NEW YORK -- Dexter deserved better. So did "Dexter" fans, who, witnessing this Showtime drama end in a heap, were subjected to the lamest series finale since "Seinfeld."
If only the producers had dispatched their show with the care their murderous hero showered on his victims.
From its start eight seasons ago, "Dexter" was a groundbreaking, often shocking series that called for the viewer to honor, or at least accept, a sociopath who channeled his urges as a serial killer for the social good.
"My own, small corner of the world will be a neater, happier place," he told one victim -- a repeat pedophile who had slipped through the cracks of the justice system -- before beginning his ritual execution on the series' first episode in 2006.
In an unjust world, this public servant earned the viewer's support.
And all the more so, since, despite being a sociopath, Dexter managed to simulate the normal feelings his condition otherwise deprived him of.
"People fake a lot of human interactions," he said in the series premiere, "but I feel like I fake them all. And I fake them very well."
Dexter's secret avocation as a vigilante dovetailed handily with his life as a blood-spatter expert for the Miami Metro Police Department and as the brother of Debra, who for much of the show's run worked beside him as an MMPD detective while serving as the person he was most connected with.
No wonder Dexter was distraught by Deb's death in the finale.
There's no point detailing the operatic hour. Suffice it to say, a couple of questions had to be resolved:
-- Could Dexter tear himself away from Miami with his young son to start a radiant new life in Argentina with his lady love, a sexy reformed murderer who needed to flee before local authorities nabbed her?
-- Would he feel compelled to settle one last score, eliminating a serial murderer named Saxon, before he took his grateful leave? Or would he trust Deb and fellow Miami officers to see justice done?
By the end of the hour, Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) and young Harrison were safe in Buenos Aires waiting for Dexter to join them.
But back in Miami, things had gone tragically awry. Saxon shot Deb as she attempted to arrest him. She was left in a coma with no hope of recovery.
Grief-stricken and guilt-ridden for not protecting her, Dexter finished off Saxon. Then, after turning off Deb's respirator on the sly ("I can't leave you like this") he sneaked her body from the hospital and buried her at sea before wrecking his boat and faking his own death.
"I destroy everyone I love," he said in a narrative voice-over. "I can't let that happen to Hannah and Harrison. I have to protect them from me."
In the closing moments, a bushy-bearded Dexter is found in what appears to be a lumber camp in the Great Northwest, haunted and alone worlds apart from sun-drenched Miami.
Thus does the series end with no suggestion of how Dexter is handling his murderous impulses in this new Paul Bunyan setting.
He receives no redemption, nor comeuppance, after his eight seasons of social deviancy. Just self-imposed exile.
Dexter has deserted his girlfriend and son as well as the city of Miami, which presumably could still benefit from his pest-control services. In short, Dexter has copped out.
But more seriously, so has "Dexter."
During its run, the series had its ups and downs, its great seasons and its forgettable ones. But the show was never afraid to take chances, most notably at the end of Season 6, when Deb discovered to her horror that the murderer she'd been chasing for years was none other than her own brother, and that henceforth she would be a party to his crimes.
The "Dexter" ensemble was terrific, particularly Michael C. Hall in the title role and Jennifer Carpenter as feisty, foul-mouthed Deb. Top-flight guest stars like Keith Carradine, John Lithgow and Jimmy Smits fueled excellent season-long arcs.
But when Dexter moped in the finale that his life had been "a trail of blood and body parts" and branded as "a foolish dream" the notion of a happy life, the series, like Dexter, surrendered without cause.
"For so long, all I wanted was to be like other people, to feel what they felt," Dexter whines at the end. "But now that I do, I just want it to stop."
What a pity party! Man up, Dexter -- you were better than that! And until its disappointing, desperate conclusion, so was the show.