Dexter as Spider and Ogre in 712: “Surprise, Motherf**ker!”

New Years 2

Hannah McKay is tried for the murder of Sal Price, but poisons herself to escape from custody. Maria LaGuerta arrests Dexter for the murder of Hector Estrada, but his friends, family, and co-workers are quick to stand up for Dexter and believe that LaGuerta was trying to set Dexter up to look like the Bay Harbor Butcher. Debra ultimately is faced with the decision of whether to kill her brother, her only living kin, or take out LaGuerta, a beacon of traditional law and “goodness.”

Hannah behind Bars

Our season finale opens with Dexter visiting Hannah in jail because he is concerned with how she is being treated while in confinement. Although he was rather steadfast in his decision to help Deb arrest Hannah in the previous episode, Dexter now seems torn because there is a chance that he has just sent to prison the woman who could have changed his life. Locked away with Hannah are Dexter’s hopes and dreams for a different and more enjoyable life where he could be authentically himself. She most definitely poisoned Deb because she was trying to keep them “apart” (a rationalization which makes her sound nearly identical to the formidable Lila Tournay/West of season 2), yet there is a part of Dexter that visibly regrets throwing the woman he loves to the wolves. He was “supposed to choose [Hannah]” over Deb, but even this act of self-protection does not endanger his secret because she is “in love with” Dexter.

Jail

Tragically, Dexter believes that locking up Hannah will keep Deb safe. What he will come to realize at the very end of this episode and all throughout the final season is that while he is in his sister’s life, she will never be safe. Unfortunately, now both Morgan siblings are in trouble given that Hannah poisoned herself after her sentencing to get into the hospital and be unattended just long enough to escape custody.

It’s not like Hannah has disappeared without a trace: she’s left a deep, bleeding gash in Dexter’s mouth and a dark red Phalaenopsis plant at his apartment doorstep. Even before watching season 8, we knew that Hannah was bound to ominously reappear into Dexter’s life. She also leaves Debra with a couple of bitter ideas to roll around in her brain until they come to fruition: the fact that Debra has to live with Dexter’s truth is enough consolation for the fact that she cannot bring his secret to light herself. Perhaps Harrison wouldn’t long for Hannah’s company if he were old enough to understand that she is a threat to his father and aunt.

Hector Estrada

Hector Estrada has been a long-awaited prey of Dexter’s. Whether or not Hannah McKay came into his life, Dexter subconsciously planned on Estrada’s death being a marker of sorts, or a way to close this chapter in his life. Dexter has the pleasure of laying Estrada out on his table twice, but he can only relish in his death once.

“I used to think I was special, but tonight I’m not.”

Estrada

Dexter’s victims have always served as Dexter’s therapists or life coaches. His conversation with Estrada, however, is less aimed at understanding himself and his origins and more directed toward finding closure for his childhood trauma. Even so, Dexter comes to the awful realization that he isn’t “special” after all. He’s a remorseless killer responsible for dozens of lives. When he learns that Estrada was forced to kill Laura Moser to survive, Dexter’s Machiavellian point of view on the world collapses. If the scum of the earth who killed his mother was merely trying to survive and it all happened by chance, Dexter’s purposeful killing is just as meaningless and inconsequential. Once Dexter kills Estrada, it seems as though he slowly becomes dispossessed of what he has referred to as his “Dark Passenger,” and full of the sense of duty to his family. It is because he knows that Deb could never live on the run like Dexter has been prepared to do all of these years that he ultimately decides to take out both Estrada and Maria LaGuerta in the same night. Dexter is now embarking upon “unknown territory,” as Angel Batista puts it when discussing his retirement from Miami Metro, as far as the Code goes, for Maria is an innocent. The fact that he is willing to compromise his core beliefs to benefit and protect his sister is a sign that Dexter feels more than he ever thought possible. His deviance is also problematic because Maria is a member of Miami Metro Police Department.

The Onion Mask and Captain LaGuerta

Dexter at the start of the series had a very thin mask of protection preventing his truth from being revealed: Debra’s word and a box of donuts. Harry taught him to develop a fake life and create friendships and relationships to create a secure barrier around him from speculation. While we know that Dexter always believed this facade to be fake, at some point in season four, his real and fake lives merged. The fact that Dexter is unable to run now that LaGuerta was on his trail is because of how tangible his life has become and the people and relationships he would be leaving unprotected if he were to disappear. There are far too many ties to Miami to just be able to up and run, although the season premiere led us to believe that Dexter was still prepared to run at any cost.

Arrested

The facade is apparently real to his friends and co-workers as well, as evidenced by the way in which Jamie Batista blindly starts defending Dexter when Maria and two cops show up at his apartment to arrest him for Hector Estrada’s murder. Just like Rita, Aimee Garcia once noted, her character Jamie believes to her core that Dexter is a good person and will willingly turn a blind eye to Dexter’s sporadic comings and goings and  his nighttime activities. Similarly, the walk in handcuffs through Miami Metro is nightmare material; in fact it is the subject of several of his nightmares and visions throughout the series. Somehow, though, when he is finally brought in for real, we feel as though Dexter is in more danger than ever, yet everyone is more willing to believe that LaGuerta set him up than vice versa.

