Dexter 8.11 "Monkey in a Box" Review

A tv review article by: Jamil Scalese

8.11 "Monkey in a Box"

If this review was a single word, a "FFFUUUUUUUUUUUU" that stretched over the distance of 4-5 paragraphs, I believe that most Dexter viewers would stroke their beard (literal or figurative) and nod in calculated agreement.

It's that bad, folks. The approval rating on this season is skidding along the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It's the anti-"Ozymandias". Every scene is sodden in missed execution and amateur plotting. It's like the creators of Dexter took a single piece from all the puzzles in the gameroom, threw them on the carpet and said "You're Welcome!" It's a Jenga tower made of shit bricks.

Flivid. It's like being flippant and livid at the same time. I'm there. So are many of you, I'm sure. The best part of his maddening freefall has been the various comments sections and message boards across the internet. Apparently, Dexter fans are all ninja comedians. Thanks for the laughs, comrades!

Here's what you need to know about Dexter Morgan's life:  He's fleeing Miami soon, chasing a happy, normal(ish) life with his two favorite blondes, Hannah and Harrison. The gang is jet, set and all ready to go, except for one minor thing -- Dexter must capture and kill Oliver Saxon, son and murderer of Dr. Evelyn Vogel.

You see, Vogel was a deep, dear friend of Dexter, a mother almost, and Saxon is a deranged killer who probably has a huge kill total. Dexter needs to kill Saxon. To not kill him, would just be so un-Dexter, right?

Concurrently, the Surfer Cop/US Marshall continues his pursuit of Hannah, and uses the talents of Elway to figure out if she's hanging around Debra Morgan's crib. Elway pays a visit, but that's moot because he and the Marshall return later when she's not there (I'm presuming with a warrant) and ransack the place/her computer for info.     

The imminent incarceration of his soul mate only slightly bothers Dex and he steams forward with his plan to track and kill Saxon. Fortuitous to the script Saxon has the jump on Dex and twice lurks on him in response. First is when Saxon volunteers himself to Miami Metro for questioning (in relation to Cassie's murder...Yeah. Who is Cassie again?) and willingly gives up a DNA sample. Yes, the implied talented criminal just shows up in the middle of enemy territory and willing gives the police his genetic thumbprint, which does not tie him to Cassie's murder, but does in fact link him as a blood relative to the recently departed Dr. Vogel. Smooth. FFFUUU!!

The second time Saxon shows his face is when he shows up at Dexter's apartment as an interested buyer. He uses the meet up to present Dex with a truce: you leave me alone, I'll leave you alone and we'll go about our psychopathic ways independently. Dex, who doesn't know the meaning of the word deterred, scoffs at the idea but does acknowledge Saxon's leverage: one of them has nothing to lose and the other one has plenty.

(An aside: Hey, did you recognize Dexter's real estate agent? It's Sylvia Prado! Wife of Miguel Prado, the big bad from Season 3. Whoa, Dexter producers, thanks for suddenly giving a fuck about fan service and series cohesion. Better late than never!)

After this rendezvous with Saxon, Dexter simply cannot let it go. He has to end this dude's life. With the Argentina clock ticking, Dexter abstains his usual methodical approach. Though the careful technique has served him well for many years, leaving the country with his girlfriend and son trumps all reason so Dexter finds Saxon's killroom/hideout, breaks into the Brain Surgeon's computer (don't feel dumb, Oliver, I don't password protect my computer either) and sends recordings of his killings to the local news stations. What?!

With his Ryan Gosling-esque face plastered across Floridian TV sets Saxon is left with little choice to exact revenge. That was Dexter's plan to after all, to sit around a wait for Saxon to come to him, a complete reversal to the normal way things run on this show. As he is waiting patiently at his apartment Dex receives a visit from sister Debra who is interested in having one last dinner with her brother. It's an intentionally awkward scene, one of the better moments of the episode, and it leads directly to Deb helping her brother capture Saxon when he shows up in the dead of night, apparently not expecting any sort of trap. FFFUUUU!!

Remember last week when Dex set up that killroom, equipped with plastic sheeting and pictures of Saxon's victims? Well, apparently our astute main character doesn't because he forgoes that location for Saxon's killroom (located in an abandoned hospital) visited earlier in the episode. Some of the shows most profound moments have happened while someone is strapped to a table; it always presented a stage for the extremely guarded and veiled main character to let loose and be himself.

Admittedly, there are nuggets of quality TV as Dexter prepares for what he expects to be his last kill in North America, but somewhere along the line it tragically unravels. A sneering and snarky Saxon shows no fear of death and the two start a dialogue which eventually causes our protagonist to come to an epiphany: For most of his existence he's revolved his entire life around killing people. Nothing else mattered, every other aspect of his life were simply semantics to get to a point where can actively kill and get away with it. Plainly, murder was his lifeblood, his ultimate goal, the thing that dominated his thoughts and drove his every action. It is not until he is about to kill Saxon that he realizes he'd rather be somewhere else, with Hannah. A "stronger pull" dominates his thoughts, and for the first time, maybe ever, he doesn't need to kill.

