Showrunner Scott Buck and longtime executive producer Sara Colleton explain “Dexter” series finale, defend the creative choices made during season 8 and answer a couple questions about that rumored spin-off.
This episode was really unlike any we’ve seen on the show before. How much time and money was put into this hour compared to a typical week?
Scott Buck: It was considerably more. There were a lot of visual effects that are very costly and then to go out and shoot in Astoria added to our price tag. But it was our final episode and Showtime was very accommodating. Our normal eight days of production became 10 days.
Before the season started, you said the core idea behind this finale has been in the works for years. What was the original concept?
Scott Buck: The kernel idea were the last few scenes. They were what I pitched a few years ago. The main idea was Dexter is forced to kill Debra. And there are many ways that could happen. But those final scenes were pretty much unchanged.
Sara Colleton: From the very beginning the paradox was here’s a guy who doesn’t feel he’s a human being, who has to fake it. But in faking it, he’s a better brother, boyfriend, colleague that most real people. People think of him as a monster, but he yearns to be human. We’ve seen him go forward on this journey every year. Now we found out what the final price was. What sums up the entire journey was the scene on balcony of his apartment before going on the boat to put Deb down — that’s horrible to say aloud. The voiceover: “For so long all I wanted was to feel like other people … now that I do just want it to stop.” It’s the horrible awareness of what it was to be a human being and how overwhelming that is for him. His punishment is banishment. He sends himself into exile. Killing himself is too easy. When he turns and looks into the camera at the end he’s stripped everything away.
Were there any other versions of the ending that you rejected?
Scott Buck: The only real variation was what he would be doing. I knew he would be in a self-imposed prison that would be as far from Miami as possible. We’d find him working in some solitary environment where even if other people were around he would make no contact and not talk to anyone. We would follow him home and he would have no human contact.
In a way that’s his new code — avoiding human contact.
Scott Buck: Yes. For us, that’s the tragedy. The one thing we felt Dexter wanted more than anything was human connections. Even in the first season we see him trying to get with Rudy. Now that he’s finally made that journey and he’s almost poised to have a real human life, he has to give all that up to save Harrison and Hannah.
Sara Colleton: He went into an absolute shutdown. He no longer has even his voiceover.
Why was it important to end the show this way?
Scott Buck: It seemed like the ending that was most justified. In season 1, you saw this guy who was so compartmentalized. The last couple seasons have been about breaking down those walls by having his son and his relationship with Hannah and having Deb discover who he is. Still he was able to justify what he did. We felt it took the death of the one person he cared most about to really look at himself. [His fate] wasn’t something that happened to him but his decision. He had to bear the burden of deciding his own fate.
Deb’s death is interesting choice because, for all intents and purposes, Deb basically “dies” off screen when she has her stroke and goes into a coma.
Scott Buck: In some ways. But I think we all feel the real moment is when Dexter hits that button. We also did it that way because in some ways it’s a little more shocking.
Sara Colleton: In their goodbye neither knows that they’re saying goodbye. I so admired [Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C. Hall] because they never let that this was their last scene slip through. They just tossed it off in a wonderful way. I really do think when Dex walks out of her room [viewers are going to] think everything is fine with Deb. But she doesn’t die off screen. When she takes her off life support she’s very much a presence there. I feel that’s what she wants. I would hope if it ever happen to me I’d have a big brother who would take that pain onto himself.
In a way, Deb sort of gets what she’s wanted for most of the season.
Scott Buck: That’s true in a way. There’s one point where she wanted exactly that. But she makes a turn two-thirds through the season. Things are looking up for her. She was seeing a possibility for happiness. The death she may have wanted at one point was the last thing she wants right now.
It’s also surprising that Miami Metro never realized Dexter’s secret. Everybody expected them to figure things out in the final season.
