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Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter on the Season-Seven Premiere

Actress Jennifer Carpenter speaks at the
Jennifer Carpenter. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

[Spoilers ahead.] Dexter premiered its seventh season on Showtime last night, and to quote Debra Morgan, “Holy Christ on a stick.” (Also, “Holy Frankenfuck.”) The season picks up where six left off: Inside a church, Travis Marshall dead, Deb having witnessed his murder. Dexter immediately starts spinning his Dexter-y stories (I snapped, etc.), but something doesn’t quite sit right with the lieutenant — maybe the rubber apron tipped her off — and so at long last she starts asking some questions and doing some digging. But would season seven be the season where Deb merely investigates Dexter? Just as that fear begins to creep in, the episode ends in the only acceptable way it can: Dexter walks into his apartment, fresh off a kill, and finds Deb there with his blood slides. “Did you kill all these people?” “I did.”  “Are you a serial killer?” “Yes.” Yes! Yes. A thousand times, yes. Vulture spoke with Jennifer Carpenter, who plays Deb, about the big reveal.

I was worried at one point that Deb was actually going to believe Dexter’s “I snapped” explanation. It was like, Thank God when she asked him why he had all that plastic wrap.
That, I think, was pretty genius on the writers’ part — it actually happens slowly. She thinks he’s killed one person, one very bad person. And then by the end of the episode, she realizes he’s killed a very small town.

You’d been pretty vocal about how it was getting harder to justify Deb not catching on to Dexter, so were you relieved the story finally took this turn?
Yes. I think like most of the cast and crew, and maybe fans as well, I was worried that we were going to be painted into a corner. Like someone was going to have to die or go to jail. What I didn’t expect was for [Deb finding out] to open the show up the way it has. I, of course, had reservations about her conforming like Lumen and Miguel Prado did. That isn’t the person that we’d presented to the audience, and I wanted to honor what we’d already told the audience is true about her.

So then we shouldn’t expect Deb and Dexter to become a team?
No, no, no. That’s one thing that I was trying to lobby against. Because I feel like it would be wildly convenient if yet another person in Dexter’s life was championing him or making discoveries about themselves or their own lives through his murder.

But they won’t become adversaries, will they?
You know, we’re ten [episodes] in, and I feel like I can still answer this question this way: It’s as if Debra walks around with handcuffs in her back pocket, and every other moment she considers reaching for them. And Dexter is finding himself having to walk this line. He’s very aware that she’s sitting on an ax that can fall at any moment on one side or the other — one that favors him, and one that doesn’t.

And how does the fact that she was in love with him sway her? Does she still have those feelings for him?
I think after seeing him stab someone strapped on a table, those feelings kind of hit the back-burner and stay there for a little bit. [Laughs.] She reconsiders. The murder takes precedence over her feelings.

There was a lot of backlash to that story line. What was your initial reaction to it?
I immediately had a lot of questions. I wanted to know if it would be long-lived, if it was something that they were really going to explore. And then that would have led to another conversation. Like, I know that there was talk of that dream sequence Debra had, where they pop kiss; I know that there was talk of there being much more than that, and that was absolutely — I just could not imagine or let that happen. That’s something that would burn into people’s memories and you can’t take it away.

Meaning you’re opposed to them doing anything more than kissing, even in a dream sequence?
I never, ever could have survived there being anything more physical than a pop kiss between the two of them, whether it’s a dream or not. You know?

Because. Because once the audience saw that, there would be no taking it back. I just feel like that would be such a jackknife move that people would abandon us. I was afraid of it; it just put a lot of fear in me. But I think it was a genius move on the writers’ part, to set up Deb’s acceptance. I also was an advocate for it because, oddly enough, when I started the show — I always come up with a secret for my characters, something that I know that I don’t tell the cast or the crew or the writers, just so that it keeps the character personal and closer to me than anyone else — and that was part of it. It wasn’t necessarily that Deb had a crush on her brother, but it was that there was a pull to him that she may be embarrassed by. Maybe that’s something that the writers picked up on through the years, I’m not sure. 

The show is ending after season eight. Are you okay with that?
Selfishly, it’s like, Let’s just stay at the party. But I think we owe it to the audience to be brave and give them a solid ending that they deserve. I think it’s time to go. My biggest fear is for people to be in their living rooms thinking, Gosh, I can’t believe this show is still on.

How would you like to see the series end?
I think they’re going to tear it to shreds. I can’t tell you how, I have no idea. I have one scene in mind, what the last scene of the series could be, and Michael [C. Hall] and I have talked about it: He says something to me, I say something to him, and something happens. [Laughs.]

That’s it? What happens?
I’m not going to say what. If it starts to drive you batshit crazy, you can call me back.

Does it involve Dexter dying?
[Pause.] I’m gonna say no.

So you think Dexter should survive the series?
Oh, I didn’t say that.

Jennifer Carpenter on Last Night’s Dexter