Trust me, no spoilers.
A few weeks ago, I watched the series finale of Dexter. Eight seasons of storytelling about America’s favorite serial killer came to an end. I stayed with the show, even though the last two seasons were less than stellar. This final season in particular just never felt right: plot points that made no sense, subplots that went nowhere, weirder than normal voice-overs, characters that were…well, out of character.
Through it all, lead actor Michael C. Hall did his best to keep the serial killer brooding in the character of Dexter. At the same time, he made me understand the struggle we all feel when we can’t understand why life throws its full weight at us. I think this is why Dexter was such a popular TV show and was well-loved, even when the story went Six Feet Under. Say hello to the human condition. We bandy that term around a lot, and when I throw it back every fall at my AP students, they can’t tell me what it really means.
Dexter is the poster child for the human condition. He knows how he should act. He even has a code. Of a sorts. But he has this unmistakable urge to give in to the dark side of the Force. He wants to blame everything on his Dark Passenger. He’s blood spatter, and we, the viewing audience, analyze him relentlessly, hoping something good will come out of him. Dexter is likable. He resonates with us. He evokes strong emotions from us. We’re pulling for him. We’re worried to death that he’s going to get caught when he makes a decision that puts his whole cover in danger.
Secretly—although we don’t go around murdering folks—we fight dark urges. We have our own demons. We can’t seem to get our heads wrapped around the idea that we know what’s right, while fearing we could do wrong at any moment. We wonder why we’re here, we wonder where we’re going, we wonder what life is all about, and—just why the hell don’t we have our own set of those cool Dexter blood slide coasters…
Look. You and me, we want to be saved. Dexter wants to be saved. Throughout the series, he wants to find that blood work that will help him, when all he’s had before this was his dad’s teachings and, ultimately, the support of his sister. What the anti-hero teaches us is that, in the end, no one really is going to save us. We have to save ourselves. We are the heroes of our own lives.
There weren’t many resonant moments this final season, which bothered me more than anything. Say what you will about this season’s storylines and subplots: through it all, although too often downplayed, Dexter searches for a way to redeem himself. At the same time, he is relentless in his quest to keep his loved ones safe. He is haunted by monsters, he is covered in shadows, but he knows enough to help others realize that shadows are not scary. They’re just the absence of light.
Despite many fans’ displeasure with the finale, I found that those last 55 minutes had more resonance than the rest of the season combined. The acting, strong visuals, unique camera angles, powerful music—it all contributed to my understanding of Dexter, and it gave me a bit more insight into myself. Throughout the episode, it was the use of silence—with actions trumping dialogue and voice-overs—that made me appreciate the absence of the obvious.
Remember your monsters. And thanks, Dexter.