The Code of Harry is a set of guidelines created by Harry Morgan and Dr. Evelyn Vogel to help Harry's adopted son, Dexter Morgan, channel his need to kill. Originally, the code was thought to have been created simply by only Harry himself, as both a way to protect his son as he went through life and as a "tool" to rid the world of the cruel people that infested it. However, it's revealed that Dr. Vogel suggested the code, as a way to channel Dexter's impulses, which could not be stopped and use them throughout life to both satisfy his needs and in some sense do some good.
Dexter Morgan, when he was only 3 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 in a shipping container, where Dexter and his brother Brian Moser were trapped for 3 days in a vast pool of blood left by the adults' bodies. Officer Harry Morgan discovered the boys and brought Dexter out himself, sending the other officers in after seeing it in Brian's eyes that he was truly changed by the experience. At the time, he was unaware that Dexter could have been affected by the incident and he adopted the boy...going through life hoping he'd raise a normal child.
Unfortunately, the incident did affect Dexter...changing who he was inside to the point of making him a psychopath in nature that killed a dog named Buddy and later showed true fascination in a crime scene 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 Dexter had become everything Harry feared he would be. She felt it was obvious that he not only showed all the classic traits of a psychopath, but that he would one day become a killer. Trying to determine what to do with him, Vogel suggested to Harry that it would be impossible to stop Dexter's urges, so instead offered that they become focused.
It's believed that the two first tried channeling Dexter's urges in animals; however they realized that they would never be enough to satiate him and that he would eventually need to kill "other kinds of animals" (specifically, human beings that deserved to die). Thus the Code was created, where Harry handled a majority of the details aided by his law enforcement background while operating under Vogel's guidance.
The Code itself is designed as a framework for survival, to both prevent Dexter from getting caught and channel his impulses while ridding the world of people who deserved to die.
It was never actually written down, but instead was dictated verbally. As a result, it's not a verbatim list of rules, but more a general set of learnings and guidelines taught by Harry to Dexter.
Dexter has several times cited two rules as the most important rule above all others:
- 1st Rule of the Code : Never get caught - Don't get caught committing a crime, since that would result in imprisonment and may even result in being put to death. Harry, in bringing Dexter to witness an execution, runs through what the number one rule is and states that the other rules are to prevent him from being caught. This rule in particular was created by Vogel herself, to give Dexter some "wiggle room" outside of the second rule. In a situation where an innocent finds out about who Dexter is, he may need to kill them to protect himself. Usually when such a scenario arises Dexter gives precedence to the second rule over the first (as with Doakes, Lumen, Jonah, Debra and Hannah).
- 2nd Rule of the Code : Never kill an Innocent - Be absolutely certain that the target is a killer, who takes life for no condonable reason. Dexter also prefers that his victims be likely to kill again (although this isn't a neccessity, since for example there was no indication that Zoey Kruger would have killed again if he hadn't killed her) and takes time to research their history before deciding their fate. Dexter has an especially great animosity towards those who harm children (such as Mike Donovan).
Dexter has been willing to bend both rules from time to time.
- There are other rules like:
- Never make a scene.
- Fake emotion and normality to fit in.
- When taking a psychology personality test, always answer the question with the opposite of what you feel.
- Never get emotionally involved.
- Don't leave any traces.
- Another less mentioned factor of the code is Dexter's victims must be killers who the police have been unable to catch or convict. Dexter seems to ignore this factor however, as he frequently sabotages cases in order to save the suspect for himself (as with Anthony Rodrigo and Viktor Baskov, for instance). On one occasion he even broke a convict out of jail so he could kill him himself (although the convict in question had been putting out hits on people whilst behind bars).
- It is also mentioned that Harry suggested police work.
Consequences when violating the Code
Dexter has been seen violating his code multiple times, and there are usually severe consequences. One notable example is in episode 4x12, when he answered Rita's phone call while stalking a kill, against Harry's warning. This led to him committing a hit and run, which then ultimately led to his ending up in jail, missing the chance to finish off Trinity.
Dexter also started a family, against Harry's advisement. Harry insists that they distract Dexter, and that Dexter's actions put them in danger. This prophecy ultimately comes true at the end of the Season 4 finale, when it is revealed that Arthur Mitchell murdered Rita because of Dexter's hesitation to kill him.
