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'Dexter' executive producer discusses the fifth-season finale's heartbreak and healing

December 13, 2010 |  6:00 am

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SPOILER ALERT:
If you haven't watched the fifth-season finale of "Dexter," you should probably stop reading right now. But thanks for stopping by!

We knew that Dexter Morgan has a way with a knife, but, boy, did he stab readers in the heart at the end of Sunday's season finale when, as he held his little boy in front of his first birthday cake, he looked at us straight in the eyes and said: "Lumen said I gave her her life back, a reversal of my usual role. Well, the fact is she gave me mine back too, and I’m left not with what she took from me but with what she brought -- eyes that saw me, finally, for who I really am and a certainty that nothing, nothing is set in stone. Not even darkness. While she was here she made me think for the briefest moment that I might even have a chance to be human. But wishes, of course, are for children."

Wishes are for children. Cue the tears. Lots of them.

The genius of this Showtime series and Michael C. Hall's Emmy-nominated performance has always resided in how much viewers love and root for this serial killer. Last season, we were punched in the gut when Dexter discovered his wife murdered in their bathtub. Now, after a season of mourning and grief, again there is pain. But this time, it's arguably more profound.

We've spent five years hoping that Dexter indeed will be able to experience human connection, and to love and be fully loved. And he came so close with Lumen, played spectacularly by Julia Stiles in her first TV role. But the death of Jordan Chase (the strikingly creepy Johnny Lee Miller) brings Lumen closure and a realization that she is not like Dexter and cannot be his life partner. Their goodbye scene was absolutely heartbreaking.

"When he says, 'Don’t be sorry your darkness is gone. I’ll carry it for you. Always. I’ll keep it with mine,' I thought that's the most romantic thing a man's ever said to a woman," executive producer Sara Colleton said in an interview. "It is very sad. But he realizes that she did leave him with the knowledge that he can be seen without someone running in horror, which is such a basic human emotion because I think we all think the same thing — that if we ever really expose ourselves completely to our loved ones, they’d go 'yuck' and run.

"And she also left another gift, which is that nothing -- no darkness -- is set in stone," she continued. "One of the simmering worries for Dexter all season long has been — have I doomed my son to repeat my life because of Rita’s death? He’s seen now that his is permanent — he’s got to accept that his dark passenger will never leave him alone. But that Harrison is not doomed to that. And if he’s a good parent he can have a good life because Lumen went from victim to an avenging angel and once her need for justice was vanquished, she was freed. It passed through her. So she left some gifts and Dexter is aware of those, brokenhearted as he is.  But he’s also healed in a way at the end of this year."

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The writers have been paving the way for Dexter's atonement all season, a creative decision that quickly came to them as they began discussing how they would go about following  the series' acclaimed and high-rated fourth season, especially after the exits of executive producer Clyde Phillips and co-executive producer Melissa Rosenberg. Executive producer Chip Johannessen ("24") is now running the show and executive producer Manny Coto ("24") wrote the finale.

"We had a very firm idea when we got into the room," Colleton said. "If you ask what we’re going to do next year, I have no idea. We take every season as an island onto itself.  Every season we try to advance his character in a way that has him confront new aspects of human nature and we knew we had to address how does he atone for Rita's death? We also really wanted to take a break. It had been a great for four years of having a season-long adversary for Dexter. But we never want the show to become a gimmick."

Instead, there was a cast of villains that revealed themselves slowly over the season, and were all connected in the end to each other and to Lumen. Colleton said the writers did consider allowing Dexter and Lumen to stay together.

"That was bandied about," she said. "And guess what? She’s not dead. She’s still out there. So who knows? But she’s his soul mate, and he had to give up the love of the one woman he could really be himself with in punishment and expiation for his part in Rita’s death. That’s an incredibly romantic thing to have dangling out there. And how and when and if we ever revisit it, I don’t know, but it’s an interesting chad."

The writers will begin working on the sixth season in February, and will start from their usual creative place.

"What we always do is say: 'Where is Dexer now? Where would we be, having gone through what he just went through? And then we start there and refract it to Dexter’s special needs. Nobody on the show, not Michael, not any of us, will let this go to the point where we retread, but as long as we feel there is new emotional territory for us to explore, we feel the show will be fresh."

--Maria Elena Fernandez
twitter.com/writerchica

Photos, from top: Julia Stiles and Michael C. Hall in "Dexter"; Stiles,  Hall and Johnny Lee Miller (Jordan Chase) in the season finale. (Credit: Randy Tepper/Showtime)

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