At long last, the kill room.
For eight seasons, TV Guide Magazine has honored an unwritten code on the set of Dexter and disappeared whenever Michael C. Hall donned the vinyl apron, pulled back the plastic sheeting and switched into Dark Passenger mode. The actor always insisted he needed privacy to carry out his character's deadliest task — plunging a nine-inch butcher knife into the chest of whichever bad guy was shrink-wrapped to the kill table.
But now, like the deadly code of Dexter's father, Harry (James Remar), this rule is starting to crumble. "What do you think?" Hall asks in a strangely upbeat voice, ushering a journalist inside the murder chamber for the first time. Behind him, a young actor, naked under a shroud of plastic, quietly rehearses his lines with iPod buds in his ears. Dexter's knives lie like icicles on a cold steel tray. "So, was it worth the wait?"
In fairness, we'll need to get through Dexter's final season to know for sure. Only the concluding 12 episodes will resolve lingering questions about Dexter Morgan, the Miami Police Department's blood-spatter specialist who sidelines in killing serial killers. Is he going to get caught? Will he finally confess? Will he die? Or will Dexter once again defy the odds, as he has done through more than 100 murders, and slip away like a mosquito in the sweltering Florida night? Harry, at least, would appreciate that ending.
Hall offers a half smile and heads back to work when faced with such talk. "Can Dexter survive?" he says, snapping on a latex glove. "Well, he's certainly a survivor. But there are a lot of cracks in the edifice he's created for himself. He can't survive forever in the context we've seen him in. Something's got to give."
Dexter is unlike any character before him on TV and only grows more compelling, which probably explains why ratings for the show are higher than they've ever been. Last season's finale was Showtime's all-time most-watched original-series episode, with 3.4 million viewers. Audiences have never rooted for a serial killer before, and rarely have gore and brutality been quite so much fun. A classic knee-slapper from Season 1: When Captain LaGuerta wonders why the Ice Truck Killer would keep a severed head alongside him in the front seat of his car, Dex sniffs, "I don't know. So he could use a carpool lane?"
Over the years, Dexter has locked his police sergeant in a cage, bludgeoned his wife's ex with a frying pan, deep-sixed his psychotherapist, euthanized a dear family friend with a poisoned key lime pie, and slashed, bashed, chainsawed and hammered dozens more. Yet somehow, Dexter always kept us charmed. "The love and affection for this character has been surreal," Hall says. "Who would have imagined there would be a Dexter bobblehead?"
"I guess Dexter represents the full weight of what it means to be human — good, bad, absurd and otherwise," executive producer Sara Colleton says. She helped develop the idea for the series after reading a one-paragraph review in The New Yorker of Jeff Lindsay's 2004 crime novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter. It described Dexter as an affable vigilante serial killer with a weakness for bowling shirts, and Colleton immediately secured the TV rights. "The book had his very droll running commentary about why humans do what they do, with Dexter refracting opinions through his psychopath prism of a brain," she says. "He's a killer, but he's also funny and a better brother, boyfriend and employee than most. I thought, 'This is a television series.'"
Back on set, Hall gets rolling. It's like a switch has flipped. The genial host off camera has gone full Dex. His skin is glistening and he's standing, knife in hand, over the terrified victim on the table.
"I didn't do it!" the poor bugger screams.
"Tell one more lie and I'll kill you," Dexter whispers.
Nobody on set moves a muscle.
Dexter premieres Sunday, June 30 at 9/8c on Showtime.
For more on Dexter, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, June 27!
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, the parent company of Showtime.)