Exclusive: We Talk About the Evolution of 'Dexter' With Writer Scott Reynolds



Season seven of Dexter comes to a close this weekend, and I am anxious and excited for it. I am way too obsessed with this show, but luckily there is someone who doesn’t mind - or was at least polite enough not to tease me about it: writer Scott Reynolds. Reynolds has been on Dexter since season one and is a self-proclaimed fanboy. We talked at length about the evolution of the series, with special attention paid to the insane developments of the last season and a half.

It has been seven years in the making, but Deb finally knows Dexter’s secret. How did you guys tackle that? It’s such a delicate thing.

Well, in the books - I think at the end of the first book - Deb finds out. Then in the books they are working together - well, not really working together, but she knows and she is fine with it. Dexter does what he does, and she does what she does. So we always knew that this was going to happen. We came close to it in season five, with Lumen... but she didn’t quite.

Yes. I always felt like Deb didn’t put it together because she didn’t want to put it together.

Yes, that’s definitely a strong thread in Deb’s life, throughout season seven. Even now, we are finding out things that Deb didn’t want to think about. It’s like people who come to faith, they say that they only know as much as they can handle at that point - if they knew what was required of them, they might not go for it. Deb was definitely the same way. Even in the first episode, it took her awhile to figure out that this wasn’t just Dexter losing his mind for a few minutes, or even killing someone in cold blood - this was a lifestyle choice.

I haven’t read the books, but from what I understand, you guys stray from the books quite a bit.

Yes, significantly. We followed the first book - we did have to add a lot of twists and turns - but after book one, we parted ways. At the end of book one, Laguerta gets killed by the Ice Truck Killer... everything changes. At the end of book two, Doakes finds out who Dexter is and this bad killer kidnaps Doakes and cuts out his tongue and hands and feet, so even though he knows who Dexter is, he can’t tell on him. We went a different with Doakes. I don’t think any of us [writers] have even read any of the books past book three. In book three, Dexter finds out he is possessed by a demon, which makes it an entirely different idea. I think it’s cool that there are two different versions of Dexter out there in the world, and both are doing very well. And now he is in a comic book from Marvel, based off the Jeff Lindsay version of Dexter. So he won’t even look like Michael C. Hall!

I don’t know if I could ever imagine Dexter as someone other than Michael C. Hall.

There are a lot of fans that keep up with the books. Dexter in an intriguing character. It’s fun to root for the bad guy. You work at FEARnet - the home of rooting for the bad guy!

michael c. hall and yvonne strahovskiHow has the response been to season seven? It has taken a big turn. We are no longer doing the “seasonal big bad.”

Speaking as me, Scott Reynolds, I feel like the handcuffs have been taken off, to a certain extent.  I’m a big fan of season six - I know a lot of critics were not - but I had a good time putting it together. I liked the reflection of Brother Sam against the Doomsday Killer, and Dexter stuck in the middle, then Dexter thinking he could save people. It was all very pointed on Dexter’s journey to humanity. But the response to this season has been incredibly, overwhelmingly positive. But there have been a lot of backhanded compliments: “Oh, they’re back on track finally!” But at the end of the day, everyone on the crew has to feel good about what they do and I think, for the most part, we feel pretty good. It’s a fun story.

In this season, Dexter truly is closer to his humanity than ever before. He’s in love - or he thinks he’s in love. Surely, there is no way this can have a happy ending. [Scott giggles evilly.] Obviously, I don’t want you to give anything away, but I suspect things are going to go off the rails for the final season.  

That part has been fun. Writing towards a clearly defined ending - yeah, it’s fun. The stakes have never been higher. If you are a fan of the show, at the beginning, Dexter was a monster. He considered himself a monster. A very neat monster, but someone whose entire life was focused on the kill. Everything else was a beard, in service of his Dark Passenger. It has been fun to help guide Dexter along, making him wonder, “Am I human?” This season, he’s no longer a puppet. He’s no longer Pinocchio; he’s a real boy. That has been our goal. 

I love Breaking Bad. That is one of my favorite shows - I cannot wait to watch it. Walter White is on a very different trajectory than Dexter. He’s this innocent guy to whom all these horrible things happen, and he makes the decision to be the bad guy. But Dexter, as of episode 710, he decides there is no longer a Dark Passenger; no long an “other” that he can blame things on. It’s very childish to an extent. I’ve got an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old, and they are still blaming “something else” for everything that happens to them. And that’s what Dexter has been doing! His whole life, he has been blaming his Dark Passenger, but here he is, losing that. I think it’s very telling that the first kill he does after recognizing that there is no Dark Passenger is something he does out of love for Hannah. It is a very human kill, to a certain extent. Who hasn’t thought about killing their in-laws? Maybe someone?

Um, no comment.

So on the one hand it is sort of beautiful; on the other hand it is sort of terrifying, because what’s next? Being human is messy.

scott reynolds and michael c. hall

I imagine that, in Dexter’s world, killing is a lot less scary than being in love. I’ve never killed anyone, but being in love is fucking terrifying.

Yes! Exactly. It’s out of your control. That was Dexter’s realization in episode 709 with Isaak, that he is going to embrace this strange, out-of-control life of being capable of love. Everyone has different ideas on this this, but I don’t think Dexter ever felt love like this, outside of Hannah.  He’s very fond of his sister. He said “I love you” to Rita, but he “learned” to say that from a killer. I do not doubt that he cared for Rita deeply. With Lila, she pursued him, and he liked that.

I loved the character of Isaak. He didn’t seem like a “big bad” to me. It feels like every season, we meet someone who knows what Dexter is, and accepts his Dark Passenger in one way or another. But with Isaak, it was like he was accepting Dexter’s human side, like Hannah does.

