SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the new season of “Dexter.”
It was an epic line rivaled only by the “Twilight” fans, but moderator Ralph Garman, Entertainment Reporter for Los Angeles radio station KROQ, delivered a “Dexter” panel worthy of the wait to a packed 4700-person crowd at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Thursday.
Spoilers were dealt from the start. With a preview of next season, the audience broke out in applause as John Lithgow was revealed as the upcoming season’s new serial killer!
And not to be outdone by the clip, Garman introduced Lithgow himself as an unlisted surprise addition to the panel of guests. To loud applause, the remaining members of the cast and execs were led on to stage, including Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Julie Benz (Rita), Jennifer Carpenter (Deb), and executive producers John Goldwyn, Sara Colleton, Clyde Phillips, and Melissa Rosenberg.
Based on the preview clips, Lithgow will play the Trinity Killer, a serial murderer whose career spans decades and is one the longest running uncaught serial killers of them all (perhaps except for Dexter himself). Another surprise return to the cast is Keith Carradine, reprising his role as the serial killer hunter Frank Lundy. In a twist, Lundy sends Dexter in as the “inside guy” to try and catch the Trinity Killer. Lithgow immediately expressed his excitement for joining the cast.
Introductions and clips complete, the panel moved directly into question-and-answer mode, switching between questions from moderator Garmin and the audience. Garmin started things off by inquiring into what would eventually become one of the principal themes of the panel discussion throughout the hour. Touching on the difference between the actors’ personalities and the variety of character personalities portrayed in the show by each character, Garmin asked if the performers had difficulty remembering the people they were in season 1 while filming season 4.
Hall answered, “It’s as difficult to remember who I [myself] was three years ago. You start to change with the character, the character starts to change with you. The writers react to you, they craft challenges directed at you.”
Carpenter agreed. “We’re four years in now, we have dual personalities now. You remember all these things that have happened to you, and it’s like real life.”
Wondering how many seasons can be supported based on the various aspects of Dexter’s personality, Sara Colleton replied, “Never, ever would I have anticipated the reception that the piece has gotten. As long as Dexter has room within his character, sort of trying on and examining different human behavior, the show has room to grow.”
Taking a brief pause from the Q&A, Garman then turned the topic to the new animated webisodes. “SHO.com will be featuring new animated webisodes called ‘Dexter Animated Cuts.’ They sort of show how Dexter refined his early touch. He complimented this description with a shot of a teenage Dexter on the big screen, complete with a knife dripping blood, stylized as a comic book cover straight out of the horror genre.
In the other video addition to the panel, Garmin mentioned the Dexter video game, stating, “I am proud to announce it will be out at the end of summer for your iPhone or iPod touch.” He then presented a clip of the game, which appeared to be a first-person actioner where you can play the role of Dexter, do the killing, cover your tracks, and interact with other characters from the show.
Returning to the theme of the variety of characters portrayed on the show and how they have changed over the years, Garmin said, “Julie, I was really struck with the arc your character has taken, to you guys getting married.”
Julie Benze responded, “Her (Rita’s) journey, the strength that she has gained through her love and her relationship with Dexter has just been really beautiful, and in many ways it’s like watching a train wreck, her getting stronger through the love of a serial killer.”
And speaking of the result of that love, an audience member asked if Dexter’s baby would have the dark passenger riding with him? Hall answered, “The baby has yet to exhibit any signs thus far but the possibility is always there, lurking.”
Hall continued, “He’s a baby. He’s cute. He’s a really good actor. The baby’s name [on the show] is Harrison, which is an homage to Harry, the baby’s grandfather. When we start the fourth season, he’s already been born.”
The season’s special guest star John Lithgow discussed his return to dark characters. “It’s great to be bad again. It is great to sort of return to form. People had sort of forgotten ‘Blow Out’ and ‘Ricochet’ and ‘Obsession.’ It’s very interesting, thinking about it, being a serial killer, like Dexter, staying aloof, wending your way through society. It’s sort of like what Dick Solomon was doing on ‘Third Rock from the Sun.’ Tick a little to the left and it’s a comedy, a little to the right and it’s horror. It’s all along the same dial.”
Garmin later asked how Lithgow entered the show to begin with. Lithgow explained, “I had not seen much of ‘Dexter’ before, but I got this amazing pitch, and I am the only one on the set [now] who actually knows what’s going to happen over the course of the twelve episodes. I could actually speak two sentences right now that would make this building explode. But I’m not going to! And now I’ve seen all 36 episodes and it’s a wonderful show. The writing is so solid. And my character has just spectacular surprises. You know I act to surprise people, and boy am I going to surprise people!”
When asked how many countries the show is currently playing in, Phillips answered, “At least a dozen, all over Europe for sure.”
As a follow up, the panel was asked what the reception is like overseas. “Some are curious [in Europe] what it says about American culture,” said Hall. “Here [in the U.S.] when you talk about it people say, ‘He’s killing people,’ and I say, ‘Yeah but they are really, really bad people,’ and [Americans] say, ‘Yeah, you’re right!’ as if he’s not all bad. But there in Europe, they respond back, ‘Yeah, but, he’s still killing people!’ And I found that interesting.”
Continuing with the theme of a moral compass, or lack thereof, in “Dexter,” Garmin asked if we can expect to see more of Dexter’s father in season four. Hall answered, “Yes, in season four James is back and [Dexter’s] internalized relationship with his father and with himself is developed in a way to see how Dexter ticks.”
An audience member asked of Benz if this is the kind of role she imagined for herself when she first started out. Benze answered, “When I first started I wanted to do romantic comedies, and I am so happy I didn’t do romantic comedies! If I was just doing romantic comedies, I’d probably be really bored! Though I suppose I wouldn’t mind doing one now.”
And on the topic of acting, Carpenter and Hall were asked, “What sort of preparation do you guys make to play characters who are not really one character, but like three, and what sort of research do you guys do?”
Hall answered, “You can’t play the character in a single moment. Dexter is one character in a moment, then another, then another. As far as research goes, I read books by FBI profilers, and I imagined Dexter himself read those kinds of books and I met with a blood spatter expert in Miami Dade. But at this point we have real memories, we don’t have to manufacture them. Things that happened three years ago I can remember sort of viscerally.”
Carpenter agreed. “I feel like I am in the grips of Deb now. It’s gotten to the point where when I go to bed I can think to myself, ‘Dear inner self, tell me what I need to know to do this.’ You can sort of grab on to your dreams and draw from them. And our entire cast is just a powerhouse of talent and if we just listen to each other, ‘it’ happens.”
Inquiring into the variety of Dexter’s life challenges, Garmin asked about Dexter’s biggest challenges seeming to be about the things that challenge all of us, like therapy and marriage. “[Dexter] is experiencing things that a normal man does, but through the prism of his sort of special needs, which is what makes the show so special,” Colleton said.
Given the Comic-Con setting, Garmin asked about the small references to comic book superheroes throughout the show. Phillips nodded, saying “One of our writers is a comic book fan. There is a superhero aspect to who Dexter is. Sometimes he’s Batman, sometimes he is Clark Kent. It’s not a conscious decision on our part but it [enters the show] sometimes.”
Returning to the theme of the variety of characters played by the actors, and the change in roles over time, Hall was asked about the transition from his gentler “Six Feet Under” character David Fisher to Dexter.
Hal thought for a moment and said, “My first victim on this show was David Fisher. You know, I think I knew what I was getting into. I’d just spent five years on ‘Six Feet Under’ and I took the time to get into this show and I knew it would succeed if we did it right.” Hall made it clear he did not regret his prior roles, adding “If you’re going to play two characters, I couldn’t think of a better two!”
Thinking about how the characters react to Dexter in the show, Garmin asked of Benz and Carpenter, “Do you ever have to say, damn, how does she not know? She’s so insightful, how can she not sense something bigger in what she’s getting with Dexter?”
Carpenter took the question on directly. “I think Deb does know. I don’t know if she’s processed it, but she’s had a big hand in solving it, and she’s no dummy. If anything, it’s about self preservation, and turning the volume down on things that might hurt, and there’s been enough hurt already, but I think she does know.”
Benz answered, “If you read about serial killer families, they never know. And I think you choose to see the good, you make the excuses. I just don’t think we are equipped as human beings to see that dark a side of someone they have opened themselves up to so much. I think if [Rita] saw the show, she would still say, ‘No, no, not my Dexter.’ I don’t think she could wrap her head around it.”
“I just want to clarify [about my character], she doesn’t know he’s a serial killer, just that she knows there’s some dark energy about Dexter,” Carpenter continued. “She doesn’t actually specifically know he’s a serial killer.”