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TV Review: Dexter 8.12, "Remember the Monsters?"

Henry Cavil

rating: 1.5

I shouldn't feel so shocked. The writing on the walls of Dexter have been apparent for years. "Do You Remember the Monsters?" is merely the last nail in the coffin of a show which should have been the exciting and daring series Showtime always promoted it as, but instead turned out to have merely lured hopeful audiences around in circles through a narrative no man's land of redundant and often irrelevant plots, characterization which time and again collapsed in on itself, and half-brained resolutions contingent on viewers not only suspending their disbelief, but also their standards of logic and good taste. This has clearly and unapologetically been the case for most of the show's run, but even still, "Monsters" has proved to be probably the most daunting episode of television about which I've ever had to write. If you came here to read about how edgy and surprising the Dexter finale was then abandon all hope ye who enter here. If you came here suspecting this review would trash the episode and you wish to defend it, well, stick around because I can't wait to talk to you. If you came here hoping to find a former fan of the show, someone who was genuinely captivated back in the fall of 2006, and has gradually felt more and more cheated over the years, yet stuck through and continued to watch every single episode because he refused to give up on that which had so much potential, and now you need some outlet to vent your grief and frustration, then you've arrived at the right place. I believe that creating and appreciating art are among the highest goals to which an individual can aspire, and that television is indeed an art form. Though I do also possess the perspective to understand there are much more constructive and helpful things to do in life, and that this was just a TV show after all, I can't help but feel that having been a devoted viewer of Dexter is somewhat akin to dating someone for several years who refuses to grow up, and then you come home from work one day to realize this person drained your life savings, sold all your furniture and possessions, and used the money to abandon you for a fresh start in some luxurious exotic land. But before I mourn what was for a time my hope for Dexter, which gradually transformed into my wounded resentment of Dexter, let's get the autopsy of "Monsters" out of the way. I think this episode may have actually exemplified every major flaw of the series: repetitive plots, unresolved arcs, baseless motivations, laughably bad police work, and moral "Get Out of Jail Free" cards. On top of all that, like the vast majority of this final season, the episode was boring. The first half of the episode didn't do much else besides get Hannah and Harrison on their way out of the country and showcase the conversation between Deb and Dexter in which everyone involved is absolved of any blame or responsibility €“ because surely that's what makes for good story-telling, a consequence-free zone. Dexter arrives at the hospital where Deb lays recovering from surgery and the siblings discuss her fatal injury. It's at this point Deb spells it out for any viewers who haven't picked up on the show's crusade to make sure everyone understands that Dexter is beyond reproach for any and all transgressions by saying things like, "You're not responsible for this," and "Don't feel guilty," and "You're meant to be happy." Either Dexter heeds his sister's words and doesn't learn a damn thing, which would seem consistent with the outcomes of most seasons of the show, or he ignores her pleas to placate his own needs, also consistent, which presents its own problem. Even with Deb acting as his biggest advocate, Dexter does still feel guilty that he didn't kill Saxon when he had the chance (much like with Lila, and Miguel, and Trinity €“ see some of the repetition yet?), which, as I discussed last week, suggests Dexter was wrong to not kill someone, presumably the object of his character growth over eight seasons. "Monsters" doesn't seem to know what statement, if any, it tried to make about Dexter. How can the character have reached a satisfying resolution if that resolution is implied as the character's downfall? Either Dexter's life is slowly destroyed by his homicidal lifestyle, or it's destroyed by his refusal to carry on his homicidal lifestyle. This is the supposed catch-22 "Monsters" presents, but it ignores the very obvious answer €“ why doesn't Dexter just start fresh with his family in Argentina? To pay penance by counting rosary beads in the form of cut-down trees? Is self-punishment really the answer? We've arrived at the ugly, bearded, plaid truth so I might as well address it. The epilogue of Dexter having survived the hurricane he drove his boat into €“ absolute physical impossibility that it is aside €“ forces us to consider whether Harrison is really better off with Hannah in Argentina. I know Harrison said he loves Hannah and the reverse has been implied, but he's maybe four or five years old at this point, what does he know? How is being abandoned by his dad what's best? Even if Hannah dedicates her life to raising her "dead" boyfriend's son and is a wonderful mother, which, I mean, being a gold-digging mass murderer really doesn't suggest, growing up without a father figure isn't a walk in the park €“ not that a single mother or a lesbian couple can't raise a healthy, well-adjusted individual, because absolutely they can €“ but is Harrison just supposed to eventually forget his father without it ever coming up again? I understand most adults don't necessarily remember much from their early childhood, but those are still extremely formative years regardless. But you know what? Who cares? The show isn't about the relative merits of early childhood development, and forcing us to consider this discussion in the last five minutes of a series about a serial killer whose skills as a father were never a priority is ludicrous, especially since Rita's parents and Jamie did most of the heavy lifting after Rita's death. Dexter abdicating his responsibilities to his son to a cold-blooded killer in Argentina he dated for a few months is not the honorable thing to do. Consider how much more interesting and reinvigorated the show would have been if something this game-changing happened back when there was actual time to explore it, say, in the sixth season? Seriously, even if by the end of that season Dex went from Canadian lumberjack back to Miami blood spatter analyst, it would have been infinitely more exciting than watching him chase some religious freak around the same, boring environment as always. Inherently tragic characters are not necessarily bad characters. The problem isn't that Dexter never could have led a normal life, it's that this conclusion comes completely out of left field. Someone would not need to have watched a single episode after the fourth season to watch the series finale and they would be left with the same exact feeling of random vagueness that viewers who have watched every single episode felt when the credits began to roll on "Monsters." The second half of the series, seasons five through eight, did nothing to advance or develop Dexter to his ultimate destination, which was essentially a botched suicide attempt that led to simply being a dead-beat dad. Here's the core of why Dexter fell apart. This whole review has honestly exhausted me so much that I've been reduced to citing Wikipedia and I'm still putting more effort into the finale than the writers did:
