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Illustrating The Difference Between the Inspired, Intelligent Writing of "Breaking Bad" and the Boneheaded, Moronic Writing of "Dexter"

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | August 27, 2013 | Comments ()


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Spoilers for This Week’s “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” Below

There was something of a minor, though somewhat unnecessary controversy in this weekend’s “Breaking Bad” over Jesse Pinkman’s epiphany near the end of the episode when he mentally makes the connection between Huell lifting his pot in this episode, and Huell lifting the Ricin cigarette in the fourth season. Some people were somewhat confused as to how he made that connection, and the always helpful Internet came to the rescue yesterday with several pieces explaining exactly how Pinkman drew the conclusion, including Margaret Lyon’s post over on Vulture, and Alan Sepinwall’s recap on Hitflix.

I thought the explanations were helpful, but not particularly necessary because the steps that Jesse Pinkman went through to arrive at the conclusion that Walt had poisoned Brock weren’t as important as knowing that Jesse had arrived at that conclusion. I was thankful, in fact, that Gilligan trusted his audience’s intelligence enough to allow us to get there along with Jesse, rather than have it completely spelled out in an exposition dump or a voiceover or something else overly obvious and dumb.

In fact, that’s the complete opposite of how “Dexter” works, especially this season, when everything needs to be explained by the characters to each other, and then explained again through Dexter’s voiceover, and then confirmed again by the ghost of Harry. In fact, yesterday while the Twitterati were debating whether more explanation should’ve been provided in “Breaking Bad” to connect the dots, I tweeted:

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Some poor suffering fool over on Reddit who is also probably watching both “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” had the same idea last night, and provided a helpful graphic.

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That, in a nutsell, tells you the striking difference between the writing on “Breaking Bad” and the writing on “Dexter.” Vince Gilligan respects his audience; the folks over on “Dexter” clearly hate their audience, judging by the events of this final season. I don’t think any show has fallen as far as “Dexter” has from its fourth season until this season. It’s honestly as though Harrison Morgan has been writing the episodes. It’s been a season of anticlimactic obvious reveals, and anticlimactic reveals so dumb as to defy logic.

The scene at the end of this week’s “Dexter” is the perfect illustration of how horrible the writing has become. Let me break down that final scene to illustrate my point. In it, a serial killer, Oliver Saxon, decides he wants to meet his mother, Dr. Vogel, who believed until recently that Saxon died in a mental hospital where he’d been locked away for killing his little brother nearly 25 years before.

Saxon thinks his mother is going to arrive at a diner at a particular time because he’s been reading her computer diaries, and his mother — knowing this — left a note in her journal suggesting she’d be at the diner. Nevermind that the two have been living in the same city for a long period of time, and that the Saxon has been aware of his mother’s whereabouts at all times, including her place of residence, and that he could have approached her at any point. Saxon chose this moment after his mother left an entry in her journal, to reunite with her.

So, he goes to the diner. However, Dexter has slipped something into the mother’s coffee to knock her out so that Dexter — who the serial killer already knows — can sneak over to the diner and kill Oliver Saxon as he leaves. Saxon enters the diner, and plays a Mama Cass’s “Your Own Kind of Music” on the jukebox because it has special meaning between Saxon and his mother (and yes, I know: It’s also the iconic “Lost” song. That’s how bad “Dexter” has become; it’s lifting iconic songs from better shows).

Dr. Vogel doesn’t show up. We see Oliver Saxon play the same song on the jukebox three times. Then, Dexter — who is standing outside — says in voice over, “He’s played that song three times.”

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Then there is a shot of the clock to show how much time has passed (because presumably, the writers don’t trust us to know it takes 20 minutes to play the same song three times).

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Now, remember, Saxon knows who Dexter is. Dexter has also been standing outside the entire time. He’s really hard to miss. She him. In the BRIGHTLY COLORED TURQUOISE SHIRT STANDING OUTSIDE THE HUGE GLASS WINDOW?

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In voiceover, Dexter then informs us, “I’ll follow him until I find a quiet place to grab him.” Then, we watch Dexter follow him.

