette- I fixed it- hopefully I haven't done too much damage.

Thanks Owl- it's a pretty great show. And Jane- I understand- violence is not everyone's cup of tea.

Thanks Claire- again Frank- my apologies.

Deborah- I did hear that Dexter is married to the woman who plays his sister- it made a few episodes weird for me. ;-)

Thanks Emma. Thanks IndieGirl. Undertow- that was a pretty chilling scene- the begging always gets me.

Bob- I agree about putting the horror back in. Dexter just can't get too cuddly. It won't work.

Austin Cynic - "it obeys one of Anton Chekhov's rules for writing--the ending must be both shocking and inevitable." Yes!! That is it exactly. The ending felt absolutely shocking AND inevitable. It is hard to do both and I think they did it.
Didn't go too far.
If you ask me, the real theme of the season was that Dexter was getting sloppy, and when serial killers get sloppy they get.....caught.
It would be nice if the show would end while it is still good. Season three was godawful and four started weak but got very good. The depictions of violence this season were needlessly graphic. Several episodes were disturbing to watch and left me feeling uneasy, this is how it should be if someone makes a tv show with an antihero serial killer lead. Wonderfully executed. Please end the show before it gets bad, or worse, poorer in quality than season 3.

Unfortunately i suspect a lot of season five will be the net closing around Dexter and six the inevitable aftermath. C'mon Dexter staff, do it with class, taste and panache and end it while it's good.

Final thought. I love me some Hitchcock. Wonder what the master would have thought of the show? Too unsubtle? Not his cup of tea? Slyly jealous?
My only bone to pick with the show was the wife's character. Why on earth would anyone marry this woman? She struck me as a plot element more than a character, almost like the Friday the 13th movies when the audience was expected to be happy when the most annoying person got whacked. Still, "Dexter" was one of my don't-miss shows this year.
I remain haunted by that final scene now two solid days after seeing it, but I think it was necessary. I agree with you that for Dexter to become so entangled with Trinity yet not be effected, especially after all of his "father's" warnings to guard his family, would not have been believable.

And you're right again in suggesting we need to be uncomfortable when viewing the tales of a serial killer.
You're dead on (you should excuse the expression), Juli, and Heather was wrong, and drastically wrong; I thought so when I read her piece and I still think so. The writers didn't just arbitrarily kill off Rita for shock value; they did so knowing the entirely appropriate emotional impact it would have, and cognizant of the irony that Dexter, hoping to learn how a serial killer might have a life with a family from Trinity, loses his life with with his family because he lets Arthur live--and Arthur never had that kind of life anyway. It wasn't schlock writing; it was first-rate writing, with a point: nothing is for free, and mostly the cost isn't worth it.

And I respect Frank greatly, but in general, once a show airs, "spoiler" is a moot concept. Read a piece about it at your peril.
I feel that Rita would come to an end either be leaving Dexter or by being killed sometimes by my own hand. I seriously felt trapped as much as Dexter was when she was on. And what did she think would happen in her life. Dexter was never there.

You all should remember that last season Dexter found out about a secret she was keeping from him which was never developed. She had a past.

Also let us not forget how cute she was with her man friend next door. Do you think she did not know what was happening?

Her death was brutal and sad but it was what needed to be done. Her character had no future in Dexter. It was fantastical but that is what we love about it.
Did Frank say he watched Dexter on tape? What the fuck no wonder you are so fucking angry. Go ONLINE due. There are plenty of sites that show it online. Its 2009.
I haven't seen the season at all, and have no problem with knowing what's coming up. I watch the show, like I read a book, largely for the process. I must say I never understood people who get so exorcised over knowing the ending of a work of fiction that one would think they'd just been pipped at the post for the Nobel Prize. Weird.
I'm with Jane - there's plenty to feel disturbed about w.o. seeking it out, I figure.

Hey, classy comments - two uses of "jejeune". (I'm so jejeune I had to google the def.)
Who's Dexter? I'm not much good at this prime time stuff but did get amused by Frank...something else is going on with Frank...you OK Frank...?
What a strange discussion to find on OS. Discovering posts like this (and Robin Sneed's about dialect) ( and her subsequent posts on Chanukah ) are the delightful surprises that keep me checking back on OS, even long after I've decided the political posts are hopeless.
I rather thought my wife and I were the only people around who are perverse enough to enjoy Dexter( but I live in Amish country) My wife is not at all sure she will forgive the writers for killing Rita, even as she admits how unexpected and yet inevitable. I usually have plots figured out fairly well by the time the action takes place. Never saw this coming at all- yet it is brilliantly fitting. Do you suppose Rita will come back and haunt Dexter as Harry does?
The moment Dexter grabbed Trinity's hand and thwarted his suicide attempt because HE wanted to do the killing himself, this episode was guaranteed. That scene - Dexter playing God with Trinity as his hand nearly slipped from his grasp - reminded all viewers paying any attention Dexter is first and foremost a sociopath. That he kills people who deserve it was merely was his father programmed him to do. (And he even screwed THAT up this season.)

No, Dexter lost his family, lost Rita, not because he was getting more socialized and more entrenched in the notion of family but because, with Trinity, he began regressing.

