Published September 23, 2013
[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the series finale of "Dexter." Read at your own risk!]
There is no happy ending for a serial killer — at least according to "Dexter."
Dexter (Michael C. Hall) decided to settle down with Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) and his son Harrison instead of ridding the world of the Brain Surgeon Saxon (Darri Ingolfsson), but in exchange, he lost the one person who he could ever truly love, his sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter). Forced to be the big brother and protect her, Dexter pulled the plug on his foul-mouthed sibling after learning that she'd never be able to take care of herself when she suffered a major stroke — essentially making her Dexter's final kill.
At the risk of hurting anyone else he loved — namely Hannah and Harrison, who moved to Argentina without him — Dexter faked his own death and exiled himself to a life of solitude. No family, no love, and more importantly, no Dark Passenger. TVGuide.com spoke with executive producer Sara Colleton and Carpenter about that heartbreaking ending, why Deb had to die and how Colleton essentially spoiled the end of the series before it even began:
My takeaway: Serial killers don't get a happy ending. Is that a fair assessment?
Jennifer Carpenter: I don't know. I think [Dexter's] life is his punishment. No one is going to set him in the water and tell him to rest in peace.
Sara Colleton: I suppose in a very simplistic way, but also I'd like to think there are layers to that, in that the paradox of Dexter has always been that he's a monster who yearns to be human. This is the final price that he pays for wanting to be a human being. He has a bit of voiceover that, to me, so sums up the whole series, which is right before he goes to take Deb away, he's on the balcony and he says, "For so long, all I wanted was to be like other people, to feel what they felt, but now that I do, I just want it to stop." It is about the burden. Killing himself physically is too easy a punishment. It's a far harder punishment to exile himself to this lonely, solitary existence where he has no network and no nothing, and, as he turns and looks into the camera, not even his voiceover. The rest is silence.
So Dexter no longer feeds his Dark Passenger in the future?
Colleton: He's no longer doing anything. He has cut himself off. He tried to be human and now he's completely shut down and there is nothing.
That look on Dexter's face is a little ambiguous. You say it's nothing, but I took it as maybe there was hope for him in the future.
Colleton: At this moment, it is silence. That's all he has in his head. It's all that's around him. He is serving out a very solitary sentence. He's exiled himself from everything he cared about.
Did Dexter always plan to fake his own death and go into hiding or did he plan to take his own life when he drove into that hurricane?
Colleton: We have seen over the years that Dexter has a lot of different passports and IDs. We've established that in many episodes. The specifics of how he got there, I don't think he had ahead of time, but it was the furthest away from the warmth, the sun and the light of Florida to a place that is bereft of all of that. It wasn't like bait and switch. It's purposefully, obviously ambiguous when he says that it's inevitable that he kills everyone he loves and he's got to save Hannah and Harrison -- the two people he loves the most -- from himself.
Did you consider other possible endings?
Colleton: There was never any other way. Two years ago we plotted this out. There may have been little different mechanics along the way, but it was always going to be that the ultimate punishment for his hubris was the death of Deb, who is the touchstone and soulmate of his existence.
Did you ever consider not including that final scene with Dexter as a lumberjack and leave it up to viewers to speculate whether he really did die or not?
Colleton: No, we didn't because that's too ambiguous.
Let's talk about Hannah and Harrison. She will now have to raise him in Argentina. But I was always curious to know whether Harrison would've inherited Dexter's urges. Is that something you could explore in a potential spin-off?
Colleton: There have been a million spin-off ideas right now, but absolutely nothing is being contemplated. It's just that Hannah is going to have to raise Harrison. I don't think Harrison has any tendencies. Dexter has been an exemplary dad. That's one of the ironies. In attempting to fake it, he became it.
Why kill Deb?
Colleton: It was never about Deb's story. It's about Dexter's story. Just like in Season 4, when Dexter played fast and loose with Trinity (John Lithgow) ... and Rita (Julie Benz) died. Here, Deb is the most meaningful person in his life and he's the most advanced he's been as a human being. The price you pay for being a fully alive, aware human being is the true nature of his crimes.
Carpenter: I had said at the PaleyFest that I had played her from A to Z, and I really didn't think there was a chance for a happy ending for her. And I don't think you could kill any more of her boyfriends. [Laughs] It just made sense. I feel like Dexter has to suffer a loss. I don't feel like law enforcement was going to be able to put him in a cell small enough or cuffs tight enough to enforce natural law. He had to lose something and he had to hurt. She was the thing that could, if it's even possible, hurt him the most.
How does it feel now that you can actually talk about Deb dying?
Carpenter: It's great. I haven't seen it. Unfortunately, I was a Time Warner subscriber and I missed the whole season!
Describe your final day on set.
