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The Final Curtain: Dexter, You Really Kill Us Sometimes

Michael C. Hall as Dexter and Charlotte Rampling as Dr. Vogel in "Dexter." (Showtime/Randy Tepper)

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All good killers come to an end and it seems this year that we’re saying goodbye to the best in the business. Walter White and “Breaking Bad” will be with us before we know it, and then it’s the last goodbye. And starting Sunday we have Dexter Morgan to say “Sweet dreams” to as “Dexter” begins its final season on Showtime. (And, of course, the death of James Gandolfini brought back memories of the ambiguous end of Tony Soprano.)

“Breaking Bad,” like “The Sopranos,” is going out on top. “Dexter,” not so much. The last three or four seasons have been tired, with plots stretching to the breaking point. Each had the makings of a good three- or four-hour miniseries, but that’s not the way television — even quality television — works. So we’re left muttering, “Dexter, will you kill him already” almost week in and week out.

That kind of goes along with the black humor of the series — we actually root for the serial killer not so much because the victims usually deserve it (though to the writers’ credit, not all do), but because Dexter is doing the best with the cards dealt to him after witnessing his mother’s murder. The boy can’t help it and we can’t help liking him as he goes about both his personal and professional business. The mask he wears is part of the lark — he’s a blood-splatter expert for the Miami police by day and a blood-splatterer when he’s off-duty. Ah, duality.

The series star, Michael C. Hall, doesn’t get quite the adulation that Gandolfini and Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” have received, which might be a mistake. He has enormous range — that knowing black-humor look at the end of the credits speaks volumes. But so do his righteous anger, his love of family, his internal-narration navel-gazing, his grotesque on-the-job effectiveness.

“Moral ambiguity” is what we all talk about with these shows and in his heyday Dexter played that card as well as anyone, but it wasn’t Hall’s fault that the “dark passenger” couldn’t keep the conversation going.

And this year, the eighth and final season? Well, there are all the highs and lows. It starts out strong with Charlotte Rampling appearing as Dr. Vogel, an expert on serial killers brought in to talk about a corpse who washes up with his skull in two pieces. She takes a shine to Dexter right away as a kindred spirit. I won’t give away why as we don’t find out what she’s really up to until the end of the first episode and beginning of the second.

Even before that, though, she does look a little like Dr. Frankenstein in the old Universal films so there is a hint of what’s what. Speaking of which, if you shut the color off on “Dexter” it would have even more of a noir feel than the other transgressive shows on cable TV. It’s not in black and white, though, and the use of color is particularly interesting on “Dexter” — the shards of light and the hot pinks and other bright colors masking a darkness underneath. Like most of us, Dexter wants to live in the daylight as much as possible. But given the world we live in those possibilities aren’t always realizable.

The first four hours were made available to the media and for the first two hours it seemed as if Dexter had his not-quite psychopathic groove back. (We’re reminded that psycopaths don’t have a conscience. Dexter does.)

And then the longueurs hit in Episodes three and four. His sister Deborah gets so whiny that you cringe every scene she’s in. Yeah, OK, she killed an innocent woman to protect Dexter last season, but still. Get over it. (The fact that she doesn’t leads to a corker of an ending at the end of the fourth episode.)

I’ve given up on “The Killing” for dragging things out too much. But Dexter, you and I have come a long way together. I can’t let you go now. Can you survive your demons? Can any of us? Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but I’m rooting for you, pal.

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