|""Without the Code of Harry, I'm sure I would've committed a senseless murder in my youth just to watch the blood flow." - Dexter ("Popping Cherry")"|
For many years, the code was thought by Dexter to have been created by only Harry himself. However, it's later revealed that Dr. Vogel suggested the code to Harry as a way for Dexter to both safely satisfy his needs and, in a sense, do some good. (Every Silver Lining...)
Dexter Morgan, when he was only three years old, watched his mother, Laura Moser, die a gruesome death via a chainsaw wielded by Santos Jimenez, under the orders of Hector Estrada. She, along with several others, were killed inside a shipping container, where Dexter and his brother, Brian Moser, sat abandoned for two days in a pool of their blood. Officer Harry Morgan discovered the boys but he only carried Dexter out after seeing in Brian's eyes that he had been permanently damaged by the experience. The other officers went in to rescue Dexter's brother. At the time, Harry was unaware that Dexter would also have lasting effects from the incident and he decided to adopt the boy, hoping that he'd raise a normal child.
Unfortunately, the incident did affect Dexter...changing who he was inside. At a young age, he killed several animals, including a dog named Buddy. He also showed a deep fascination in a crime scene that he begged his adoptive father to take him to. Harry, fearing that his son had something wrong with him, sought help from Dr. Evelyn Vogel, who listened to his stories and was convinced that Dexter not only showed all the classic traits of a psychopath, but that he would one day become a killer. While they determined how to handle him, Vogel suggested to Harry that since it would be impossible to stop Dexter's urges, they should try to focus them on certain targets.
Harry first tried to channel Dexter's urges to only kill animals. However, he realized that animals would never be enough to satiate Dexter and he would eventually need to kill "other kinds of animals" (specifically, human beings). Thus the Code was created. Harry handled a majority of the details, aided by his law enforcement background, and while operating under Dr. Vogel's guidance. (Every Silver Lining...)
Rules of The Code
The Code of Harry was designed as a framework for Dexter's survival. It was never actually written down by Harry or Dexter. As a result, it's not a verbatim list of rules, but a set of guidelines that Dexter bends from time to time. Dexter has often cited the first two rules as the most important ones.
- Don't get caught. Don't get caught since it would result in imprisonment or a death sentence. In "Resistance Is Futile" flashbacks, Harry takes Dexter to witness an execution, where he reminds him that the number one rule is "Don't get caught." He adds that the other rules are in place to prevent him from being caught. In "Left Turn Ahead", Dexter tells Doakes that the number one rule is "Don't get caught." Also, while Dexter is tending to Lumen Pierce in "Beauty and the Beast", "Harry" reminds Dexter that the first rule is "Don't get caught." Note: This rule, in particular, was created by Vogel herself to give Dexter some "wiggle room" outside of the second rule, which is to never kill an innocent. So if an innocent should find out about Dexter, he is allowed to kill that person in order to protect himself per "What's Eating Dexter Morgan?".
- Never kill an Innocent. Be absolutely certain that the target is a killer, who takes life for no excusable reason. Dexter also prefers that his victims are likely to kill again, although this isn't a necessity. (He did tell Miguel Prado it was a rule while stalking Billy Fleeter, likely to keep him under control). He researches the history of potential targets before he decides their fate, only once killing the wrong person. Dexter seems to have an especial animosity towards those who harm children, such as Mike Donovan.
- Targets must be killers who have evaded the justice system. Victims must be killers who the police have been unable to catch or convict. Dexter will ignore this factor, however, as he frequently sabotages cases in order to save the suspect for himself as with Anthony Rodrigo and Viktor Baskov. On one occasion, he even broke Clemson Galt out of a courthouse so that he could kill him.
- Killing must serve a purpose, otherwise, it's just plain murder. In a “Popping Cherry” flashback, Harry gives Dexter this rule during preparation for a hunting trip. In a “Crocodile” flashback, Harry discusses with Dexter the concept of "balancing the books", stating that it’s not about vengeance or retaliation.
- Blend in socially. Maintain appearances. In “Let’s Give the Boy a Hand” flashbacks, Harry teaches young Dexter how to blend in with others and not draw attention to himself.
- Fake his emotions and normality. In a “Love American Style” flashback, Harry stresses the importance of this when Dexter attends a school dance with Mindy Taylor.
- Control urges to kill and channel them. In a “Dexter” flashback, Harry finds bloody knives and decides to channel Dexter’s uncontrollable urge to kill and “use it for good.” He tells Dexter that the police can’t catch all the terrible people.
- Be prepared. Leave no traces or evidence. In the pilot, Dexter says Harry taught him how to think like a cop and cover his tracks. He also explains how he sets up a kill room. Later, in “Are We There Yet?” Dexter tells Zach Hamilton that it’s necessary to always have a back-up plan.
- Never make a scene. Stay calm and collected. In “The Getaway”, Dexter loses his temper at a cop and is arrested, after which Harry appears in Dexter’s head and scolds him for breaking this rule. In "My Bad", Dexter mentions that one of Harry's rules is to "never make a scene."
- Don't make things personal because it clouds judgment. In "The Dark Defender", Dexter remembers Harry saying this rule when he collects a file from Francis.
