First to Last: Dexter's First and Last Episodes

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First to Last is a biweekly column where the pilot episode and series finale of a TV show are examined. But there’s a catch—the author has never seen a single episode of the show before viewing these two episodes! This week’s show: Dexter.

Dexter is a show that I’ve avoided for a very long time for absolutely no reason. The concept sounds cool as shit: a serial killer that kills serial killers. The only cooler thing I can imagine is like, a porn star who has sex with porn stars—which exists, and is what I’d been watching for the past nine years instead of Dexter. But it’s Halloweentime and I figured it was time to bring a little serial killin’ into First and Last. Also, I just made a short horror film about murder and this seemed like a great way to promote it and this new-fangled Paste Cloud thing. Additionally, I’d always heard that Dexter had a godawful final season, which I thought would make it perfect for this column, so I watched S1E1 “Dexter” (2006) and S8E12 “Remember the Monsters?” (2013).

The first episode, which was titled “Dexter” as opposed to the usual “Pilot,” started with Dexter killing somebody, which I was glad for. Everybody knows the show is about a killer who kills killers, and there’s no reason to have to watch 15 minutes of exposition before we get to it. And it makes sense to forego the exposition—what is there to expose? Dexter is a sociopath. He doesn’t have feelings. He navigates social situations by saying the things that you’re supposed to say, not what he feels—he feels nothing. You guys have all seen American Psycho, I don’t need to explain how sociopaths are portrayed in media. Not to accuse this show of being a rip-off of American Psycho though. While it’s clearly inspired by the film, it adds the factor of the character having a moral compass. Actually that doesn’t really make sense for a sociopath, but it seems original, so there’s that. Also he has a boat named “Slice of Life.” Get it? “Slice” like with a knife? “Life” like the life that is ended by the knife? His lack of feeling and emotion makes him capable of both dry wit and buffoon-like obliviousness—certainly an odd combination, especially when paired with a hubby of murdering. Hiding in plain sight, he works for the police, doing forensics. Neat.

Despite being about a murderer, Dexter isn’t all sex and violence: it’s just violence, no sex. Dexter, as an unfeeling sociopath, is uninterested in sex. And he’s got a girlfriend who hates sex. Suspiciously convenient, but kinda neat nonetheless. I’d predicted that the girlfriend would eventually come to want sex, and I was more right than I could have ever imagined—the writers blew their wad and made this happen in the first episode.

Of course, the prospect of a murderer murdering murderers with a hefty dose of murder, cool as it may be, would eventually become stale, so at episode’s end we are given another factor: the serial killer he has been hunting at work is now hunting him as well. I mean, I doubt the killer is going to get Dexter, since there’s eight whole seasons where he is presumably alive, but this doesn’t guarantee the safety of Dexter’s girlfriend or his sister, who happens to be a cop. On to the final episode.

While the first episode opened with Dexter stalking a victim, the last episode begins with Dexter on the lam. He is trying to flee the country along with his new girlfriend (the girlfriend from the first episode is no longer here, presumably having been killed by a serial killer) and his young son (apparently he’s okay with sex now). They’re also avoiding being caught by a generic bad guy. Or is it a generic good guy? I really don’t know who’s supposed to be good or evil, but I know that Dexter is the protagonist, so fuck that generic guy no matter what side he’s on.

While this is happening, Dexter’s sister, Debra, is in the hospital being treated for a gunshot wound. She mentions having left the police force in the past and also having done bad things. Did she work with Dexter, committing murders and then solving those very murders in order to help her career? I think that’s probably what happened, and if it isn’t, it should have. If I’m wrong, please yell at me on Twitter.

As I mentioned, Dexter has a son now and therefore has learned to like sex, but that’s not the only change: he is clearly a real person with real feelings by this point in time. So, that’s kinda lame. That’s not what we signed up for, y’know? His killing has also gotten worse, lesser, and sloppier, which I assure you is no coincidence. Pretty interesting arc, regardless of the fact that the finale was much less fun to watch than the pilot. By the end he is no longer committing calculated murders, but rather a single crime of passion. He was perhaps meticulous in the way he got the man who shot Debra to stab him first, in order to call the murder self-defense, but not a fully premeditated plan like the three murders we saw in the first episode.

Dexter and his kin again attempt to leave the country, but he is hesitant, because he wants to make sure his sister is okay. But he sends his son and girlfriend out of the country anyway. I think the idea is to demonstrate that he has gained compassion by showing him worrying about Debra, but it still seems pretty sociopathic to send his toddler son out of the country with a woman who I don’t even think is his mother. At the hospital, Dexter pulls the plug on his sister rather than leaving her in a vegetative state. It’s almost poetic, really: rather than killing somebody as a punishment, he is ending somebody’s life to end their suffering. He steals her body from the hospital and takes it on his boat (which I will remind you is wackily named “Slice of Life”). Like, there’s people around and everything, but nobody says anything or stops him. He throw Debra into the ocean, and then he… fakes his death and goes off the grid? What the fuck is that? If he’s gonna fake his death, why doesn’t he just go to South America with his girlfriend and son? He just leaves them together? Seriously, I really don’t think the girlfriend is the mother. It seems more like she’s just some criminal he met.

I see the last season of Dexter getting a lot of hate, and I found the “Remember the Monsters?” to be disappointing as well, but I must say that Dexter had the most natural story arc of all the shows I’ve watched for this column. The first episode, “Dexter,” was an appropriate introduction and escalated the urgency towards the end, and the final one, “Remember the Monsters?” had lots of tensions and thrills and, most importantly, a conclusion, regardless of how infuriating that conclusion was or how baffling Dexter’s decision became.

Matt Pass is a writer and comedian who just released a short horror film called Kevin is Dead. Watch it, and follow him on Twitter.