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Dexter Recap: The Beginning of the End

Yvonne Strahovski as Hannah McKay and Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan (Season 7, episode 12)

Now, that’s how you finish a season. Cliff-hangers can be fun in a masochistic way, like waiting months wondering how Deb would react after seeing Dexter kill Travis Marshall. Last night wasn’t so much a cliff-hanger as it was the end of a mostly terrific chapter. Though we have more questions than answers, there’s also a sense of satisfaction. No wondering whether Dexter will shake LaGuerta off his trail, or who shot whom in the shipping container. Everything has changed, we know for certain, and none of it for the better.

We begin with Hannah, who looks pretty damn good in an orange DOC jumpsuit and makes it clear that yes, conspiracy theorists among you, she did indeed poison Deb. Maybe it’s the exhausted look on her face, or her jailhouse desperation, but Hannah never seemed more wicked. Her good-bye to Dexter — when she admits she figured he’d be the one dead or behind bars — and her courthouse showdown with Deb are well played. “Is the law just something you make up as you go along?” she asks Deb, foreshadowing what lies ahead. When Arlene slips Hannah a pill, I figured she planned to kill herself, sending Dexter into an emotional spiral and into conflict with Deb. We soon learn Hannah ain’t going out like that; instead of suicide, she sneaks out of the hospital and drops off a good-bye plant at Dexter’s place. Looks like we haven’t seen the last of Miss McKay and her supervillainy knowledge of lethal and semi-lethal poisons.

LaGuerta’s single-minded pursuit of Dexter carries the rest of the episode. At first, Dexter’s arrest is a bit confusing, since we think Estrada escaped at the docks. That’s true, we learn — it turns out Dexter pulled off another brilliant (if improbable) evidence plant to make it look like LaGuerta set him up for Estrada’s death. The framing double-cross works, and LaGuerta looks exactly the way Dexter painted her during his interrogation — an obsessed former lover who can’t admit that Doakes was a killer. Just when LaGuerta runs out of aces, one arrives in the mail, courtesy of Anderson’s widow. We see Deb, caught on tape at the gas station, minutes before Travis and the church went up in flames. (Why didn’t Deb think that she’d be caught on tape, since gas stations usually have security cameras?) LaGuerta grills her on the timeline and Deb clearly doesn’t have her brother’s knack for lying. For a second, it seems she might give Dexter up. Yet Deb proves that no matter the consequences, she’s still on Dexter’s side.

By the end, we find out just how true that is, as Dexter prepares for his most sinister hit yet. Perhaps taking out Hannah’s father was a serial killing gateway drug of sorts — a conscious decision to chuck the Code and do what felt good, in a bad, bad way. But when Dexter decides to eliminate LaGuerta, it’s more the action of a cornered animal, a man letting his lizard brain take over and protecting himself and his sister by any means necessary. Though signs seemed to point to LaGuerta’s demise even before this episode, I didn’t think Dexter would murder her. Not that he couldn’t, but that the show just wouldn’t head down that road. The impact seemed too seismic, as our antihero would turn into a ruthless murderer willing to kill anyone who crosses him.

What I didn’t imagine until those final seconds was that Deb would pull the trigger and execute LaGuerta. That moment wasn’t as series-bending as the big plot shifts on other shows, but it’s pretty damn close. Deb is more than an accomplice now — she’s a killer, too. There’s no limit to what she’ll do to protect Dexter. She also saved her own career, but that never feels like Deb’s true motivation. Her devotion to her brother rises above all else.

Kudos for the decision to end on a definitive note; I was afraid we’d hear a gunshot and wonder if Deb shot LaGuerta or Dexter. Instead, there’s that fantastic final scene as Dexter and Deb arrive at Batista’s party after presumably putting the finishing touches on their crime scene. They walk in slow motion, almost in an otherworldly, time-warped blur, both in the moment and outside it somehow. Dexter, in his kill room wardrobe, shows a glimpse of his true self, a killer among us. We see a different side of Deb, though. Gone is her usual uniform of blazers, jeans, and striped shirts. She’s the woman in black, clutching her brother’s arm, her face still haunted by what she’s done. As the fireworks explode and the revelers sing “Auld Lang Syne,” Dexter and Deb miss the irony of the tune. It was only a matter of time before Dexter’s old acquaintances came back to haunt him. Like the memories of their beach vacations together as kids, good times are a thing of the past for the Morgans now.

A few parting thoughts to consider as we wait for what’s shaping up to be a nail-biting final season of Dexter:

  • I’ve long thought the series would wind down with Dexter exposed and Deb forced to pursue him. Seems like that theory is shot. Will the Morgans eventually take Harry’s advice and go on the run?
  • Also thought our favorite homicidal horticulturalist would die last night, but it looks like she’ll be back. With Hannah on the loose, what role will she play, now that Dexter has made it clear his allegiance is with his sister? Will she try to make sure that, as she predicted, Dexter will be the one who’s dead or in prison?
  • LaGuerta’s death will probably bring Batista out of retirement. Will he — or Matthews — pick up where LaGuerta left off in pursuit of Dexter?
  • Will Deb be a complete basket case next season? How will she cope with what she’s done? Living with Dexter’s lies and crimes has pushed her to the edge — how will she cope now that those burdens are her own to bear as well?
  • Is Jamie dumb enough to hook up with Quinn?
  • Dexter still seems destined for death — and not of the court-ordered variety. Now that their lives are so tragically entangled, is Deb also doomed? I’d say yes. For Dexter, dying would be justice. For poor Deb, it would almost be mercy.
Photo: Randy Tepper/Showtime