The Writers' Room (2013) s01e03 Episode Script

Dexter

- Dexter.
- You shouldn't be here.
With eight seasons and over a hundred kills, he's TV's most complicated single dad.
You're a good person.
But what you don't know is that the most dangerous thing about Dexter is the people who created him.
Do what you got to do.
I walked into the writers' room.
It was like walking into a riptide.
It's about a serial killer, but it's not a serial killer show.
It's not like he's killing Girl Scouts.
Save it, guys.
No spoilers.
Now the Emmy-winning team reveals what it's like to create a murderer with a conscience.
I wanted him dead, so I killed him.
Outrageous success, horrible mistakes, last-minute changes, the creators of today's most groundbreaking TV shows tell all in the place where it all starts All right, I am joined in The Writers' Room today with Scott Buck, we have Sara Colleton, Wendy West, Manny Coto and Michael C.
Hall.
Thank you for being here with us today.
Sara, I'm going to start with you, because you were there in the beginning.
Are you okay if I give you a label "mastermind"? I mean, Michael and I and my other partner, John Goldwyn, we refer to ourselves as the OGs.
- Okay.
- We are the OGs of Dexter.
And "OGs" as in? "Original gangsters.
" Oh, original gangsters.
That makes sense.
So take me to that day.
I mean, starting with this sort of laying that down for-- You mean from the very, very beginning? Yeah, the very beginning.
Yes.
It was actually in 2004.
I was reading The New Yorker, and I saw in the "Briefly Noted" section, a paragraph-long review of a book called Darkly Dreaming Dexter.
It said it was "a likable vigilante serial killer who had an ordinary Joe-ness about him.
" We got Michael on board, and boom.
Nice segue to you, Michael.
What did draw you to that? Well, I had just probably-- Just a few months before being presented with a pilot script finished Six Feet Under, and the last thing I thought I'd do is another television series.
And my initial general response to the idea of it was aversion.
Why was that? Well, just because I didn't want to make another open-ended commitment to a character.
And you'd just moved back-- Surrounded by dead bodies.
You just moved back to New York.
Dead bodies became your theme.
But then-- Yeah.
No, look, as actors we get it, okay? I've been a persnickety assistant forever.
I then took time to read the pilot script, read the book, to reread the pilot script to really think about it and recognize that this was a singularly unique character, and I wasn't going to get an opportunity to do anything like it anywhere else.
So I took the leap.
Did you test? Did you audition? - Between you and me.
- I didn't.
No.
I remember-- I didn't audition with any of the "lines," but there were some "sessions.
" You had sessions, though.
They wanted to make sure that this was the guy.
They required me to do certain "tasks.
" I do remember when I first met you, though.
I had to sell some people who only knew me as David Fisher.
I thought this sort of very buttoned-down guy would come in.
And instead your hair was long, your beard was long.
You just came in this sort of regular guy with a slight Southern accent.
- And it was-- - It was all an act.
Yeah, it feels like it.
As soon as you start telling me the story I said, "this is an act.
" For the first year it was-- People said, "oh, but how could David Fisher be Dexter?" And now people who only know him as Dexter discover Six Feet Under and they go, "oh, my God, how could Dexter have been David Fisher?" And yet in person, Michael is, like, neither of those characters at all.
I kind of feel like David Fisher was Dexter Morgan's first victim.
Oh, nice.
So now coming to you, Scott.
- You joined in season 2.
Yes.
- Season 2.
Yes, and what's it like to come aboard at that point? You know, the series obviously is moving forward.
And what sort of drew you to that? I was actually working on a series that was being shot overseas, so I was in Italy at the time.
And I was told about a show about a forensic expert who was also a serial killer.
And it sounded like the dumbest idea I ever heard.
And then I was told that it was starring Michael C.
Hall.
And you were like, "not as dumb.
" - Okay, now I'm intrigued.
- Yeah.
It just appealed to me on a very ethereal level to be able to write for that character.
And that's very much what drew me in.
Yes.
And for Wendy and Manny, you joined? Season 4.
Trinity.
Oh, with Trinity.
Okay.
Not a bad time to come on.
No, it was very exciting.
- And for Manny? - Season 5.
I had just had my first son, and my wife was the one who turned me on to it.
And because while she was breastfeeding my son, she needed something to watch on her iPad.
- Yes.
Classic.
- So she was watching Dexter.
The breast milk is turning into blood! My son was actually breastfed on Dexter.
Well, one of the things that Showtime asked me is, "do you think this would appeal to women?" And I would say, "I don't know much, "but let me just say yes, it will appeal to women, "because there's nothing a woman likes better than a bad guy who they think they can redeem through love.
" My wife was a fanatic, and just: "You got to see this.
You got to see this.
You got to see this.
" Is there something that happens in your psyche? Because, I mean, you're writing about some very dark stuff.
