Basically, it’s just a phenomenally told detective story: Two dedicated police officers hunting down the malicious murderer of a sweet teenage girl, Rosie Larsen. You want them to get the killer so badly, and that desire, that need, keeps you hooked like a bass on a shiny lure.
Pace and Style
Unlike a lot of cop shows, however, this one is realistically paced; you understand that it’s so hard to solve a case like this, a case with layers and layers. It’s a 3D object, with surface and depth and mass, an intricate web of many different emotional, personal, social, and political threads.
It’s actually easier to follow than most keep-you-guessing cop dramas, I found, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. It’s a long story and slowly told. I’m in the middle of the second season, and I’m JUST NOW uncovering the real killer. I’m TOTALLY SURE this time . . . like last time.
But it doesn’t feel like they’re pulling my leg, either, like they’ve invested a silly amount of screen time in building up to a psyche! gotcha! moment. Instead, it feels authentic to the intricate complexities that compose each person’s life. They’re peeling back Rosie’s whole story, slowly revealing the interweaving fractals of messed-up humans interacting, bonding, and fighting in a swirl of energy and hate and love and shame and hope.
Since I totally believe they’re on the right track each time, I remember each segment, and how the different segments fall together, pretty vividly. Usually, I get lost. Like, embarrassingly easily. (Wait, who was that? Which guy had that motivation? Why were they searching here? What did that clue mean?) But not here. The story line is steady and compelling. The show spends a decent amount of time uncovering each major lead or twist in the investigation. It’s not all magical, instant, digitized results. It’s a quiet, heartfelt, pound-the-pavement, work-your-ass-off, never-give-up pursuit.
And it never feels like the show’s writers tricked you, or like the detectives were an idiot for falling for a deceptive or irrelevant clue. The lead they hounded down was a part of the story, even if it didn’t play out the way they expected. Even when they’re wrong, it’s a clue to what they’re missing.
Honestly, the lead character, Detective Linden, irritates me. So does the mother of the murdered girl. But that’s life, some people are a little off. No one is astoundingly phenomenal, with charisma or talent taking the place of plot development. There are no larger-than-life, hard-to-believe divas. And all the other characters are immensely feel-able, easy to know and care about. Like Rosie’s aunt, who sticks around to support her sister, Rosie’s mom, and help take care of her two young sons – poor sweet boys whose sister has been murdered and whose parents are, understandably, but still unbearably, kind of losing their minds.
My two favorite characters: Holder and Stan. Holder, Linden’s partner on the case, is a lovable, tragic, skeevy, awesome guy with a troubled past, a douchey demeanor, and a big heart.
Stan Larsen is Rosie’s dad; he used to work for the mob, fought to get out, had to kill a man to strike a deal, and then left with his pregnant sweetheart to build a stable, moral family. Stan now has a small family business where he works hard, both manual labor and management, to support his family in an honest way. When Rosie was born, she was the apple of his eye, his inspiration to deny the destructive pull of the mob, and his motivation to give his family a decent life.
But he still has a rage issue, and he’s a passionate, powerful guy – which is why he was such a stud in the mob, and hence why it was so hard for him to leave, and so dangerous for him to stay.
Turns out, a temper problem + the brutal murder of a deeply beloved daughter + the publicizing and politicization of their family and situation + apparently incompetent police (who keep fingering the wrong guy, making the problem worse, and failing to crack the case or deliver any justice) = Welcome back to the dark side. And even as Stan slips into the darkness, you kind of feel like he’s doing the right thing. He just wants to feel like he has some power and purpose on earth, just enough control over the world to protect and hearten his family.
Anyway, it’s all great. Again, it’s slow and gritty, so give it time to pull you in. And it’s pretty dark, so, like . . . only if you like dark things.
All right, I’m gonna hit you with it: Deb dies.
Debra Morgan is shot by Oliver Saxon, the son of Dexter’s mentor Dr. Vogel, who is now dead because Saxon killed her, which is why Dexter set out to kill him. Dexter’s and Saxon’s lives became intertwined. Debra is inextricably entangled with Dexter, now more than ever — since she knows that he’s a serial killer, she’s covered for him, and she’s even participated in his plots — so she gets involved, too.
As a result, Saxon shoots her, and the injury leads to her death. That’s what happens in the Dexter finale.
Rewind: Oh crap—in the last moment of the penultimate episode (season 8 episode 11), Debra lies dying on the floor. But no! She’s surviving and being put in an ambulance, at the beginning of episode 12. She’s practically spluttering blood while she talks, but she’s Deb, so that sure doesn’t stop her from arguing and swearing and fighting.
Dex feels guilty that he put her in that situation, AGAIN, but he also feels relief, because she’s recovering wonderfully. The bullet didn’t hit any crucial body part, and Debra hasn’t lost her spirit.
