*Click on images in this review for full 1080p screenshots.
Critics and fans alike have expressed growing disinterest with the latter half of Dexter's run, and they pointed a collective finger at Showtime for chasing ratings instead of quality. Yes, this once unique series settled for complacency in a formulaic approach, but I would argue (and have) that each season offered a new wrinkle in the killer's psyche that was worth exploring. Everyone seemed to come together at the end of season 6 though, as it delivered the moment we had waited for since the beginning, and more or less served as a promise that the writers were done beating around the bush. There was plenty of skepticism that they'd actually make good on that promise, but they belayed our fears by following with what was arguably the best season of the series. Season 7 was the runaway train of excitement we deserved, and I was certain the creative minds behind the show had a solid game plan for the 8th and final season… until Executive Producer Sara Colleton went on record saying they "…wanted to end it this year (season 7), but the network convinced us that it would be best to do it in two years." Uh-oh. Couple this with the fact that Dexter - a show which normally debuts at the end of September - was going to slash months off its production schedule to premiere in June, and there was more than enough reason for concern. I was hoping my fears would prove to be unfounded, but no such luck.
It's been 6 months since LaGuerta's death, and it's proven to have a profound effect on Deb. Unable to reconcile the demons, she quits Miami Metro in favor of a private investigator gig, using undercover work as an excuse to drink and snort herself into oblivion. In her absence, Batista comes out of retirement to become Lieutenant. He eventually holds a dedication ceremony for LaGuerta, and gifts her ashes to Dexter… who happens to be fine, for the most part. He's managed to juggle fatherhood and his Dark Passenger with ease, but he hasn't talked to Deb in months because she's never home and won't return any of his calls. So, he tracks her down and learns she's not only in self-destruct mode, but about to be smack dab in the middle of a mob hit. One thing leads to another, and yet another dead body comes between them - Dexter feels he saved the day, but Debra is far from grateful for once again having to see the Dark Passenger come out to play. Needless to say, she wants him out of her life once and for all, but with her reckless and unpredictable behavior, he's not exactly in a position where he can just ride off into the sunset…
That said, there are other things that will keep him from focusing solely on Deb. 'The Brain Surgeon' is in town, and his unique MO attracts the attention of a psychologist that specializes in - you guessed it - serial killers. The last thing Dexter needs is for a professional to see through his facade and start pointing fingers. Regardless, a confrontation is inevitable, because Dr. Evelyn Vogel only feigned interest in The Brain Surgeon to meet Dexter... but to what end? To complicate things further, another woman from Dexter's past returns, but will his Dark Passenger be too distracted to see the blindside coming?
These are great ideas in and of themselves, but the writers obviously struggled with their cohesion... and that's putting it nicely. Plot threads - almost all of them - are haphazardly abandoned in favor of something else, and because there's no clear trajectory to follow as a result, everything comes off feeling like filler. Deb's story could have driven the season in its entirety, but the show pulls a 'whoops, we changed our mind' after their relationship seemingly hit the point of no return... and we're supposed to just accept that and move on? Bringing Batista back to Miami Metro presented a solid opportunity to have him search for LaGuerta's killer, but no - He's more interested in pushing Quinn to take the Sergeant's exam, and what comes of that? Nothing. Quinn has taken his relationship with Jaime to the next level, and where does that go? Nowhere. Masuka gets some additional screen time to bond with a daughter he never knew about, and how did that manage to line up in the grand scheme of things? Nohow. These are just some of the things that are introduced and eventually add up to a big, fat goose egg, and even though the series has often been criticized for offering meaningless subplots, that's pretty much how this entire season goes down. For all intents and purposes, the previous season felt more like a proper sendoff than this, ambiguous ending and all. We were left with so many tantalizing possibilities at the end of season 7, and yet the writers discarded the obvious selling points to go off on inconsequential tangents. I hate to say it, but this is the most disappointing season of Dexter to date, and that's coming from a staunch supporter since day 1.
So the only question at this point is if these episodes are a complete waste of time. Yes, it's the most lackluster final season in recent memory, but it's at least bookended with some terrific episodes. At the risk of repeating myself, watching Deb spiral out of control provides a palpable tension unlike anything we've seen in the series to date. It's a strong and promising start for the season, and most of the credit there belongs to Jennifer Carpenter and her haunting portrayal as a shattered woman. Pretty much everything after this brief character arc is filler until the last few episodes, at which point the 'who gives a crap' shenanigans give way for a straight path to the finale. These episodes are worth absorbing because they're so focused and concise - and Dexter fans will likely be able to separate them from the disappointment lingering in the rearview mirror - but there's no denying their lack of impact. Because this season did such a poor job of building any momentum for the endgame whatsoever, what could have been remembered as a fitting finale is now and will forever remain a victim of 'too little, too late'. Dexter deserved something that would resonate, and they ultimately failed to accomplish that.
