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The 'Dexter' legacy at Showtime

"Dexter:" The end is near, and end should be in an important part of cable history.

I was not a big fan of the eighth season. A sttttretch of significant portions, even by Dex standards that explored his "code" in some deeper detail by bringing in the creator of it, one Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling) who ultimately turned out to be the mother of the Brain Surgeon Killer too, and who . . . oh enough. You get the idea.

But the point — and like Ellen I do have one — is that three major cable series have wrapped or are wrapping within a very short time frame: "Burn Notice," "Breaking Bad," and "Dexter." One — "Bad" — will go down in history as one of TV's great creations, "Notice" as a hugely popular and beloved representative of USA's "blue sky" drama franchise, and Dex as Showtime's single-most successful series.

Dex planted Showtime as nothing ever has on the map of American pop culture — nudging it into the mainstream, turning it into a viable alternative to HBO, turning it into a force . . . Dex clarified Showtime's image as something "different." Also, as something a little off-center, lurid, dangerous and adult (though adult in the sense of the word that doesn't necessarily connote maturity or post-adolescent behavior.)

Think of any of the other dramas — say, "Queer as Folk," or "The L Word," "Brotherhood" . . . Nothing came even remotely close. In fact, Dex's legacy may end up being other shows -- "Homeland," "Shameless," and "Ray Donovan" -- and perhaps ultimately "Penny Dreadful" and "Masters of Sex" — as well as a pair from the past, "The Tudors" and "The Borgias." Dex established Showtime as place where quality dramas could gestate and thrive. Dex was often strange, violent, unpleasant — based essentially on a repugnant and counterintuitive core, that a serial killer of serial killers could be lovable.

But the component parts were uniformly excellent — acting, writing, direction and everything else that goes into the production of quality television. Emmy voters could never bring themselves to reward Michael C. Hall or his show, but they certainly recognized the quality.

And so, Dex, take a bow. Your killing days are over, but we all can take some comfort in the fact that Miami is a safer place for your efforts, and that Showtime is a better network. My Friday review, followed by a clip. 

"Dexter," Showtime, Sunday, 9

What it's about: The Brain Surgeon Killer, Oliver Saxon (Darri Ingolfsson) has escaped, leaving Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) sister in a pool of blood — unbeknownst to Dexter, heading to South America with son Harrison and Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) to start a new life. Sunday, he quickly learns what happened to Deb (Jennifer Carpenter.)

My say: Do serial killers deserve happy endings? Or put another way, do serial killers of serial killers deserve one? That's the crux of eight seasons, all ending Sunday. With true love tugging ever so persistently at his heart, Dexter seems ready to shed his "dark passenger" to embrace the "light," paraphrasing his own words.

Why leave now, a friend asks? Dex glances at his air conditioner, where reminders of his grisly past are stored. "Too many memories," he quips. But not so fast, ol' boy. Don't forget that your one true love was herself consort to a former serial killer, offed a few people along the way, poisoned and nearly killed Deb, and also murdered her last husband. This is who you want to live happily ever after with?

Amnesia's always had a bit role to play on "Dexter" anyway — on the part of characters and viewers: Specifically, the forgetting of loopy plot twists that made superficial sense in the moment but in the cold light of hindsight make almost none at all.

We forgave "Dexter" this lapse because the excellent Hall and Carpenter brought so much unexpected humanity to their roles in the most unexpected moments. They made this feel plausible even at its most implausible. But it's been harder to forgive and forget this last season, which has been something of a disappointment — a hard reminder that the only stories left to tell have already been told before in some variation.

Over the last few weeks, "Dexter" has felt like it's winding down instead of winding up — in sharp contrast to that other landmark series, "Breaking Bad," which is roaring to a conclusion. But Sunday's finale (“Remember the Monsters”) promises to pick up the tempo.

 

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Tags: Dexter , Michael C. Hall , Showtime , Jennifer Carpenter , masters of Sex , Ray Donovan

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