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Dexter: Season Eight

Charlotte Rampling and Michael C. Hall in the final season of Dexter. [Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime]

Dexter: Season Eight 2 out of 4 star2-0

The origins of the Code of Harry, the set of rules that's helped to curtail serial killer Dexter Morgan's (Michael C. Hall) homicidal tendencies and put them to "good" use, has been discussed and detailed quite thoroughly throughout Dexter, and now it seems fitting that the code's formation is of central interest to the narrative arc of the show's final season. With his beloved sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), working as a private investigator and decidedly not talking to him following the murder of Captain LaGuerta (Lauren Velez), Dexter now hesitantly puts his confidence in Dr. Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), a renowned neuropsychiatrist called in to advise Miami Metro Police Department on a new series of theatrical killings. As it turns out, however, Vogel is far more interested in Dexter and his favorite pastime, and she's eventually revealed to be the uncredited co-author of the regulations Harry (James Remar) gave his adopted son to live by.

This code has been revealed to have plenty of loopholes and blind spots over the seasons, having proved unsatisfactory in the face of a line of passionate affairs and fatal partnerships, but it's given our antihero a perceivable, albeit macabre, way to contribute to society. In its most basic form, Dexter is about the taming of man's inner beast through personal morality, civility, and routine. Ultimately, the series is a defense and promotion of the ordinary, or at least the appearance of the ordinary, but it's always been at its best when Dexter comes into contact with those of his ilk, from Jaime Murray's seductive Lila West to Ray Stevenson's surprisingly tender Isaak Sirko. They all tease Dexter with a sense of undiluted acceptance and they all let him down, often by insisting that Dexter's "dark passenger" shouldn't be hidden and suggesting that he completely break from Harry's code.

An ostensible mother figure for Dexter, Vogel is a different beast. As an expert on psychopaths, to the point that she's lamely nicknamed "The Psychopath Whisperer," she easily manipulates Dexter into hunting down "The Brain Surgeon," a serial killer she believes is likely one of her past patients. She accepts Dexter entirely as he is, but his disillusionment with his latest accomplice seems inevitable, which speaks directly to the show's major flaw: Dexter has become almost laughably predictable and the creators have hardly sought to take any major steps outside of the dramatic structure and machinations set up in the first season and reinforced in the second. Ironically mirroring Dexter's strict adherence to Vogel and Harry's carefully drawn guidelines, the series abides by a strict set of narrative routines that it only marginally alters in the hopes of replicating the wild success and catharsis of its inaugural season again and again.

This aggravating repetitiveness is ubiquitous, including the familiar situations in which the supporting characters perpetually find themselves. Quinn (Desmond Harrington) will fall into a bad romance, Masuka (C.S. Lee) will perv out mildly, Debra will drop more f-bombs than Tommy DeVito, and Batista (series standout David Zayas) will play troubled papa bear to the lot of them. Debra has had to deal with more violent tremors in her identity than the other supporting players, what with her quasi-incestuous relationship with her brother and past engagement to another serial killer, but she's still primarily defined as a comically profane, take-no-shit cop. Even when the series went full-tilt with its melodrama in seasons six and seven, there was always a sense of unimaginative rigidity underpinning each twist and turn. The series has been consistent as a gore-riddled entertainment, but at the expense of being thoroughly innocuous and utterly ineffective in all its blood and emotional turmoil. Dexter's characters are creatures of habit, seeking and constantly rebuffing liberation, and the series similarly depends on its tired rituals to survive.

Cast: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, James Remar, David Zayas, C.S. Lee, Desmond Harrington, Aimee Garcia, Charlotte Rampling, Sean Patrick Flannery Airtime: Showtime, Sundays @ 9 p.m.

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