Darkly Dreaming Dexter – Part 2

Disclaimer:  I again want to caution my readers that this essay may contain minor spoilers regarding Dexter. So be advised if you plan to check out the show sometime. However, I feel I cannot in good conscience “recommend” this show to everyone. It contains disturbing violence, graphic sexual content and pervasive bad language that will surely affect viewers. Still, please remember that depiction does no equal approval. The storytellers are not condoning the actions of these characters, they are telling a story of sin that requires portrayal of sin. The more real it feels, the more affected we will be – and that’s the point.

While we tag along as Dexter gleefully dispatches the scum of Miami, the show’s writers quietly ask us to decide what we think about Dexter. Do we want the show to be a “Kill of the Week” type show? Or do we want to see Dexter be redeemed from his life of secret sin? Dexter’s “other life” consists of a loving sister, a good job and a strong girlfriend (Rita) with two children from a past abusive relationship. Dexter is a rock to these innocent people. They look to him for guidance and love (two things he is good at faking, but is unable to provide in a real sense). Do we want Dexter to abandon his killing and settle down? Dexter himself struggles with these questions. He begins to question whether there might be a real future with Rita and whether he can be a normal mate for her. But he keeps falling back into his sin again and again.

The first season of the program slowly spirals out Dexter’s backstory, the events that led him to become what he is. It seems that his sociopathy is the result of nurture, not nature. Someone from his past appears and urges him to embrace what he’s become and choose that life over his friendly façade. When he ultimately refuses to give in, he returns to his quiet life and seriously considers leaving the killing behind.

However, season two has him backsliding yet again. Dexter begins to refer to his urges to kill as a “dark passenger”. He realizes that something dark inside of him is pushing him to do these things. It’s a picture of the sinful nature of man. Though he begins to really enjoy his intimate relationship with Rita on a deeper level than he’d previously thought possible, he finds that he cannot escape his urges to sin. So he spins lie upon lie into a web of ever-increasing complexity. It’s sad, really. Dexter does not have the strength to overcome his sin on his own. It’s during this season that something extraordinary happens: two characters learn of his double life. One urges him to embrace the killing personae he’s been hiding, while the other urges him to leave that behind and turn himself in (even offering to help him turn his life around). Dexter knows that turning himself in would be painful, not only for himself but for his sister and girlfriend. Yet, embracing his sinful nature seems to violate the code that Harry taught him. What will he do?

This dichotomy is something deeply spiritual that we as Christians face on a daily (if not minute-by-minute) basis. Do we turn back and continue living in our sinful nature or do we move forward and come clean about our sin to God? The world is tempting us to look at our sinful selves and accept that that is who we really are. They would have us believe that admitting our sins is too painful, so we’re better off just continuing to sin in secret. After all, we’ll be hurting those close to us if we expose our dirty selves to them! Secret sin has no victims! Dexter is a grisly reminder of how dirty secret sin really is. Secret sin has victims too. Dexter also exposes the myth that “as long as you stay true to your own rules, you’re okay”. His rules say it’s okay to kill people! God says the vengeance belongs to him alone. Just because you’re holding to your own set of ideals doesn’t mean you’re in the right.

Dexter has struggled through these questions, but so far has always chosen to continue his secret life. A large part of the show’s suspense is based on Dexter’s constant effort to hide his tracks while working in police department itself. He always seems on the verge of being discovered and often has to take drastic measures to maintain his secret. This is another reminder of how people are willing to do anything to keep their secret sins secret. The lengths to which we go trying to cover up lies is amazing sometimes. Lies increase exponentially we try to cover them. Dexter’s willingness to lie to his own family so he can continue killing people is a hyperbolic example that we are often willing to do the same. Continuing to speak to this theme, the writers have given almost every secondary character a dark secret of their own that they hide from their friends and families: a failing marriage, an affair, etc. We all have things we hide, it doesn’t have to be something as big as murder to eat us up inside and make us lie to cover it up.

So in conclusion, there are lots of Christian themes to be found in a graphic and violent cable show called Dexter. We are all born with a “Dark Passenger” that we will struggle with all our lives. Paul wrote about his own struggle – how he does what he doesn’t want to do and seems unable to do what he wants. The urge was there, pushing him to sin. We must realize that there is no such thing as a secret sin. God knows everything we do, but continually offers us forgiveness. Unlike Dexter, we need to resist those who tell us our sin is who we really are and seek God’s forgiveness through confession. God has seen all kind of grisly sin and has been willing to forgive it all. Consider that if Dexter were a real person, God would be in hard pursuit of his heart, ready to offer complete absolution – just as he pursued and captured the heart of a serial killer name Saul in Acts. If we confess our sins, he is willing and able to forgive us and purify us.


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