Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Dexter’s deteriorating dynamics


Can anything good come from writing about the final season of Dexter? After three years of declining quality it seems safe to assume that most of this show's audience has already jumped ship. If you're still watching, it's probably because, having come this far you're grimly determined to stick it out until the bitter end. In either case, you have long since made up your mind.

But Dexter is still a TV series that is worth writing and thinking about. This is because it offers a particularly instructive example of the sad dynamics that cause a good show to go bad.

Yes: Dexter used to be a good show. Though it's difficult to imagine today, there was a time when Dexter could make a plausible claim that it was the best show on television. Back in 2006 the idea of a serial killer as a television protagonist was genuinely avant-garde, and each new episode unfolded with cinematic flair.

We'll always have the memory of those wonderful early seasons. That moment when the Ice Truck Killer's identity was revealed. The claustrophobic dread as Dexter was investigated in season two. John Lithgow's magnificent, spine-chilling, Emmy-winning performance in season four. Those were good times.

The first four seasons of Dexter had a neat thematic symmetry. Each season dealt with a different type of human relationship: family in season one, romantic love in season two, friendship in season three, and fatherhood in season four. Together, those stories formed a long arc that ended with the death of Dexter's wife, Rita. That fourth season finale was one of the most powerful, tragic episodes in recent television history: after four years of trying to connect with other humans, Dexter had failed completely, and destroyed his own family in the process.

If the series had ended after season four it would probably still be remembered as one of the best TV shows of the Noughties. Instead, its creators made the fateful decision to keep making new episodes, even though they had run out of interesting stories to tell. Over time, the villains became indistinguishable and the regular characters ossified into one-dimensional caricatures of themselves.

Which brings us to the eighth and final season, currently debuting on M-Net. If you are one of the hardy few who has stuck it out this far, perhaps in the hope of some sort of closure, then what can you expect?

Well, there's a new character. Dr Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling) is a neuropsychiatrist who seems to have been modelled on Ayn Rand, complete with an indeterminate European-sounding accent and a Nietzschean view of the world. The difference is that her übermenschen are murderous psychopaths rather than billionaire industrialists (though she assures us that there is some overlap between the two).

There's also a serial killer on the loose, with a tabloid-friendly nickname ("The Brain Surgeon"), and, as always, it's up to Dexter to stop him. But there seems to be some hidden connection between the killer and Dr Vogel. Could she, in fact, be the killer herself? Feel free to speculate on these questions, though I'm afraid the final resolution will be less interesting than whatever you imagined.

All of these narrative threads culminate in a series finale that is spectacularly bad. There's an implicit contract between the viewers and the writers that is formed during a long-running TV series: if we keep watching until the end they will reward us with a finale that provides closure and catharsis. Dexter reneges on this contract, with a finale that destroys established precedents, violates the basic rules of logic and sullies the memory of those early seasons.

So that's what you can expect from the last season of Dexter: more of the same, plus a finale that seems almost purposefully designed to annoy its audience. If you're determined to watch it anyway, then of course I can't stop you. In fact, I admire your steely determination! There's a certain tragic heroism in finishing something that you know will end badly.

But don't say you weren't warned.


Dexter season eight is shown on Tuesdays at 9pm on M-Net

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Laurence Caromba
Laurence Caromba works from Pretoria, South Africa. I teach International Studies at Monash SA. I tweet about culture, politics, technology, foreign affairs & anything else that interests me. Views my own. Laurence Caromba has over 165 followers on Twitter.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

The South African Bone Marrow Registry celebrates 30 years of...

‘It’s not drilling into bones!’: Misconceptions keep donors away, says SABMR, but a match outside of a patient’s family is a needle in a haystack

R500-million Covid-19 Gauteng hospital contract was irregularly awarded — SIU

The bank accounts of Pro Service Consulting and Thenga Holdings have been frozen

More top stories

With its industrial base decimated, SA’s economy needs real change...

Speaking at a book launch on Tuesday, the finance minister said a focus on manufacturing is critical to stem the country’s deepening unemployment crisis

Defence team cagey about Zuma’s health after state advised he...

The former president was absent from court, but his counsel argued that health matters be left aside, so as to hear his case for the removal of Billy Downer

The South African Bone Marrow Registry celebrates 30 years of...

‘It’s not drilling into bones!’: Misconceptions keep donors away, says SABMR, but a match outside of a patient’s family is a needle in a haystack

New clean fuel standards could be the end of refineries...

In the absence of mechanisms to recoup investment into cleaner fuels, refineries may be faced with tough decisions

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…