I'm a huge fan of comics and pulps.
And I came from a bit of a shallower perspective to Dexter.
But I saw Dexter as the latter-day pulp hero.
From pulp heroes from the '30s, from The Shadow and Doc Savage, were vigilantes outside the law.
Well, Dexter, to me, looked like the, you know, the 21st century version of those characters.
He has a secret identity.
He has super powers.
You know, his serial-killing ability is a super-- Lock-picking alone is amazing.
What is it that has allowed us, from the very beginning, to embrace this serial killer "hero"? Anybody? Okay, what I think is is the fact that every step along the way we have tried our best to always root where Dexter is in first asking ourselves, what are the normal questions or the normal wants or desires of a human being? And then you refract that through the prism of Dexter Morgan.
It gives the audience a way, and a very safe environment, to explore their own nature.
Do we all have that dark side? Oh, absolutely.
We all have a Dark Passenger.
And we all have some aspect of ourselves which we are terrified of letting it see the light of day, and that people would recoil.
And on top of that, there's the just pure wish fulfillment aspect.
People love seeing bad people get their just desserts.
And Dexter is the ultimate vigilante.
There's never been a shortness of love for vigilantes, from comic books on.
And Dexter is the ultimate expression of that.
It's not like he's killing Girl Scouts.
- Right, exactly.
- Not yet.
- Well, you know.
- Really bad Girl Scouts.
Save it, guys.
No spoilers.
- The last season - What a great arc.
I also think a large part of the appeal is just the innocence of Dexter as well.
He's not evil.
There's There is a real human innocence to him as sort of a misfit aspect of this character that I think we can identify with as well.
I think Dexter, when we meet him, is completely compartmentalized.
Successful in that.
And once the Ice Truck Killer shows up in the first season, it whets an appetite in him that he is still trying to satisfy.
An appetite for connection.
When he says at the end of the pilot episode, "do I want to play? Yes, I want to play.
" "Yes, I want to be a real boy.
"Yes, I want to have real feelings.
I want to have a real connection with a person.
" It starts with his brother and it goes on throughout.
We've seen year after year what, you know, what that brings.
What that brings into anyone's life.
The responsibility that comes with that.
And also, you know, in Dexter's case, unfortunately a lot of the people who he brings close to him pay with their life.
- Yes.
- Well, that's interesting, because, Wendy, coming into season 4, Rita is basically-- He's saying to her, you know, "you make me real.
" What did it feel like knowing that this important character was about to meet her demise? I remember being in the room the day we came up with the idea.
And it was like, touchdown! One of the writers came back from the restroom.
She's like, I got it.
And it was literally this image of Harrison in blood.
Which, you know, is such a primal image from the first season of when we learned that that's how Dexter and Brian were baptized.
You know, in blood.
And it was-- It was just one of those moments where you do feel like you're in sync with something bigger than yourself.
What goes through your heads, as the writers of how do we keep this secret? The only people that we talk to about it outside of the writers' room is really Michael.
We had a different ending at the table read, actually.
We were shooting it on a day that-- I think it was just you guys that had-- But in this day and age, it is astonishing that we were able - to keep that secret.
- Keep that secret.
Because there was such interest in our story lines.
It had to happen.
It made sense.
And it did bring a chapter of Dexter's life to a close.
Because of his own indulgence in this relationship with Trinity, somebody paid the price.
I mean, I think the tragedy of the character is it's not his darkness that gets anyone in his life in trouble.
It's his appetite for light or connection or humanity.
It's his desire to have his cake and kill it too.
Coming up, Manny tries to get himself fired.
I can throw out a really bad idea, but Sara will kill me.
Oh, Manny, you'd better think twice before you do it.
You've teed it up.
You got to say it.
- Welcome back to - The Writers' Room, with the creators of Dexter.
I want to go into sort of the writers' room for a second, because I think that's something that, for a lot of people, they don't get to see that process.
Which is good.
It's probably good.
- It is better.
- Off of that, are there-- And be honest, because I think Scott really wants to unleash here.
Are there disagreements, fights? Oh, constantly.
I mean, that's what a writers' room is.
That's what it is.
An ongoing fight.
What's at the core of that? The core of that is that everyone believes they know exactly who Dexter is and what Dexter's going to do.
And so there are a lot of different opinions.
You don't want people who are going to just follow the leader.
You want people who have strong opinions and believe in what they're saying.
And it's my job to tell them to shut up when I think they're wrong, or to encourage them.
Because you want to hear every stupid idea that crosses their head, because one of those stupid ideas is suddenly going to be fantastic.
The slightest change in that stupid idea becomes the most brilliant idea.
Can you guys remember any moment where out of your mouth came a really interesting, maybe bad, idea? I can throw out a really bad idea, but Sara will kill me.
I don't think she wants to hear it.
Oh.
Am I allowed to say? Because I'll tell you the really bad idea.