A hot topic of debate has been Dexter's overall fate... and don't worry, I won't spoil anything. I'll merely say that I'm satisfied with how things wrapped up. There could have been less of a heavy hand on the symbolic imagery, but I don't think anything else would have felt quite so... right. The constant theme throughout the series in its entirety has been trying to identify who this man really is - Is he nothing more than a cold blooded killer, a blight on society? Or was it possible he could legitimately love another human being and live a normal life? Could the scales tip and allow Dexter to feel whole without resorting to murder, or would the Dark Passenger take over once and for all? All I'll say for those who are interested in knowing, is that these questions are answered... more or less. You could argue there's a little ambiguity in regards to the final scene, but there's enough there to make a solid conclusion. If you were worried that the final moments of Dexter would echo the likes of The Sopranos or LOST... don't be.
Overall, Dexter - The Final Season was a dismal experience. Despite my loyalty to the series since the beginning... I actually found myself looking for excuses to stop watching. I actually got to a point where I didn't care what happened anymore because nothing mattered. I lost hope and lost the will to keep watching... but I did anyway. I invested my time watching the rest of the series, so I figured I should just suck it up and finish. I'm glad I did because the last few episodes were pretty good... but that's not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? That after waiting all these years to see how Dexter would end, the writers managed to make me stop caring within the final round of episodes? If you're heavily invested in the series, you owe it to yourself to watch... but outside of that, don't expect any miracles. This season was obviously a byproduct of greed, a chance for Showtime to cash their chips one last time. Unfortunately, they soured the legacy of the show in the process.
This is an impressive 1080p, AVC encoded presentation (1.78:1) that's even better than how the show looked during its initial broadcast. I would be surprised if I heard this Blu-ray set didn't completely capture the principle photography as was intended - Skin tones are dead on, any variation of crimson is displayed with bold intensity, colors are vivid yet lifelike most of the time, and intended contrasts are replicated flawlessly. Daytime scenes that take place outside appear to be overly bright and skin tones can look a little off as a result, but the show was filmed this way to convey to us the sweltering heat in Miami. Certain scenes in the dark seem to be bathed in more black than would be natural, but again, this is also a photographic trick that's used for tone and effect, and not an issue with the encode. And the detail? Absolutely immaculate. In close-up shots you can see individual fibers on clothing, every strand of hair, and the image always retains a decent amount of depth and dimensionality. There's only the occasional shot that looks soft (due to the photography). Of course, all of the amazing work done during principal photography would mean nothing if this were a subpar encode, but have no fear. There's no edge enhancement, digital noise reduction (certain dark scenes will exhibit a bit of grain or noisiness that relates back to the source), banding, aliasing or digital artifacts. In short, the encode we've been treated to for Dexter - The Final Season is absolutely to die for.
There's always been a surprising amount of attention paid to detail in Dexter's sound design, and The Final Season is no different in that respect. This lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track has a quality to it that's almost cinematic. It's a dialogue driven show, for sure, and the voices are always crisp and clear, but it's everything else that continues to surprise me year after year. As always, Daniel Licht's score is haunting and always drives the suspense on-screen to heights that make my spine tingle. Rear speakers can be aggressive when the show calls for it (which isn't very often), but they're always active in a subtle way, providing an uncanny ambience that makes you feel like you're following Dexter every step of the way. When you're indoors, you'll feel like you're inside of a room, and when you're outdoors, you'll hear the openness of dialogue change and the environmental sounds will keep you fully immersed. Fans of the show will be satisfied, and for anyone experiencing the show on Blu for the first time, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
The series on Blu-ray has a history of providing virtually no bonus content, and that hasn't changed with The Final Season of Dexter. There are some mini-featurettes that clock in at a paltry 2-3 minutes each, and serve as little more than promo material.
-From Cop to Killer
-Dexter Season 8 - Behind the Scenes
-Episode 1 with the Creators
-Episode 2 - Directed by Michael C. Hall
-Episode 3 - Dissecting a Scene
-Episode 4 - With the Creators
You can also access the first two episodes of Ray Donovan.
In a perfect world, our favorite shows would conclude before having a chance to fly by an imaginary expiration date… but this isn't a perfect world. After a strong penultimate season, there was hope that Dexter would end on a high note, but Showtime just had to roll the dice one too many times. Despite a promising start, The Final Season quickly devolves into a convoluted mess. There's much going on yet nothing actually happens… at least, not until the end, but by then it's too little, too late. Instead of hanging on the edge of my seat, the writers managed to lose me halfway through the season. Despite investing 90 hours into the series, the writers managed to shatter my interest in a matter of episodes. I actually had to force myself to carry on. I love the episodes that bookend the season, but I'm just going to pretend that the 7th season was the finale and forget the rest. At least the A/V on this release is exceptional, but as usual, Showtime skimps on the extras. Rent it.