- Don’t get emotionally involved. In “Seeing Red”, after Dexter hits Paul Bennett with a frying pan, he says this is one of Harry’s most important rules.
- No preemptive killing - In "Seeing Red", Dexter mentions that Harry was against this.
- When young Dexter took a personality and psychology test, Harry advised him beforehand to answer the questions with the opposite of what he was actually feeling. Dexter did so, and he passed as normal. See article: Child Psychiatrist
- Harry suggested police work as a career for Dexter, likely to facilitate his access to criminal records and identify suitable targets.
Refusals to Kill
Dexter has refused to kill several people because they didn't fit Harry's Code - even if killing them would benefit him.
- Paul Bennett - Although tempted to kill Bennett to maintain his relationship with Rita, Dexter simply framed him for returning to his old drug habit. (Paul ended up being killed in prison by an inmate.)
- Jeremy Downs - Dexter planned to kill Jeremy until he claimed that his only murder was in self-defense, though he possibly lied. Dexter advised Jeremy to not murder innocents, but he killed again. While in jail, Jeremy killed a murderer who deserved it -- himself.
- James Doakes - Dexter contemplated turning himself in as The Bay Harbor Butcher rather than kill Doakes when he discovered his secret. Instead, he framed Doakes as the killer. (Doakes was later killed by Lila West.)
- Ellen Wolf - Dexter considered killing defense attorney Ellen Wolf when Miguel Prado argued that she put the guilty back on the streets. Dexter, though, decided she was just doing her job and did not fit the code. (She was later killed by Miguel Prado.)
- Ramon Prado - After Dexter killed Miguel, Ramon began to stalk him and tried to kill him. In Dexter's mind, Harry told him that Ramon was like a 'gut shot animal' who needed to be 'put out of its misery.' Dexter refused to violate the code by killing Ramon and instead guided him towards a better path for the sake of his children.
- Lumen Pierce - Dexter refused to kill her as it did not fit the code, despite the fact that she witnessed him killing Boyd Fowler. Instead, he healed her wounds and joined in her quest to kill her rapists.
- Debra Morgan - Dexter could not kill her after she discovered him killing Travis Marshall. She subsequently learned that he was The Bay Harbor Butcher and about many of his kills, including Arthur Mitchell and Jordan Chase. Her knowledge of his nature benefited him for a short while since her position as Lieutenant aided his cover -- until she killed Maria LaGuerta to protect him. She then became an unstable threat, almost confessing to her crime and nearly killing both of them at one point. She managed to recover, though, and even returned to the police force. (Dexter would later mercy kill Debra after she fell into a coma after being shot by Oliver Saxon.)
Dexter occasionally killed someone who didn't technically meet the Code of Harry in the sense of not being a murderer.
IN SELF DEFENSE
- Oscar Prado - Encountered him while trying to kill Freebo. Oscar attacked Dexter with a bayonet, and Dexter killed him in self-defense, even though Dexter likely had far more fighting skills. ("Our Father")
- Andrew Briggs - Dexter killed him in self-defense after trying to warn Debra that she was in danger. Andrew recognized Dexter from the grocery store and they engaged in a fight. When Andrew reached for a knife, Dexter used it against him. ("A Beautiful Day")
- Elric Kane - Kurt Caldwell hired Elric to capture Dexter to bring him to him. Dexter fought back against Elric, leading to Elric hunting him through the woods and even shooting him in the leg. Dexter eventually cornered Elric in an abandoned summer camp after acquiring a knife, and killed him by stabbing him in the chest, arguably in self defence due to Elric's attempt to kill him, after Elric admitted he was hired by Kurt.
- Debra Morgan - Dexter turned her life support machine off after she had fallen into a vegetative state after she had been shot while trying to arrest Oliver Saxon. ("Remember the Monsters?")
- Rankin - A rude man Dexter encountered in the bathroom at a remote fueling station. Dexter flew into a rage and beat the man to death with an anchor. Dexter showed no regard for the fact that he knew nothing about the man, and it's unknown if Dexter made any effort to cover up the evidence. After the outburst, Dexter was able to break free from the shock of Rita's death. ("My Bad")
- Norm - A hotel manager and marijuana harvester whom Dexter met when he went to Nebraska to talk to Jonah Mitchell. Norm stole Dexter's tools after suspecting that he may be a cop. He tried to blackmail Dexter because he thought he was rich due to his car. At this point, Dexter killed Norm with a pitchfork. This is the second kill that Dexter committed on impulse, however, it may be seen as self-defense, since Norm was pointing a gun at him. However, the gun was likely empty, as Dexter was shooting it while driving. ("Nebraska")
- Alberto - A Cuban migrant smuggler who was threatening people on his boat with a gun. Dexter plunged a harpoon into Alberto's stomach, throwing him into the ocean. ("This is the Way the World Ends")
- Jasper Hodge - A drug manufacturer who produced fentanyl pills and caused 18 deaths indirectly due to overdoses. While he fit the code due to being a murderer, albeit indirectly, Dexter mainly targeted and killed him due to the fact that Harrison overdosed on Jasper's drugs.