Had Dexter been revealed by Doakes in season 2, there might have been a greater chance of Miami Metro believing the accusation. Now that Dexter has had years in the police department and plenty of time to form genuine relationships with his co-workers, there are so many layers to his once-facade of human connection that Maria cannot pierce through enough of them without more layers of protection coming to defend him and his integrity. Like Shrek the ogre, Dexter is an onion with several layers. (If you are unfamiliar with the movie or the analogy, look below.)

Whereas Shrek is a “monster” that is presumed to be without feelings, which can only be found deep down inside of the onion’s layers, Dexter once was (or is, depending on who you ask) a monster with layers that have built up and solidified over the years. The feelings might not have been there at one point (as demonstrated by Dexter smiling like a sociopath in a flashback with Doakes as he describes a potential explanation for the blood spatter pattern on a Walter Munro case), but they have become more real in the face of others’ accusations of him being a cold-blooded killer. Although Shrek gets the princess at the end who ends up being an ogre as well, we know that Dexter and his Princess Fiona will not have the same fate. They both may be “ogres,” but there is a lot more involved in this story of serial killing than what the Dreamworks animated film contained.

Cast Strings

Before becoming a Shrek-like figure, Dexter was more of a spider. In fact, he has remained spider-like throughout the seasons in becoming more deft in his hobby and more experienced. Although he used his web to lure in Arthur Mitchell, the Trinity Killer, he discovered the structure of Dexter’s web, his family, and took out the very center, causing Dexter’s world to collapse beneath him. Although Dexter has learned to cover his bases and send Harrison away to Orlando with Jamie, there have been a number of close calls since that fateful incident.

The way in which Maria initially sets up Dexter to pick up Estrada immediately after being released from custody and Dexter’s forward-thinking reciprocation are like the ways in which spiders capture flies. Unfortunately for Maria, Dexter is far more cunning in his strategy, and she stepped right into his psychologically twisted web.

Strings

Surprisingly, no matter how slick Maria’s questioning is in the interrogation room, Angel is still unwilling to let his mind even start to process the idea that his good friend could be responsible for dozens of deaths as well as the framing of Sergeant Doakes. Dexter may have developed layers of defense, but his “lizard brain” still remains intact, giving him the foresight to frame Maria into looking as though she was attempting to frame him. Our eponymous serial killer is able to twist Maria’s psychology back on her to egg on the idea that perhaps Maria is incompetent; however, Dexter’s accusations ring true for his sister as well.

Dex Deb

“If you couldn’t see what was right before you eyes, what does that say about you?”

Hannah admits to believing that Dexter would have been the one behind bars at some point in their relationship, but even she fails to see the amount of authentic human connection he has established despite his condition and his assumptions about himself. Dexter has always had a bit of a God complex, which Michael C. Hall mentioned during a presentation he participated in with Kevin Dutton at the Rubin Museum of Art, but it comes full circle when Maria threatens to “nail [him] to the wall.” Regardless of her threats, Dexter remains the fattest, yet most undetectable, spider on the web, waiting for the rest of his prey to find him before taking them out successfully – or so he believes (cue ill-humored Black Widow joke about Rita).

“You’re a Good Person”: Debra’s Decision

No matter how you spin it, Debra’s decision to kill Maria LaGuerta over her brother is a selfish choice. Regardless of who was killed, she would have been ill-equipped to deal with the repercussions, but in choosing her brother, she is saving her career as well as her brother, who is the center of her universe. She is an accomplice in yet another murder of Dexter’s, but she by no means killed Maria to help her brother. It is very clear that Dexter had the whole situation under control. She shot Maria to stop the voices: those in her head, and those in the shipping container before her.

Maria, although hardly ever on Deb’s side, was the “angel” of law and governmental justice. She once believed that the law was moral and right; however, Dexter’s cutting courtroom reveals to her that the law hardly sets the world right again.

Angel

Dexter is the “angel” (or “demon,” however you wish to look at it) of vigilante justice that cleans up after Miami Metro. Although these two voices have nearly always opposed each other, Deb has just recently learned Dexter’s side of things. Had it been any other serial killer in that shipping container, the decision would have been simple and painless; however, this decision forces Deb to choose between family and what is right; the law or emotion. Neither choice is exactly moral: it’s a matter of which is less immoral.

