The Code of Harry: Dexter Season 1 Finale

There’s an old adage in drama that the protagonist is not superior to his adversaries because of any power he has. He may possess better technology and sit upon billions of dollars, like Bruce Wayne as Batman, but these attributes add nothing to the pull of the story. They merely set the stage. What truly matters then, is not the protagonist’s wealth, IQ, toolbox, or connections. Instead, it’s the protagonist’s ethic, and perhaps even more importantly, his willingness to assert it. 

The final episode of the first season of Dexter is called “Born Free”, which refers to the 1966 movie about a Kenyan gamewarden who attempts to retrain a domesticated lioness for life in the wild. As Rudy says to Dex during their clash of the titans climax, “You don’t have a code. Harry did, and he’s been dead ten years. You can’t keep him sitting on your shoulder like Jiminy fuckin’ Cricket.”

But I take the reference deeper, back to Rousseau’s dictum in the Social Contract  that man is born free, but everywhere society has shackled him in chains. Who is free? Rudy asks. Not Dex. He’s beholden to a hidebound morality. On the other hand, it’s the philosophers who tell us to grapple with our impulses and the darker movements of our souls. We must restrain them, they say, and only by restraining them, do we free ourselves from the imprisonment of acting like beasts. 

This must be what Bryan Caplan had in mind when he wrote

“If Immanuel Kant came back from the dead, learned writing style from George Orwell, and resolved to answer Ayn Rand on cable t.v., he would have written this show.”

But back to the principles of drama. Caplan’s only partially right here. I think he’s identified the right clash of morals, a cultivated selfishness pitted against the heroic restraint of deep-seated impulses, but he leaves that important second step out of it, namely, the protagonist’s willingness to assert his values. The code of Harry falls silent unless Dexter imposes it. So yes, I’d agree with the Kant. But only if we flavor it with some Nietzsche.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Code of Harry: Dexter Season 1 Finale

  1. William Chelmsford

    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/results.asp?WRD=The+Night+Chicago+Died

    This collection has a really good story about Kant entitled ‘Immanual’s first piano lesson”

    Happy reading.

  2. Julio Rodriguez

    Hi. In my opinion the 1st episode of the 3rd season of Dexter reflects Nietzsche’s thoughts about the Overman. The Overman creates his own rules, and though the Code of Harry isn’t Dexter’s creation, he is now in the need to create new rules.
    Also, the rest of Dexter’s narration in this episode, seems to linked with Nietzsche’s thoughts. For example, Dexter mentions that his God is dead.
    In conclusion, Dexter has the criterions to be considered an Overman.

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