“The next word I want to hear you say is ‘goodbye,’” Deb insists, using a powerful persuasive technique available only to a beloved, doe-eyed sister who has been shot because of your screw-ups and hasn’t lost her spunk or her adoration of you. “Goodbye,” Dexter says fondly.
So Dexter’s still moving to Argentina with Hannah and Harrison. Living off Hannah’s millions, they’ll travel down the coastline until they find the perfect place to start their new, murder-free life as a loving family.
Then Deb gets a blood clot, it travels to her brain, and she has an aneurism. It triggers a stroke. Her brain is severely deprived of oxygen. She stops breathing.
She will never have brainwaves again. “She won’t be able to think, reason, or even know that you’re there,” the doctor explains.
Her body’s there, but Deb isn’t there. Deb is gone.
(If you’re anti-euthanasia, you might be all, “THAT’S NOT THE SAME AS DEAD.” But, to be fair, Dexter has a pretty different view of human life than, say, you or me, probably. To illustrate: Dexter’s first reaction is visiting Saxon in his jail cell and killing him with a pen.)
Dexter turns off the machine and pulls out the tubes. As the beep, beep, beep of the monitor slowly, gently fades, he caresses Deb’s pale and lovely face.
Personally, I’m not very anti-euthanasia, in such cases. Even if I was totally cool with taking a life, however, I would wait a few bloody days just to make sure the doctors were right! Angel and Quinn, after all, are still praying for a miracle and hoping for a recovery. (And if anyone’s a surprisingly strong fighter, it’s Deb.)
But that’s me. Dexter (a very different creature) absolutely takes Deb’s life because he loves her. It’s his final kill; he’s giving up his hobby, ejecting his dark passenger, and choosing human connection over human hunting. And, in a way that honors Deb’s effect on his heart, this last kill is a benevolent one. It’s a gift, a kindness.
You might be wondering how Dexter gets away with yanking out Deb’s IV, pulling off her blood-oxygen fingertip monitor, and removing her breathing tube. Naturally, the medical staff is distracted, because a tropical storm is coming. Hello, Inescapable Series Finale Deus Ex Machina!
All the patients are being consolidated into one wing in a panicked flurry. Deb, a long-term brain-dead vegetable, is pretty low on the consolidation list compared to, say, trauma patients and the ICU and the maternity ward. So Dex and Deb’s final moments together are not disturbed.
Dexter lets Debra die softly, a human laying peacefully in a bed. She’s a lovely and fragile tragedy resting on a soft pillow, rather than a pathetical and dreary corpse surrounded by invasive medical equipment.
Just before the last beep of the heart-rate machine, Dex whispers into her ear, “I love you, Deb.”
She fades away. He wraps her body in flowing white blankets and takes her out of the hospital on a gurney. The storm is rising, and everyone is busy with emergencies; all they see is a helpful guy moving a dead body. Once out of sight, he lovingly gathers her into his arms and carries her, like a big brother carrying his little sister to bed.
Dex is powerful and fit (and fairly delightful to look at, especially when he wears his unreasonably tight, consistently specific, brown waffle-knit Kill-Time Henley). Wiry Deb weighs approximately twelve and a half pounds. He is strong and tender; she is waifish and fragile.
He carries her to his boat, and they go out on the water. The sky, gray and foreboding, shadows his face as he gently but purposefully drops Deb into the water. Shrouded in filmy white linen, she floats for a moment, angelic, and then slowly sinks into the depths. Dexter lets her go.
In a last gesture of humanity, he calls Hannah, to hear her voice one last time. He doesn’t tell her it’s goodbye, but he tells her that he cares about her. Dex tells Harrison to remember, every day, that his dad loves him.
“I destroy everyone I love,” he mourns. “And I can’t let that happen to Hannah, to Harrison. I have to protect them from me.”
Then he puts the boat in gear and sails headlong into the ocean hurricane.
Just kidding, he’s not dead! He’s living in a foreign city, Prague maybe. He’s grown a beard and he lives alone. The End.
Presumably, Dexter returned to his serial-killing ways. Never again, however, will he let himself make connections with people. It is too dangerous. It’s not worth it, and it’s not right.
The whole story arc of the show is a struggle between Dexter’s dark side and his hidden longing to be known, accepted, and loved. Viewers think that Hannah, Harrison, and Deb have finally broken through his barriers and taught him to love. Shown him that he’s a human being. Helped him become something greater than a murder machine. So he’s going to give up killing in favor of being there for them, being there with them…
No. He’s a killer. He’s obsessive. And he’s a bad man.
So he returns to the beginning of the story: Stay detached. Stay discreet. In this way, Dexter can keep Harry’s Code by hurting only those who deserve it.