A strange shift occurs while in that shipping container. Rather than Dexter telling Deb to commit a crime or get further involved, he sides with Maria, who is urging Deb to uphold her morals and do what is “right” because she is a “good person.” However, the definition of what a “good” person is has recently been blurred for Deb. She believed herself to be the gold standard of what a cop and detective should be … until she helped her brother cover up Travis Marshall’s murder, got involved with Dexter’s assassination of Ray Speltzer, asked her brother to kill Hannah McKay, then helped her brother “take care of” Isaak Sirko. It matters less that Dexter gave her permission to shoot him and  more that she choose him over what she truly believes is right in her heart.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, Jennifer Carpenter as Debra Morgan and Lauren Velez as Maria LaGuerta in Dexter (Season 7, episode 12) - Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime - Photo ID: dexter_712_1938
Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, Jennifer Carpenter as Debra Morgan and Lauren Velez as Maria LaGuerta in Dexter (Season 7, episode 12) – Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime – Photo ID: dexter_712_1938

An eerie parallel between this final scene and when Dexter attempted to takeout Hannah McKay earlier in this season emerges. When Dexter tells Debra to “Do what you gotta do,” these are nearly the exact words that Hannah utters just before Dexter fails to kill her in the middle of Santa’s Holiday Adventure. Why does Dexter give her permission then, and in this way? Although Hannah later admits that she never really believed that Dexter would kill her, perhaps this is not exactly true for Dexter. As high and mighty Dexter once regarded himself and his “divine” justice, he doesn’t seem entirely convinced that his sister won’t kill him.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan in Dexter (Season 8, episode 4) - Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime - Photo ID: Dexter_804_1877
Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan in Dexter (Season 8, episode 4) – Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime – Photo ID: Dexter_804_1877

This is the second time Debra has aimed a gun at him for real (Dexter envisioned she’d shoot him through the head in season 2 when contemplating telling her that he was the Bay Harbor Butcher), but this is the first time Dexter has donned a true look of panic and alarm on his face. Because this season is within such close proximity of last season where religion was a main player, I cannot help but notice that Dexter seems to attempt to raise his arms as if to be crucified, but cannot quite raise himself to that level. This image also mirrors Dexter’s initial taunt in the series premiere when he mockingly asks Debra what she’s going to do now that she knows his deepest, darkest secret. He has notably lost that air of invincibility, which has now been replaced with one of sheer fear and acceptance of responsibility. Without the projection of his Dark Passenger to blame and two victims at his feet, there is nowhere left to turn and nobody else to shoulder the blame.

“Who is Deb now? Who am I?”

Although he is fortunate enough to live to see the  new year, Dexter visibly looks perplexed when Debra drops her gun and runs to embrace the dead body of her Captain slumped against the wall of a shipping container. Dexter was born in two inches of his mother’s blood, but now Debra’s fractured self is being birthed in a mere smudge of LaGuerta’s that she takes with her out into the crowd to “enjoy” the fireworks. While the people at the New Year’s fair are busy living and enjoying life, the Morgans’ world has stopped for just a moment; it is as if they are living in a series of slides that are blurred and slowed down to a crawl. Their lives have just changed forever.

New Years

Jennifer Carpenter offers a rather insightful and profound look into this final scene in one of the bonus features in the Dexter: The Complete Series box set. Surprisingly, she gets choked up several times during the interview as if she actually killed LaGuerta herself. Although I cannot find a copy to link you to, I will outline the highlights of what she said.

She did not want any “unnecessary” person on set the day (well, night – they shot this late at night, which enhanced the natural feeling of fatigue and fear we get in the scene) that this final scene was shot. The production team was all nervous to shoot this scene, perhaps just as nervous as Jennifer was to shoot this scene. As you can see, Deb enters the shipping container barefooted, which was her own choice because she “needed to feel [her] feet on the ground.”

She has rarely drawn on personal experience to conjure the emotion required of her while shooting these scenes; the story itself has given her enough to go on, which then came to fruition right after she shot LaGuerta. In fact, Debra’s response to Maria’s death (running to hold her body) was unscripted. It was a purely emotional response to the death of a character she had grown attached to. It was as if she and Debra were one in that moment.

When they shot that scene, none of the prop blood on Lauren Velez transferred to Deb, which Jennifer saw as symbolic. In reality, Deb literally killed LaGuerta, but no blame can actually be assigned to her. All blame rests on Dexter’s and Harry’s shoulders.

Dexter: A Comedy

Maria LaGuerta: “So, what’s your advice?”
Tom Matthews: “Get on your knees and start kissing anything that even remotely resembles an ass.”

Overview

And now to put a “number” on this episode. Dexterity (neat-handedness, puns, trickery, clever sayings, placements, etc.) will judge all of the small things that I pick up on. The higher the score, the more fun I had picking apart the episode for hidden clues. Entertainment (how much I laughed and enjoyed the episode) will judge how excited I was on average throughout the episode, as well as after it for the upcoming episodes. “Xtremity” (how dramatic, but also how believable the episode was, edge-of-the-seat, white knuckles the “holy shit” factor) will judge just how jaw-dropping the episode was.
Dexterity: 9
Entertainment: 10
Xtremity:  10
DEX-Factor: 9.6

Works Cited

“701: Dissecting the Scene.” Perf. Jennifer Carpenter. Dexter: The Complete Series. Dir. James Manos, Jr. Showtime, 2013. Blu-ray disc.

“Rubin Museum of Art Special Presentation with Michael C. Hall.” Perf. Michael C. Hall and Kevin Dutton. Prod. Tim McHenry. Dexter: The Complete Series. Dir. James Manos, Jr. Showtime, 2013. Film.

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