"My last scene with Michael is when he leans over in the hospital and says, "I love you." When I knew it was one of the last takes, I said to him, "Say it like you mean it." Because I knew it was the last time that she was going to get it."
Jennifer Carpenter closed the book on Debra Morgan on Sunday when Showtime's serial killer drama ended its eight-season run with a series finale that was as shocking as it is sure to be debated.
During the hour, written by showrunner Scott Buck, one of Miami Metro's most beloved perished as Dexter Morgan's serial killer who has been fighting an internal battle to really feel love for anyone got what he wanted.
After coming this close to catching the Brain Surgeon, Deb ultimately would never fully recover from the gunshot wound the tough-talking (and acting) detective suffered in the penultimate episode. While she comes through surgery, a blood clot would later prove to be the one obstacle Deb could not recover from as she wound up on a ventilator that would be the only thing keeping her body alive. Recognizing that a future in which his sister would never eat on her own, speak or have brain activity, Dexter unplugs the vent and professes his love for Deb. Those would be the final words -- and the ones he's strived to feel since the series premiere -- that Dexter would say to Deb before she flatlined.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Carpenter to discuss letting Deb go, whether Dexter got what he deserved by faking his own death and separating himself from Hannah and Harrison as well as buzz about a spinoff and more. Read the interview after the jump.
At what point in the series did you know Deb was not going to survive?
I found out when hiatus was coming to a close. [Showrunner] Scott Buck had me in his office and we talked a bit about it. He wasn't sure how it was going to spin. There were three different scenarios that they were playing out. The only thing I didn't want was for Dexter to kill her. In a strange way, I wanted her [death] to be a suicide. I wanted Deb to take the one thing that was totally alive in his life away. But how it played out was much better. Deb deserved to die an organic death. Yes, she was shot, but it was something that she signed up for long before she ever joined the force. I was really satisfied. It was incredibly cathartic for me as an actor to set it down in such a way. The way Dexter sets her body in the water is how I felt like I was able to let it drift.
Why do you think Deb needed to die at the end of the series? You've been adamant about that for a long time.
When I've been saying that in the press, it's been for selfish reasons. Your readers deserve an element of truth when you're talking about something that they care enough to read about. I wanted them to see the truth; I did want her to die. But it was more about me. Deb deserves some peace. There was this setup when she and Quinn (Desmond Harrington) were finally able to set their sights on a love that existed, but I don't know what kind of peace she would have found there because Dexter always would have been in that place. She always would have been making sure she was piling enough dirt on the secrets that existed with Dexter. I'm not sure a happy ending was possible for her. This was her happy ending.
Looking at the scene when Dexter takes her off the ventilator to make sure she has a merciful death -- do you think that's what Deb would have wanted?
She would have wanted him to have the moment where he would have had to consider it, where he couldn't help himself but to get emotional about it. I have to believe, unfortunately, that Deb dies not knowing how Dexter feels about her. She doesn't have access to his feelings, which is all she ever wanted.
Was there ever a discussion about having Deb survive?
What Scott discussed with me was the first four episodes. To see Deb way off the rails was really exciting. He had my complete trust and it wasn't important for me at that point to know how he filled in or connected all the dots to get her to that hospital bed to die. I never tried to champion a different story.
You've said that you feel as if you've played this character from start to finish. Is there anything that would get you to reprise Deb?
An extraordinary script many, many, many years from now (laughs). I don't know if that's possible because people don't come back from the dead.
In an early episode, Deb attempted suicide when she drove a police car into a lake with Dexter along for a ride. When Dexter deposits her body into the water, do you think this is his way of giving her what she wanted?
Oooh, I didn't even consider that! I had a really hard time justifying driving the car into the lake. It was as quick as a finger snap to make that happen. When someone is suffering -- and in a weird way that's almost what I think Dexter was doing for eight years -- you just want to grab them by the shoulders and say, "Wake up! Make it real!" I think Deb just wanted to make it real. Maybe you're right, that was Dexter's way of making it real.
In the end, no one finds out who or what Dexter is. Do you think that's fitting?
