|""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 committing a murder since that would result in imprisonment or a death sentence. Harry, when he brought Dexter to witness an execution, reminded him that the number one rule is "Don't get caught" and stated that the other rules are in place to prevent him from being caught. (Resistance Is Futile) This rule, in particular, was created by Vogel herself to give Dexter some "wiggle room" outside of the second rule. So if an innocent should find out about Dexter, he is allowed to kill the person in order to protect himself. (What's Eating Dexter Morgan?) Usually when such a scenario arises, however, Dexter gives precedence to the second rule over the first (as with Doakes, Lumen, Jonah, Debra, and Hannah).
- 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. 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 a convict out of jail so that he could kill him himself.
- Killing must serve a purpose, otherwise, it's just plain murder.
- Blend in socially. Maintain appearances.
- Fake emotions and normality.
- Control urges to kill and channel them.
- Be prepared. Leave no traces or evidence.
- Never make a scene. Stay calm and collected.
- Don't make things personal because it clouds judgment.
- 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.
- 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 occasionally has 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. ("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")
- Camilla Figg - A mercy kill at her request, due to her terminally ill condition. ("Easy as Pie")
- Debra Morgan - Dexter shut off Debra's life support after she suffered a major stroke. ("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")
- 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")
- 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: (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.