Yeah. There are lots of people who consider Dexter a friend - I think everyone at the station considers him a friend. But as we know by his unreliable narrations, he doesn’t necessarily consider them friends.

Isaak was fascinating to watch this season. We in the writers room knew that episode nine was it, because he had to leave and do Thor. We figured Dexter would get this guy on his table one way or another. But as we watched him unfold, as Ray Stevenson brilliantly portrayed him, we realize we couldn’t do that with this guy. It would have been disturbing in a bad way if Dexter were capable of putting this guy on his table.

ray stevensonHis performance was so layered.

Yeah. I talked to him on our podcast, and he revealed that the whole reason for playing this role is that he has played lots of violent men - I mean, the Punisher is like the most violent guy in the history of superhero movies - but even Isaak seeks revenge out of love. Playing a gay character was exciting to him, too.

When you guys made the deal for seasons seven and eight, you knew that eight would be the end. Did that help you decide when to let Deb in on Dexter’s secret? In essence, were you beginning to wrap up the series starting this season?

I think that even if we went two more seasons, the end of season six was the exact right time to reveal to Deb who Dexter is. It was kind of tough watching Dexter with Rita after awhile, because we were watching Dexter get away with so much stuff. Anybody who is married to someone like Dexter would have to say, “Wait a minute, you can’t tell me you are coming home from work at 6am again, smelling of sea salt.” So I think viewers start turning against characters if they are perceived as dumb. I think Deb would have been perceived in the same sort of way, and we had to protect the truth of who Debra is. 

Debra was going to find out. Julie Benz had said that even if [her character, Rita] had seen Dexter kill someone, she’s not sure she would have been capable of believing that Dexter was a serial killer. Jennifer Carpenter’s Debra Morgan had that capability. She’s a cop! She’s a detective. This is who she is. She has spent her life rooting out evil and putting people behind bars.

When we break a season, we break the whole season. We have to know where we are going from the start, and we have to get that cleared through the executive producers and through Showtime. Things change, things move up and step back, but for the most part, we pretty much know where we are going, episode by episode, character by character, before we start writing the first script. That’s not to say we won’t pull an audible halfway through, but on a “global” sense, we know where we are going, every season.

You wrote this season’s “Early Cuts.” How did that all come about?

This is my comic book nerd coming out, but I loved Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. I thought we should do that with Dexter. It floated around for a little bit, then Showtime said, “Let’s do the early years of Dexter!” Tim Schlattmann did the first year, then Lauren Gussis did the second year, then finally it was my turn to step up to the plate. I did a different version. Their stories are connected to Dexter in that they explain certain parts of Dexter’s life. Why he takes the blood slide; why he dumps people in the ocean. They are sort of origin story things. By the time we got to this one, I wanted to do something that was more “spiritually connected,” to be the bridge between seasons six and seven and eight, to a certain extent. David Mack, who wrote Kabuki, which is one of my favorite comic books of all time - they are violent and beautiful and scary and exciting... when I found out I was paired with him, I lost my mind. I was nervous to talk to him - because I am a fan! 

This season, as the bridger between seasons six and seven, it shows dexter in 1999, just before the series starts. He is a much darker character. He is watching everyone on New Years Eve, and he realizes that New Years Eve is the one time of the year that he almost feels like he connects with human beings. This is the one time of year that they let loose with their darker sides - all their urges. The difference between Dexter and the rest of the world is that they regret what they’ve done the next day. They make penance, and Dexter doesn’t understand that at all. So the “Early Cuts” is about Dexter’s first connection with humanity, which is very prescient with season seven. I think when people see the finale of the season, I think people will really enjoy it. At the end of “Early Cuts,” Dexter has a very different reaction than to something that happens in the finale, something that he does 12 years later. So it shows his journey in a very strong way.

michael c. hall and jennifer carpenterSo I have to ask about the whole “Deb being in love with Dexter thing.” How did you guys even come to that point? I have to admit, that just skeeved me out.

Isn’t that funny how we can watch Dexter cut someone’s head off or stick a knife in them, or attack with a power drill or something, and we just accept that. But when his sister has this weird realization, it’s like “That’s disgusting!”

It’s so weird! Maybe it is because incest is more taboo in the sense that, every TV show and movie has people dying; not every TV show and movie has siblings - even adopted siblings - proclaiming they are in love with each other.

Here is how we came to it. We felt like this was kind of in the DNA of the show. Even in season one, there was a flashback with Dexter, where he is like 14 or 15 years old, and these kids at school taunt him, “Hey Dexter, you been fucking your sister?” So even at the very beginning, there was this strange closeness Debra had with her brother. For me personally, I feel like this was in the DNA of the show all along. Deb wasn’t able to find the closeness with her father that she wanted, so she pursued this with Dexter. When she had this realization with the psychologist, it wasn’t that she wanted to run off with him, get married and have children. It was more like, “This is the root of all my problems. I have this unhealthy love for my brother.” So she wants to work on this, but unfortunately, the same time she was going to admit this to him, she walks in on her brother stabbing someone and she finds out he is a serial killer.

I’ve read some of the blog posts, from people who think this has come out of nowhere. But in the writer’s room, this has been a part of the show all along. This is why she picks the sort of people she had dated. There have been sides of Dexter in all of them. We were certainly never thinking that they would run off together. Dexter never had those thoughts [about his sister.]

I think I was literally shouting at the TV when she realized that.

That’s good! That’s the reaction we want.

Dexter season seven comes to a close Sunday on Showtime.