Dexter, Hannah, and Harrison almost make it on their flight to Rio when Jacob Elway shows up at the airport, threatening the life they planned to share together. After getting airport security onto Elway’s case to defuse the situation, Dexter inadvertently delays all succeeding flights until after Hurricane Laura passes through Miami. Meanwhile, news that Debra is in critical condition after getting shot by Oliver Saxon reaches Dexter shortly after this delay, fortifying his desire for vengeance upon the Brain Surgeon. Though Dexter believes he has transcended the need to kill, his petulance toward Saxon makes this kill far more personal than any other kill he has performed. Once Saxon is taken care of, the only loose end left in Miami is Debra, who would otherwise be left to vegetate in Miami Central hospital.
Hurricane Laura: Dexter’s Origins and Transformation(?)
Rita: “You’re the most important person in our lives. You have your demons. I accept that because I know that you don’t have to be a slave to them.”
Dexter: “I wish that were true.”
Rita: “I know you. Better than you know yourself. You can conquer whatever darkness there is in you. I know you can.”
Dexter: “I want to be that man.”
Dexter displayed signs of transformation all throughout the series, which became increasingly noticeable once juxtaposed against Daniel Vogel (alias Oliver Saxon); however, it is only half-way through the final episode that Dexter changes in his attitude toward who he is.
All along, Dexter has had cheerleaders who have encouraged him to keep on being who he was as well as coincidences that have somehow helped Dexter to justify his work. Dexter’s first cheerleader was Brian Moser. Though Brian didn’t encourage Dexter’s lifestyle, he inadvertently fortified Dexter’s original intent: to be a champion for those who did not receive due legal justice (like the little girl whose brother was killed by Little Chino in season two). When face-to-face with his demonic counterpart and biological brother, Dexter consciously chooses to continue his masked life within society even though this close encounter makes it clear that his way of life jeopardizes the safety of everyone he loves. “When Dexter chose Debra,” Jeremy Clyman suggests, “he was not just choosing his little sister over his big brother. He was embracing an aspect of himself and a way of life” (121). Though Dexter’s decision justifies Harry’s method of upbringing, he is crushed by the fact that he must put to death the only human being that could ever completely understand him (or so he thought). Though Brian’s realistic, yet narcissistic, view on his own way of life threatens Dexter’s false sense of grandeur, his words ring true throughout the entire series:
“You can’t be a killer and a hero. It doesn’t work that way.” – Brian Moser (112)
Though Brian was robbed of nurturing parental figures and coping mechanisms for the consequences of his traumatic childhood, he was not entirely wrong in his wake-up call to his little brother. Dexter’s conscious decision to rid the world of his brother, yet another “animal” who plagues the world with death, is according to the Code; however, this kill is different. Brian Moser starts Dexter’s cycle of finding and losing people who he wishes will either justify his mother’s brutal murder (Brian, Lila, Miguel, Arthur, Jordan Chase, Travis Marshall, and Oliver Saxon) or fulfill his thoroughly human need for camaraderie and emotional fulfillment (Rita, Lila, Miguel, Arthur, Lumen, Brother Sam, Hannah McKay, Dr. Evelyn Vogel, and Debra). Furthermore, everyone Dexter attempts to bring close to him or take out is either a replacement for Laura or Brian Moser, or the relationship simulates that with Harry by either replicating it or “improving” upon it.
Given the fact that Debra came so close to dying before his eyes at the end of season one and the fact that Harry’s death was revealed to be a suicide mid-way through season two, one would think that Dexter would be more cautious in choosing his victims and in taking care of them; however, Dexter becomes increasingly reckless as the series goes on, for his God complex is continuously fortified the more he gets away with his increasingly lavish stunts and the more he pulls off in juggling his public and private lives.
Rita’s death does not compel Dexter to abandon his family and uproot his life the way Debra’s does because Deb has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. Dexter lived and thrived without Rita in his life for over ten years; for all intents and purposes, she was always just the cover-up. Stephen D. Livingston believes that “[t]he loss of Rita in some ways reset Dexter to his beginnings . . . [which] may create strong reluctance to engage in this process and reveal himself to a new woman” (110). Though Rita never knew the real Dexter, we can see his point. We will also give him the benefit of the doubt given the fact that season five had not aired when his article was published. However, we may conclude that Dexter has not learned from her death, for he willingly opens himself up to Lumen and Hannah in subsequent seasons.
