Dexter the SHOtime Vigilante Serial Killer

November 3, 2011

Dirty Hands


“Tonight’s the night,” Dexter Morgan always says as he takes his dark passenger out into the night to kill again. It’s basically his mantra. A blood spatter analyst with Miami Metro Police Homicide Department has a secret that would sicken many. He’s addicted to killing.

Raised by adoptive parents, Dexter’s mother was murdered with baby Dexter in her arms. The police officer at the scene saw young Dexter and took him into his home and made him part of his family to live with his biological daughter Debra Morgan. Dexter’s father Harry noticed Dexter’s killing addiction and taught him a code. A code Dexter would abide by from then on. Dexter was trained to only kill murderers who had slipped through the cracks of the justice system. Harry taught Dexter how to use his evil for good and how not to get caught. Dexter mastered this art.

He uses his resources at the police station to help him in finding these should be convicts and putting them to justice. He searches for them. He finds them. And he brutally murders them. He dismembers these rapists and murderers and disposes of them in the ocean with his boat. Dexter’s closest confidante is Debra but she has no idea what her brother is capable of. Dexter also has a son and a significant other. The entry of a son in Dexter’s life has not stopped him from killing but has given him doubts for the first time.

A vigilante is nothing new. The concept has been debated before. However, Dexter’s situation differs from most. He doesn’t kill purely because of morality, but possibly more so because of his hunger for killing. Not to under appreciate Dexter’s acts, because he does take on only the most disturbing of criminals, but it almost makes the ends less justified by the means.

The question of dirty hands comes into debate. Dexter takes scum off the streets, scum that typically would continue to hurt women and children. But he is doing it partly out of a thirst for cold blooded murder.

The show makes it easy to root for Dexter. He is unconditionally loving of those extremely close to him. His wife’s children from a previous relationship included. Dexter always takes care of his sister and loves his son more than anything. Nevertheless, the man is vicious killer who has gone unnoticed for years.

What makes the show interesting is that they elect a theme to explore in each season. Themes that have been explored include family, religion, responsibility and addiction. What this allows the viewer to do is evaluate Dexter’s habit in many different lights. How does it affect his relationship with his family? How does it make him look in the eyes of God? Is it an impulse that he must rehab like a drug addict? All these dynamics give us much insight on whether or not we can justify what Dexter does.

That is the million dollar question: is what Dexter does kind of okay?

There are many different ways to look at it. One could say what Dexter does is what any loving parent wants to do: protect their children from all the evil in the world. On the other hand you could say he sets maybe the worst example ever for a child.

Does Dexter’s habit lose moral standing because of his role as a father? a religious man? an addict?

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9 Comments on “Dexter the SHOtime Vigilante Serial Killer”

  1. sbyr Says:

    You raise an interesting question in your fourth paragraph: does the manner, and possible reasons why Dexter kills, take away from the justice he is serving? From your description, it’s apparent that Dexter is addicted to—and might also enjoy—killing. Nevertheless, Dexter commits these gruesome acts in order to protect others from these, as you put it, “murderers who had slipped through the cracks of the justice system” who likely will continue to commit crimes. The manner in which Dexter kills obviously goes against moral principles, yet his actions result in the greater good of society by killing criminals that should already be dead or in prison. This is a great, and interesting, example of Dirty Hands. Having never seen the show, I’m eager to know if Dexter’s intentions are to protect society, or simply to satisfy his thirst for blood. I don’t have a definitive response as to whether or not his actions are justified. However, if all his victims are indeed guilty criminals that somehow evaded the legal system, then I think he is doing a valuable service to society.

  2. danieltarockoff Says:

    First off, I want to start by saying I am OBSESSED with Dexter. That being said, you brought up a lot of significant questions. Dexter is one of the most complex characters I have ever witnessed in any type of book, TV, or movie. He is, in its simplest form, a cold-blooded killer. He’s a murderer. But at the same time, Dexter has gone to extreme bounds to cover this up and protect his true identity from those he loves and anyone that could exploit him. So as far as your point of dirty hands, I agree with you.

    At the same time, i feel that Machiavelli would commend Dexter on his ability to appear normal. In front of his concealed serial killer life, he is a confident, smart, and intelligent blood splatter analyst for Miami Metro Police Department. In society, this is an upstanding role. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we have respect for Dexter. Or maybe it’s the fact that he is so kind and loving to those close to him, such as Deb, Rita, and Harrison. I think the real reason people have so much respect for him, however, is the fact that he only kills those who have done wrong. He uses his “dark passenger” for good. While I can’t say I would go around murdering people similar to how Dexter does, I actually think it eases the moral conditions of the situation. It makes it more right, for me at least.

    The only problems I see with his actions are the facts that now, with children to look after, a sister who depends on him, and a police department who needs his expertise, he can’t afford to get caught. If he were to, it would jeopardize everything he’s done and everything he kills for. Only time will tell as Season 6 unfolds!

  3. bisraelb Says:

    I am a big Dexter fan, and I find him to be a perfect example for our discussion of Machiavelli. Dexter gets his hands dirty; but it is ultimately for the greater good of society. HIs means are questionable. He lies to friends, commits illegal crimes including stalking, kidnapping, and murder; but it is all for the greater good. Ultimately, the ends are one less murderer off the street, and Miami is a safer place for it. However, one can argue that the ends he seeks isn’t a safer Miami. Instead, he kills to feed his need—to silence the dark passenger he carries with him. In the end, I believe Machiavelli would support Dexters actions. Personally, I support his actions, and although he is a murderer, he is a hero.

