Dexter Finale vs The Breaking Bad Finale
The difference between the Dexter series finale and the Breaking Bad series finale is the difference between exposition and revelation. The Dexter finale was exposition, defined by various dictionaries as “writing or speech primarily intended to convey information or to explain; a detailed statement, description or explanation.” I would throw in a justification or excuse as well (more about that in a minute). The Breaking Bad finale was all about revelation, defined by various dictionaries as “something revealed, especially a dramatic or striking disclosure of something not previously known or realized.”
Dexter’s final season was filled with rather convoluted plotting and a lot of discussion about what a sociopath can and cannot feel, what is the nature of a monster, and the role of Dexter’s “dark passenger”.
It reminds me, on a lesser scale, of the husband of a friend of mine. This smart, handsome, funny man is a narcissist. He is consumed by the desire to look a decade or two younger than he is and he endlessly trots out of tales of his former glory days as a man about town and a minor player in music business celebrity comings and goings.
Every aspect of his life is in service to his vanity. He explains this by talking about his difficult childhood and his boyhood low self-esteem and insecurities. Or he charmingly says: “I guess I am just a selfish bastard.” Or- “I know I am such a narcissist.” It’s said with a wink and a nod or a shrug and a shake of the head. It is as if admitting this passes for real self awareness or actually excuses his behavior.
Meanwhile, his kids go to a sub-standard school because he overspends on luxuries large and small and the education budget is shot. He justifies the lesser school by saying he wants his kids exposed to a real cross section of life and not just well off entitled little brats. Meanwhile, his kids will suffer for having had inferior schooling.
His work history is intermittent and he still has dreams of “making it” on a more glamorous stage than the one on which he currently lives. He and his wife took out a $15,000 credit card based home equity loan to pay for a much needed bathroom renovation. Circumstances intervened and the renovation was delayed and the money banked. When tax time came, he sheepish admitted he had been drawing on the loan with his own credit card and the whole amount was now gone. He had frittered it away on himself and small presents here and there to make himself feel better. No new bathroom and a new $15,000 debt.
How does this relate to Dexter? At the end of the day it isn’t enough that Dexter admits he is a monster or now that he has feelings he can’t bear them. He is a serial killer. He wants to kill. He might have channeled this through training and adherence to “the code” but it’s a compulsion like drink, drugs, or pedopfilia.
Dexter’s excuse or justification is that he experienced a childhood trauma and only kills bad people– oh, except those whose deaths directly or indirectly were caused by their getting too close to his secret or those who died mistakenly or accidentally. The truth is he enjoys killing.
He loves the building desire and the pent up release that comes from stalking and murder. He loves it more than he loves his son. He wants it more than he wants the woman he loves. He is more strongly bonded to it than he is bonded to his sister. Explaining this, justifying this, naming this, or intellectualizing about this is not revelation. It is exposition. Dexter is as self-deluded in the finale as he was in the first episode. Don’t get me wrong, much about this series was brilliant. But, like my friend’s charming narcissist husband, at the end of the day the justifications, excuses, and explanations just get tiresome and tedious. The Dexter finale feels empty because it is empty.
In contrast, Walter White has a revelation in the Breaking Bad finale. He realizes he didn’t do what he did for his family but for himself, for the thrill of living on the edge, and for feeling really and truly alive when in danger. I suspect that given the choice, even knowing exactly what the end would be, Walter White would do it all again. He is the worm that turned. Pushed around, cheated, and abused by the system, he rebels. White’s moment of clarity in the finale reminds me of the line from Paradise Lost— “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.” No excuses. No justifications. It was a fitting end to a brilliant series.