Dexter finale leaves one critic wondering: Has the show run out of creative gas?
This feels like sacrilege even as I type it.
But after watching tonight's season finale of Showtime's addictive serial killer drama Dexter -- twice! -- I'm left feeling more ambivalent about this show than ever before.
This was the first season finale that left me seriously unfulfilled; tying up an action-packed series of close calls and near-misses, it wrapped most of this year's storylines into a too-neat bow, avoiding any messy conclusions and disappointing this longtime fan. (fair warning SERIOUS SPOILERS FOLLOW FROM HERE).
Over this past season, our serial killer hiding as a Miami police blood technician was discovered by crooked cop Stan Liddy (a deliciously twisted performance by Robocop alum Peter Weller) investigating on behalf of his sister's boyfriend, fellow homicide Det. Joey Quinn. Dexter eventually kills Liddy before he can reveal his secret to Quinn.
Dexter's girlfriend (played by Julia Stiles), who joined him in killing off the men who gang raped her and 12 other women, was taken prisoner by the ringleader of the group, a famously successful motivational speaker named Jordan Chase (Jonny Lee Miller).
And in tonight's episode, we saw Dexter's sister, an amazingly intuitive detective, track Chase to the spot where Dexter and his girlfriend killed him, threatening to discover that her own brother is the city's most prolific serial killer.
I expected an emotional finale where Dexter's girlfriend might die trying to save him or turn herself into police to keep Dexter free. Instead, Dex's sister lets them go without discovering their identities, ensuring that our hero skates away clean once again.
But there were major holes in this ending. When the corpse of Weller's character Liddy was discovered, Quinn became a suspect because of his unexplained ties to the man and blood found on his shoe (that blood landed there without Quinn's knowledge when he showed up to meet Liddy after he'd already been killed by Dexter). When Dexter chooses to report that the blood doesn't belong to Weller's character -- though Quinn and Dexter know that it does -- suspicion is lifted and Quinn acts as if everything is fine between them.
But -- since Quinn has always suspected Dexter killed his wife, Rita, why would he drop those suspicions after Liddy's death? Doesn't he have more reason now to think that Dexter killed Liddy to keep his activities secret? And won't the police department want to know why Liddy had surveillance equipment in his van signed out by Quinn (we viewers know Liddy forged his signature, but the cops don't).
And although the decision by Stiles' character to leave Dexter after her tormentors are dead wounds him -- the ultimate rejection from the woman he thought accepted him completely -- it also gives the show a clean slate for next year. Dexter doesn't have to explain this relationship to Rita's kids and they have a tidy explanation for why Stiles won't be spending another year in Dexterland.
In the end, because all this had to resolve in an hour, it was a conclusion which felt too tidy, too rushed and too improbable -- even for a show featuring a serial killer working under the noses of Miami's best homicide cops. (I've seen one critic already note that this episode was filmed before producers knew Showtime would pick up another season; but producers of "on the bubble" show often build in cliffhanger season endings to goose networks into giving them more airtime.)
Here's hoping next season brings a better adversary, better conflicts and real risk for Dexter.
What I'm thinking: It's time his sister starts hunting him for real -- without knowing who she's actually tracking until it's too late.
Check a couple of scenes from the finale below: