The audience for Showtime's "Dexter" panel Thursday at Comic-Con International was treated to a killer preview of the hit series' fifth season, which promises fundamental changes for the title character.
Ralph Garman, actor and DJ for KROQ in Los Angeles, moderated the panel. Present were: Michael C. Hall (star and executive producer), Jennifer Carpenter (Deb), James Remar (Harry), and producers Chip Johannessen, John Goldwyn, Sara Colleton and Manny Coto.
Garman introduced scenes from the upcoming season, which will focus, in part, on the investigation of Dexter as the killer of his wife Rita Bennett. Detective Quinn, who still has it out for Dexter, points out that Rita's murder doesn't fit the typical profile of the Trinity Killer. Eventually, the hunt is on for Kyle Butler, which of course is a pseudonym Dexter used while pursuing the Trinity Killer.
Meanwhile, Dexter must deal with being a single father to not just his newborn baby Harrison, but also to Rita's children Astor and Cody. Astor in particular is unhappy with Dexter, and is struggling to deal with the murder of her mother. This season will also reveal a bit more about Dexter's past.
At the conclusion of the sneak preview, Garman began the question-and-answer session.
Asked about the decision to kill off Rita, Johannessen said, "It surprised us, and I think it surprised everyone here, where this is going."
Colleton agreed, saying, "Rita paid a price for Dexter's confidence, thinking that he could have it all."
Hall spoke about how the departure of Julie Benz (Rita) made him feel: "To see Julie leave was really tough. She had grown to be someone who I really love and respect." As for where this takes his character, he said, "Rarely this far in do you get to so fundamentally change the landscape for a character and a character's world … The storytelling possibilities are exciting."
Regarding where her character Deb is going this season, Carpenter said, "I don't think she's put the puzzle together yet [that her brother is a serial killer], but she is starting the season thinking that maybe they are on common ground, that maybe she will have the brother she thought she always would have, now."
Remar spoke about the influence of his character Harry on Dexter: "To be with Dexter as an actor, for me to be with Michael, it’s a pinnacle achievement. It’s a blast. For Harry to be a voice in Dexter's life is a cool dance to begin to do. I have to make sure I am not being Harry. I have to make sure I am being Dexter, in his mind, being Harry … it's a cool thing to do, to make sure that Harry is being the fundamental voice of Dexter's path, as it were. Will I get to do more or less, I don't know, but it's fun to be here."
With showrunner Clyde Phillips leaving the show, Johannessen and Coto were brought in from the recently ended "24." "We jumped off what was a running freight train, which was '24'," Johannessen said. "It’s been kind of daunting. ... It's a different show. One change is no more real time, I can actually make time cuts in the show, and people go somewhere and then they are just there."
On the topic of overall tone for this upcoming season, Goldwyn said, "[Dexter has] never experienced any of the issues he's now encountering … a single parent, coping with the loss of Rita, a whole set of new cast, including Julia Styles."
Hall commented on the resilience of the show, "In a television series, it’s an open-nded commitment you make ... and now we are in our fifth [season], and it’s about as wide open as it has ever been. It's a testament to our writing staff that they continue to find ways to confront him [Dexter] in new ways."
This being a comic convention, the panelists were asked whether they see similarities between Batman and Dexter Morgan.
"I saw 'Batman Begins,' the scene where he is in the cave with the bats, where he is very afraid, but he just sort of leans back and surrenders," Hall replied. "I see a similarity there, where Dexter just sort of leans back and accepts. I see a similarity there."
Carpenter was asked if her relationship with Dexter will change this season, as more of his past is revealed. "We're not that far in shooting yet," she said. "She sort of bleeds blue, my focus is on being a police officer … while I have questions about Dexter, I don't think he is a serial killer."
As for the influence of the "Dexter" novels, Colleton said, "Only in the first season, but since then it's been just inspiration and the work of our writers. ... We're not even allowed to read any of the other books."
Asked what their favorite plot twists were, Hall answered, "The twist at the end of last season." Carpenter responded, "My favorite twist I think has yet to come, I think it will be finding out how Deb is going to react [to learning Dexter is a serial killer]."
Asked who is included in the list of this year's guest stars, Goldwyn said, "We have Julia Stiles, Jonny Lee Miller, and Peter Weller. We're really excited about them. Julia Stiles has never done television before, so for her this a departure, and we're very excited … it's a new experience."
Concerning Deb's love life, which has been pretty doomed up to this point, Carpenter said, "The person I was interested in loving was shot … so I think she is interested in getting rid of the ghost … and I don't know what else I am allowed to say, so I'll say nothing."
Garman laughed, adding, "I think the role of playing Debra's boyfriend is like wearing a red shirt on 'Star Trek'."
Asked of the producers, how will they know when they've reached an end, Colleton answered, "When we all hit that wall, I think we will know it."
Referring to Hall's recent real-life battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an audience member prefaced his question by saying, "First of all, Mr. Hall, F cancer, you're the man!" to a loud round of applause from the audience. Hall smiled and nodded, but said nothing on the topic.
Continuing with his question, the audience memberr asked, "What have you learned from the code, that would help a hypothetical killer be successful?"
Hall laughed, replying, "Well let's see, first, don't get caught. Second, women complicate things. Third, cover your tracks. It's like when people tell you about acting: If you really feel like you have to do it, do it. Otherwise, don't."
Season four of "Dexter" will be released Aug. 17 on DVD and Blu-ray. Season five will premiere on Sept. 26 on Showtime.