- Nathan Marten - A pedophile who was targeting Astor. To offset the fact this was a violation of the code, Dexter didn't prepare a kill room for Nathan, he simply strangled him to death in his own home before presumably disposing of him in the Gulf Stream.("The Lion Sleeps Tonight")
- Clint McKay - Hannah's father, who threatened to turn over evidence on his daughter to the police. Clint was the only innocent victim on whom Dexter performed a ritualistic kill. ("The Dark... Whatever")
- Jonathan Farrow - Dexter mistakenly targeted him as a murderer of models and killed him, However, it was actually his assistant, Timothy Brand, who committed the crimes. The fact that he made a mistake, disturbed Dexter for a time. ("Slack Tide")
- Sergeant Logan - Sergeant in the Iron Lake police department, Logan was killed by Dexter so he could escape his jail cell. Initially, Dexter only slammed his head against his cells bars and put him in a chokehold, but he killed Logan when he attempted to shoot him backwards. ("Sins of the Father")
- Dexter has violated the code multiple times with usually severe consequences. One notable example was in "The Getaway" when he answered Rita's phone call while he stalked a kill, against Harry's warning. This caused him to commit a hit-and-run, leading to Dexter getting arrested and ending up in jail. It was a missed chance to finish off The Trinity Killer, which led to Rita's death.
- Dexter also starts a family against advice from "Harry" who insists that it will be a distraction and that Dexter's actions will put them in danger. This ultimately comes true in the Season Four finale, when Arthur Mitchell murders Rita.
- Dexter also become emotionally involved in one of his kills, Jasper Hodge, when Harrison overdosed on the drugs manufactured by Jasper. This eventually led to Angela Bishop linking Dexter to the Bay Harbor Butcher case, and partially triggered the events that led to Dexter's demise.
- Dexter: (voiceover) "There were so many lessons in the vaunted Code of Harry. Twisted commandments handed down from the only God I've ever worshiped. 1 through 10: Don't get caught. That I got covered. But, killing someone without knowing if he's guilty, I'd love some help on this one, but my God is dead now."
- Dexter: (voiceover) "Not long ago I had a dream that people could see me for what I am, and for a brief instant in time the world actually saw my bodies of work. Some even cheered. But as it turns out, nobody mourns the wicked. Sorry, James. I think Harry knew that from the start. That's why he gave me a code. It cost him his life, but it kept me alive through incredible trials. The code is mine now, and mine alone. So too are the relationships I cultivate. They're not just disguises anymore, I need them, even if they make me vulnerable. My father might not approve, but I'm no longer his disciple. I'm a master now, an idea transcended into life. And so this is my new path, which is a lot like the old one, only mine. To stay on that path, I need to work harder, explore new rituals, evolve. Am I evil? Am I good? I'm done asking those questions. I don't have the answers. Does anyone?"
- Dexter: (voiceover) "I built my life on Harry's code. I lived by it. But Harry lied. Why would he do that? What else don't I know? My concrete foundation is turning to shifting sand. Maybe Rudy was right. You never can truly know anyone."
- Dexter: (voiceover) "My father taught me one thing above all others; to be sure. And I am. Matt Chambers, Miami is your last stop. If God is in the details and if I believed in God, he's in this room with me. I just wish he had brought an extension cord."
- Dexter has several times discussed aspects of the Code with victims that he is about to kill.
- Dexter almost never discusses the Code with any non-victims. Notable exceptions are Brian Moser and Miguel Prado, however, he later killed them. He was forced to divulge his code to his sister Debra after she discovered his blood slides and kill tools. He willingly divulged the Code to his son Harrison after he bonded with him over their shared dark urges, and after saving him from Kurt Caldwell: initially, he only told Harrison he scared off the murderers when he discovered proof of their guilt, withholding the fact he killed them and took blood slides. He later confessed that he did in fact kill them when Harrison deduced he had killed the victim Dexter had mentioned in his example of the Code.
- Frank Lundy told Dexter that it’s only acceptable to take a life in order to save an innocent life in “An Inconvenient Lie.”
- In New Blood, while Dexter still followed aspects of the Code when he relapsed into killing, he strayed quite far from it. His first kill in ten years, Matt Caldwell was done somewhat sloppily, due to his rustiness, as well as being somewhat impulsive and without the proper vetting done. Every other kill he performed deviated from the Code in some way, with his final kill being that of a completely innocent man, with Dexter not even showing the slightest bit of regret for having broken the core tenet of the Code. The only kill in New Blood to at least follow the Code in every aspect was that of Kurt Caldwell.
- Harrison took an idealistic and somewhat naïve view of the Code: he saw it as Harry initially had thought of it, as vigilante justice. It was only when he deduced that Dexter had broken the Code and killed a completely innocent man to save himself that he realised that Dexter actually enjoyed killing and used the Code to justify it. This led to Harrison himself following the Code by taking out someone who deserved it: his father himself. Even Dexter acknowledged he fit the Code, and guided Harrison in killing him. Interestingly, Harrison had a similar reaction to Harry when he witnessed Dexter dismembering a body: both were disturbed by it, though Harrison's reaction was also due to his memories of his mothers murder.