We’ve waited nearly a decade for Dexter Morgan to get the proper ending he so deserved back in 2013, and instead of a new episode, we’re getting a whole limited series: Dexter: New Blood, with some major reunions that make all that waiting worthwhile. There’s Dexter (Michael C. Hall) reunited with his adopted sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), sort of. Dexter reunited with his now teenage son, Harrison (Jack Alcott). And Dexter reunited with Clyde Phillips, the showrunner of those first four seasons of the series that introduced TV audiences to the serial killer and the villainous serial murdering baddies he made it his business to protect the good people of Miami from.
In the new series, the action moves to upstate New York, where “Jim Lindsay” is Dexter’s new identity, and he’s embracing a much more wintery climate as he blends in as an Everyman who works at the local hunting store, cheers on the local high school sports teams, and dates the local sheriff. It’s a wonderful life for the reformed killer … until his Dark Passenger rears its ugly head, and his daddy duties come knocking on his woodsy cabin door.
Phillips, who remained a consultant on Dexter after stepping down as showrunner at the end of season 4, talked to Rotten Tomatoes about how the 10-episode New Blood came together, why he’s glad his idea for a Dexter ending wasn’t the one we got all those years ago, and how the New Blood ending is such a shocker that not even everyone who works at Showtime has seen it yet.
(Photo by Showtime)
Kimberly Potts for Rotten Tomatoes: Before we get into the story, I have to tell you I think the episode two title – “Storm of F—” – is one of my all-time favorites. That’s going to become a meme, because we all can use that probably a little too frequently in our lives.
Clyde Phillips: I would love that. Wait ‘til — you haven’t seen [the episode] with the opening credits in it.
I was going to ask you about that. The screeners didn’t have an opening sequence. Are we going to get a cool new opener for Dexter: New Blood?
Phillips: It’s really cool. But it’s completely different, with different music, and reflects the fact that it’s icy, that it’s cold. The credits we had before were wonderful … but we wanted something different, because everything about the show is different, except what isn’t different. Each episode will have its own specific opening sequence. And its own specific closing, end title cards, as well.
You know that fans were unsatisfied with the Dexter series finale in 2013. And you’ve shared the ending you would have pitched if you had been the showrunner, in which Dexter Morgan would have been on the execution table, his life — by way of the eight seasons — having flashed before his eyes.
Phillips: I wasn’t there in the writers room [in season 8] … so I really had no voice in it. [That] was just what was in my head, and I may have pitched it successfully or unsuccessfully. I couldn’t be happier that I didn’t get a chance to pitch it, because we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.
(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/Showtime)
The revival was announced officially last October. But when did discussions begin in earnest for what became Dexter: New Blood?
Phillips: July 1, 2019, my phone rings at Martha’s Vineyard, and it’s Gary Levine, who’s the president of Showtime. And he says to me, “I’m going to be in New York. You want to have lunch?” We’re very good friends, and plus, I’d done the first four years of Dexter for him and the last three years of Nurse Jackie for him. I said, “Gary, you’ve got two daughters who live in New York … you don’t want to see me. So if this is business, let’s talk about it.” He said, “You’re right, I’m busted. Michael [C. Hall]’s ready.” … Those are the key words: “Michael’s ready” — to talk about the show. “He’s in a place now where he thinks he can do it, so we want you when you come up with something.” And so I said, “Give me 10 days,” and then I got in touch with my writing assistant, going back and forth writing stuff up, sending it to him, he would send it back to me and we came up with the shape of a show. With a theme, which is really important — I always have a theme for each season — and I then flew to New York to see Michael, who I’ve been in contact with throughout the whole time, and I consider him a friend and went to see him in New York in his beautiful apartment and pitched him for about 30–40 minutes, and he stood up, said, “I get it.” I stood up, he gave me a hug, and he said, “I’m in.”
And so, on the way back to the airport – this whole thing happening in like six hours – I called Gary Levine, a very busy guy, and he immediately snatched up the phone. I said, “He’s in, he loves it,” and Gary said, “Go hire a writing room,” which means we’re making the show. And so, this is also during the WGA action against the agents. I had to get a writing staff, without the benefit and help of agents. But I was able to do it and ended up with a fantastic staff.
