Given the recent news of Showtime’s hit Dexter returning as a limited series, with Michael C. Hall reprising his most famous role as the serial killer with a code, it seemed worth reflecting on how the series ended. More specifically, it seemed worth re-watching that last episode, named “Remember The Monsters?”, with fresh eyes, ones that hadn’t just spent the past few months waiting patiently as Dexter Morgan desultorily plodded his way through a half-baked final season’s narrative in order to see if the show could stick the landing. At the time, it was nigh-impossible to avoid the general response from the audience at large when it came to assessing the quality of that final installment. You couldn’t help but imbibe the smog that was the overall reaction to it.
Because hoo boy, did people hate it. “One of the worst endings to a television show I’ve ever seen,” fumed The Atlantic. A “sloppy sendoff,” offered Variety. A “terrible end,” opined Vulture. Hell, we here at The A.V. Club hated it so much (“what was intended to be a gut punch felt more like a slap in the face”) that we ran a second review the day after the first, just to point out that the entire season already sucked so bad it was almost inevitable that the ending would be garbage (“What was once a horror program became farce...an awful ending to a coulda-been-great show”). If you were anywhere near the internet that week (or TV, or radio, and on and on), the stink fumes radiating off of the episode—and the vitriol that poured forth in response—were inescapable. Collectively, seemingly every Dexter viewer became Comic Book Guy in tandem.
And it’s the gift that keeps on giving through the years—the gift of rage, to be specific:
Even its generally diplomatic star, Michael C. Hall, eventually dropped little admissions into subsequent interviews acknowledging that, yeah, it may not have gone out on a particularly high note. In a conversation with The Daily Beast the following year, Hall said that he’d never even watched it, and ever-so-politely suggested the show’s writers may have run out of creative steam when it came time to wrap things up: “I think the show had lost a certain amount of torque. Just inherently because of how long we’d done it, because of the storytelling capital we’d spent, because our writers may have been gassed.” Sure, he may have been trying to keep with some vaguely generous motor-vehicle metaphor there, but the argument that your show’s writers were gassed is a pretty funny line.
But watching the finale again in 2020, two things become clear: One is that, yes, it’s definitely a bad episode of TV. The thing is not good, and should probably be locked in a time capsule to be opened at some undetermined future moment when humanity has created the TV-viewing equivalent of an mberry, turning crappy programming good the way those berries invert your taste buds. But it’s also noteworthy how much of what makes the ending lackluster was set in motion well before this episode brought it all home. The unearned stakes of Yvonne Strahovski’s Hannah McKay ending up with Dexter’s son, Harrison; the abrupt winnowing down of the voiceover (which the showrunners claimed they’d been slowly building to all season) utterly failed to land; the ignominious sputtering out of the Brain Surgeon storyline the series had mishandled; these were all time bombs of narrative nonsense just waiting for the conclusion to finally explode. Combine these things with the immediate post-viewing emotional letdown that ensued, and you can understand why people went HAM on it. So maybe it’s not the worst last episode of TV of all time, so much as it’s simply a dispiriting culmination of a bunch of dreadful things that came before.
Of course, there’s also the in-episode decisions to have Deb abruptly die offscreen, though not before assuring Dexter that nothing is his fault and he shouldn’t feel any guilt whatsoever, as well as having Dexter drive his boat into a literal hurricane, then somehow escape. Those are also choices, presumably ones to which the original Dexter showrunner—who is helming the revival series—is referencing in his publicly stated plan to “make that right.” So maybe it was somewhat fairly maligned.
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