“Marriage, children. You never expect it to end in tragedy. Unless you’re me.” – Dexter (307, 412)
We realize early on that Dexter is fully aware of the danger in which he places his family. Despite this conscious recognition, he takes his luck and translates it into divine permission, which in turn inflates his God complex. The fact that Dexter would say this just before Rita’s death and then continue to act in the same ways afterwards suggests that Dexter believes he is not in control of his Dark Passenger, or at the very least he is unwilling to admit that he is the cause of his own plight. Though it was incredibly inconvenient to suddenly lose his beautiful, blonde facade by his own foolishness, her death is merely a set-back, another wrong that he must set right again. Rita’s death, if anything, proves that Dexter has not changed, although his cover life has become incredibly elaborate and far beyond what Harry ever thought possible for “someone like him.”
To lose Debra, however, has far deeper consequences. Harry told Dexter on countless occasions to “lean on [his] sister” when he felt like he was spinning out of control. She has been the “one constant thing” in his life, which is the same reason that Debra’s psychologist gives for her feelings toward Dexter. Whereas Dexter’s removal from Debra’s life does not seem to impact her as greatly as we would have expected (though I believe that Quinn’s timely reemergence has something to do with this), the moment Dexter realizes that he is indirectly responsible for her state of vegetation forces Dexter to finally confront his decisions and who he truly is. Without Debra, Dexter has no point of reference as to what kind of person he truly is. Even though Debra’s knowledge about Dexter has changed over the course of their nearly forty years together, she has always been there for Dexter to reaffirm the not-so-obvious (at times) fact that Dexter, despite his flaws, is a “good person” to some extent. Furthermore, Debra’s (mostly) unwavering acceptance and love for Dexter was always a part of Harry speaking from beyond the grave. In the end, Debra and Harry always wanted what was best for their foster-brother and -son. Now that Dexter is forced to live a life without Debra (even if she were two plane rides and a transfer away), the world seems to be a far gloomier place than before.
Deb: “I’m the fuck-up in the family, not you … It doesn’t matter what I do or what I choose. I’m what’s wrong. There’s nothing I can do about it… If I’m not hurting myself, I’m hurting everyone around me. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m – I’m broken.”
Dexter: “No, you’re not. I am.” (405)
It is no mistake that it is Hurricane Laura, indubitably a reminder of Laura Moser, that reminds Dexter that his doom began the moment his mother was hacked apart by a chainsaw before his eyes. Just as Laura’s death was also the birth of Dexter’s “Dark Passenger,” the destruction of Hurricane Laura affords Dexter yet another rebirth: the opportunity to fake his death and escape to what appears to be an isolated and gloomy country. Laura’s death removed Dexter from his biological family, and Hurricane Laura effectively removed Dexter from the life he built around the Morgans, his foster-family.
“Go for a swim, come out a new man. If only it were that simple.” – Dexter (604)
Argentina: A “Foolish Dream”
Dexter was willing, after Rita’s death, to abandon Harrison and his step-children once he witnessed firsthand the repercussions of “playing God” with Arthur Mitchell; however, Lumen’s timely appearance in his life, caused by his inability to refuse a kill, allowed him an “out,” yet another source to which he could defer blame. I suggested in one of my treatments for season two that Dexter shares a metonymic link with Astor and Cody in that they are all victims and survivors of intense childhood trauma (Paul Bennett being the signifier of that intense childhood trauma, which David Schmid elaborates on in “The Devil You Know: Dexter and the ‘Goodness’ of American Serial Killing”). When Rita blamed herself for Paul’s violent death in jail, she told Dexter that Paul “loved having a family,” and he was afraid of letting go of her and their two children, which makes Dexter far more like Paul than he would ever care to admit. Though Rita thought she was protecting the kids by staying with Paul, she ended up facilitating further trauma by doing so. Dexter is thus guilty of both Rita and Paul’s faults in that Dexter was both afraid to let go of his family throughout the series (Paul) because of the social repercussions that it would cause; he stayed in Rita, Astor, Cody, and Debra’s lives for so long because he thought only he was capable of protecting them from the dangers of the world (Rita). It was this push-and-pull force of guilt and sense of purpose that ultimately leads us to the seasons four and eight finales.
I originally felt that the dual tragedies of both Debra’s death and Harrison’s orphanage in Argetina with Hannah McKay as a foster-mother were of equal weight; however, while I have come to accept the fact that Debra’s death was only necessary in a thematic sense (for I used this thematic justification to pacify my utter grief), I am still unsure of which situation I mourn most.