Are you allowed to say it? Okay, I won't tell you.
No, no, no! You've got to say it.
The bad-- The great twist is that at the end of one of these seasons, last season or whatever, Harry walks out of the darkness.
Alive.
And he's alive.
He's alive.
And he's not dead.
And the final-- The last villain for the last season of Dexter is father against son.
Oh, my God.
Sara, how could you shoot that down? I actually told that to Sara at a meeting, and Sara said, "did you pitch that? You didn't actually pitch that?" I'd like to see who hunted it down.
Was it Wendy? Was it Manny? Did you just say that? Did that come out of your mouth? You should also know that almost every one of Manny's pitches is preceded by, "this is a really stupid idea.
" - I love that.
- Lower expectations.
We always do that now.
It's always, "not this.
This is the bad pitch.
" I always-- You find people saying that.
In other words, like, I know this is bad.
This is probably terrible, but I'm like, okay.
Or they're thinking it's brilliant and they're like, "they're going to love this.
" Those kind of ideas come in moments of desperation.
But they so often-- Even if that idea is not used, it inspires someone else to find the good version.
I think casting John Lithgow was a mistake.
How was working with him? Really quickly.
He was amazing.
He has such a sense of playfulness about the way he works, and joy and kindness.
And he's disarmingly nice, you know? Still, to this day, I think one of my favourite episodes-- "Hungry Man," which is the insane Thanksgiving that Dexter has at the Mitchell house.
Best of the dailies from that.
Michael comes and was pulling John across with his belt.
And then they yell "cut.
" And they just look at each other and they start cracking up.
John and I would burst into laughter all the time, because we were simulating this bananas relationship.
And it was so delicious, you know? I think we were both just relishing it so much.
Did you say you were thankful for me, Jonah? What's that? I did not say I was thankful for you.
Because I'm not.
I am so thankful for you, Arthur.
Shut up, (bleeped).
Whoa, Arthur.
Kyle, perhaps it's time for you to go.
I think I should stay.
Yeah, talk about wish fulfillment.
We all would love to just strangle somebody - at a Thanksgiving.
- Shut my uncle down now.
Like, there was a lot of debate about killing Trinity.
- Yeah.
Oh, really? - Like, there was the fair amount of people that very much wanted to keep him alive and have him-- You know, have Rita die and then, like, episode 4 of season 5 could be-- You know, because Dexter would be so hell-bent on vengeance, you know, that's potentially what he would track down.
So it was really hard to kill him.
It was a very sad scene to do and to write and to watch.
Well, I think the fact that Dexter kills Trinity with, relatively speaking, a certain degree of understanding and compassion that isn't informed by what he ultimately discovers Trinity did to him makes it that much more complex.
Absolutely.
And then, Michael, you know, being executive producer, your opinions obviously are going to weigh in as well.
- Right.
- So are there ever times when you get into this thing-- Like, you shut Manny down.
Uh, no.
I-- I feel like Manny needs to be shut down.
Wait, wait, Michael.
We have all received beautifully written, passionate emails I basically just reserved the right to out of the blue just present this, like, you know - Three-page emails.
- But there was one day-- I don't know if you guys remember, where I walked into the writers' room.
And I was in there for, like, three minutes and trying to articulate something.
And everybody was chiming in.
And I had to leave.
It was like walking into a riptide of just ideas.
And I appreciate that this is a very collaborative endeavor, and I don't try to do anybody else's job.
I think I feel like I'm the guardian of my sense of Dexter's truth.
But you've always been very good at when-- Yes, please.
Compliment him, Sara.
No, but there have been times when we've gone off on a tangent that we don't quite see.
And you are great at saying, "whoa, guys.
If you go down this road, this is what it does to Dexter.
" And you'll go-- and as soon as you say that we'll go, "oh, thank you.
Whoa.
" It brings us right back to where we should be.
So you are the guardian of Dexter.
And you've always been very careful when you exercise that.
But when you do it's been enormously helpful.
Coming up, fantasies realized.
That was a fun episode to write.
I just projected myself into my 70s.
Yeah.
It was fun for me to play, because I got to kill Manny.
- Welcome back to - The Writers' Room, with Dexter.
Going into sort of the overall idea of the show, and a lot of shows on TV right now.
You know, Bates Motel, Walking Dead.
You know, horror in general we talked a little about.
But also difficult violence, sex and stuff.
So what is it like to be a show that isn't sort of that category? That's a difficult thing, because you think of TV as escapism.
I'll occasionally have a conversation with someone who has not watched the show.
I can't watch the show because it's too violent.
- Okay.
- And that always disappoints me, because our show is not-- To me, it's not a violent show.
It's about a serial killer, but it's not a serial killer show.
It's about a person There's very little actual violence on the show.
Who happens to be a serial killer.
