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Why Breaking Bad’s final season rules over Dexter’s

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The outcomes for two of TV’s most intriguing antiheroes are proving to be very different.

WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS

 

When a television series announces that it’s coming to an end, there is always a great deal of sadness for long-time viewers. But there’s also resounding excitement, because surely the last season of any series should go above and beyond all that has come before? Well, that’s the expectation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out this way. Look no further than Lost (hours of my life that I will never ever get back). Unfortunately, it’s all about cash flow and not storytelling. Hence the dragged out mess so many series become.

Dexter essentially starts and ends with each season. Sadly, this season, it hasn’t worked

That brings us to Breaking Bad and Dexter. Both were given an end point. Going into season eight of Dexter, and season five of Breaking Bad, we as viewers knew we were about to witness the end. As a huge fan of both, I was excited; convinced both would go out with a flurry of shining moments and emotional prowess. With three episodes left of both series, it’s safe to say that one has been a huge letdown, while the other continues to blow your mind with each passing moment. There’s a simple underlying answer as to why this is, and it’s to do with the format of the series.

Dexter essentially starts and ends with each season. The challenges Dexter faces are solved after 13 episodes, and then it’s up to the writers to come up with the next serial killer for him to deal with. Though the first season of Dexter was based on Jeff Lindsay’s first Dexter novel, all seasons since have only had a very loose correlation to the story in the books (thus, we can largely blame the TV writers for the shortcomings).

Of course certain plot threads carry through between seasons, and there are links and character development. But each season climaxes with the finale, and then starts again. We can only hope the new set of challenges Dexter faces will take both him and us, the viewers, to new heights. Sadly, with season eight of Dexter, this has certainly not been the case.

dexter season 8

On the other hand, Breaking Bad has been building from the moment we first saw Walter White in the desert in his tighty-whities. There’s never been a reset button. These characters’ lives just play out before us, one insane event after the other. That scared little underachiever of a man we first fell in love with is a distant memory now. Each time Bryan Cranston steps on screen as Walter White, you’re terrified of what he might do.

The character development in Breaking Bad has been second to none, and not just for Walt

The character development in Breaking Bad has been second to none, not just for Walt, but for so many of the supporting cast. And this character development is testament to the story that has been spun around them. It’s been building, escalating, twisting and turning without ever letting up. And because of that, this final season is proving to be what I consider the greatest piece of television ever made.

If you take a look at the storylines of each season of Dexter, it’s easy to point out which are weak. And to me it seems clear that certain story issues were tackled way too early on. The Bay Harbour Butcher plot line from season two, for example, where Miami Metro actually came after Dexter himself, would have made for a great final season.

Unfortunately, they chose to deal with that very early on (although I guess at the time they had no idea how long the series would run for). However, even season seven, ending with Dexter, Deb and LaGuerta in a shipping container showdown, would have made for a bombshell of a climax (here’s me hoping the series eight finale will be as intense and mind-blowing, if not even bigger. I’ll wait till the end to judge).

breaking bad season 5 premiere

That said, though a great season eight finale would help things, it doesn’t change the episodes that preceded. Vogel was an intriguing addition at first, and it was nice to revisit Dexter’s past and come full circle with the whole story, but it just doesn’t feel like enough. His final face-off will be against ‘Oliver’ aka Daniel Vogel…great. Dexter’s already faced the Trinity Killer – did they really think Daniel would come anywhere close to that guy?

The writers held out on Hank learning of Walt’s ‘second life’ until they knew the end was nigh

Comparatively, take a look at Breaking Bad. The writers held out on Hank learning of Walt’s ‘second life’ until they knew the end was nigh. It had to be that way. Walt, the chemistry teacher turned Albuquerque’s Scarface, versus his DEA agent brother-in-law. He’s faced psychotic drug lords and countless impossible situations, always coming out on top. But now Walter White faces the other side of the law, and most importantly family – the one thing he’s always treasured over everything. This shit’s getting real testy.

Compare the most recent episode of each. After watching Breaking Bad, I was exhausted from chewing my knuckle, deeply satisfied from watching pure quality, and devastated knowing I had to wait an entire week to see what happened next. I often dream about it, and wake up feeling twice as shattered as I was when I went to sleep. After watching Dexter, I shrugged, turned off the TV, nostalgically looked back at how wonderful it once was, and shed a tear at the thought of how great a finale that loveable, vaguely moral serial killer could have had. I dreamed about other things.

Clearly, it’s all in the formula.

 

Featured image: AMC

Inset images: Showtime; AMC

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