Note to self: Describing Season 6 as Dexter's "sixth best" to the cast and crew of Showtime's long-running serial killer drama is probably not the best way to ingratiate yourself to them. But the fact remains: Season 6 was divisive to say the least and those who may have been turned off by it might be curious as to whether Season 7 will continue in that vein or depart into new (better) waters. Well, regardless of how that pans out, the cast and crew of Dexter are indeed enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new season.
At today's Television Critics' Association session, star and producer Michael C. Hall described it this way: "This season feels as genuinely formed by everything that's come before it as anything we've done. There's a feeling of arrival. That we've earned this arrival in this new landscape. In a lot of ways it feels as rich as it ever has." Specifically Dexter's Season 7 mindset (after Deb's discovery of his true calling) presents a particular thrill for Hall: "It is without a doubt the most fundamentally game-changing development as we've had since we started telling this story. One of the things we've always been able to count on is that Dexter's secret is his own. And it's not anymore. It's been so invigorating to play these scenes, to be so preoccupied in a way that Dexter's never been preoccupied. To be in a seventh season of a show, to have that genuine sense, is pretty remarkable."
For her part, Jennifer Carpenter is able to channel her nervousness at handling such a revelation into the actual anxiety Deb must be feeling. "I have been looking forward to [this twist.] I've been very curious about how they would write it. And also terrified about it. It's perfect. All the anxiety I'm feeling is exactly what Debra would be feeling." But another benefit to Deb's discovery is the far-ranging effect it has on the series as a whole. As Hall puts it, "I think Deb finding out does sort of make an endgame feel a little more palpable and imminent." When asked for a definitive answer on whether that endgame will be at the end of Season 8, Hall answered, "I think the plan is to do this season and a final eighth season to really tell this story of the two of them negotiating their relationship in this new landscape requires about that much time. So yeah, it feels right."
"Can I add 'dangerous?'" Carpenter jumps in. "It's very dangerous this year."
But back to my question—phrased politely, I assure you—of whether the producers would give any kind of acknowledgment that Season 7 had room for improvement? In short, nope! Producer Sara Colleton insisted that Deb discovering Dexter's Dark Passenger via happenstance—as opposed to common sense or basic detective instinct—was the perfect character choice. "I think we handled it, for our show, perfectly. [Deb's discovery] felt very active and very much our show." Producer Scott Buck even went so far as to suggest that the very obvious reveal as to imaginary nature of Edward James Olmos' villain was not a big deal. "It was never intended to be this big season-changing twist that the season was hinged on." But he did admit that in the future they'd consider doing a better job of keeping the secret a secret. "If we were to have this big secret in the future we would be a lot more careful about it in the future, sure."
As one might imagine, it's hard to phrase the question "Will next season be better?" But despite qualifying it with the fact that Season 6 had a number of incredible performances, the question still provoked an array of uncomfortable responses. Colleton was blunt: Season 7 has all the same writers, so no, nothing in that regard would be different. Hall did at least offer an incentive for viewers whose passion for the show may have cooled during Season 6: "Dexter is never more compelling than when he's in danger. And he's never been in deeper trouble than he is now."
The most emotional response, however, came from Carpenter, who mulled my question over and came back to it after the conversation had moved on. Pointing me out in the crowd, she said, "If you had asked that question before we'd shot a frame of this season, that would've hurt my feelings. But I know we're doing amazing things right now and I'm excited for you to see that."
Dexter returns Sunday, September 30 at 9pm on Showtime.