July 1, 2013



DEXTER:  Sunday 9PM on Showtime

Here we are, once again at the outset of the declared final season for a long-lived, successfully distinctive TV series.  The conclusion of DEXTER won’t compare to the upcoming end of Breaking Bad later this summer (or to next year’s exit of Mad Men) in terms of passionate expectations, but it’s still going to need to satisfy the fans and round out 8 seasons of narrative in a way that makes sense–and, in the case of Dexter, apply a final moral calculus to the ambiguities that come with making a hero out of a serial killer.

This ultimate season started well with an hour written by Executive Producer Scott Buck (Dexter‘s showrunner for the past few seasons) and directed by one of the series’ most experienced helmers, Keith Gordon.  Six months have passed since the wrenching last moments of Season 7, when Miami Detective Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter), the adopted sister of blood-spatter specialist and psychopath Dexter (Michael C. Hall), for whom she has an exquisitely tortured tangle of feelings, faced the choice of shooting him and instead killed Maria LaGuerta, her mentor, foe and boss, who had discovered the truth about Dexter (and about Debra, who’d covered up his recent murders).  In the intervening time, Deb has lost her moorings in a big way.  She’s resigned from the force and become a rogue private detective-cum-bounty hunter, drinking, doing drugs and having sex with her targets and putting herself in mortal danger because she believes that she doesn’t deserve to live anymore.  Carpenter has always been Dexter‘s MVP, even though Hall is superb in the showier part and gets the lion’s share of the show’s attention, and she thoroughly convinces us both that Deb is a shattered shell of herself and that she’s still capable of doing her job.

Deb’s collapse, and its effect on Dexter, who’s barely able to cope with his own guilt and worry about her situation, was the major focus of the hour, but the season premiere also started the introduction of what will presumably be the season’s major crime plot.  Dexter has always taken its time with this aspect of its storytelling, and often a season is 3 or 4 episodes old before the Big Bad plot really kicks in.  Here we have a killer–no nickname yet–who removes the back of his victim’s skull and removes, possibly with a melon-baller, not just a scoop of brain, but very specifically the scoop that houses the brain’s center of empathy, which not coincidentally happens to be the piece supposedly missing from or miswired in a psychopath’s brain.  Like, for example, Dexter’s.  The more immediate danger for Dexter is that with the crime has arrived Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling, peerless at cool menace), a neuropsychiatrist brought in by newly returned Deputy Chief Matthews (Geoff Pierson) who, it is immediately apparent, has far more than a friendly interest in Dexter.

The episode also dealt with some housekeeping, as Sergeant Angel Batista (David Zayas) returned along with Matthews to the force after LaGuerta’s death, and his sister (and also the nanny of Dexter’s son) Jamie (Aimee Garcia, rescued from Vegas) is now in a full-fledged, if still secret, affair with Detective Quinn (Desmond Harrington), who was once upon a time Deb’s boyfriend and who’s the only one on the force with whom she still has contact.

It’s early, but there’s already a gratifying feeling of chaos around the events of this season.  Dexter’s one kill in the episode may have technically satisfied his Code (the victim was Deb’s wrongdoing target, a violent burglar), but was a chaotic piece of ill-considered self-defense, without any of his rituals attached.  Dexter is being thrown one way by Deb’s distress and another by Dr. Vogel’s far too knowledgeable hauteur–and we know that his former lover/fellow killer Hannah McKay (Yvonne Strahovski) will return before the season is over.  This is a show that should end with a moral earthquake, and the tremors have begun.

Dexter certainly isn’t leaving the airwaves because it’s outstayed its welcome–it’s grown steadily throughout its run, and in Season 7 it was Showtime’s biggest hit (considerably bigger than Homeland, despite that show’s accolades), with ratings in the 1.1-1.4 range.  The producers chose to bring the story to an end, and now it’s their responsibility to finish it well.  The premiere suggests that the finale should be in sure hands.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."