An egg slit like an eye. A spoon mashed into the innards of a blood orange. Dental floss taut against a thumb. Each image feels jaunty, eerie, sickening, and yet all we’re watching is one man’s morning ritual: Dexter, the serial-killing star of the Showtime drama. As smart as the series is, its opening sequence is its own mini-masterpiece, and, after four seasons, still the best on TV.
“Dexter’s writers wanted a duality—like looking into a mirror, but there’s something wrong with it,” recalls Eric S. Anderson, who oversaw the sequence for Digital Kitchen, the studio behind the credit sequences of Six Feet Under and True Blood. Inspired by the writers’ wish for something “mundane,” a colleague of Anderson’s pitched a wake-up ritual. Then the team, working from the idea of crime-scene photography (and inspired by David Byrne’s close-up photos and Basquiat paintings), created a mood board of “normal things that seem violent under greater inspection.” The shot that won them the job: a startling close-up of beard bristles poking from a man’s jaw.
Anderson and his girlfriend filmed an early cut at home, scoring it with shrieking Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock music, but the producers picked a goofier soundtrack. “I almost had a heart attack when I was editing it, like, Are you kidding me? This music is dorky! Then around eleven at night, I was like, Oh, I get it. This cabaret music makes it all the more creepy.”
Only one person objected to Anderson’s visuals: actor Michael C. Hall. He hated the idea of his character’s cutting himself while shaving. “The worst thing he would do is draw his own blood,” he argued. The producers overruled Hall, who still wasn’t onboard when they were shooting. And he was in character. “Michael’s an intense guy,” says Anderson. “He’s looking me in the eyes, saying, ‘I don’t get this shaving thing.’ To me, honestly, he was Dexter.”
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