‘Dexter’ finale: Please, give Jennifer Carpenter an Emmy nomination

Portrait of actor Michael C. Hall, who stars on the series "Dexter," which has ended its run after eight seasons.
(Kirk McKoy/ Los Angeles Times)

If Jennifer Carpenter doesn’t get an Emmy nomination next year for the final season of “Dexter,” which came to a close on Showtime just as the prime-time Emmys were airing on CBS, there really is no reason to have these awards.

For years, “Dexter” has been treated as something of a one-man show, and certainly Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of the world’s first Serial Killer for Justice deserved the attention, and nominations, it received. Based on the Jeff Lindsay novel series, the show premiered in 2006 and no one knew quite what they were seeing.

Horrifying and hilarious, “Dexter” followed the exploits of a Miami Police Department blood-splatter analyst who was also a cold-blooded sociopath. Following the code installed by his police detective foster father, Dexter ruthlessly and ritualistically murdered those criminals whom the law, for a variety of reasons, could not touch. Self-aware but still longing for a “normal” life, Dexter deftly juggled the roles of hero and villain, blasting past whatever boundaries we thought we had for TV protagonists and laying the groundwork for the antiheroes who would soon dominate the small screen.


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Without “Dexter” there would be no “Breaking Bad.”

And without Carpenter, who, shockingly, has never received an Emmy nomination, there most certainly would have been no “Dexter.” She played Debra Morgan, Dexter’s sister, a foul-mouthed, completely unfiltered homicide detective who had no idea about her brother’s murderous secret. In many ways, Deb was Dexter’s mirror image. Transparent where he was opaque, fueled by emotion more than reason, incapable of keeping an opinion to herself, she was as revolutionary a character as Dexter himself and, within the narrative, as much an outsider. But it was Deb and her unconditional love for her brother that humanized the show and the man.

As the final season, and especially Saturday night’s finale, made perfectly and heartbreakingly clear, “Dexter” was never about a serial killer with a code, it was about a serial killer with a loving and beloved sister.

“Dexter” lost much of its mojo in its last seasons, and certainly its final episodes have been eclipsed by other shows, especially “Breaking Bad,” which finishes a week later. Some of this is just the fickle nature of attention span; having spawned a whole new sort of show, “Dexter” no longer seemed quite as significant in itself.

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But one also felt that the writers did not quite know what to do with their hero. Even as they pushed him further toward “normalcy,” the code, which made him fascinating, became increasingly tattered and frayed. In Season 4, his decision to murder the Trinity killer instead of turning him over to the police resulted in the brutal death of his wife and the seasons that followed seemed increasingly arbitrary; as more and more people learned of Dexter’s true nature, the stories become less compelling, the stakes got blurrier.

Except for Deb. Moving through a journey of her own, Deb remained the fixed point of “Dexter” and Carpenter (who married and divorced Hall along the way) fielded the many wild pitches the writers fed her -- she learned that Dexter was adopted and developed weird romantic feelings toward him, she discovered he was a serial killer and killed her boss to protect him -- with miraculous aplomb. Where other, lesser performers would have crumbled (if not left), she never broke her stride. As the series grew more soap operatic, it was Deb, with her no-nonsense, expletive-studded dialogue and her heart firmly affixed to her sleeve, who kept us watching.

Even though we knew, from the moment she chose her love of Dexter over her own moral code, that she could not survive.

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With one last gasp of magnificence, “Dexter” pulled off a finale twist of Shakespearean irony -- having fought so long against his basic nature, Dexter bows finally to convention and turns his would-be victim, the serial killing son of the psychiatrist who helped his father develop the code (I did mention soap operatic, right?) over to the police. And in doing the “right” thing, he kills the person he loves most in the world.

The action unfolds with all manner of finale-absurd nonsense, including a hurricane a’brewin’ off the coast of Florida and a very worrisome parceling out of Dexter’s young son, Harrison, into the hands of another, albeit apparently former, serial killer, Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski). It ends with Dexter faking his death and fleeing to the Pacific Northwest where, presumably, bad guys had better watch their backs.

But the parting scenes between Dexter and Deb, possibly the most powerful sibling bond television has ever seen, gave the show the send-off it deserved. Some wrongs cannot be undone, some people are irrevocably damaged, and you cannot love a person into wholeness.

But it was an honor to watch Carpenter’s Debra Morgan die trying.


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