'Dexter' Season 8 premiere: Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter on the beginning of the end

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jennifer-carpenter-michael-c-hall-dexter-season-8-showtime.jpgThe question isn't when "Dexter" will end. The question is how.

The series that has made a hero of a serial killer of criminals begins its eighth and final season Sunday, June 30, on Showtime ... and it has changed its game so many times during its run, it's anyone's guess as to the ultimate fate of forensics expert Dexter Morgan (played by Michael C. Hall). And, for that matter, of his protective-to-a-fault half sister Debra ( Jennifer Carpenter).

Her discovery of his secret, lethal life at the end of Season 6 made Season 7 a wild ride, as she struggled to do her job as detective and spokeswoman for the Miami Police Department while not exposing his crimes. She ultimately had to make a phenomenally tough choice: Give him up or kill their boss, who finally had figured out the truth about Dexter. And as she typically has, Debra stayed on Dexter's side.

That has become ever harder, though, and the show's ending stint reflects that. Debra is in her deepest spiral yet, unable to cope with having become a willful murderer herself, and its impact on her relationship with Dexter is quite pronounced.

As usual, Dexter has other problems, too. A neuropsychiatrist ( Charlotte Rampling) has an ulterior motive for taking a deep interest in him, and his deadly ex-girlfriend ( Yvonne Strahovski) returns after he placed her in the hands of justice. Other guest stars for the concluding season include Sean Patrick Flanery ( "The Dead Zone"), Rhys Coiro ( "Entourage") and Bethany Joy Lenz ( "One Tree Hill").

Also an executive producer of the show. Hall began the freshman round of "Dexter" -- inspired by Jeff Lindsay's novel "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" -- a year after finishing his five-season run on HBO's "Six Feet Under." He's earned Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for portraying Dexter, but he displays no doubt that now is the time to finish the killer's journey with his psychological "dark passenger."

"In a lot of ways, it feels like it feels every year at this point," Hall tells Zap2it during the final weeks of "Dexter" production, "but it's a real roller coaster. Every time we shoot a scene, we don't have a lot of time, but it comes in waves, and we've had a lot of lasts. There was a last first day that started all the other lasts, but I think we're just focused on doing our jobs to bring this home.

"I probably won't be able to process my smorgasbord of feelings until it's finished," he adds. "I feel a lot of pride, excitement, sadness, anxiety and anticipation. Right about the time we wrapped the seventh season, I had a conversation with [show runner] Scott Buck about the broad strokes of the final season and where we'd be headed, so I've known generally since then."

Hall hopes to remain aligned with Showtime by executive producing a series based on the Matthew Specktor novel "American Dream Machine," and the "Dexter" home stretch also is significant in a positive way for co-star Carpenter, his former wife. She basically was unknown beyond the movie "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" when she first made her television presence felt as Debra, one of the most proudly profane characters yet featured on a series.

"Luckily, I had the indication in Season 6 that we had two more years," Carpenter recalls, "so it's been a very gradual transition for me. This show has changed the course of my life in many ways. Eight years will do that -- it doesn't take doing a television show for that -- and I think I'm ready to see what's next. I feel like I know what this [business] is, and I know how to navigate it, and I'm ready to be scared again."

In the run-up to that, Carpenter is pleased Debra is going out as vital a "Dexter" character as ever.

"She's running on different cylinders," the actress reasons. "She's always been powerful, whether it's through her rage or her vocabulary, and that can be focused for good or for self-destruction. It's just part of the natural progression that Dexter can take a life and charge on and do it with style, but Debra will come apart at the seams [by doing the same]. I can't blame her for chasing some sort of numb feeling."

michael-c-hall-charlotte-rampling-dexter-showtime.jpgNow enhanced by veteran actress Rampling ( "Georgy Girl," "The Verdict"), the list of notable "Dexter" guest stars -- from John Lithgow, Jimmy Smits and Edward James Olmos to Keith Carradine, Julia Stiles and Mos Def -- has given each season of the show its own texture while letting the continuing characters keep ringing true.

"It's a real shot in the arm every time we're able to attract people of that caliber to join us," Hall confirms. "When you've played a character this long, it's a lot more compelling if you're constantly exploring new relationships, so I'm gratified by that. Charlotte is an icon, and she also brings such a sense of enthusiasm and play to the set. She's amazing."

Hall also has directed a "Dexter" episode, the new season's second one, for the first time as part of the series' victory lap. As much of a personal and professional milestone as that is for him, it doesn't overshadow the larger one impacting him and his colleagues as Dexter's last stand begins.

"This has been a big part of all of our worlds," Hall says, "so everybody has their own sort of storm inside, associated not only with the end of the show but also with the framing of a certain amount of time. Eight years is a long time, so the idea of saying goodbye to something that's been such a fundamental part of it is heavy. For the set dressers, for the focus pullers, for the actors ... everybody."
Photo/Video credit: Showtime