Scott Buck: We toyed with that idea, but it felt off-point. The story was ultimately about Dexter’s personal journey. We have one moment in that interrogation room with Quinn and Batista. Watching the tape, Quinn has known all along that there was more there to Dexter. Batista is seeing a hint of the darker Dexter. There was a hint in that moment. But we didn’t want to blow it all up and revel he’s a serial killer.
But a fan gripe was the season had Dexter dispatching new threats like in a typical season rather than a sense of that the show was arcing toward a finale with Dex’s world unraveling.
Scott Buck: It felt like we had done that with LaGuerta last season and with Lundy in season 2. I felt like it ran the risk of feeling repetitious and familiar.
Sara Colleton: Going that way felt pedestrian to me. I don’t know how else to put it. Years ago it was discussed and tabled as a very predictable non-interesting way to go.
The writers seemed to have a higher opinion of Hannah as a suitable mother for Harrison than the fans. Couldn’t Dex’s criticism of himself — about being toxic everybody around him — be said about Hannah too?
Scott Buck: I don’t think so. We wanted to believe Harrison would be happy and safe and well taken care of. Dexter judges people on a different level. That Hannah is a killer, Dex understands that. She’s a different kind of killer. She kills for self protection. That protection now applies to Harrison. Dexter believes she will lay her life on the line for Harrison.
Have to ask: How did Dex get from his boat to the shore in the middle of a hurricane?
Scott Buck: Hopefully it’s not a question that will be examined too closely. The show has always been a half step away from reality; it’s a hyper-reality. We established there is an emergency life raft with an outboard motor on the boat. He could have gotten in the raft and made it safely to shore.
The fade to black after Hannah starts to take Harrison for ice cream before we find out what happened to Dexter — I’m sure that had some fans starting to howl at their screens. Was that a deliberate fake out?
Scott Buck: It was mostly to establish that to the rest of the world everybody thinks Dex is dead. We the audience are the only ones privy to the fact that he’s alive.
The episode felt more serious, focused and emotional than Dexter normally is. But it made me wonder why the show doesn’t normally have that grounded tone.
Scott Buck: That’s interesting. I’m glad you liked it. The show started out in such a different place. The first season, the level of reality was more suspended. We felt like we were gradually making it more real. Michael always said about the ending, ‘Let’s make it real, let’s deal with it more realistically.’ I think it was more a gradual move rather than a sudden turn at the end of the final season.
Sara Colleton: To me, it feels very much like a Dexter episode. This season led up to this and I feel the last few episodes feel like parts of a whole.
I found the episode compelling partly because there was so little voiceover and no Ghost Harry to explain what Dex was thinking. Was that deliberate to ditch those devices? Should you have done that sooner?
Scott Buck: I don’t know. It’s a little late to ask. It’s certainly a compelling question. We very purposely had Dex say goodbye to Harry in previous episode and made a conscious decisions to do very little voiceover, particularly in those final scenes. I didn’t want any voiceover to explain things. I didn’t even want any music.
Sara Colleton: We have slowly this year, very consciously, stripped out a lot of voiceover. Very much so compared to previously years. It was very important to have very little of it at the end and to let the emotion of the moment speak for itself. In episode 10, when Dexter comes in and finds Dr. Vogel dead, what he’s feeling is on his face — normally we’d put voiceover, but we very consciously did not. At this point the audience knows what he’s thinking.
What flipped the switch for Dexter in the penultimate episode in terms of no longer wanting to kill? Is it simply because he loves Hannah?
Scott Buck: It’s really an accumulation of everything that’s he’s experienced over the years. He finally has a woman who understands him and they’re incredibly physically attracted to each other. And there’s Harrison.
Ghost Harry saying goodbye also felt a bit abrupt; it didn’t feel like there were scenes with Harry that really led up to that decision.
Sara Colleton: I think there’s a scene coming out of Vogel’s house, about three episodes back, where Harry says Dex is feeling a stronger pull. If you really go back he foreshadows that Dexter doesn’t yet recognize that there’s an equal or stronger pull than the dark passenger. The last episode couldn’t be just a series of goodbyes. That moment is Harry realizing he’s no longer needed.
