The thing with Dexter, a thing we all know about, is that it is completely bound by its formula. It has been said over and over that the series cannot really move forward until it knows an end is in sight. Dexter has one more card to play — Deb finding out — and until the writers know it is the final season, it feels like they won’t play that card. I understand that, I do. And ever since the middle of season three, I’ve known this and basically decided not to care about Dexter past the general interest that comes with watching a series for five years.
But what is really unfortunate is how the middle of season five sucked me in and made me care a little more than I wanted to. So when the last two episodes and finale “The Big One” in particular completely dropped the ball, I was actually angry. I do not like to be angry at Dexter. The rational version of me knows that this is exactly what Dexter does, but because episodes 6-10 were generally awesome, I felt like something cool was happening for the series. I was wrong. Dexter is what we thought it was. That sucks.
Apart from Dexter, Lumen is my favorite character the series has presented to us. Mostly because she feels like a character and not a one-note representation (everyone at the police station, Rita) or poorly-written and misguided foil (Deb). The series tends to do some interesting things with the villains each season, but they are so often defined by that one characteristic and easily disposable that it’s hard to really see much in them. Only when the performance is fantastic, like with Lithgow, do the villains feel fully-formed.
In any event, because she wasn’t a villain and because she had a really interesting introduction to the series, Lumen has been a real treat to watch grow. Julia Stiles has been really good all season long and it’s not really her fault that Lumen seemed more or less disturbed by her experiences depending on what the scene needed. Her relationship with Dexter was intriguing to watch because it was never really clear where it was headed, even after they seemed to be getting more intimate. Like at any point, I thought Lumen might just snap and kill Dexter or Deb or whoever looked at her in a weird way.
But even after the middle part of the season focused on some really interesting concepts, particularly what could happen if Dexter found someone who knew who he really was, by the time it got down to the final two episodes, it’s as if the writers panicked and realized that they are more or less bound by the formula that is in place. The bad guy has to play all their cards, a few people have to close in on finding Dexter’s secret just as he makes a huge mistake and before it’s all said and done, things are wrapped up too quickly and cleanly.
Well, if the writers were hoping to stick to the normal Dexter formula with the final episodes, they succeeded fully! “The Big One” is definitely the most standardized and pointless Dexter finale thus far, which is particularly disappointing after a season that seemed to be suggesting the series had turned the corner at least in terms of the formula. We had multiple overarching villains, a few secondary antagonists and no real indication of how it would all play out. Unfortunately, it all played out exactly how every season played out.
After being the villain who controls people with his words, Jordan Chase turned into a traditional villain that kidnaps, kills and threatens and despite Jonny Lee Miller’s best efforts, from the moment that Jordan lured Lumen to him at the end of the penultimate episode, he stopped being interesting. This is wildly disappointing after he seemed to be something of an interesting challenger in “In the Beginning,” but by the time it is all said and done, he admits to liking the active role in violence, throws Lumen in the back of a car and makes stupid villain mistakes like not killing his nemesis as soon as he sees them. It’s just stupid.
When Lumen stabs and kills him, both she and Dexter have conflicted looks on their faces, and though it’s not intentionally meant to be read that way, it sure seems like they’re both looking at each other thinking “Uh…okay. Now what?” It’s almost as if we can see the writers straining for any sense of direction through the actors’ work, and that should probably not happen. And from there, things only get worse. Deb shows up, but her recent change towards a forgiving attitude towards vigilantes means that she refuses to actually see who killed Jordan. Ugh. Again, I understand the reasoning in keeping Deb in the slight dark, but good lord is that overly convenient. If this were any other series, that moment might have meant something, but because we know what Dexter is hiding from, it just feels cheap.
And speaking of cheap, after all the progress that Lumen and Dexter have made together throughout the season, “The Big One” ends with her fully alleviated of the darkness. She’s allowed Dexter to help her heal, and now she’s ready to move on with her life. It’s a heartbreaking scene, expertly played by both Michael C. Hall and Stiles, but just like the scene with Deb, it feels cheapened by our knowledge of how Dexter works. We all assumed that Lumen wouldn’t stay past the season because that’s how the series’ special guest stars operate, but there were a few moments there where Dexter tried to prove us wrong. In the end, it was all trickery and honestly, season five is much worse for it.
More so than any other season of the series, I’m not sure what the point of these 12 episodes was. I understand there was a bout of healing going on, but to quickly jump from Rita’s death to the Lumen arc and then completely ditch that one as well is just so frustrating. Dexter is more or less the same exact person he was at the end of season four and the lead character’s development is really all the series has to hang its hat on at this point. So, so disappointing.