The horror of his complicity will most likely guide all the decisions he makes from this point forward.
The moment Dexter grabbed Trinity's hand and thwarted his suicide attempt because HE wanted to do the killing himself, this episode was guaranteed. That scene - Dexter playing God with Trinity as his hand nearly slipped from his grasp - reminded all viewers paying any attention Dexter is first and foremost a sociopath. That he kills people who deserve it was merely was his father programmed him to do. (And he even screwed THAT up this season.)

No, Dexter lost his family, lost Rita, not because he was getting more socialized and more entrenched in the notion of family but because, with Trinity, he began regressing.

The horror of his complicity will most likely guide all the decisions he makes from this point forward.
I agree that Salon's review was pure emotion, but very little intellect. Rita was an irritating, manipulative character from the get go.

But this episode had some big holes in the writing. How, for example, did Dexter come upon Arthur on that dark road so suddenly? Was he hiding in the back seat of a convertible for six hours? Was he following Arthur on those empty roads, undetected and with his headlights off, for six hours? Did Scotty beam him down? Ridiculous.

Then, we're to believe Arthur dropped by Dexter's house after picking up his freshly-painted car, found Rita at home, did her in (although the order was all wrong, since he hadn't killed a little boy), but didn't think to mention this -- even obliquely to Dexter, just to get the last laugh?

No, these logical holes in the script are the problem, not the fake blood.
P.S. Poor Frank. He reads a post about a season finale and then freaks that the post mentions what happens in said finale! What did you expect to read here, Frank? He probably complains to management if the waiter forgets to mention that the plate containing the still-bubbling lasagna is hot.
Hey Frank, you couldn't figure out from the title that the article was gonna be talking about the Dexter finale? Idiot.
Spot on analysis. I'm a Dexter fan from season one and I found this to be the best overall season. Dexter is a serial killer. Yes, he's a lovable serial killer, but a serial killer nonetheless. They are right there under politicians as the most loathsome human beings. Rita dying didn't shock me. When Lithgow found Dexter's address I had this dread feeling in my stomach of what was to follow.

I haven't read the Salon.com piece against the ending but morally I guess the lesson is if you live a life accidentally killing innocent people on occasion, karma will bite you on the ass and another little Dexter may be born in the aftermath. I thought it was a picture perfect ending in that it wasn't the dreaded "cliffhanger" but it left you thinking, "what now for Dexter and the kids?"

Ahhh the kids. That's what is important for them to work into the plot of next season. Will Dexter be a loving father or continue his serial killing ways? I think we know the answer.

First of all, I agree with everything you said. A far better analysis than Heather's. Also her disgust at finding a baby in blood, as you point out, pulls the whole thing in a circle, with Dexter as a baby with his brother in a pool of blood watching his mother murdered. What could be worse than that? Well done. R
Great post, Juli. I couldn't believe that HH was buying the Dexter would somehow be redeemed. I wondered if we were watching the same show. On the one hand, yes it was nice to see Dexter being more human, loving. On the flip side, he was also very cavalier with how he treated his family. It would have been ridiculous for the writers to allow Dexter's obsession with Trinity be resolved with a happy ending. It seemed to me over the last few episodes that his obsession and sloppiness was going to have horrible consequences for his family. It did.

Re: tomreedtoon, it's really rich to be scolded by someone who has shown themselves to be one of the most misanthropic, angry, and mean-spirited people on Salon.
I don't think there's much new about Rita's death. Throughout all the Dexter seasons Dexter's "hobby" always brings his family and friends into danger:

Season 1: Dexter's brother, the "ice truck killer" tries to kill his sister.

Season 2: Dexter's friend Lila seeks to kill Rita's children.

Season 3: Dexter's friend Miguel tries to kill LaGuerta.

Season 4: Dexter's "friend" Arthur kills Rita.

Dexter is not only a killer, but is also a magnet, drawing in other killers, and putting his loved ones in danger. Perhaps Dexter will start to reflect on this in season 5.
I won't watch a show that justifies murder and says it's ok for a sociopath to go about his business, (regardless of his history) but I do read the reviews because I'm interested in how people do justify it. (I did watch the first episode to find out how the character was being portrayed.) I find it interesting how many people say that because Rita was annoying they were glad to see her go, which I find appalling.

As a writer and someone who works in film, I understand manipulating characters to get a story across. For television, it's a little different. Film and books are a done deal by the time the audience sees them, but in television, most writers write as a reaction to the audience and to manipulate their viewers.
I have to admit. I still haven't decided if I will continue to watch Dexter next season -- the ending really upset me. Of course, Rita's death was a necessity for the story to continue in the proper vein, but, boy, was I shocked. Once my senses heal, I'll be back to watching. Great show!
We share the same birthday, so I really like you. I'm usually not NEARLY as pissed-off as Frank.
I liked Rita much better on season one when she was damaged and scared of her own shadow. I think this was the inevitable conclusion to this season My son and I watch the series religiously and both of us have been wondering for some time when Rita was going to be killed off and who was going to do it. the fact that Dexter's father kept alluding to it for most of the season should have been a clue to us all. And Frank Aspia, lighten up dude