Friday, December 28, 2007

When Hearts of Darkness Collide
As promised, the second season of Dexter ended with an explosive finale. Not to put to put too fine a point on it, but that’s actually how the final episode began. From the moment Doakes discovered Dexter was the Bay City Butcher, the plotline took an even more ominous tone than the rest of the season had already established. What followed was a collision course among the characters, from which no single victor would emerge unscathed.

Before I go any further, here’s the obligatory SPOILER ALERT. Even though it’s been over a week since the finale premiered on Showtime, what follows reveals key details to the finale’s outcome.

From the outset, the second season of Dexter traveled a darker path than its predecessor. Once treasure-hunting divers inadvertently stumbled upon his underwater dumping ground in Episode One, the series shifted from playful mayhem to an almost surreal tragic epic as told from the killer’s desperate perspective. The supporting characters roles, from Doakes’ dogged pursuit of Dexter, to Lila’s demented devotion to him, to Deb’s quest for love, to Rita’s torn loyalties—all served to advance the notion that Dexter is the dark personage that lives in our universal heart.

The genius of Dexter lies in its unerring ability to force us to drop our disguises. Even though the series largely plays it with a wink and a nod, it conceptualizes our primordial desire for justice. More importantly, it recognizes the more important need for survival. And that’s really what this season was all about: Dexter coming to grips with that dichotomy. The first rule of Harry’s Code was to not get caught while meting out vigilante retribution, and it became Dexter’s mantra once the task force began closing in on the Bay Harbor Butcher. The problem with that strategy was that it found him in a crisis of conscience through most of the season, grappling with his own motives while covering his tracks.

In the end, Doakes and Lila serve as the links to Dexter’s past and his path to the future. Locked in a cage while Dexter decides to deal with the man who has happened upon the truth about him, Doakes eventually becomes Dexter’s confessor. He almost convinces Dexter to turn himself in, until Dexter experiences an epiphany while having dinner with Deb. The dinner’s cut short when Deb receives a phone call that the task force is closing in on Doakes’s location. Dexter races back to he remote cabin where Doakes is held prisoner, realizing he must release Doakes before the Feds find him, lest his plan to frame Doakes for the killings goes seriously awry.

Oddly, it’s Lila, in her delusion that she’s Dexter’s soulmate, who first finds Doakes imprisoned in the cabin. Once Doakes tells her who Dexter really is, and offers the body parts in garbage bags as evidence, she does what any sociopath with a tendency towards pyromania would do, and blows him, and the cabin, to smithereens. As they pick body parts out of the water, it’s obvious to the Task Force that Doakes was indeed the killer, and the case is closed. Only Dexter knows the truth, and he decides, in his topsy turvy logic, that he must honor Doakes’s memory by killing his killer.

Lila has always represented Dexter’s dark side—that Dark Passenger who can justify anything if it serves a purpose. Unlike Dexter, though, she was never panged by matters of conscience—or logic. In a way, she became the lynchpin of the entire season as a result. For a fleeting moment, it even appeared that Dexter might spare her. But when she torched a building with Rita’s kids inside, her fate was sealed. Dexter tracked her down to Paris, where he killed her, with unusual respect, for Dexter, anyway.

It seems like a tidy ending, but it leaves a number of chilling questions. Both Doakes and Lila had their own dark secrets, presumably left to speculation now that they’re both out of the equation. The most chilling premise has to be the teaser for the next season. Dexter, in his mind at least, has come to grips with his identity. “Am I a good person doing bad things, or a bad person doing good things? I’m done asking myself those questions. . .”