"The main creative forces behind the series were executive producers Daniel Cerone, Clyde Phillips and Melissa Rosenberg; Cerone left the show after its second season. Coming off a record-setting Season 4 finale, executive producer and showrunner Clyde Phillips departed the series to spend more time with his family. 24 co-executive producer Chip Johannessen took over Phillips' post. Head writer Melissa Rosenberg left after Season 4 as well. After the conclusion of Season 5, it was revealed that Chip Johannessen was departing the show after a single season and that Scott Buck would take over as showrunner from season 6."
Dexter has always been a collaborative effort among several writers and producers without a single voice guiding its development and with the network always having the final say. Imagine a single meal having several different head chefs as well as the restaurant's owners dictating its ingredients and presentation. That meal would probably be pretty awful and confusing, which is exactly what Dexter became, most noticeably after the fourth season when all the heads of its original main creative team were completely replaced. But, again, before reverting back to eulogizing this show on a broad scale, I need to finish off the rest of "Monsters," not that much of it matters. Honestly, so much of this show has proven to be completely inconsequential to even write about it at this time feels so futile and beside the point, which apparently was for Showtime to generate a ton of ratings and nothing more. Let's see, those flashbacks added nothing to the proceedings. The last time we got flashbacks to previously unseen moments they were of Dexter and Doakes creeping each other out, and Dexter and Rita's first date. Only the latter of these worked at all. The Doakes flashbacks were asinine as there were already plenty of scenes of them antagonizing each other and they did little to further the impact of LaGuerta's investigation of Dexter. The scenes of the first date with Rita were poignant because they illustrated how far Dexter had come as a character and a partner to his recently deceased wife. The flashbacks of Deb holding Harrison seemed to do nothing but remind the audience that Deb has had a few different hair styles throughout the series and that Deb's assurances that Dexter would be a good dad were pretty inaccurate. Speaking of inaccurate, did you know that if a big storm is coming €“ not necessarily present yet of course €“ but if it's on the way, you can do pretty much anything you want in the middle of a crowded parking lot or a crowded hospital and no one will bat an eyelash? It's true, you can knock a man unconscious and steal his truck, you can cut out another man's tongue, and you can carry a corpse out of a hospital and into your boat with no one even giving you a second glance. Gosh, hurricanes sure are powerful, though not powerful enough to drown a man who drives into one head-on. Let's talk about Saxon. Why exactly did he decide to go after Deb? How is someone who was careful enough to evade capture from the time he broke out of the institution he burned down to the several elaborate and not so elaborate murders he committed going to think it's a bright idea to waltz into the hospital wherein a decorated police detective is publicly reported recovering? Even if he knew better than that, which he should have, why did he want to go after Deb at all? Didn't he want to be left alone? What happened to that? This character has been such a mess all season it honestly doesn't pay to analyze logically. This is why I've spent nearly every review this season just yelling at Scott Buck. The one thing that did work in the episode was Desmond Harrington's performance. His trying not to cry while hearing Debra's doctor explain her vegetative state was the only genuine element in an otherwise beyond lazy production. I also wanted to like the contrast between Quinn's reaction and Angel's when they and Dex were watching the security footage of Dex obviously murdering Saxon, but for all of Angel's disgust there was no discussion of vigilantism or justice or any of that mumbo jumbo because why would there be? That might actually have required the writers' intellectual efforts to reach beyond that of a seventh grade creative writing assignment. Finally, I suspect many Dexter defenders will jump to declare that Deb's vegetative state and subsequent euthanasia by her brother as well as her burial at sea is fitting and apt and poetic, and if that's what you think, well, if you can't do the math on that, I can't help you. This is even worse than Rita's death because there's no time to explore the consequences €“ not that the show would anyway. If there were a ninth season I bet the first episode would see Miami Metro dedicating a drinking water fountain to Deb then the rest of the season would follow Dexter helping someone who kind of looks like her revenge kill a bunch of rapists. Look, I know just as well as any of you that Dexter helped the last decade earn its title of a "Golden Age" in TV (although The A.V. Club's Todd VanDerWerff wrote a compelling piece which argues each decade of television has its own claim to that title). It was by no means among the first batch of shows to showcase a dark anti-hero as its protagonist, but it absolutely helped sell present mainstream audiences on such an idea, which has not only resulted €“ for better or worse €“ in a series of shows following serial killers (from the ostentatious The Following and the underwhelming Bates Motel to the affectingly gorgeous surprise hit Hannibal and FX's proposed American Psycho series, among many others), but also in those led by less obviously homicidal though no less dangerous protagonists, among them a certain ex-high school chemistry teacher you might have heard of (by the way, you heard how "Ozymandias" inspired George R.R. Martin to create a character more monstrous than Mr. White, right?). Basically, though far from being on the same level as Vince Gilligan's epic, Dexter is a show which deserves a certain amount of recognition from me on a professional level as well as a personal level, and I don't want to neglect that out of convenience (unlike a certain showrunner might neglect things he introduced). However, on both those levels I am profoundly disappointed.
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Fed a steady diet of cartoons, comics, tv and movies as a child, Joe now survives on nothing but endless film and television series, animated or otherwise, as well as novels of the graphic and literary varieties. He can also be seen ingesting copious amounts of sarcasm and absurdity.