I once believed that Debra would never be able to find happiness once her brother and nephew disappeared from her life, but upon re-watching the series, I would like to believe that Debra would have come out of this loss even stronger than before, as she did earlier in season eight. I am torn between feeling that Debra would have led a fulfilling life with Quinn and thinking that Quinn was a mere substitute for a forbidden love with her foster-brother, as all men were for her up until her season six breakthrough. I don’t know which gives Debra a happier ending. I do know that Jennifer Carpenter, who portrays Debra Morgan, was satisfied with this ending, for she felt it provided her character with closure; however, it makes the possibility of closure for Dexter impossible, which I am okay with.
From an emotional standpoint, I am beyond irate at Dexter for his actions. It irks me to my core that Astor, Cody, and Harrison have been made orphans, just as Dexter was, although Rita, Paul, and Dexter’s judgment makes me think that Astor and Cody are better off under their maternal grandparents’ care. As for Harrison, not only did he survive a couple of traumatic childhood experiences (the inconclusive instance of sitting in a pool of Rita’s blood and being kidnapped by Travis Marshall), which might have aided in germinating the psychopathic gene, but he is now ostensibly going to be raised by a sociopathic foster-mother, who may or may not have what it takes to raise a child all on her own. We know that she is attracted to dangerous and powerful men, who will have their own damaging influence over Harrison. Perhaps what bothers me most about Dexter’s decision to abandon Harrison and Hannah is the fact that twelve episodes ago (roughly seven months prior), Dexter and Hannah claimed that they could never trust each other again, and yet the two were so willing to run off together. Why would Dexter trust Hannah with his son? Unfortunately, from a thematic standpoint, Harrison, too, has been relegated to the status of his poor murdered mother, just a mere pawn in Dexter’s scheme to prove his father wrong.
Based on his last phone call with Harrison, we are led to believe that there is some remorse regarding his treatment of Rita. Perhaps had he left Rita upon learning she was pregnant, against Deb’s advice, Harrison and Rita would still be alive today. Perhaps not. “Daddy’s not going anywhere. I already lost my innocence. I’m not going to sacrifice yours, too.” – Dexter (401) From a thematic standpoint, Dexter absolutely had to remove himself entirely from the lives of his loved ones to prevent further damage, although the bulk of it has likely been done. Though he was not in Astor and Cody’s lives long enough to have made an impact on them, as is the case for Paul, they were both still at an impressionable age where his appearance and disappearance from their lives is enough to give them both abandonment issues.
Debra Morgan: Victim from Day One
“If Deb dies, I’ll be … lost.” – Dexter (405)
I would like to believe that Debra would have led a happy life with Joey Quinn, but it would have been painful for her to spend so much time apart from her brother and nephew, her only surviving family left, even if not by blood. Though Harry and Doris Morgan are long gone, Debra would have been orphaned in a sense as well without her older brother watching over her, in spite of the damage he managed to inflict over the course of these past twenty-something years since Harry’s death. Quinn is a good personality match for Deb, for they are both deeply dedicated to their work and are similarly consumed in cases, a point of contention between Quinn and Jamie.
Speaking of which, Quinn is largely overlooked in this scenario. Though he is a minor character, he is left with the unanswerable questions as to Debra’s disappearance (Dexter did just take Debra from the hospital without leaving a trace), what could have been with her, and what kind of future lies ahead. Much like Deb, we know that he is given to drinking and he will beat himself up for everything he never could have controlled for the rest of his days. In a way, Quinn will be left wondering, based on the surveillance video he and Batista view while questioning Dexter about brutally murdering Saxon in “self-defense,” if he made the right decision years ago in proposing to Debra as well as in letting his feelings for her get in the way of apprehending Dexter for who he truly is. Quinn looks, in this last scene, as though he knows that he had been right about Dexter all along. Quinn will be in his own personal hell until the day he dies, for not only has he lost the love of his life, but his job, perhaps the only thing he is passionate about, will forever remind him of Lieutenant Debra Morgan.
“It’s only a matter of time before you hurt someone else . . . I’m talking about your sister or your girlfriend or even those kids.” – Sergeant James Doakes (211)
From a thematic standpoint, Dexter’s decision to fake his death and escape to the nearest island with his pre-determined identity from his escape kit was necessary. For twenty long years, Dexter refused to take responsibility for his actions. Not until Debra’s death did he once consider that his very own conscious decisions were anything other than product of his indelible trauma. At once, guilt, remorse, and overwhelming sadness overwhelm the inconsolable Dexter, and he banishes himself from the community for self-inflicted punishment.
Deb: “Hopefully [Camilla] goes fast.”
Dexter: “Not likely.”
Deb: “Just shoot me if I ever get like that.”
