Warning: This story contains spoilers from Dexter‘s series finale. Read on with caution…
Now that you’ve had some time to process the events of the Dexter series finale — in which Dex became a reclusive mountain man, Deb died (sob) and Harrison most likely wound up as an illegal immigrant of Argentina — let’s delve deeper into the bound-to-be polarizing send-off with a little help from executive producer Sara Colleton.
Here, the EP — who has worked on the Showtime saga since the very beginning — details the decision to let Dexter live, explains why the ending fans saw was the only one on the table (pun intended), breaks down the significance of that haunting final shot and much, much more.
TVLINE | Was there ever a scenario planned in which Dexter actually dies?
No, and the reason there wasn’t is that it’s not a fitting enough punishment for him. Going into exile away from everything that he knows and has become attached [to] in his whole infrastructure is a more fitting punishment for what his journey toward being a human being has cost everyone around him. If the central idea from the pilot on was: Here’s a guy who thinks of himself as a monster and yet yearns to be human… We’ve seen him on this journey – he started off as faking it but then became real somewhere along the line – and we’ve seen year-to-year what this journey has cost him. So, in the finale, the final price comes through… If he had listened to the Dark Passenger and stuck to the Code, he would never have left Saxon, he wouldn’t have thought that he didn’t need to kill, that he’s got a stronger pull. Deb, who was his touchstone and soulmate, died — and this was the only fitting punishment. He banishes himself, if you will, into exile. When he looks into the camera in the end [of the finale], the rest is silence; there’s not even a voiceover there anymore. It’s just emptiness… Committing suicide is too easy; that’s letting himself off the hook.
TVLINE | It seems as though the writers approached the penultimate episode as Dexter’s happy ending and then the series finale as his realistic ending.
Yes! And that’s the cost of being a human being. Do you know how much easier it is to be a sociopath, and not to think and not to have anxiety and not to have hesitation or to love? I’m hoping that in addition to it making sense for Dexter’s specific journey, it is an analysis or a look at how hard it is to be a human being.
TVLINE | Is the takeaway meant to be that he’s no longer killing, but rather just living his life in solitude?
Yes. Anything that was a part of his life that gave it meaning is gone. He’s banished himself as far away from Miami and anyone he’s loved.
TVLINE | What went into having Dexter look directly at the camera in the final shot?
It’s that it’s just silence. There’s always been so much that you’ve been able to read into Dexter – twice before in the series, he looked into the camera, but always with a voiceover. And here he’s just got nothing. Nothingness. The rest is silent. Empty.
TVLINE | Was it always the plan for Deb to die?
Well, not from Year 1, but certainly two years ago when we mapped this out. Dexter [in the finale] is as close to being a human being as possible – he’s within a plane ride of achieving his happiness — but he hesitates that one moment. And Deb, who is the closest to him of anyone, [suffers].
TVLINE | Were there any other possible scenarios in which Dexter “kills” Deb, other than him taking her off life support?
That was always [planned]. In a completely fully-aware [moment] of love, at his most human, he does something that he’s had to do a million times: to take someone’s life. That’s the irony of that. There is a certain bravery because she’s living as a vegetable – I hope that if that ever happens to me I have a brother who loves me enough to take me off life support. But Dexter’s now aware enough as a human being that the guilt and the punishment of that will last a lifetime.
TVLINE | What, if any, alternate endings were thrown around the writers’ room? Did you always envision he’d end up where he ended up the way he ended up there?
[There was] never [an alternate ending]. We felt that it would be really cheating not to have an ending that was specific to what we wanted to say… This is always as we have planned it. I’m sure there will be a great bit of discussion and controversy about it, but for those of us who have been involved with the show from the very beginning, it feels — and it felt — right.
TVLINE | Was there any concern that Dexter‘s rabid fanbase might take issue with the lack of any real closure on some of the storylines? For example, the manhunt that would inevitably happen for Harrison and Hannah, or the fallout from Dexter taking Deb from the hospital, etc.
All of those beats were fully discussed. [Showrunner] Scott Buck and [executive producer] Manny Coto, they nailed [the finale] in the first draft… There has to be a certain degree of ambiguity, because we can’t tie up [everything]. There was so much to do in a one-hour episode – I know people will wonder what’s going to happen to Quinn and Harrison and Hannah and everyone, but this has always been Dexter’s story. All of those things will be left to chew over, but we very specifically didn’t feel that those needed to be wrapped up.
TVLINE | Talk about the brilliantly loaded looks Quinn shot Dexter’s way after watching him kill Saxon.
Quinn’s always thought that there’s more to Dexter than meets the eye and that maybe he’s shaved off a few corners, but I don’t think it’s ever occurred to Quinn the extent of Dexter’s nocturnal journeys – and certainly not that he’s the Bay Harbor Butcher. But those looks are that Quinn completely knew that Dexter went in there with the intention to — and did indeed — kill Saxon. And Quinn absolutely approves. Finally, at this moment where their relationship is over, they have this relationship of mutual respect.
TVLINE | Was your understanding that Hannah believes Dexter is in fact dead?
Oh, I think she believes it. She knows that the hurricane was bearing down. At that moment, she believes that the reason she hasn’t heard from Dexter is because he was lost in the storm.
TVLINE | Any significance to Deb’s focus on hiking before she died?
She’s drugged up and coming out of it, so she was having weird thoughts. She’s already thinking about when she comes down to visit them in Argentina because there are mountains there.
TVLINE | Were any Deb/Dex scenes from previous seasons in contention to use in place of the newly shot flashback?
Nooo, because we wanted it to be about Harrison’s birth in the hospital and about the responsibilities of being a big brother and a father – which inform his decision to [kill Deb]. When he was driven just by the Code and the Dark Passenger, he could have just taken out the life support, but as a fully aware human being, he’s aware of the consequences and what the cost will be. But he loves his sister enough to know that he cannot leave her behind.
TVLINE | So, we now know that a potential spin-off likely won’t center on Deb or Kenny Johnson’s dead U.S. Marshall. Was there ever actual discussion about centering the project on either of those characters?
It was amusing more than anything. We would hear something about a U.S. Marshall spin-off or a Deb spin-off and we would laugh amongst ourselves, wondering where these ideas were coming from. We just wanted to complete the series; eight years is a long time.
TVLINE | Is there any one thing in this finale that you’re most proud of?
I love Dexter’s sum-up of his eight-year journey, before he goes in and knows he’s got to disconnect Deb’s life support: “As much as I may have pretended otherwise, for so long all I’ve wanted was to be like other people, to feel what they felt… Now that I do, I just want it to stop.” It has such a human feeling, the pain of being alive, and he feels it so acutely. It’s a beautifully written piece of voiceover that sums up the entire series…. To me that’s a very powerful moment where I understand that he understands what all of this has cost, and what he’s giving up.