Ericking_dexter_s2_240Sunday (Dec. 16) night’s second season finale of Dexter was a jumble of mixed metaphors. It was about birth and rebirth, about taking control of your own destiny and surrendering yourself to a higher power, about being burnt down and rising from the ashes.

[You don’t need to wait for the dental records to identify that this recap is going to contain spoilers. If you don’t wanna know, stop reading. Duh.]

The first season finale for Dexter was probably the show’s best hour to date, perfectly encapsulating all of the main character’s conflicts and dichotomies and forcing him into the kind of choices that only Dexter could make. In comparison, Sunday’s finale couldn’t really compete. Some plot lines were dealt with abruptly, others arbitrarily, though it was a still a satisfying end to a complicatedly structured season.

To begin with… Rest in peace, James Doakes. The writers were trapped when it came to that character. He couldn’t just skulk in the background tormenting Dexter forever, which meant that eventually he had to figure out just what Dexter was. Once he figured out Dexter’s identity, though, where could things go? The creative team milked that for all they could, stretching the Doakes-in-a-cage drama out for three or four episodes thanks to the season’s collapsing time frame. Under no circumstance could he survive — he could neither go down as the Bay Harbor Butcher nor be exonerated without putting Dexter in perpetual danger. But Dexter couldn’t be directly and personally responsible for his death. It wasn’t just that viewer sympathy for Dexter is already a tenuous thing, but as Doakes had helped to explore, Dexter has a conscience, however warped. I think there could have been a circumstance under which Doakes could have died more heroically, perhaps saving Dexter in the midst of last week’s rogue drug deal impasse, but could the writers have killed off one of the show’s stars at the hands of such anonymous and freshly introduced characters?

Obviously not.

They had to kill — literally speaking — two birds with one stone. Just as Doakes couldn’t come back from what he’d done, viewers probably weren’t going to tolerate the idea of Lila making it past this season, but as much as some viewers may have hated the character, she hadn’t done anything so evil for which she deserved to die. Setting Angel up for date rape? Bad, but nobody really believed her. Burning down her studio to take advantage of Dexter’s sympathies? Psycho, but not a killable offense. So as much as anything, the finale was about creating a situation in which Lila could be killed, while still adhering to Dexter’s fungible code.

Doakes may have deserved better than death at Lila’s hands and the step in Lila’s pathology from liar and unhinged addict to cold-hearted killer may not have been the most organic, but there were several moments earlier in the season where Dexter seemed ready to confess all to Lila and I never doubted that she could probably sympathize with him. At the point of discovering Doakes, Lila had been pushed to the point of utter isolation and need. Did she kill Doakes to emotionally entrap Dexter or was she just a junkie trying to emulate the high she saw that killing gave Dexter?

"You’re emotionally colorblind," Dexter accused her, using vernacular he might have used on himself early last season. "You use the right word. You pantomime the right behavior. The feelings never come to pass."

Juliebenz_dexter_s2_240Remember last season when Dexter’s relationship with Rita was just one of those pantomimed behaviors, where he stuck with the emotionally battered MILF because she never asked anything more than the right words and actions out of him? One of this season’s most interesting projects has been making Dexter understand that his feelings for Rita and the kids were more than just something he used as a front. Even killing Doakes, I figure, wouldn’t have been enough to justify Lila’s death sentence, I don’t think. That’s why Lila also had to kidnap Rita’s moppets and put them in jeopardy. Even Doakes wasn’t an innocent, after all. That subplot, though, was introduced and discharged in a way that I didn’t really buy, nor was I at all convinced by the speed with which Rita forgave Dexter for being responsible for introducing the woman who nearly roasted her kids into the equation.

But those where the things that needed to happen so that Dexter could live to kill another season and if some of those things sounded a little too much like a Diabolus ex Machina, so be it, because a major theme this week was Dexter returning to that AA lesson of giving yourself up to a higher — or even lower — power.

"If you believe that God makes miracles, you have to wonder if Satan has a few up his sleeve," Dexter mused early on. "But if you don’t believe in anything, who do you thank at a time like this?"

By the end, Dexter appeared to have even changed that tune.

"I passed through the flames and rose from the ashes. Again," he said. "I’ve never been one to put much weight into the idea of a higher power, but if I didn’t know better, I’d have to believe that some force out there wants me to keep doing what I’m doing."

Michaelchall2_dexter_s2_240_2It’s hard to figure out what the finale sets up for next season, given Dexter’s closing thought: "Am I evil? Am I good? I’m done asking those questions. I don’t have the answers. Does anyone?"

With a new box of fresh slides, I guess Dexter’s ready to start again.

I’m OK with that.

Other thoughts on the finale:

  • The various final spasms of Deb’s relationship with Lundy — and of Lundy’s role in the events of this season — were particularly abrupt. Were we just supposed to figure that after flirting with the idea of ditching everything and running off with Lundy, she chose her job and her brother and her town? I may have needed more than that.
  • I also may have needed more out of Laguerta’s arc for the season. In then end, she’s left thinking that Doakes was the Bay Harbor Butcher and that everything she thought she knew about her former colleague and lover was a lie. That’s the same position that Deb was in at the end of last season, but how does that relate to the things she did earlier in the season, sleeping with her boss’ fiance to conspire to get her own job back? What was Laguerta’s purpose this season?
  • Lines of the episode: "What did you do to make her so pathetically crazy for you. Does your dick dance?" (Deb to Dexter on wacky Lila) and "It’s strange to have a creation out there, a deeply mutated version of yourself running lose and screwing everything up. I wonder if this is how parents feel." (Dexter on Lila)

    How’d the finale go for you?

  • Posted by:Daniel Fienberg