Dexter: “Really?” Deb: “Hell, yes. I’d do the same for you. Pull the plug, put a pillow over your head. Whatever. I’d never let you suffer.” (307)
Dexter and Debra had a conversation early on in the middle of season three that suggested to us early on that her life would once again rest in Dexter’s hands. Although it was Debra’s wish to not be left to vegetate, it is fitting that Dexter is the one to literally pull the plug. For a woman who once lived for steak and beer with her brother and for solving a really complicated case, to do anything other than these two things would make life not worth living. Debra unfortunately was forced to fit Dexter’s Code, and she became his victim in more ways than one. Not only was she manipulated and tortured during their early years, she was deprived of her father’s love and attention and she was forced to compromise her fundamental beliefs. Furthermore, she becomes Dexter’s literal victim when he takes her lifeless body out of unconscious limbo and drops her into the ocean. Symbolically, Debra belongs down at the bottom of the Atlantic with all of his victims for what she has done to innocent people, but for what Dexter has done to her.
It dawned on me just after the series finale that Debra’s fate rested in the hands of the Moser brothers in both the seasons one and eight finales on boats. Interestingly enough, it is Dexter’s initial decision to embrace the life Harry suggested for him that comes back to bite him in this painful penultimate scene. It is because he held himself better than other serial killers such as Brian that Debra and his family became his victims. Though he thought at the time that he was taking the moral high ground (for a man of his kind), Dexter discovers that he was oh-so wrong.
MOVING MOUNTAINS: DEXTER’S PURGATORY
Strangely enough, yet another parallel exists between the first and last season finale of the series: Dexter is forced to kill both of his siblings, the only two people on this Earth who truly knew him, albeit in different ways, for who he was. While Brian’s death forced Dexter into nearly two months of murder-less hell, Debra’s death ultimately sends Dexter into eternal purgatory and hell on Earth wherever he has landed. Dexter has always been able to draw a fine line between himself and those “monsters’ on his table: “He does not kill ‘without reason or regret’ like Rudy. He does not manipulate good people and kill out of self-interest like Miguel. He definitely does not terrorize his family like Arthur” (Clyman 127). Despite these differences, Debra is still dead, and he regrets, more than anything in his life, the decisions he has made that have led to this horrific consequence. Though Rita’s death was a “reset” in his life, it is not until the one person who has been there for him as long as he can remember has been removed from his life that Dexter is truly aware of just how alone in this world he really is.
Rita was a mere pawn in the scheme of things, but perhaps his one true mission in life, aside from “setting the world right,” was to protect his sister. The news of her post-surgery complications and subsequent burial at sea are sharp reminders that Dexter is not, in fact, untouchable. Her death effectively shatters his long-standing God complex that has plagued his decision-making skills for over two decades, and if he believed in such a thing as God even the tiniest bit beforehand, he sure doesn’t believe in anything now but pain, suffering, and in the horror of mortality.
“I’d never let anything happen to you.” – Dexter (610/611)
Hurricane Laura may or may not have been the death of the Dexter Morgan we know, but it is certainly no baptism. Dexter in no way is seeking to absolve himself of his sins, nor does he seem to want to seek spiritual assistance or aid. Just as he implicitly believed that he was a monster, he will continue to believe in and perpetuate his suffering for his responsibility in Debra’s demise as well as all the pain he has caused in his lifetime. In no way is his new lumberjack lifestyle a reinvention of Dexter. He will forever be Dexter Morgan, just under the guise of a new name. He is subjecting himself to a gloomy climate in which he will dissect wood day after day, in precise pieces as he once did, however, in a bloodless environment. The mountains, towering overhead, will ceaselessly remind him of his final conversation with his sister and of the fact that his guilt is inescapable. Simon Riches and Craig French contend that “Dexter is self-deceived about his emotions.” While he believes he has no emotions, they “are manifest in his actions,” which, when they are “instinctive reactions . . . it is hard to pretend” that he is entirely devoid of all empathy (126, authors’ emphasis). For someone who managed to shut down and deny his emotions for so long, his heart and conscience will forever be tormented by what he feels now that he cannot escape the past or shirk blame.
“[You] can’t live with that hate in your heart. Eat you up inside.” – Brother Sam (606)
Even in death, we see the Morgan siblings’ tendencies aligning. After Debra’s former lover Special Agent Frank Lundy is killed while on the hunt for Arthur Mitchell (the Trinity Killer), Debra refuses to take her pain pills, effectively making life in her own body a purgatory for what she has done. Whether or not she was to blame for Lundy’s death is debatable (with the scales tipping toward “not her fault”); however, Dexter has chosen the same path by choosing a destination that isolates himself from everyone while also keeping himself in a perpetual state of melancholy.
