Michael C. Hall

As big finishes go, Dexter's was a nail-biter, leaving us pretty breathless — though tripping over at least a few loose ends along the way. The Amazing Race on the other hand coasted to its finish line with minimal suspense — but maximum satisfaction in crowning the first all-female champs, the likable doctor duo of Nat and Kat, who stayed comfortably in first place for the entire last leg. The unflappably perky Home Shopping hosts Brook and Claire landed in second, amusing themselves and the audience all the way to the end. Everyone seemed pleased, and even the ultra-competitive last-guy-standing Thomas (who ran afoul of an L.A. cabbie who'd never heard of the Internet) took his defeat like a pro.

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(Looks like Brook and Claire get the last laugh, as they were shown in clips for February's "Unfinished Business" all-star edition of Race, which if I saw right will include a few too many couples from this underwhelming season. But hey, the cowboys and Luke and his mom are back, so yay!)

Back to Dexter, which ratcheted up the tension quickly in its rat-and-mouse game between Dex and Jordan Chase, who was keeping a rowdy Lumen in his trunk. (She makes enough noise to alert the suspicions of a roadside vendor who later tips off Deb, leading to the most intense climax of all.) Dex wants nothing more than to go to Lumen's rescue and dispatch Jordan, but stuff keeps getting in the way. Like the surprise return of his family (including Astor and Cody) to celebrate baby Harrison's birthday. The kids want to spend the summer with Dex, so all is forgiven. Isn't that nice? Maybe, but not just now. Then Liddy's body is found in his death van, roping Dexter into once again processing his own crime scene. (It's moments like this when I can't help but marvel at this show's audaciousness.)

Quinn is in deep doo-doo, implicated by Liddy's cell-phone records and prints in the van (as well as his forged signature for the surveillance equipment) as the prime suspect in the murder of the dirty cop he hired to get the dirt on Dexter. Plus, Liddy's blood is on Quinn's shoe — and we shudder again to think what a close call that was last week — and Dexter is tasked to process that evidence. What a tangled web. But Quinn isn't talking. Not to LaGuerta, to Debra, no one. You might think Quinn would take this fine mess as an excuse to try to throw Dexter under the bus again, but as we keep hearing throughout this episode, things are complicated. (His love for Debra a big part of the equation, I guess.)

Meanwhile, Dexter steals a car — how convenient! — and promptly flips it upon entering the campsite that gave Jordan his name (and where all of "Eugene Greer's" bad boyhood deeds began). This mishap lands him at Jordan's feet, and Dex is finally reunited with Lumen, both prisoners of this madman awaiting execution. Until Dexter retrieves a knife that somehow fell out of his toolkit (which Jordan perversely admires) — again, how convenient! — and Dexter impales Jordan's foot to the floor (ouch!) and turns the tables. All three principals — Michael C. Hall, Jonny Lee Miller, Julia Stiles — play the hell out of this next scene, as a bound but (atypically) still clothed Jordan psychotically taunts his captors, goading Lumen to deliver the fatal blow while Dexter watches her admiringly.

"There is no polite way," Dexter understates, quoting the now-late Jordan. But hark! Is that Debra arriving on the scene? (Somehow she misses the wreckage of Dex's stolen car, and in the aftermath of what follows, no one else seems to notice it, either. But let's not nitpick.) This is seriously harrowing stuff, as Debra finds Jordan's corpse and sees the silhouettes of "#13" and her accomplice — Lumen and Dexter — lurking behind a plastic sheet. Could Deb finally learn the dark truth about Dexter after all? Oh, how I'm dying for and dreading for that scene to play out. But not this season, because Deb's admiration for the vigilantes wins out and she lets them get away. Dexter is overwhelmed. I'm both relieved but also, truthfully, deflated, feeling it a bit of a cop-out. How much cooler and how much more of a game-changer if she had discovered their identities and, because of that, let them go? Maybe next time ...

So our lovable killers-of-killers dump Jordan's body in the water — no Liddy to watch them this time — and head back to Miami on the Slice of Life, liberated and free and happy at last. Until the morning after, when a chastened Lumen decides the murderer's life isn't for her and she's leaving. An anticlimactic exit for an underdeveloped character. "I don't feel it anymore," Lumen tells Dexter, who at first flinches from the news like a hurt little boy, hurling a plate across the room (a POV shot that gives the cliché some impact). But Dexter is a pragmatic boy, after all, and has to admit that saying goodbye to one's "dark passenger" is hardly a tragedy.

In what passes for Dexter poetry, Dexter tells Lumen, poignantly, "Don't be sorry your darkness is gone. I'll carry it for you always." And so he will, a realization that casts a morbid pall over Harrison's birthday party, which closes the season on a note of surface happiness, as Dexter settles back with his family while Quinn is miraculously reunited with Deb. (Turns out Dexter lied about the blood on the shoe to clear Quinn's name. How convenient! And how unconvincing. Enough plot holes there to twist one's ankle on.)

"Did [helping Lumen] make you feel better about what happened to Mom?" precocious Astor asks Dex perceptively, tying up the season nicely. Dexter reflects in his final voice-over that being around someone like Lumen, who actually saw him for who he really was, temporarily eased the darkness and made him think, however briefly, that he might have a chance to be human. "But," he tells us, blowing out adorable baby Harrison's candle, "wishes of course are for children." On that sinister and soulless note, we're done for another season.

With Dexter, especially after last season, this actually passes for a happy ending. And I imagine most Amazing Race fans feel this season had one as well. Nat and Kat were strong, positive players, and Nat never overplayed her diabetic condition — in fact, we could have used a little more insight into her maintenance routine as she adapted it for her round-the-world adventure.

Nat's greatest obstacle was her fear of heights, conquered in a 150-ft. bungee jump from a gantry crane at the port of Long Beach. From there, it was a helicopter ride to the Rose Bowl, where Nat had a minor setback in prepping her roses to decorate her part of the float, and then on to solve clues — really, no one knows Don Quixote? — to locate a game-show studio set where they had to visually identify all the pit-stop greeters in correct order. Great quiz challenge, with Bob Eubanks a bonus, especially for the giddy Brook and Claire. (What, Wink Martindale was busy?) Nat and Kat stayed ahead of the others all the way, and there was little question that, despite getting caught in L.A. traffic gridlock (who hasn't?), they'd get to the mat at Greystone Mansion first. Not a finale I'll particularly remember, except for the good vibes from a justified win.

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