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When Dexter turns the corner, he sees Saxon driving away, clearly staring right at Dexter.

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Dexter walks over to his car, which was parked right next to Saxon’s and notices that the tires have been slashed. Because it apparently needed explaining, the Ghost of Harry Morgan eyes the slashed tires, looks up at Dexter and says, “Saxon must have spotted you.”

Dexter replies, “He’s good at this.

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Really, Dexter? How good do you have to be to spot someone that you recognize who has been standing outside of a HUGE window for 20 MINUTES wearing a LOUD, BRIGHTLY COLORED TURQUOISE SHIRT?

That was a two-minute scene. There are 55 minutes in most episode of “Dexter,” which means 55 minutes of being spoonfed every single moment of the series three f*cking times.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Coran

    Im sorry, I didnt realize a TV show had to involve thee audience figuring out half the shit for themselves, I thought it was simply just a tv show. Remind me to later write a message to the TV station so that I can ensure that they air only the most vague of plots, because you know, everyone loves connecting the dots, that what made breakig bad sooooo good huh?

  • phofascinating

    I was watching it last weekend while my mom was visiting and she asked, "Are you watching a soap opera??" Pretty much, Mom. Pretty much.

  • TCH

    Dexter always was a silly show it just never tipped its hand. A super hero serial killer running around killing other serial killers.

  • e jerry powell

    You mean "Dexter" isn't wholly improvised by the cast?

    I feel so cheated.

  • Artemis

    While the sequence you picked was pretty brutal, Dustin, my personal favorite is the one where Dexter arrives at Saxon's house while voiceovering that he needs to be sure Saxon is Vogel's son so he's going to Saxon's house, looks inside where it's totally empty except for a couch, voiceovers that Saxon must have already run, looks at the number on the door, looks at the trashbin with the same number, voiceovers that it's Saxon's trash, opens the bin and we get a close-up of a pristine white envelope with Saxon's name on it balanced on top of the pile of garbage, pulls out a soda can and looks at the rim, and then voiceovers that he can pull DNA from the can to make sure that Saxon is Vogel's son.

    And while that's unbelievably annoying to watch, I think the worst thing about Dexter's reliance on spoonfeeding the audience everything is that over the years it's let the writers stop caring at all about whether things make sense. If you expect the audience to follow your plot with minimal explanation, you need to be constantly evaluating whether the things that are happening are plausible and logically connect to one another. If you have both a voiceover and a ghost that explain every single thing that happens multiple times, you don't need to worry about whether anything that happens makes any sense (though you should, obviously). To wit:

    Dexter: Zach's studio is spotless and shows no sign he was killed there, but this one table is one inch out of place so he was definitely killed here and the killer is just be really good at covering his tracks. Oh wait! I totally just spotted a big clump of hair and blood under this white, minimalist table that the killer who scrubbed every other inch of this place inexplicably missed. It has hair and Zach's fingerprint (which I can apparently identify with the naked eye), so Zach--while being brutally murdered--must have thought to rip out the killer's hair and then somehow use his own blood to fasten it to the underside of this table, and this is conveniently the one bit of evidence the killer didn't clean. I will take the hair and run it through a magic computer program that has everyone's DNA even if they haven't committed a crime, and it shows a family match to Vogel. But she said she had no family!

    Vogel: I know I said I have no family, but I meant I don't have any family ANYMORE. I had this son who was a CRAZY GENIUS PSYCHOPATH and we locked him up in an institution and then there was a fire and he died, which we know because the body was burned past recognition.

    Dexter: I will use a magic computer program to age-progress a picture of your teenage son by 25 years, then the computer will use its super powers to compare that picture that looks exactly like my dead neighbor's creepy boyfriend to all pictures in the DMV database (that I can access without anyone noticing or caring). Bingo! The computer says there's a 96% match between the (totally imprecise, except with my magic technology!) age-progressed picture and this one of the creepy boyfriend. Now we know that Vogel's never-before-mentioned turns-out-he's-not-dead psychopath son has spent the past 25 years hiding out using the identity of some dead guy who's not even the right age, and that her son is the brain surgeon. You all still with me? I know that made no sense, so I'm going to say it a few more times to make sure it sticks.