Carpenter: [It] was the ambulance scene with Quinn, which was actually the first time that I've cried on the show. When I was in the hospital and I overheard the doctor tell Desmond and Michael that Deb would never recover and I heard Desmond — even though I've never seen the actual episode — he came in to work eight to 10 hours early that day because he was so affected, so by the time we got to the ambulance scene, it was like the love that he and I felt for each other's characters was just going up in the room. Imagine how big a soundstage is, you just couldn't ignore it. It broke my heart because we both knew that Deb is dying. You see all this potential and there's no way to cash in on it. It's heartbreaking. It elevated my respect for the actors that I've worked with. I've never seen commitment like I saw that day like I did with Desmond and his character. People oftentimes look at Desmond and think they know him and make assumptions about what kind of person he must be because of the character that he plays, but it's just a credit to his acting. He's an enigma.
My actual last scene, which I feel is important to say, is I'm in the hospital bed. It's a different hospital bed because they needed a shot from above. Michael is leaning over saying, "I love you, Deb." He's done it two or three times. When I knew it was going to be the last take, I sat up, took my tubes out and I whispered in his ear, "Say. It. Like. You. Mean. It." I knew it was the last thing. It was the one and only thing Deb ever wanted to hear from him. I wanted him to know that I was really listening. It was important.
Now that you've had some time away from the character, have you been able to move on?
Carpenter: It's funny. I felt like I collected my personal belongings from my trailer, put them in my car and drove away. My very last take, when I told Michael to say that like he meant it, I took it and in my mind, I looked at Debra, a face that looked like mine, and said goodbye and pictured her floating to the top of the studio. I just imagined her leaving me. It felt like she did. I have been free, in a way. It's as if these invisible claws unclenched. I was free to walk away.
What are your final words on Deb?
Carpenter: I said I can't imagine that there's going to be someone to lay Dexter's body in the water and say, "Rest in peace." It's my hope that after the eight years of blood, sweat, profanity and tears, that maybe the audience members might want to take a hand and tell her to rest in peace. You know at the end of "Breakfast Club" and Judd Nelson is walking off the football field with his fist in the air? That's what I feel like. [Laughs]
The finale didn't give closure to those in Miami Metro, especially Quinn (Desmond Harrington), who lost Deb in the end.
Colleton: It was always a story about Dexter and Dexter's journey, and since he's exiled himself from this world, you're going to have to use your imagination. I think Quinn was devastated. He finally found his match.
After they watched the video of Dexter killing Saxon, Quinn gave Dexter a look. Do you think Quinn figured it out?
Colleton: Quinn always knew there was something hinky about Dexter that he couldn't quite put his finger on, but I don't think he was ever thinking he was the vigilante serial killer haunting Miami. That look to Dexter after Dexter kills Saxon, he's nodding his tacit approval that Dexter killed Saxon. The bigger picture eludes him, but he knows that Dexter went in there with one mission in mind. In Quinn's universe, he did right.
Fans haven't loved the final season. Here's your chance to defend yourself.
Colleton: I respect everyone's opinion. I know that we who worked on the show from the very beginning feel that this was the natural journey that we set out from the pilot to make. Dexter is going to change and has changed. Some of that, I think, has been hard on our fans, but we have stayed true to what we feel is right. We feel very comfortable with what we've done.
How do you feel about the series as a whole?
Colleton: I am very happy with where it ended. It's where it always felt it should go. I remember at the first [Television Critics Association press tour] before the first season even started, I was asked a version of that question. I laid this out, which I shouldn't have, not ever thinking we'd get past the first year: As Dexter puts together all the pieces of humanity and realizes what he's done, he will have to punish himself by killing himself. It's one of those off-the-cuff remarks, but I always thought that as the journey of him getting closer and closer to becoming a human being, the cost gets higher and higher and there's an ultimate price he has to pay. But again, killing himself would be too easy. He has to live with emptiness and deny himself everything.
Carpenter: It had a hand in raising the bar for what cable television was allowed to do. For that, I'll always be proud to have been a part of it. Again, that's just my own beliefs, other people may spit at that idea, but I do believe that's the case. As far as "Dexter," it's a credit to Michael. One of his opening lines is, "I don't have feelings." What a terrible way to start a character! How hard must that be to play someone who claims not to have feelings? But again, to say that you don't have feelings means you must have feelings about not having feelings. He claimed at one point that his life with Rita (Julie Benz) was no longer a farce. Maybe this was just the slowest eye-opening after a long sleep in the history of the world. Season 1, Dexter starts to stir and by the end, he's totally awake when he's looking in the camera at the end of the finale. In a way, that leaves a lot of possibility lingering for what could happen years from now if Michael or any of the creators choose to move on with it.
What do you hope fans take away from the series?
Colleton: I hope they feel like they've taken the journey with Dexter. Even though they may have wanted to end this way or that way, it will feel that it is an appropriate ending for Dexter that, based on what happened, this is the appropriate punishment and he must take it.