It is useless to find the source of blame for this catastrophe. Although Harry and Dr. Vogel are largely to blame for his upbringing and his preconceived notions of who he was, Dexter is also to blame for carrying out these actions as an adult without assessing their consequences for himself. Another tragedy that we often forget about is the fact that Camilla was an “invisible mother,” as Clyman posits, who provided Dexter with “intense love, acceptance, and support that never wavered no matter what Dexter did” (116). Though she was always there for Dexter, the fact that Dexter only knew of her knowledge just before her death is tragic. She could have been the one to comfort Dexter after Harry’s death, something he laments to Dr. Vogel early in season eight.
The idea of Argentina was originally intended to provide both Dexter and Hannah with the opportunity to start over. As idealistic and possible as this was for the two of them, Dexter is who he is. Even in Argentina Dexter would eventually return to old habits and become who he was. Roger Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence posit that “lone saviors who are never integrated into their societies . . . like the Gods . . . are permanent outsiders to the human community” (qtd. in John Kenneth Muir 6). Though Dexter is certainly no “God,” his self-perceived status as one in Miami isolates himself from the community not only in Florida, but wherever he went.
Dexter’s new dwelling is entirely devoid of distractions. Though ostensibly stripped down to the bare necessities and all forms of entertainment, Dexter has plenty to preoccupy himself with. This final scenes with Dexter immersed in nature and working with his hands rang an unmistakable “Nick Adams” bell in my brain.
Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” parts I and II, which conclude In Our Time depicts Nick Adams, a young man who has strove all of his life to live up to his father’s, and society’s, idea of masculinity. After years of ceaseless masculine performance and years of traumatic experiences both on the Indian reservation and at war, Nick flees to nature to remove himself from everyone and everything. He relishes in the silence, but what he is left with are his thoughts and a river filled with a population of decaying fish.
Both Nick Adams and Dexter Morgan can no longer avoid the distractions of modern life when they are so far removed from civilization. Though they are working with their hands in trades that they love, their vocations merely remind them of the pain that has gone along with them. At the end of the day, Adams is left to fish from a pool of death and decay, reminders of others’ negligence and insensitivity and Dexter will be perpetually reminded of his own negligence and carelessness of his former life as he settles into his new lumberjack ritual. The two are left to battle their consciences as they either embrace their crushing loneliness and remorse or attempt to preoccupy themselves in their hobbies. Though part of the issue for both Nick and Dexter is the fact that the “Codes” of both masculinity (Nick and Dexter) and serial killing (Dexter) have served them, but to no apparent purpose other than in leading empty lives.
Despite the oceans between “normal” people and psychopaths like Dexter, we gravitate toward Dexter because he is a clear outsider who is meant to have us thinking about what it means to be human and a productive member of society.
If we have learned anything from Dexter, it is that our childhood and upbringing is a powerful determinant in who we turn out to be; however, we must not believe that we must be who our parents wish us to be, nor do we have to implicitly believe that we are determined to be what our parents expect of us, or who we were “born” to be. Though we may not be serial killers or display psycopathic traits, we can each identify with both Dexter and Debra in their struggle for purpose and identity.
This is not the end of my blog. I aim to put all of these insights together to form thematic essays within the next several months. I will also continue to provide you with great content like interviews, extras, trivia, fun facts, and so much more.
If you are interested in having your artwork, crafts, or anything else Dexter-themed displayed, or if you would like to write a piece for Dissecting Dexter, please contact me at RealDissectingDexter@gmail.com or comment below.
Click here to read how I originally felt about the series finale of Dexter.
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 (because Debra’s cause of brain damage seems highly telenovela-esque)
Entertainment: 9 (because I was anxious the entire time the final episode was airing, which made the episode drag)
Xtremity: 10 (because Dexter killed Debra, faked his death, and disappeared into the mountains)
Clyman, Jeremy. “The Angels on His Shoulder.” The Psychology of Dexter. Ed. Bella DePaulo. Dallas: Smart Pop, 2010. 113-28. Print.
Livingston, Stephen D. “On Becoming a Real Boy.” The Psychology of Dexter. Ed. Bella DePaulo. Dallas: Smart Pop, 2010. 95-111. Print.
Muir, John Kenneth. “The Killing Joke.” Dexter and Philosophy. Ed. Richard Greene, George A. Reisch, and Rachel Robinson-Greene. Vol. 58. Chicago: Open Court, 2011. 3-13. Print. Popular Culture and Philosophy.
Schmid, David. “The Devil You Know: Dexter and the ‘Goodness’ of American Serial Killing.” Dexter Investigating Cutting Edge Television. Ed. Douglas L. Howard. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2010. 132-42. Print.