With his wife dead, how will Dex­ter deal?

In the new sea­son, Michael C. Hall’s wid­ower faces some shad­owy fig­ures.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - Maria Elena Fer­nan­dez maria.elena.fer­nan­dez@latimes.com

“I thought I could change what I am. Keep my fam­ily safe. But it doesn’t mat­ter what I do, what I choose. I’m what’s wrong. This is fate.”

Those were Dex­ter Mor­gan’s last words to the viewer in the jaw-drop­ping fourth sea­son fi­nale of “Dex­ter.” Poor Dex­ter had danced with his biggest foe and al­lowed him­self the pos­si­bil­ity of be­com­ing a bet­ter man. In­stead, the truth re­vealed it­self in his wife’s pool of blood: Dex­ter Mor­gan can’t be any­one but who he is.

The shock­ing twist — Rita’s death and what it means for Dex­ter — places Show­time’s high­est-rated se­ries at a com­pelling cross­roads for its fifth sea­son pre­miere on Sun­day. Are view­ers to ac­cept that Dex­ter is a hope­less so­ciopath/aveng­ing an­gel who will never be as hu­man as we’d like him to be? Or will the tragedy prove trans­for­ma­tional?

“The rug is com­pletely pulled out from un­der him,” said Michael C. Hall, who has re­ceived three Emmy nom­i­na­tions for his portrayal of Dex­ter. “And all bets are off at that point.”

Since view­ers first met the blood-spat­ter an­a­lyst and se­rial killer of se­rial killers, Dex­ter has in­sisted that the ca­pac­ity to have emo­tions eludes him, even though much of last sea­son he strug­gled to counter his “dark­ness” by be­ing a lov­ing hus­band, dad and brother.

Dex­ter also spent last sea­son painstak­ingly stalk­ing fel­low se­rial killer Trin­ity (John Lith­gow). Af­ter killing Trin­ity, Dex­ter cel­e­brated in the moon­light, fan­ta­siz­ing of a life with Rita (Julie Benz) and their three chil­dren with­out his “dark pas­sen­ger” (as he refers to the darker side of him­self). But when he ar­rived home, he found that he had been out­played — Trin­ity had mur­dered Rita be­fore Dex­ter got to him, leav­ing all hopes for a blood­less fu­ture dashed.

“I’m sure Dex­ter wishes he could go back in time and kill [Trin­ity] in the most mer­ci­less way he can imag­ine,” Hall said.

On the Hollywood set, the peo­ple who pulled off last year’s best-kept TV se­cret are still quite coy. Dur­ing a break while film­ing a scene in Dex­ter and Rita’s house for the ninth episode, Hall jokes that he feels like Dex­ter’s press sec­re­tary. “I an­swer ques­tions at length with­out say­ing any­thing.”

The scene be­ing shot be­tween Hall, guest star Ju­lia Stiles, and the young Christina Robin­son, who plays Rita’s daugh­ter, As­tor, doesn’t give away much. As­tor is an­gry with her step­fa­ther; Dex­ter, as usual, is clue­less; and Lu­men (Stiles) seems concerned. To re­veal de­tails of Stiles’ first TV role would ruin a sur­prise that comes early in the sea­son.

“Lu­men has ex­pe­ri­enced a lot and has been very trau­ma­tized and dam­aged by the time Dex­ter meets her and is hav­ing a very hard time mov­ing past that,” said Stiles, try­ing to de­scribe her. “And she and Dex­ter have this strange con­nec­tion, which poses prob­lems for Dex­ter be­cause ob­vi­ously he leads this dou­ble life.”

Dex­ter’s per­sonal life isn’t the only thing about this drama that’s turned up­side down. Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Clyde Phillips and co­ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Melissa Rosen­berg re­signed at the end of last sea­son at the show’s height of suc­cess. “Dex­ter” earned seven Emmy nom­i­na­tions and av­er­aged 4.7 mil­lion view­ers last sea­son, a 41% in­crease, and ended with a riv­et­ing episode that reg­is­tered nearly 6 mil­lion view­ers.

“It’s a tough act to fol­low — that sea­son,” said new ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Manny Coto, who worked on “24” for five sea­sons and was hired on “Dex­ter” by new show run­ner and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Chip Jo­han­nessen, who also worked on “24.”

The new pro­duc­ers faced the daunt­ing task of mov­ing creatively be­yond Dex­ter’s new re­al­ity and ac­cept­ing that they prob­a­bly couldn’t con­ceive of vil­lains more mem­o­rable than the ones that had chal­lenged Dex­ter in the third and fourth sea­sons — Miguel, played by Jimmy Smits, who was nom­i­nated for an Emmy; and Lith­gow, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of the chill­ing Trin­ity Killer.

“That sea­son hemmed us in a lit­tle bit,” Jo­han­nessen said. “What we wres­tled with mostly is the re­place­ment for his wife, be­cause now we do have this pulp thing of a lone wolf and cub im­age, which is not ac­ces­si­ble in the same way that a sub­ur­ban fam­ily is.”

Af­ter weigh­ing sev­eral plot lines, the writ­ers de­cided to be­gin the sea­son where the story con­cluded, with Dex­ter’s grue­some dis­cov­ery. “We felt there was an emo­tional residue that needed to be dealt with in the wake of the death,” Coto said. “And to skate past that would to be rob the au­di­ence of Dex­ter’s re­ac­tions to what hap­pened and how he gets his life back to­gether.”

In­stead of fo­cus­ing Dex­ter’s at­ten­tion on one se­rial killer this sea­son, the writ­ers opted to in­tro­duce sev­eral char­ac­ters that cross paths with Dex­ter at dif­fer­ent times but will con­nect in sur­pris­ing ways.

“If there’s a killer he’s af­ter, maybe it’s him­self, in as much as he’s con­tend­ing with the fall­out of what turns out to be ir­re­spon­si­ble in­dul­gence in his re­la­tion­ship with the Trin­ity Killer,” Hall said. “It led di­rectly to his wife be­ing mur­dered and the whole struc­ture he built for his life be­ing dis­man­tled.”

Stiles ap­pears in nine episodes, but there are other shad­owy fig­ures who pop up: Boyd, a pe­cu­liar dead an­i­mal retriever (“South­land’s” Shawn Hatosy); for­mer cop Stan (Peter Weller); and life coach Paul (Jonny Lee Miller).

“There’s not one bad guy but a cas­cad­ing group of guys that gets big­ger and big­ger,” Coto says. “But there’s one el­e­ment that car­ries him through the sea­son, and that’s Ju­lia Stiles’ char­ac­ter.”

With only three episodes left to pro­duce for the sea­son, Hall, also an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, said he was feel­ing ex­hausted and was wait­ing for “a sec­ond wind to hit.” His bout with can­cer be­hind him, Hall looked fit and healthy and was as en­thu­si­as­tic about play­ing Dex­ter Mor­gan as he’s ever been.

Bob Cham­ber­lin

A LIT­TLE HELP? Michael C. Hall talks with costar Jonny Lee Miller, far right, who plays a life coach, as they film a scene at a gym on Show­time’s “Dex­ter.”

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