It's a truly groundbreaking moment for this legendary character. A legit sign of change, particularly form the near-emotionless Dexter we saw in the first couple seasons. The evolution has been incremental, from developing hobbies outside of killing, to learning how to let people into his life, childbirth, the passing of loved ones and so on, the prolific serial killer has grown into a full-fledged human being. While it's a bit of a tough swallow to accept that the cure for murder addiction is the love of a hot woman I do think enough work has been done in that regard, particularly when put up against more of the more forced, underdeveloped elements.

So, Dex doesn't need to kill, it's no longer an insatiable hunger that guides his life absolute. Makes sense. Remember, Dex abandoned the Dark Passenger concept last season when Hannah basically gave him the stink eye and said "Really, though?" He appears to have more control over his sickness, and this is the reason he chooses not to kill Oliver Saxon, to prove a point.

OK, that's dandy and all, but like FORREALZ though, Dexter? The last group of episodes have labored to go against all logic and give Dexter motivation to end Saxon's life. He had multiple opportunities to abandon the chase and flee with his family. The show hammered the "Saxon must die" point into our skulls and never relented. It's tough to accept that this realization doesn't happen until the instance right before the act of killing him. Oh, and Dexter, Saxon knows you're a serial killer! Dude, it might actually be super prudent to just end his life.  

Debra arrives at the hospital to find Saxon bound still alive and Dexter ready to depart for the airport where Hannah is waiting. Dex would rather his sister take him in. The US Marshall, who, outside of Elway, apparently works completely by his lonesome, tailed Deb to the scene and watches as the Morgans say their "final" goodbyes. As the siblings stand outside, totally not giving a rat's ass about the serial killer tied up inside, the US Marshall enters the building and stumbles across Saxon pleading for help. This Marshall, a trained law enforcement agent, unties Saxon without questioning him and while stupidly glancing all around as if the guy tied up in the dingy, seedy room is not the main priority in the moment. Yo! In case you missed it, this guy is a US MARSHALL, and he can't ID the face of a guy who has been all over the news for the last 24 hours as a wanted, dangerous killer. FFFUUUUUU!!

Saxon stabs the Marshall and he dies. A second later Deb walks in the room and gets shot in the abdomen and Saxon flees. The episode ends with her bleeding out, calling for backup. It'd be suspenseful if done correctly. (Let me also add that the last portion of this episode suffers from very poor directing and editing.)

Alright, a quick rundown of what else happened this hour before my final thoughts:

  • Quinn and Deb are growing closer together, particularly after Deb finds the engagement ring from a couple seasons back in his work desk. Only on TV is this romantic, creepy everywhere else.
  • Masuka's daughter still exists. They joke about bong hits. My god, explain the point of this subplot!
  • It looks like the purpose of the Elway character is/was to set up a foil for Hannah. In one of the final scenes of "Monkey in a Box" Hannah roams the airport as Elway trails her closely.
  • In a work-related get-together Dexter is able to say his final goodbyes to his co-workers (which encompass most of the side characters from the show). It's a very weird scene. So many people are sad to see Dexter go, and part of him will miss them too, but as someone like Captain Matthews, a hard-nosed but mainly goodhearted character, says farewell and best wishes I can't help but feel ugly about it. I'll discuss this a bunch more next week but sending Dexter off with hugs and kisses when he's done so many unfavorable and amoral thing to these people -- from habitual decade-long deception to killing their friends and loved ones -- seems wrong and unsatisfactory.
  • In the final moments of the episode, Dexter shares a last scene with Ghost Dad, Harry Morgan. The two say goodbye forever because I guess Dex it now completely over the need to kill and can stop hallucinating now.

It's been a hilariously bad season, and I'm typically a Dexter apologist so you know that has to be at least somewhere near the truth. What's so frustrating is that there aren't just a few unfavorable aspects it's that just about every scene lacks potency and coherency. None of the pieces fit together and the individual creative choices are extremely confusing. The thing is, there are about 10-15 inconsistencies I am not including here for sake of time/length. But hey, I already got you in the room so here's one I can't get over: Why the hell introduce the bland US Marshall character when Batista, Quinn or Elway could have easily taken his place?

The writers have given those three characters nearly nothing to do, making them participate in meandering subplots. Meanwhile, the US Marshall, who has no distinct personality, functions as an important, pragmatic cog to the plot. Wouldn't there be some actual payoff if Bastia/Quinn/Elway were stabbed and killed instead of the apparition-like Marshall who I'm not even sure has a name. It's the next-to-last episode after all! FFFUUUUUU!!!

Dexter was always very good at delivering quality entertainment in the immediate. Episode to episode, season to season, the show made a point to build each segment to be entertaining. For many years I appreciated this about Dexter, the writers and production staff assembled the show to have self-containing episodes and entire seasons with specific themes and messages.

In the end I think this can be pointed to as the main contributor to the downfall of this once mighty Showtime giant. The creators were so much more concerned with the path directly in front of them that they forgot to prepare an itinerary for the rest of the journey. This used to confound me in the first few years, particularly because I love heavily serialized fiction (helloooo, comics!), but because the show had such a high quality it was more than forgivable.  Choices like introducing side characters with little to no point, or abandoning plotlines that were the main crux of previous seasons indicate no long-term vision.

Alright, one more for good measure: FFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!

Here's one good thing (I think): I've managed to avoid all the (apparently valid) finale spoilers that have been all over the net the last month. Yay! See you next week so we can finally bury this rotten, bloated corpse.

Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.

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