Season finales for Dexter and Homeland among the most shocking and depressing TV moments of year
Read on only if you've seen Sunday's finales for Dexter and Homeland or don't mind lots of SPOILERS.
There may have been no season finale more depressing in recent memory than the ending of Showtime's Homeland, which closed Sunday with hero Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) strapped to a table, undergoing shock therapy just after remembering a key snippet of information about a U.S. soldier turned sleeper agent for a Muslim terrorist group.
Given all the buttons pushed by the series' ambitious, twisted storyline, I'm surprised there hasn't been more agita in the public square of blogs and bloviating TV shows. It's probably because Showtime's unpredictable series remains an underwatched gem -- a masterpiece of unexpected twists centered on two American soldiers captured by Saddam Hussein's army, held by terrorists for eight years and turned into sleeper agents working to kill the men who engineered a drone attack which wiped out 85 children.
British actor Damian Lewis has excelled in playing Nicholas Brody; the soldier who we knew, almost from the start, was a double agent. Not just for his ability to lose his English speaking tone in an instant -- I once watched him discard and pick up his native accent during a press gathering like he was taking off an overcoat -- but for his skill at playing Brody as a confused cipher.
At times, a blankness comes over his face in scenes that speaks volumes -- in that moment, it seems, even Brody isn't sure what he might do. Or Lewis. Or us.
I say all that because the praise for Homeland's acting is sure to fall on the showier of the two roles, Danes' talented, bipolar CIA agent Mathison. In the finale, she is so twisted by her illness that every friend has forsaken her, leading the agent to doubt herself even as she unknowingly saves the vice president from a suicide bomb.
Ads for the finale showed Brody, groomed as a political ally of the vice president, preparing to set off an explosive vest after his sniper partner drove a group of dignitaries including VP into an enclosed bunker. Why are they showing us this? I wondered in anger, thinking Showtime had blown the big climax. But having Brody's daughter unknowingly talk him out of the attack by cellphone after a frantic encounter with Mathison was an unexpected result -- allowing Carrie to save the day in a way no one realized, not even herself. Quite simply, there is no series on TV quite like this one.
If Homeland's finale was like the final twist in an unpredictable ride, Sunday's season finale for Dexter felt more like a Hail Mary pass at the end of a losing game. Fans have groused for months that this season's storyline -- pitting Colin Hanks' obsessed religious killer against Michael C. Hall's Dexter -- moved too slow and wasn't exciting enough. The recent twist, that the murderous professor played by Edward James Olmos wasn't Hanks partner but an early victim who lived on in his warped mind, did little to mollify critics.
So Sunday's final twist, in which the sister who realizes she's in romantic love with Dexter sees him killing Hanks' character, felt less like an unexpected move and more like desperate gamble -- the last card left to play for a series which is running out of ways to surprise us.
Already, Dexter's constant ducking out on his young son to chase down killers feels implausible. In Sunday's finale, super-smart Dexter never realizes that, after he survives an attack by Hanks, the killer has his apartment keys, cellphone and wallet? He assumes the guy will just stop killing after fulfilling his religious mission, when he knows such motivations are merely cloaks for a compulsion to kill?
And Dexter's constant, odd lapses barely explained -- jumping in a car to drive across country for one kill, explaining away Hanks' character leaving him in a boat set on fire the next -- just makes the cops he works with look like idiots. Especially his ace detective of a sister.
So, in a way it feels right that sister Deborah finally knows (although its odd to see her character admit romantic love for her brother not long after the actress who plays her, Jennifer Carpenter, has married and divorced the actor who plays Dexter, Michael C. Hall). In Cape Coral author Jeff Lindsay's books, Deborah has known about Dexter's murderous side for a while.
But it also feels like this is a series winding toward its end, despite Showtime renewing it for two seasons in November. An implausible situation is about to get even more so, as by-the-book cop Deborah has to deal with learning her brother is a secret killer.
Even a Hail Mary pass will only get you so far.