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 9 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 only to murder 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.
"I've always thought that it was more interesting to challenge the audience's affection for the character and to move him into choppy waters," Hall said.
He can appreciate people who say they like his work in "Dexter." People who say they like Dexter is something else entirely, although Hall has his theories about those fans.
"We live in a world where we have an increasing sense that we're not in control ... and Dexter, in his micro way, controls his universe and that is very appealing to some people," he said. "We all have a sense of injustice in the world, and Dexter is certainly exacting some form of justice within the confines of his own."
Of course, he said, "maybe it's not that deep. Maybe people have murderous impulses they don't act upon and enjoy watching somebody who gets away with it."
"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.
The series was pivotal to Showtime's development, said Matthew Blank, the network's chief executive. "It really felt like this is what Showtime should be," he said. "Homeland" and "Ray Donovan" may not have existed without its example.
Showtime will look for ways to keep the character alive even after "Dexter" ends, Blank said. He wasn't clear on how that would happen.