I wish they would watch it to see that it's not what their preconceived notion is, that we're not reveling in violence and gory kills.
And that's just not-- That's not an interesting story for us to tell.
The real world today is so unreliable and instable.
And there's a such sense of, I think, a loss of control or belief in our government, that when you go into the world of Dexter, here is a man who has a code, who deals with the bad people, and he does what he promises he's going to do.
And so it's very comforting, I think, to go into this world.
Moving in that sort of theme, many, many countries carry Dexter.
What do you feel like the difference is, you know, from US to other countries and their approach to violence, the show? I guess, intellectually, I'm interested in the idea that people who aren't American look at the show as an artifact of American culture or, you know, they maybe have one step removed when they look at it.
Like, this is some sort of specific manifestation of the American psyche.
And I know this is a twisted show to put your brain around, some personal stories might come, or some personal ideas.
Like, you go to the table and say, this weird thing happened in my life.
It may be out of context.
It could just be about something human.
I think we all can relate to Dexter as a real person, and that's how we try to write him.
But because the life he leads is so remotely different from anything that we lead, there are not all that many things from our own personal lives that really surface in this show in that way.
I mean, if there was I was going to get really worried and get scared for myself.
We'll hear stories.
I remember when we did-- We were talking about the episode you wrote with the Tooth Fairy, and how we had-- There was a story about a comedienne that was excited to meet an idol of hers, another comedian.
And so they finally met.
And it turned out this guy was, like, this asshole that just wanted to be driven around all day.
And we started thinking, what if this person that Dexter has idolized or, you know, like, he kept a scrapbook and this guy was in the scrapbook, what if he finally meets this guy and he's just a jerk? - Yeah.
- So in that sense, sometimes there's a lateral translation.
And that was a fun episode to write, because I just projected myself into my 70s.
That's going to be me.
Maybe without the bodies, but that's me.
And it was fun for me to play, because I got to kill Manny.
Coming up, the gang gets sentimental about the end of an era.
I think it'll be weird to leave everybody after so long.
- I can't wait.
- Scott can't wait.
It's totally true.
- Welcome back to - The Writers' Room, and Entertainment Weekly's "The Last Word.
" We are joined now by Dan Snierson from Entertainment Weekly.
Welcome, Dan, to the table.
Let's talk a little bit about the finale.
I mean, we've seen shows' legacies cemented or tarnished in that final hour.
And I'm just wondering how much pressure does that put on you guys? And I'm wondering, is there too much emphasis on a finale? You know what? Until you raised that question, I haven't felt one bit of pressure at all.
I'm sorry for raising it.
No, really.
No, no.
I mean, I think that-- I'll let Scott speak to this.
We care about every episode, and is there-- Do we care more about the finale? - Perhaps so.
- We want to do it right.
But we absolutely want to do it right, but we feel, you know, the only pressure is what we put upon ourselves.
We feel very strongly about what we're doing.
I think a lot of it is that we feel very comfortable with where the show is ending.
- We're not worried about it.
- We've known a long time how we want to end it, so we've really been able to sit with it and think it through.
And we feel it's right and honest for the show.
So hopefully the world will agree.
If they don't, it has to start with us.
Because Dexter is a character who has evolved over the years, and the show itself has sort of evolved over the years that now, where Dexter Morgan is, this is what feels like the fitting end.
It feels most just.
And I think our audience knows that we don't-- you know, Chekhov said if a gun is introduced in the first act, it has to go off by the third.
And we are not going to be leaving any dangling chads.
What show does he write for? Honestly, some viewers will love it and some viewers will not.
But that-- We're writing the finale that we think the show deserves.
I honestly don't get too preoccupied with what other people's expectations or hopes or fantasies about the character might be.
I'm more preoccupied with what's written.
I think it'll be weird to leave everybody after so long.
I mean, we really do know each other.
You know, there've been marriages, deaths, babies.
- I can't wait.
- Scott can't wait.
Scott's been whispering under his breath the whole time.
- Oh, yeah.
- That too.
I think it's going to be a big collapse.
It's been a very intensive and, I think for all of us, a very unique and satisfying creative experience.
Absolutely.
For eight intensive years.
And to think that it's going to be over, we haven't had a chance-- We don't have the time to process that.
But boy, when it happens I think it's going to be-- Oh, yes.
It'll hit you.
We're going to have one hell of a wrap party.
- Or a series party.
- I'm available.
Easy, Sara.
Yes, I'll come.
So thank you, Dan, for joining us.
- Thank you.
- Thank you, again, to all of you for being a part of this.
If you'd like more of The Writers' Room, and you should, then go to sundancechannel.
com.
I am Jim Rash, and I'll see you next time in The Writers' Room.
And now we all laugh like I said something hilarious.
Cheers.
See you at the wrap party.
At the wrap party.
Exactly.
No, seriously.
When is it? We'll let you know.