I guess we can't really say yet because I played my character from A to Z, but I don't necessarily think that Dexter is done. It's still deliciously hanging untied; there's too much intrigue and too much of the appetite for it to completely be unresolved by this finale. Maybe somewhere down the line I wouldn't be surprised if something happens. I would be interested to see Michael come back with the energy that he'd have from taking a real break and seeing what he can do with that character. I'm not trying to hint that I know something is coming, but I'm saying it's possible.
Dexter fakes his own death. Do you think he ultimately got what he deserved by cutting himself off from the people he loves in a bid to protect them?
No. It's not about how many people he put on the table. I think about the killing in Washington and the people who died when the sailor shot those 12 people, and my initial instinct is to feel such empathy for the 12 that died because really it's the hundreds of people who loved and adored and befriended these people whose lives were stolen. I don't think Dexter got what he deserves. He had to excuse himself from a life that no longer worked for him, that was uncomfortable and maybe a little hard on him. Julie Benz (Rita) said at Comic-Con one year that she would love him if Rita found out about Dexter. Forget the pain that he inflicted on Deb, Rita, Harrison and Cody and everyone all down the line. I don't think that the justice that he deserves could come through law enforcement, either. That will come through something mightier than that, like the energy of the cosmos or something. (Laughs.)
Should Dexter have died?
No. I think he needs to live a really long life. I'm picturing him being mummified (laughs), and someone wrapping him in his sins and him being encased and breathing against them. Pain would be a much harsher punishment.
Was there a part of you that hoped Deb and Quinn would reunite sooner in the series?
No. At first I resisted it. I thought we'd played that story. After eight years, I expected to have some sort of wave of emotion. Everything I expected to feel, I didn't. The first time that feeling kicked in -- and surprised me -- was when we were wrapping Quinn. The ambulance scene was our last one together and his reaction in the hospital to finding out Deb wasn't going to be OK. It really revealed what an authentic love Desmond Harrington has drawn from a character. There's a part of me that feels like I filled Deb in, too. She existed through my life experience. I lent her things, and of course manipulated things, but I'm in there somewhere. It's like I've gotten to witness my own funeral. It was totally unexpected. It was naïve of me to think I would get out of this totally pain-free. It is a bittersweet departure.
What was the last thing that you shot and what was it like leaving the set for the final time?
My last scene with Michael is when he leans over in the hospital and says, "I love you." When I knew it was one of the last takes, I said to him, "Say it like you mean it." Because I knew it was the last time that she was going to get it. When I knew it was the last take and that they had it and were going again just to go, I sent her away. I asked her to leave and imagined her floating out of me and up into the rafters of the soundstage and far away. It was like an eight-year meditation.
What will you miss about playing Deb?
I'll miss the fear of playing Deb, getting the script going, "That's great. Oh God how do we do it?" Everyone kept saying Dexter was my first shot at TV and the cast, crew and producers stressed that it doesn't always happen this way. I guess I won't know what they meant until I go somewhere and an actor doesn't know his lines. Or the work isn't as hard as you want it to be. These have been some of the best years of my life. If you asked me in the middle of it if I ever thought I would say this on the other side, I would have said absolutely not. But it truly was. There were so many gifts, not just as an actor but I'm better for navigating my own life from what I learned on this show.
Anything you're pleased to let go of?
I'm pleased to let go of all of it because I feel like it's complete. It's an amazing thing in your life when you can look at a situation and declare it complete, because that means you're life has forward momentum.
Is there a story or character you'd like to see at the center of a potential Dexter spinoff?
I think David Zayas (Angel) is wildly interesting in every way and there's nothing I wouldn't watch him do. He and C.S. Lee are great. But I don't know, God, take your pick! Any of them! C.S. and David should do something.
What's next for you?
I'll always do theater, and since I've been cast in darker stuff, I feel like I've been invited less. People have seen me less in comedy and lighter parts but I'd like to get back to that. I never meant to fall in love with TV quite like I did, but I love television, and what's on cable right now is really challenging. I've been off for eight weeks but now that I'm off, I'm ready to go back to work. I want to find something great, but I'm daring and patient enough to find something that I can give everything to.
Any parting words about closing the book on Dexter?
I'm picturing an older model television where you have to get up to turn the TV off and then it slips into that tiny little dot until it's all gone. That's what I feel like is happening to me.