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Review #3194: Dexter 6.12: “This Is the Way the World Ends”

Posted on the 20 December 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

Going into the finale, I already knew that it would be not only wrapping up this season’s main conflict, but also that it would include important setup for the two-season story arc that would close out the entire show. This much had been confirmed, and in the past few episodes there had already been strong indications that setup for that final closing arc for the show had begun. The only obvious example of this was Louis’s subplot, but more recently the possibility had emerged that Deb’s subplot might be playing into all of this somehow.

Review #3194: Dexter 6.12: “This Is the Way the World Ends”

A number of fans had accurately predicted that Deb would finally be discovering Dexter’s secret, but I didn’t become very optimistic about the idea until Showtime president David Nevins’ came out and plainly stated that stuff would be happening in the last two episodes of the season that would lead into the last two seasons in a fairly major way. So there you have it. Deb goes to the church to tell Dexter how she feels about him, and walks right in on Dexter in the midst of stabbing Travis Marshall fatally through the heart.

This final few seconds is easily the best part of the finale. This is a major change to the status quo, the likes of which has almost never been seen on “Dexter”. Really, the only thing that’s comparable is the death of Rita in the season 4 finale, and I’d argue that this is a slightly more significant change for the show. Dexter’s final line was simple, but perfect. It’s a believable enough reaction, but what makes it amusing is how it reflects the religious theme of the season.

I’ve been heavily annoyed at “Dexter” for going through so many seasons with so little actual change to the status quo, so it seems that giving the show a concrete end point was exactly what it needed. I might have liked for something like Deb’s discovery to happen much earlier in the show, but the delaying of it wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much if there had been other major alterations of the status quo. And it’s hard to imagine a better moment for Deb to make the discovery, given the journey the character has been on this season.

This means that her reaction is going to be even harder to predict than it would have been before. Instead of discovering her brother in the midst of killing Travis, she’s discovering the man she’s in love with in the midst of killing Travis. Will Deb’s enhanced feelings for Dexter make her less likely to call in the fuzz? Or will they cause her to be even more upset than she might normally have been? Perhaps both answers are true.

It’s unfortunate that the rest of the finale has such trouble competing with this brief final scene. Separate from it, the finale isn’t exactly bad, but it is somewhat disappointing. After that big reveal in “Get Gellar”, Travis quickly became the show’s weakest element. The subplots became far more interesting than the threat posed by Travis. Putting Harrison in peril added some needed suspense to the finale, but I still found it lacking. As I’ve said before, Travis isn’t threatening or interesting enough to carry so much of the show on his own. A weak antagonist is one of the worst mistakes a writer can possibly make.

I really expected Travis’s endgame to be a lot more impressive than just killing a baby on top of a building. I was expecting him to blow up the building, or something more unexpected and climactic. I think it would have been smarter to save the wormwood attack for the finale, and have it take out a bunch of people in Miami Metro, possibly including one or two major characters. Then you could still have Dexter going after Travis in the final third, possibly with Harrison’s life at stake. I might have liked to have seen Dexter going after Travis after he’s become enraged that his plan to bring on the apocalypse was a complete failure.

I was also hoping for a little more in regards to Louis’ involvement in the story. I did expect some kind of reveal to occur with him, but I suppose something like that would have conflicted with the most important scene of the episode. We don’t really learn anything new about Louis (and I was rather hoping Chambers would show up again), but it is made clear that Louis will be back. His worship of Dexter has caused him to give up his video game career for the moment so he can stay close to Dexter. And there is that mannequin hand at Dexter’s apartment. I might guess that Dexter will find a way to trace the origin of that package using his detective skills (which might be what Louis secretly wants?).

The finale didn’t just have the job of resolving the main threat. It also needed to wrap up the themes of the season. The religious theme has almost disappeared entirely since Brother Sam died, only cropping up occasionally in small pieces. Yeah, there’s still a serial killer out there trying to bring on the apocalypse. But these religious elements were only superficial. The actual philosophical content was mostly absent, and I found that… disappointing. I enjoyed the social and philosophical commentary in the first half of the season, even if it didn’t always work as well it was intended to.

I was glad to see that the finale at least attempted to return to some of the core themes of the season, though the end result is still a bit disappointing. The opening scenes with Dexter contemplating his approaching death, being saved by illegal Cuban immigrants, and then rescuing them by skewering a dangerous man with a fishing spear, were probably the best of the episode outside of that final scene. I liked the somewhat eerie opening shot of the stars and the moments with Dexter in the water, gradually losing his strength. And I liked how the scene on the boat returned us to the idea of Dexter as some kind heroic, redemptive figure (or “The Avenging Angel”, as the marketing puts it). I’ve always liked the idea of Dexter as an almost comic book-like anti-hero whose inner darkness can be channeled into something good.

The point at which the episode truly attempts to conclude the religious theme of the season occurs in the moments leading up to Deb’s arrival, in which Dexter does some philosophizing while explaining to Travis the nature of his crimes, and why he has to die. In my last review, I’d come to the conclusion that the season no longer had any point to make about religion, now that Travis was just a psychopath using religion as an excuse. But it looks as though I missed the point that the show was trying to make. The fact that Travis is a psychopath does say something about how the show wants us to feel about religion. If you’re religious, you might want to look away for the next few paragraphs.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the show seems to take a relatively positive stance on religion. I don’t know how far this point is meant to be taken, but it seems as though the message we’re supposed to take home from this is that religion itself is not the actual problem; that those who commit evil acts in the name of religion are only twisting its meaning to fit the malevolent purposes that existed in them already. It’s a comforting message, and works reasonably well as a resolution to the religious theme for the season. But I didn’t find it particularly insightful, or reflective of reality.

Are we meant to believe that religion does not play a significant role in causing completely mentally sane individuals to practice hatred and intolerance? The only reason religion gets a free pass in Travis’s case is because he has born with these mental issues. And even then, I’m not sure if that totally takes the blame off of religion. Obviously, we can’t be meant to believe that all religious extremists are just insane, like Travis, can we? Travis is the only example that the show gives us of a negative religious character. No other religious character in the show is portrayed in such a negative light.

Presumably, we’re meant to see Brother Sam as an example of what a “true” believer in God is like. We’re meant to see religion as something that, at its core, is a pure and moral thing. It’s pretty clear that the show is trying to make some sort of general statement about religion, or at least belief in the Biblical God. But I freely admit that I may be misinterpreting the actual specifics of this statement, though I think it highly likely that I’m not far off the mark. Isn’t Travis meant to tell us something about the majority of religious extremists? If Travis is only meant to represent a minority of religious extremists, then there’s no real point being made.

I was more interested in the season back when it took a more mature approach to its subject matter. It could critique religion for seeming preposterous from a more rational perspective, it was capable of presenting sane individuals whose misguided beliefs led them to commit horrendous acts, and it was also capable of portraying religious characters as being highly moral and sympathetic. Even if the show had wanted to end things with a positive note about religion, I think it’s unnecessary for it to rely on the idea that Travis had to be completely insane for his actions to make sense.

I did enjoy the finale overall, and that final scene with Deb easily earns the episode a whole point on the number rating scale. The unexpected Yoda impression from Masuka was hilarious, of course. There was some good suspense, and a partially satisfying showdown between Dexter and Travis. Despite my issues with the season’s final word on religion, I did like seeing Dexter come to terms with the idea that his darkness might suit a greater purpose in the world, whether that be a divine purpose or simply one derived from the natural order. And what I liked the most was that season 7 was set up rather well, though it’s unfortunate that the episode doesn’t work better as a conclusion to season 6.

Rating: 7/10

(Season 6 Final Average: 7.4)

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