  4. riommack Says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE Dexter fan, but I can see yet another approach to the Dexter oxymoron. While he is a murderous hero from the viewers’ (and Dexter’s) perspective, I decided to stand in the shoes of someone in Dexter’s town, entering the show. A serial killer on the loose? Dozens and dozens of bodies being discovered? FBI help, and still no killer? I would be FREAKING out and getting out, and I think it’s fair for me to assume I would not be alone.

    So connecting my point back to Machiavelli — in paragraph 118 he discusses that ending disorder is worth a few individuals lost along the way, rather than letting things play out and tons of bloodshed from occurring. Ultimately, his main goal is “keeping his subjects united and faithful.” Yet, all I can picture in Dexter’s town, is pure chaos, disorder, and paranoia. While us as viewers can justify Dexter’s actions, a bystander in his town can not. Instead they only see one side – the murderous, and not the hero. While we know the innocent aren’t Dexter’s prey, they do not know that. So is Dexter really a “prince” if he is causing everyone in his same community to watch their back? Hmm..

  5. amandel12 Says:

    As an avid Dexter follower, it is safe to say that Dexter’s actions are extremely unconventional and mind-blowing. It seems odd going into every Sunday rooting for and connecting with a serial killer, however, as said previously, Dexter’s situation is different. As Machiavelli would see it, Dexter definitely gets his hands dirty, however, in doing so, Dexter solely does it for the betterment of society as he kills the most malicious criminals that seemingly slipped between the cracks. However, while what Dexter does is for the greater good of Miami, one can argue that Dexter does not kill because he is simply a city hero. Dexter must kill for his hunger to kill. He cannot help himself but to take out his sleeve of knives and “go to work”. While he does make the streets of Miami safer with every kill, one can question his true motives behind killing. It could simply be that he follows the code of his late father, his only inspiration and the only thing he has faith in. So the question remains and in my opinion will always remain, is Dexter Morgan a hero?

  6. jps3520 Says:

    *Spoiler alerts, but nothing that completely ruins the show. I was actually working on writing almost this exact same post when I noticed that it was already on here. Needless to say, I love Dexter. The “ends justify the means” topic ties in perfectly. The whole dirty hands aspect of Dexter’s situation is kind of unique, however. He doesn’t make decisions based on morality, which is what the idea of dirty hands is based around. He makes decisions based on Harry’s code. I think for him it’s less about moral or immoral and more about a lack of morals. If we are going to talk about it though, what is the scope of the situation (whose hands would actually be dirty in this case) Would it be Dexter’s for actually doing the deed, Harry’s for teaching him his code and teaching him to fit in society to allow him to keep living and killing these bad people, or the people who started the whole thing by killing his mom brutally in front of him at a young age? I’m sure the people who killed his mom were doing it for the well-being of themselves, and Harry for the well-being of Dexter. Throughout the show, Dexter shows little remorse (because of his unique mental state) but there are mentions of how Harry couldn’t really stomach watching Dexter do his deeds. So whether or not Harry’s hands are dirty in this case, I’m sure he at least felt that some of the blame was on his hands and struggled with that thought personally. Then again, these are my opinions. Either way, I think it’s a great thing to think about for this topic and I’m glad that even though I didn’t post it someone else thinks the same way.

  7. brianfrankel Says:

    The question of vigilanteism is very hard to answer. I am a big fan of the show Dexter. To me, his actions are inspiring. The heinous criminals that he targets and removes from communities and our society as a whole, in my opinion, deserve their fates. Are Dexter’s hands dirty? Yes, with the blood of all his victims. But the common good he achieves far outweighs the his egregious activities. I do not believe that his actions or his deed loses any credibility by his being a part of the police force, being a father, or being religious. If anything, those other aspects of his life reinforce his sensibility and commitment to the betterment of his community and surrounding relationships.

  8. dannilevin9492 Says:

    I think a lot that has to do with the question of whether Dexter “dirties” his hands for moral reasons lies within a bigger picture. What I mean by this, is that if we were to isolate Dexter’s character (let’s say make him a real person in our daily society), would his actions still be seen as ok? Because Dexter is a forensics expert for Miami Metro Police Homicide Department, he is constantly surrounded by murderous/dangerous psychopaths. Since the show focuses mostly on this aspect, Dexters deeds seem to be more credible when reflected upon the bigger picture. Although Dexter’s alter-ego involves dismembering human beings simply for gratification, his actions are seen as reasonable because he takes it out on the “bad guys”. However, the question that arises is if Dexter were to have a different job (where he was constantly surrounded by “bad guys”), let’s say a businessman, would his actions still be justified? The answer to that question is up for debate, really. The question more goes to show that situation has a lot to do with whether or not certain, often unacceptable, actions are justified. One must look at the situation when deciding whether it is worth to dirty the hands. I think this perspective is often overlooked, especially in this circumstance where it is clearly obvious that Dexter dirties his hands for more than moral reason.

  9. Zachary Amateau Says:

    The question of whether or not Dexter’s killing is “okay” is a very interesting one and can be up for debate. I have watched every season of Dexter, and believe that what he does is truly good and for the overall wellbeing of the world. Just because he is feeding his addiction and need for kill does not make his actions wrong. Dexter lives by a code which actually disallows him to perform unjust or unwarranted attacks on innocent people. Dexter uses the resources from work (Miami Homicide) to locate past killers, rapists, thieves, or other disobeyers of the law. He then does what he needs to, and removes these corrupt people from the world. Dexter gets his hands dirty by killing people who are not innocent. By living by the code he has created, he is making sure that he does not exceed his role in society, and that he does not become corrupted by society. He is a father to a young boy, and is intent on keeping him from evil and making sure he lives with his father very much in his life. In order to protect him, Dexter practices dirty hands and performs unjust acts to immoral people.

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