Showtime's serial killer drama begins its much-hyped final season tonight. Did Dexter save the best for last? Yes and no. SPOILER ALERT!
Season 8 satisfies when it comes to the biggest part. It's no secret that the major reason to watch Dexter is for the characters of Dexter Morgan and his sister Debra, and their tumultuous relationship. The award-winning work by Michael C. Hall and the should-have-won-an-award-by-now performances from Jennifer Carpenter are what have driven the show for so long. Both of them are in fine form this time around. Six months after the Season 7 finale, Dexter is not in a comfortable place. He's lost contact with his sister (they haven't spoken in a month), the death of LaGuerta is still very much a thing, and then there's Evelyn Vogel (a so far unimpressive Charlotte Rampling, Spy Game), the shrink who suddenly volunteers to help out Miami Metro as a means of getting close to him.
But that's all a cakewalk compared to how the writers have turned Debra's character inside out. They've stripped her of almost everything she spent the entire series working for. She's no longer Lieutenant of the Homicide Unit, or a cop at all. According to one of her now ex-colleagues at the police department, she "walk[ed] out of here and never came back." Now she's a private investigator working for Elway (Sean Patrick Flanery), who's gotten into bed with her latest case, Andrew Briggs (Rhys Coiro, Entourage and 24). It's clear from her first scene that Deb is a wreck; she snorts cocaine, smokes a cigarette and takes a drink from her beer in the space of a minute.
Dexter can't heed his father's advice to let Deb go, and spends the premiere episode trying to save her. This sets up some fantastic scenes between Hall and Carpenter, with Dexter visibly affected by seeing his sister in such a sad state, and Deb almost manic in her defiance. The final ten minutes - when the two finally have a major confrontation that ends in a way that will both surprise you and yet make perfect sense to any longtime fan - are the best and possibly some of the best in the program's history. It's always a pleasure to see these two talented actors work so remarkably well together, and as long as there's more of Dex and Deb, Dexter will always be worth watching.
Yet in other ways, the series is showing that it's definitely time for things to end. Most of the supporting ensemble gets short shrift in favor of the Dex/Deb drama and introducing new characters. In particular, Dexter finishes its objective of completely destroying Joey Quinn (Desmond Harrington). Quinn once had real promise as a figure in the lives of both Morgans (see: season five), but once his romance with Debra was scrapped, it's as if the writers decided he'd outlived his usefulness. For the third straight season, his arc consists of sleeping around. Quinn's ill-advised bed partner this season is Jamie Batista (Aimee Garcia), whose own previous line also revolved around a poor dating choice, and the two have absolutely no chemistry together. They come off as being paired up just because both characters needed a plot.
And that lackluster feeling isn't limited. If it doesn't involve Dexter or Debra, Season 8 of Dexter struggles. Despite the title of the show, Hall and Carpenter can't carry the whole production, nor should they have to. They need people that they can play off of - friends to help them or complicate things, and especially villains that we want to see end up on Dexter's kill table. So far in Season 8, the most interesting person in the police department is Batista (David Zayas), who's the new lieutenant after Debra's resignation. The first case of the season is more gross than interesting. And while the return of Hannah McKay (Yvonne Strahovski) will add a little energy to proceedings, it's hard not to remember the days of the Trinity Killer or even Jordan Chase, when Dexter legitimately scared the hell out of us. Especially at the end, it's time for TV's favorite serial killer to pull out all the stops.
Season 8 of Dexter begins tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on Showtime.