When Did Dexter Jump the Shark?

Check your Dark Passenger, 3.5 readers.

Your old pal BQB here to talk about Dexter

I’ve been on a binge-watch of this show lately. In many ways it was great, unique and original. It did require suspension of disbelief, but what show doesn’t?

For those who haven’t watched it yet (and sidenote SPOILERS abound), it’s about Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) who, by day, works as a forensic analyst for Miami Metro Homicide. By night, he quells his “Dark Passenger,” the desire he has to kill foisted upon him at an early age when he saw his mother murdered by a drug dealer when he was a little boy.

Adopted by police detective Harry (James Remar in a plot device, appears throughout the show as a mental apparition, reminding him of how to evade police detection), Dexter was schooled by his now late father in how to kill and get away with it, but to only kill bad people. Thus, Dexter can feed his evil need while doing society a favor.

Crucial to the show is the bond he has with his coworkers, chief among them his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) a police detective.

Alas, with each season, the show got dumber and more unlikely. So when did it go off the rails? Possibilities:

#1 – Season 2 with the discovery of the Bay Harbor Butcher

Deep sea diving treasure hunters come across the “trash” Dexter threw into the ocean, his preferred method of body disposal being to cut up the bad guys, throw them in hefties and toss them off the side of his boat.

While interesting to see how Dexter will evade the manhunt for the mysterious vigilante who is hacking baddies to pieces, it feels like the show may have played its hand too early. The show’s main draw is that Dexter and Miami Homicide are like a family and yet Dexter has betrayed them so many times behind their back, lying to their faces, hiding evidence, plotting and scheming, all the while everyone assuming he is a class act. That everyone learns someone is killing bad guys comes out too early.

Meanwhile, SPOILER – Sergeant James Doakes is the highlight of the show. The absolute highlight. He openly harasses Dexter the first two seasons, calling him a creep, weirdo, every name in the book. It feels like Doakes is just being mean to Dexter because he hates awkward nerds and yet we, the audience know that Doakes’ suspicions are justified.

Doakes takes the fall for the Bay Harbor Butcher rap and dies, not by Dexter’s hand but by a psycho Dex paramour with a penchant for setting fires. This begins the shows way of getting rid of witnesses to Dexter’s chicanery who don’t fit his code – i.e. Dexter has vowed to never kill someone who hasn’t killed but somehow, miraculous coincidences have a way of taking witnesses out so Dexter can keep on Dexing.

At any rate, Doakes was awesome and we could have used him in more seasons. Then again, he was that good of a cop that had he lived he surely would have taken that creepy nerd down by the end of Season 3.

Speaking of…

#2 – Season 3

People often consider this a good season. It is but my main complaint is it begins the foray into people finding out about Dexter’s true self whereas the allure of the first two seasons was that Dexter was doing something awful, really awful, but getting away with it and fooling everyone around him that he was a wonderful guy. Secrets are rarely kept when two or more people are involved, so when Dex’s new BFF Miguel Prado finds out (Jimmy Smitts) and they start becoming killing buddies, it’s just like…if everyone knows then it is less exciting for the audience. We’re the only ones who are supposed to know.

#3 – Ending of Season 4

Season 4 ending is a surprising shock. Look away. SPOILER! OK, you had your chance. Dexter marries Rita and spends most of season 4 playing house, becoming a Dad to step kids Astor and Cody while welcoming a newborn of his own with his wife. It becomes a challenge for Dexter to balance work, family and his time consuming murder hobby. Actually, this season begins the ongoing trope of everyone in Dex’s personal life hating his guts because he’s always off somewhere. He’s falsely accused of having affairs and Rita even falsely accuses him of doing drugs, which in a humorous manner, he just cops to because its easier than admitting he is a murderer.

Here, the big bad, perhaps the scariest of the series, is “The Trinity Killer” aptly played by John Lithgow – Arthur Mitchel, a man who as a boy, accidentally killed his sister, which led to his mother’s suicide, which led to a violent argument with his father who blamed him that ended in the father’s bludgeoning. Arthur spends the rest of his life recreating this twisted series of events by killing people who fit the profiles of his late family.

Dex toys with Trinity way too much, having many opportunities to kill him before others are killed but drags the process out, letting the hunt go on too long. Maybe this is a flaw of the series or maybe it is character development i.e. Dexter thinks he performs a valuable public service by taking out the trash but maybe, just maybe, he interferes with the official trash collectors i.e. the police by getting between them and a suspect. Dex often hides evidence to point the cops in the wrong direction so he can murder the bad guy himself and this often blows up in his face.

Long story short, while the surprise ending is a big shocker (Dex kills Trinity and we are led to believe all is right in the world until Dex realizes Trinity killed Rita earlier in the evening before Dex got to him), I think maybe this is another example of when the show spent its wad too early.

Who knows? On one hand, it was a shocker that kept us on our seats. On the other hand, Rita and the kids humanized Dex and added an extra layer of suspense. Before it was just “OMG what if Dex’s work family finds out about his true side?” but now Dex really has something to lose with a family.

#4 – Seasons 5 and 6

I used to think this is the point where the show declined. Without Rita and the family, the show changed too much and a sad, weepy, emotional Dexter wasn’t fun. But as I look back in a binge watch, the barrel murder case of season 5 where Dex takes on an accomplice/protege Lumen is interesting and Season 6 with the Doomsday Killers have some of the most shocking crime scenes of the series.

So when did it jump the shark?

#4 – Deb Discovers Dexter – End of Season 6

I just didn’t like it – then or now. The show was always building to an inevitable conclusion – that somehow, Dex’s Miami Metro Fam would find out about his killer hobby, be shocked and surprised and betrayed as the evidence becomes clear that Dex is a killer, and then they’d hunt him down. Maybe they’d be successful. Maybe they’d fail and Dex would get away. Either that or maybe would face off with one last horror of horror serial killer.

Sidenote- I heard in the books, the series concludes with Dex’s Miami Metro fam being pissed by his evildoings but alas, they can’t make the evidence of his real killings stick, so they come together to frame him and imprison him for life for a crime he didn’t commit. That actually kind of seems like an awesome ending, doesn’t it?

Instead, in the series Debra walks in on Dexter killing by accident and then for the next two seasons, the show tries to slowly turn Debra from a disgusted sister who stands by her brother, tries to cure him only to become an accomplice by covering for him rather than turn him in. As Debra sinks deeper into Dex’s true world, she becomes an emotional wreck and I just feel like the character was always too strong and law abiding to allow herself to be sucked into and ruined by Dexter’s world.

The finale is garbage – Dexter pulls the comatose Deb from her hospital bed, puts her on a boat and sails into a hurricane only for Dex to emerge as a lumberjack is horribly stupid and bad and I submit Debra finding out by walking in on a murder rather than through her detective work put the show on a bad path.

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