Dexter, Season 8 Episode 11 ‘Monkey in a Box’
Directed by Ernest Dickerson
Written by Jace Richdale & Scott Reynolds
Airs Sundays 8:00pm, Showtime
There is a somewhat clichéd analogy used in regard to a fiction, in which the piece is compared to a dangerously misbehaving child. This line of thought always ends with the line “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed”. This was applicable a week ago. This week, a more fitting denouement would be a Changeling style scenario where the parent screeches “That’s not my son!” Another potential comparison could be a first for locomotion; having rather lazily drifted off the rails and beyond the point of potential rescue, Dexter is now not even accessible to those craving a suitably entertaining train wreck.
With Vogel dead in a shock tactic by both Oliver Saxon and the writers that doesn’t actually alter the stakes or situation to any significant degree, Dexter now knows for sure that he has to kill the murderous Ryan Gosling lookalike before heading off to Argentina…Oh wait, actually no, he doesn’t. This is because there still lingers the doubt, present for three consecutive episodes now, as to whether it is worth putting Vogel Jr. on his table. Beyond that, everybody is faced with saying goodbye to their favourite blood spatter analyst in the most underwhelming fashion possible as Dex himself skittles between idiotic decisions, dreadfully directed scenes and a plot that for the most part is simply a rehash of the previous, terrible, episode.
To be completely frank, there was never any chance that ‘Monkey in a Box’ was ever going to be a good episode. Precedence made sure that this illusion didn’t hold up. The only real source of interest was whether it could improve on the pure awfulness that was Goodbye Miami, and perhaps even be watchable enough to justify viewing the series finale out of anything other than morbid curiosity. As tragic as that viewpoint may sound, inherently cynical and pessimistic as it is, one cannot afford to allow sentiment to heighten expectations to levels that simply won’t be met. It’s not just pragmatic, as it turns out, but also wholly justified as this week the monkey grinding duo of Jace Richdale and Scott Reynolds somehow top themselves in the stupidity and listlessness stakes, ascending into realms of inane nonsense.
The reasons that this is just so boring on the eyes and ears are many-fold; Ernest Dickerson’s direction, which is so lifeless that he was presumably mentored by one of Dex’s previous victims; the cut-angle-reverse angle-wide shot-cut skulduggery of the editing; the sparse use of music and narration that once formed an important keystone of the show’s storytelling; the wooden and uninterested performances of the perhaps disillusioned cast, Michael C. Hall included. However, at the heart of this madness is the appalling, double take inducing script. It would be silly to suggest that this is in anyway a revelation, since there has been exactly one well written episode this season, but this week’s outing takes the cake. Not content with simply not having enough to story to last even half of the hour long duration, ‘Monkey in a Box’ fudges its big moments, makes glaring continuity errors, half hearted hand waves at set up dangers and breaks basic rules on screenwriting 101.
The first five minutes of the episode reveal so many simple errors and flaws that one has to wonder what was going on in a writing room apparently under the pall of a horrendous hangover. Dexter escapes any possible link to Dr. Vogel’s murder by simply throwing out all the respective files she keeps on him and then relying on the leniency of laziness of Batista’s questioning. We then find that Saxon left no evidence of his presence at the scene, even though he was there without forensic protection and didn’t have time to clean up as he fled as soon he killed his mother. Afterwards, he goes to Debra’s and announces the good doctor’s death…twice, almost word for word, to different characters in perhaps the dullest ‘bad news break’ scene ever put to film. Finally, he goes to his apartment where we find that Sylvia Prado (widow of Season 3’s Miguel) is the real estate agent selling his house. A nice continuity nod is destroyed by Syl’s bizarre comment that after her husband died she downsized, moved to a smaller house and concentrated “on the kids”…what kids? Miguel and Syl didn’t have children. In fact, a point was made of the fact that they had tried unsuccessfully for some time before he met the sharp end of Dexter. Did she have kids with someone else? How is that relevant to what she was saying?
This may seem like self-indulgent theatricality, but it is very easy to slip into the questions game when you actually examine the plot (or lack thereof) that lies within ‘Monkey in the Box’. In fact, a better question would be why the episode is called ‘Monkey in the Box’, as its only meaning is a reference to a throwaway and utterly irrelevant (aren’t they all?) interlude with Harrison. If any attempt to make this deeper and symbolic were being made, it is lost on anyone other than the incoherent scribes. It’s this lack of clarity on the thematic front that makes the actual action (or lack thereof) all the more unbearable, since there doesn’t seem to be any point to what we are seeing. It is just a soulless time wasting exercise featuring two people constantly justifying their relationship and life altering decision to each other through repetition while a dull and shallow villain wanders around in middle distance waiting until he is useful to the plot.
The ultimately callous fact that there is nothing beneath the surface of this episode, or the whole of the final season for that matter, is a defiling of the corpse that is this show’s great legacy. For all that naysayers suggested otherwise, Dexter from its very foundation was rife with subtext and analysis, satire and exploration of humanity. Every episode was thematically rich and insightful in its depiction not just of an unconventional serial killer but also of the apparently more normal people around him, and how these relationships were able to alter the monster…a monster who perhaps wasn’t a monster at all, but was (in the words of his late brother) “just f*ed up”. The final season, the last chapter in his story, has all the underlying inquisitiveness of a fruit basket. This in of itself would be forgivable were it not also so damn dull and so damn idiotic.
A joint wake for Vogel/leaving party for Dexter offers some emotional fair wells as characters who have known each other from year one part ways, but is tediously executed and utterly shorn of any sense of emotion or even interest; Kenny Marshall’s Deputy US Marshal continues to show up and present all of his findings to his suspects and give them the perfect opportunity to cover themselves before swallowing their clearly ridiculous lies and excuses and leaving quietly; Dexter reels off expositional dialogue relating to events that occurred a couple of episodes prior in such a frigid and toneless way that suggests parody; Saxon being the in-cash prospective buyer of Dexter’s apartment is so blatantly obvious that everyone apart from Dex can see it a mile off; Saxon reacting to news that he has been exposed as a multiple murder with mild irritation; the final ‘twist’ at the end playing out in truly ghastly, hysterics inducing slow-mo straight out of an 80’s B-movie.
And that doesn’t even cover the actual important plot elements. Further problems include Saxon offering a choice to Dexter between his old life and his new one despite him having no reason to do such a thing and Dexter showing clear signs that he has essentially gotten over the whole murdering thing apropos of nothing. The dialogue is derivative, repetitive and cold as a dead fish. Big moments lack anything other than said dead dialogue to suggest they matter. There are just so many signs, hints and clues that this is not the same show that we fell in love with eight years ago. This is not our show. What have they done with our show?
With the final chapter closing next week, this should have been a time to celebrate the incredible story so far, and to await with bated breath the conclusion, speculating what wonders are to come. Ironically, in a month in which this website celebrates the greatest ever TV Finales, this one will not be good, will not be satisfying and will not even be recognisable. As Harry himself says, “That doesn’t sound like the old Dexter”.