As well he got personally involved with the case of Brian Moser, in which caused him to be haunted by a Dark Passenger constantly after.
Several times, Dexter has refused to kill someone because they didn't fit Harry's Code - even if killing them would benefit Dexter greatly:
- Paul Bennett - Although tempted to kill Bennett to maintain his relationship with Rita, mentally arguing that Bennett was likely to kill if he was left on his own, Dexter simply framed him for returning to his old drug habit. (Even though Paul ended up being killed anyways).
- Jeremy Downs - Dexter had cut Jeremy off after he trailed his second victim. He revealed the first and only murder at that point was self-defense, though it was a possible lie. He decided to let him go with advice, which Jeremy ignored. (Jeremy ended up committing Suicide anyways).
- James Doakes - Dexter, contemplated turning himself in as the Bay Harbor Butcher rather than kill Doakes, even after Doakes discovered his secret.
- Ellen Wolf - Dexter considered killing defense attorney Ellen Wolf when Miguel Prado argued that she put the guilty back on the streets. However, Dexter quickly decided she was just doing her job and did not fit the code.
- Ramon Prado - After Dexter killed Miguel, Ramon began to stalk him and tried to kill him. Dark Harry (The outward personification of Dexter's inner Dark Passenger) told Dexter that Ramon was like a 'gutshot animal' who needed to be 'put out of its misery', but 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. He instead healed her wounds and saved her.
- Debra Morgan - His own sister, Dexter could not kill her after she discovered him killing Travis Marshall. She ultimately learned that he was the Bay Harbor Butcher and about many of his various kills in the past including Arthur Mitchell and Jordan Chase. However, her knowledge of his nature benefited him for a short while as her position as Lieutenant aided his cover until she ended up killing Maria LaGuerta for Dexter. Now she's become an unstable threat, almost confessing to everything she knew about Dexter and almost killing him along with herself at one point. She seems to be getting better, however and is considering making a return to the police force.
Dexter has rarely killed someone who didn't follow the Code of Harry:
- Oscar Prado - Encountered him while trying to kill Freebo. Oscar attacked Dexter with a knife, and Dexter killed him in self-defense.
- Stan Liddy - A corrupt narcotics cop hired by Quinn to tail Dexter. After Stan kidnaps Dexter, he tries to force a confession out of him. Dexter kicks him in the face before Stan tries to stab him, but Dexter fights back and kills him in self-defense. It was unknown if Stan had a history of violence or murder outside of being a corrupt cop.
- Andrew Briggs - Dexter kills him in self-defense after trying to warn Debra about her situation and Andrew recognizes him from the grocery store.
- Camilla Figg - A mercy kill at her request, due to her terminally ill condition.
- Debra Morgan - A mercy kill in order to stop her suffering a life in a vegetative state.
- Rankin - A rude man Dexter encounters in the bathroom at a remote fueling station. Dexter flies into a rage and beats the man to death with an anchor. Dexter shows no regard for the fact that he knew nothing about the man and it is not shown if Dexter makes any effort to cover up the large amount of evidence left behind. The outburst is the first time Dexter is able to break free of the shock from Rita's death.
- Norm - A hotel manager and drug harvester who Dexter meets when he goes up to Nebraska to talk to Jonah. After Norm steals Dexter's tools after suspecting that he maybe a cop, he tries to blackmail Dexter because he thinks he's rich due to his car. At this point his dark passenger brother tells him to kill him which he did. This is the second kill Dexter has committed on impulse, however it can also be seen as self-defense, since Norm was pointing a gun at him, threatening to kill him.
- Nathan Marten - A pedophile targeting Astor and Cody .
- Clint McKay - Hannah's father, who threatened to turn over evidence on his daughter to the police. Clint is the only innocent victim Dexter performed a ritualistic kill on, knowing they were innocent (Farrow was a mistake).
Dexter has only once mistakenly killed someone who wasn't a killer:
- Jonathan Farrow - Dexter killed a photographer whom he believed was killing his subjects, only to see his assistant confess.
- 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 he is about to kill.
- Dexter almost never discusses the Code with any non-victims besides Harry. Notable exceptions are Brian Moser and Miguel Prado, both of whom he later killed. Recently he was forced to divulge his code to his sister Debra Morgan after she discovered his blood slides and kill tools.