Even after six seasons, Dexter still botches a kill now and then. At the moment, he's trying to take out a nasty-looking thug, but the blade in Michael C. Hall's hand won't flip into position. He flips once — nothing. Again, nope. Third time, Hall just flings the thing and starts laughing. Which gets the thug laughing, which gets everybody on the Dexter set laughing, too.
"You'd think I'd know how to slash a throat," Hall says, breaking character. You'd think. But you'd also think meticulous Dexter would have locked the cathedral door behind him last season before plunging a sword into poor Colin Hanks' chest on the church altar. In Season 6's unholy finale, Dexter offed Hanks' Travis "Doomsday Killer" Marshall with his trademark efficiency and calm. Only this time, there was a witness — Dexter's saucer-eyed sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter).
For Dexter, Deb and breathless fans alike (not to mention shrink-wrapped Travis), it was a stunning twist — years in the teasing — that instantly reinvigorated a so-so season just as it ended. It also sets up the series for its conclusion next season. As Hall says, "It was, like, knife-in-chest, Debra sees it, reset-button-on-the-show. Everything is suddenly reframed, recontextualized, more complicated and more layered, not just for the audience but for us as actors."
That sure sounds like hype — until you watch the first episode of Season 7. Last year's pas de deux between Hanks and his religion-professor kill buddy, played by Edward James Olmos, was so far-fetched (the deux turned out to be un: Travis and his delusions alone), you needed a Biblical concordance to understand it. But the opener brings back the sort of stripped-down tension not seen since Sergeant Doakes pegged Dex as the Bay Harbor Butcher in Season 2.
The season picks up a split second after Deb catches Dexter, her gun still drawn, and gets more deliciously uncomfortable from there. Unspeakable questions are answered, the darkest of family secrets exposed, and we eventually meet a hulking Ukrainian villain with exquisitely tailored suits. Suffice it to say Dexter is back on track and bloody good again.
"The audience deserves this — they've earned it," says Carpenter, leaning forward in her trailer. "I didn't want anything contrived this time. I didn't want Deb to become a Lumen or Prado or Lila, where I stand alongside Dexter and pick up a knife. And nobody wants 'This season: Dexter on trial.' I just wanted it to be honest and believable."
The series is never more believable than when Dexter himself is in trouble, and frankly, the Miami crime fighter/serial killer had grown a little soft in recent years. As Daddy Dexter, he had to juggle diaper duty with his killing urges. And he has slowly backed away from his father Harry's "code" by getting closer to people, whether it was Lila or Rita, Lumen or Brother Sam. Last season, Dexter reacted so emotionally to his friend Sam's death, he iced the guy who killed him. That's so not the Dexter of Season 1.
"Every year, Dexter has become a little more human, a little more evolved and a little more empathetic," says executive producer Scott Buck. "Now we're showing the flip side of his humanity. You're seeing Dexter becoming more spiteful, jealous, vengeful and angry than he's been in a long time."
What's driving him is the gotcha moment from last year's finale. Season after season, Deb came close to discovering her adoptive brother's true identity, only to fall off the scent. Then again, it's hard to turn in your bro when you secretly want to have sex with him.
Carpenter puts her palm on her forehead when asked about that plot revelation from last season. "Was I icked out by Debra's romantic feelings for Dexter?" she says. "Well, yes and no. From the pilot episode, Dexter and Deb have had this awesome connection, so it didn't feel out of left field. I just don't want it to go any further. I don't think audiences do, either. If it does, I'm heading straight to therapy and sending the bills to Showtime."
Dexter premieres Sunday, Sept. 30 at 9/8c on Showtime.
For more with the cast of Dexter, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine on newsstands Thursday, September 27!