Some fans were disappointed by this season. Were you happy with the episodes leading up to the finale?
Scott Buck: Even if i don’t write an episode, I’m still in charge. I take full responsibility. We all work cohesively as a team. If people think the final episode stood out, it’s probably because it’s been sitting in my mind for so long. It’s a difficult question to answer.
Sara Colleton: I think some episodes worked better than others. But as a whole the Deb and Vogel story lines worked and we wanted to change it up and have the big bad hide in plain sight. Darri Ingolfsson, who plays Saxon, he’s fabulous once you realize [he’s the brain surgeon]. The scene where he comes to Dexter’s apartment is a wonderful scene. I try not to read any of the blogs because then I become paralyzed. If they knew how much we agonized internally about everything … if we then tried to factor in an assortment of opinions it would dilute the process.
My suspicion was you guys got kind of screwed by having to rush the season to get it ready in time for a premiere date that was months ahead of schedule in order for Showtime to use the show to promote Ray Donovan rather than air in the fall like usual.
Scott Buck: A little bit. It certainly affected us in some ways. We basically did two seasons back to back. Normally what happens is you take a longer break and come in filled with ideas. We did absolutely the best we could. Ultimately it was my decisions to do that, as well. [Showtime entertainment president] David Nevins asked if we could do this and I said we could. Hopefully the season didn’t suffer for it.
Sara Colleton: I think we rose to the challenge. Would we have liked to have more time? Yes. But we had arced out the two years, so it wasn’t like we had to start at the very beginning. We would have loved to had more time before we started shooting. But once we did start shooting it was the same schedule.
One point of contention was some of the supporting story lines. Like why spend time with Masuka and his daughter and Quinn taking the sergeants exam in the final season?
Scott Buck: We wanted to give some indication of where these characters were going. We wanted to give them all a bit of resolution toward the end. Masuka was a very small story, it took up a small amount of screen time. This is probably the most sexist character most of us have ever seen and for him to have his first honest relationship with woman and have that be his daughter felt interesting. As for as Quinn, we’re trying to spend time with characters that have been with us for a long time and we’re never going to see again.
Since Hannah’s a wanted fugitive, couldn’t she have at least put on a ball cap when walking around Miami?
Scott Buck: We played with the idea of dyeing her hair. In the research we did on fugitives we learned there are countless fugitives out there just walking around that nobody is really looking for. There aren’t funds to hunt down every one of them — particularly Hannah, as she hasn’t been convicted of a crime. She’s not high priority. We put her in sunglasses. Otherwise we didn’t want to call more attention to it.
So what is the spin-off concept that Nevins has been hinting about?
Scott Buck: No concept whatsoever.
Absolutely not. I’m going to sit down with Showtime and discuss the possibility. But we haven said a single word about it.
The rumor for a while was the spin-off would star Deb. Was that ever a possibility?
Scott Buck: Never any truth to that. But we sort of played with that idea once that rumor was out there because I think it was beneficial for people to think we were going that direction.
Would Michael C. Hall have any involvement in a spin-off?
Scott Buck: No idea. Who knows what the future of Dexter is?
Sara Colleton: Right now there’s nothing planned. It couldn’t happen without Michael C. Hall wanting to come back. And I think he’s enjoying this new part of his life.
Scott, you referenced that we’ll never see Quinn again. So is it safe to assume any spin-off would not use the current supporting cast?
Scott Buck: I believe that’s most likely. We won’t see the current cast again.
What’s your plan for when the finale airs? Are you going to read viewer reactions?
Scott Buck: It’s always a little scary, but I think it would be disrespectful to not hear what people are saying.
What would you like Dexter’s impact to be?
Sara Colleton: If Dexter has made anybody really stop and think about their behavior, that would make me very happy.