We all came into this world with this urge. This seemingly unquenchable thirst to constantly do what we want. This rampant desire to feed a selfish beast.
Sometimes this desire is bent based on our environment. A broken home, perhaps. Patterns of abuse. Socio-economic factors beyond our control. For Dexter Morgan, it was one tragic event. It was seeing as a young child his mother chain sawed to death just feet away from him. It was there, at that very moment that Dexter gained his “dark passenger.”
Dexter Morgan, of course, is the main character in a dark drama that recently wrapped up its eighth and final season on Showtime. Dexter works as a blood spatter analyst for the local Miami police station, and despite his traumatic childhood, he comes across as a relatively (albeit quirky) human being. The show’s story is based on Dexter’s hobby: his life as a serial killer.
Of course you see the irony: a blood spatter analyst working murders during the daytime with his sister Debra who also works for the Miami police department is spending his evenings murdering people himself. Looking at those bare facts would automatically pit us against Dexter, painting him as a psychopath flirting with the fringe of justice a little too closely.
But there’s something different about Dexter. We find out early on he follows a certain code when he kills, one established by his investigator father who rescued him in the days after his mother’s death. Dexter kills methodically and brutally, but only kills those he deems as “deserving to die”. Murderers, pedophiles, etc. Dexter is a type of freelance vigilante, doing what the very justice system he works for cannot do.
So naturally we tend to empathize with him, right? We want those doing terrible injustices to face extreme justice. The murderers of innocents crushed more harshly than their own hands ever produced.
That would be the easy way out. As a follower of Christ, viewing the complex layers the show Dexter brings to us causes us to introspectively ask at least two big questions: is life meaningful if it’s filled with sin? And are there sins that we can justify when they appear for the greater good?
The man Dexter himself casts a grim yet relatable trait that we all have seen and perhaps even lived out: that blurred lines help us justify sins. That surrounding ourselves with handpicked sinners of the same ilk helps us justify our sins. And that we can easily blame our upbringing or our circumstances for our sins rather than bind the blame directly to our shoulders.
Dexter’s “dark passenger” came frequently. He allowed him to identify, hunt down, and carefully slaughter some of the worst criminals in society. This sounds fine, but it eventually leads to unintended deaths of others that cross Dexter’s path: co-workers, lovers, and even his wife.
To further complicate things, Dexter has a child to raise and eventually has to face the fact that more people are catching on to him, and how in turn to eliminate them from his mission.
In the abstract, it’s hard to relate with Dexter. Chances are none of us have ever injected tranquilizer fluid into someone, strapped them down to a table via stretch wrap and puncture their chest cavity with a long knife. Yet we can dig into our own wicked humanity and look to reveal an ugly truth: we all have our own dark passenger. It’s better referred to as “sin nature”.
The vices we carry often go unnoticed: the secret addiction to our pride that casts judgment on others. The lustful heart mind yearning for the clicking away of internet porn. The severe self-doubt and worry that cripple us into a lack of faith in our Savior.
The big issue isn’t as much our sins (as big as they are) but what we do with them. We can easily go on like Dexter and justify them based on some moral code or claiming we were born with this desire, so it cannot be truly wrong. The better choice, the one that offers true hope, is to have the band-aid of self-justification ripped off to expose who we are, and allow the grace of Jesus to fill every hole saturated by sin.
This is what Dexter never learns. He fights on with his sin, finding comfort in other sinners who press on almost as martyrs for the “we can’t change” cause. He spins every red flag occurrence to put himself in a better light. What’s most tragic about Dexter (and all too often, us) is that he knows exactly what his sin is. He simply refuses to do anything to change it.
I won’t spoil how Dexter ends. The series itself is pretty well done minus an extreme overuse of some profanities. Depending on who you are, you may love it; you may hate it. If nothing else, it points us clear into a place where we have to pry into our hearts and decipher our own sin. Is it worth holding on to? Can we justify it so we can maintain our status and pride? We can be like Dexter and make excuses for our sin based off evils from our past. My hope is that we’ll instead confess our failures based off a great promise for the future: the salvation God offers us.