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. 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 some sense, do some good.
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 then 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 to the point of making him a psychopath in nature. 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.
It's believed that the two first tried channeling Dexter's urges to only kill animals. However, they realized that animals would never be enough to satiate him and that 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, while operating under Vogel's guidance.
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 be 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. 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 who Dexter is, he is allowed to kill the person in order to protect himself. 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 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 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). 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.
- Before young Dexter took a personality and psychology test, Harry told him to answer the questions with the opposite of what he was actually feeling. Dexter did so, and he passed as normal.
- 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 greatly 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, anyway.)
- Jeremy Downs - Dexter planned to kill Jeremy until he claimed that his only murder was in self-defense, though it was a possible lie. Dexter released him with advice, which Jeremy ignored. (Jeremy ended up committing suicide).
- James Doakes - Dexter, contemplated turning himself in as the Bay Harbor Butcher rather than kill Doakes after he discovered his secret. (Doakes was later murdered 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. 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 '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. He instead healed her wounds and saved her.
- Debra Morgan - 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 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 Dexter. She then became an unstable threat, almost confessing to everything she knew about Dexter and nearly killing both of them at one point. She managed to get better, however, and even returned to the police force.
Dexter occasionally kills someone who doesn't meet The Code of Harry.
IN SELF DEFENSE
- 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 may be 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 and he ended up in jail. It was a.missed chance to finish off Trinity.
- Dexter also starts 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 in the Season 4 finale, when Arthur Mitchell murders Rita.
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. He was forced to divulge his code to his sister Debra Morgan after she discovered his blood slides and kill tools.