NEW YORK -- Dexter Morgan's life seemed well-ordered at first glance, including the serial killer thing. That turned out to be unsustainable.
As "Dexter" reaches its finale, to air on Showtime Sunday at 8 p.m., the character portrayed by actor Michael C. Hall is no longer strictly ruled by the code set down by his adoptive father upon noticing his son craved killing. Dexter was told to murder only people who are proven killers themselves and likely to kill again, and to thoroughly cover his tracks.
The narrative device made it possible for viewers to tolerate, even like, someone who did reprehensible things.
"He's so far from anything I experienced him to be at the beginning," Hall said over lunch, a few weeks after filming the 96th and final episode of the series that began in 2006.
"He's the same character, but he's in many ways a different person," Hall said. "He had successfully compartmentalized efficient killing and convinced himself that he is, in fact, incapable of authentic human emotion when we first met him. But that all falls apart, slowly but surely."
Without the writers providing challenges, "Dexter" ran the risk of becoming an unimaginative murder-of-the-week procedural. Dexter's boundaries were most severely tested at the end of the fourth season when his wife, Rita, was killed and in season six when his half-sister, Debra (real life ex-wife Jennifer Carpenter), saw him knifing someone in the chest.
"Dexter" is going out strong. Ratings are higher during the current eighth and last season than they've ever been. That's a familiar pattern for many critically acclaimed cable series that see their audiences grow as new fans discover the stories and binge on them while the show is on hiatus.
Hall, 42, is measured in how he makes sure to say nothing revealing in advance about the finale ("Some people will be happy with it, some people will be troubled by it," he said. "Perhaps some people will be a combination of those things.")
He will miss certain things about playing Dexter. The character was decisive and didn't hesitate to take action, even at times of extreme stress and even when that action was morally questionable. He's looking forward to portraying people whose emotions are not stunted or buried.
"I don't think I'm anybody's first thought when it comes to romantic comedy," he said. "That might be a door I'll have to do some kicking to break down."