  • Some poor soul put more thought and effort into the computer graphics of the aging and face comparison than the writers have put into this entire season.

  • pajiba

    All of this!

  • Iman Alterego

    I could swear that this episode of Dexter was 156 minutes. I draaaaaaagged.

  • meadowdancer

    Yeah I had to stop watching that show. After season four it completely went off the rails. It is super horrible now and not at all fascinating.

    It used to be so good. His voiceovers used to be so funny since he is a total pyschopath and would just remark upon human behavior. I think after Rita died the show did not know where it wanted to go.

    What made it great was that though Dexter was a serial killer you rooted for him. He had not killed anyone that did not deserve it. Now he is just going around and killing anyone that can reveal his secret and protecting those that the code would say needs to die. Sigh.

    he only way to redeem it would be that Dexter dies at the end and there would be no more dumb voiceovers.

  • kushiro -

    Breaking Bad is 47 minutes and feels like a half-hour. Dexter is 55 and feels like an hour and a half. That's the difference between good and bad writing.

    On another note, how is it that nobody in that diner tells Maybe Goose to stop playing that song, at gunpoint (it's Florida; that is "stand your ground" bait to be sure).

  • dizzylucy

    Seriously. I hate that they used it at all (it belongs to Lost, leave it alone) but the guy playing it over and over and no one said anything?

    Dexter definitely went downhill, but I expected them to up the ante a bit for the final season. Turns out...nope. Same old, same old.

  • freetickles

    "I don’t think any show has fallen as far as “Dexter” has"

    One word: Weeds.

  • meadowdancer

    Please let's pretend that show did not happen. I have never seen a show fall so hard like that before in my life. Wait a second, Heroes...

  • What about season 5 of The Wire?
    [dashes into fortified bunker]

  • IngridToday

    I use to love Dexter, it had a classy trashy goodness to it. It faulted in season 3 was fantastic in season 4, and has been going down hill since then.
    I think the avclub accurate explained one of the main problems: Dexter is never held responsible or maintains any long term sense of guilt. The writers have said they see him as a superhero who valiantly kills evil people versus a man who thoroughly enjoys stalking and killing people and uses a moral code to justify his sociopathic behavior.

    It's just not interesting watching a character who never changes or is really effected by what goes on around him. He kills his brothers, loses his wife, and destroys his sister's life... but he's just ambivalent about it all. Walter White also destroys lives, but, people hold him accountable and he's aware of what he's losing.

    Everything Walter does has a cause and effect. Every Dexter does are just things that happen then more things happen then the seasons done.

  • Lucky

    I didn't think Dexter was so bad until I binge watched all five seasons of Breaking Bad this summer. Now I'm all caught up and watching them simultaneously, the difference in quality is glaring. Breaking Bad is how you end a show. Dexter is kinda limping along to the end. Makes me a little sad.

  • Maddy

    I've never watched Dexter and now feel totally justified in not wasting my time. At the time in the episode it clicked in my mind, although not all the pieces fit together until I thought it through/ read up on it later.

  • TheW

    Don't be put off from the show by this moron's post. The first 4 seasons of Dexter are awesome (the first one just as good as Breaking Bad). It started wearing off since then, but definitely give it a shot -- you won't regret it!

    Breaking Bad is the best show on TV right now, but Dexter's first seasons come very close and were actually considered one of the best writing at the time.

    8th season isn't good, that's true, but the first ones were amazing.

  • Jerce

    The first season of Dexter is dead fucking awesome. I recommend that everyone in the world watch Season 1 of Dexter at some point in their lives.

    But just Season 1. The show went into a rapidly accelerating decline after Season 1. Avoid all seasons after Season 1.

  • maryannaweinreb

    мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт...­ ­ViewMore----------------------...

    I was watching it last weekend while my mom was visiting and she asked, "Are you watching a soap opera??" Pretty much, Mom. Pretty much.

  • Lovely Bones

    I'd say avoid anything after the first 23 episodes, and just imagine the Doakes conflict was resolved in literally any other way, but while I don't get why people dislike Lila so much, I can accept it.

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