You’ve described the story, the theme of the series, as fathers and sons. How much of that had you mapped out when you met with Michael and told him what your ideas were at that point?
Phillips: We had worked it out with some specifics, like, you know, Harrison coming back. [That] was obviously a father-son moment, and it’s in a specific point that Dexter ends up killing the son of the most powerful man in town. And all of those father and son issues – I come from a family that’s filled with father and son issues, so it shows up in everything I write.
(Photo by Seacia Pavao/Showtime)
Let’s talk about Harrison. We don’t want to spoil too much, but he is one of the main questions I think Dexter fans have had all these years, what would have become of him after Dexter faked his death. Casting him, obviously, was so key, and I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job than Jack Alcott. His similarities to Michael, physically, are spot on, but they really have terrific chemistry, the mannerisms and facial expressions are in sync — how much time did they get to spend together before they started filming?
Phillips: You know, you’re absolutely right; in fact, Michael talks all the time now about how Jack started to look like Dexter and act like Dexter and eat like Dexter and have the mannerisms like Dexter. Jack was terrific. He was in The Good Lord Bird, where he played John Brown’s youngest son, and so we were aware of him and pursued him pretty aggressively, and got him.
(Photo by Randy Tepper / © Showtime / Courtesy Everett Collection)
We know that John Lithgow is going to make an appearance as The Trinity Killer, though we don’t know exactly how. Lithgow, and the Trinity storyline, were such a huge part of your final season as the Dexter showrunner, and of a season that many fans consider to be the best Dexter season and one of the best seasons of prestige television in general. Did he have to be a part of this for you?
Phillips: John’s a good friend of mine. So I had already known him before I brought him in to do Trinity. And he just came by for one day (on New Blood). And he brightened up the set. Everybody was just elevated by his presence, and even actors who weren’t working that day came by just to see him. So, you know, at the beginning of the season, we thought we were going to (keep) all these secrets, and then somebody was interviewing John when he was nominated for an Emmy for Perry Mason, and said, “we heard rumors that you just came back from doing Dexter,” and John said, “Yeah, it was great to see Michael Hall and Clyde Phillips and Jen Carpenter” — well, there goes the secrets. We realized now that the secrets are out, and given the power of social media, we’ve got millions and millions of hits. It makes the audience even more curious. So you know, the best laid plans worked out perfectly by not succeeding.
Just like it did with not having your idea of killing off Dexter come to fruition.
Phillips: You’re right.
(Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/Showtime)
Did you plan to have Jennifer Carpenter return as Deb from the beginning?
Phillips: We knew that we wanted to have Jennifer in the show. The way to do it was to have her be Dexter’s conscience, that pixel in the back of his brain. So it’s different than Harry; in fact, Deb is against Dexter killing. Deb is the questioner. She’s the one that makes you need to be certain that what you’re about to do is the right thing. And what’s interesting is, in the writers’ room, we have to, 30 times a day, remind ourselves that Deb’s not real, because (Jennifer) has such a great presence, is so aggressive and is such a good actress, and she knows Michael so well. We had to remind ourselves that she’s dead, so she cannot hand Dexter that cup of tea, that Dexter does not have to hold the door for her, because she’s in his imagination. But she played it so beautifully, and just having her on the set and having the two of them together made Michael happier, made the whole set happier. She’s just wonderful to have around, and she’s a very important part of the storytelling.
OK, it’s tough to get too much further into the storyline and the characters without spoiling things, but I have to ask you about the comment you made at Comic-Con this summer about the ending of New Blood. You said, “The ending of this one will be stunning, shocking, surprising, unexpected, and without jinxing anything, I will say that the ending of this new season that we’re doing will blow up the Internet.” Do you stand by that?
Phillips: I was just going to use those same words, I stand by that. The last script is redacted so that, I would say, a good portion of the people that work at Showtime haven’t even seen it, haven’t seen the whole thing. A good ending should be surprising and inevitable — I think we got there.