Nudity? Occasionally. Profanity? All the time. Dismemberment? Every episode.
The protagonist in Showtime’s controversial series “Dexter” is an unrepentant serial killer. The show, in its seventh and final season, is a darling of liberal viewers, while conservatives tend toward the less niche fare offered by the major networks. However, even with its morally complicated plot, “Dexter” is one of television’s most unintentionally conservative shows.
Why? First you have to understand the backstory.
The young Dexter (Michael C. Hall) witnesses his mother’s murder in one of the bloodiest murders in Miami history. Harry, the police officer who works the crime, adopts the young boy and raises him as his own child. Soon, however, Harry (James Remar) is horrified to discover that Dexter has been killing neighborhood pets. Assuming the desire to kill must’ve originated upon witnessing his mom’s death — and believing he can’t control Dexter’s urge — he teaches his son to kill only those guilty of heinous crimes. In other words, Dexter becomes a vigilante — a Batman of sorts — for whom viewers unwittingly end up rooting.
The show is not “conservative” in the sense that you might want the church youth group to watch it for spiritual lessons. The show’s themes, however, are subversively conservative. For example:
1. The show emphasizes the necessity of a moral code.
As a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Metro, Dexter has access to confidential files of unsolved crimes. Criminals who have “gotten away,” of course, prove the perfect victims for Dexter. However, he doesn’t kill haphazardly. Rather, he follows a strict code his father created for him:
a. Don’t ever get caught.
b. Victims must be people who have killed innocent victims and are likely to kill again.
c. He must be absolutely sure his targets are guilty.
While Dexter’s moral code is much different than, say, Mitt Romney’s, the show emphasizes again and again that living by a moral code is better than the situational ethics sometimes offered up by liberal thinkers. In fact, the show consistently distinguishes between those with a “code” and those without. Fixed, not flexible, moral principles are absolutely vital. When Dexter deviates from “The Code” — like he did in Season 4 when he kills a photographer and later realizes the person was innocent — things go horribly wrong.
2. “Dexter” emphasizes the need for justice.
Liberals tend to believe men are naturally good and that people resort to criminal activity only when society fails them by allowing the cultural conditions of poverty and deprivation. The true injustice is not the crime but the “conditions” that caused the crime. Dexter and the police officers at Miami Metro aren’t concerned with “social justice” but with the real thing — the actual justice that’s vital for a functioning society.
When the legal system fails, when the guilty go free, the show seethes with existential anger. This rage has — believe it or not — biblical overtones, as sin demands blood sacrifice, which echoes back to Noah. (For example, God’s command that if man sheds blood, then his own blood shall be shed.)
3. “Dexter” illustrates the reality and dark power of sin.
Throughout Christianity, believers have been aware of sin and its effects on humankind. An 18th-century beloved hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” has a revealing line: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”
While Dexter doesn’t worship God, he is constantly tempted toward leaving his moral code. In fact, Dexter admits he battles “demons,” a rare admission in a modern society that deals with “addictions” and “personality disorders.” In one amazing scene, Dexter is called out by a drug addict named “Lila” who hauntingly provides an apt description of the Christian view of the power of sin.
Lila calls her urges her “shadow self,” Dexter calls them his “dark passenger” and the Bible calls it being a “slave to sin.”
“Dexter” is not for everyone. In fact, in almost every episode, I have to look away from the screen to avoid seeing the serial-killer carnage. However, the show is an amazing look at what it means to be “good,” what is required in the face of evil and how souls cry out for justice. Dexter understands darkness, but that’s only half the story. The difference between sin’s portrayal in the show and in the Bible is notably significant: In the show, sin is something immutable but the Bible provides an antidote for this “dark passenger.” It’s like the producers of “Dexter” are all too familiar with the power of the darkness but unaware of the light strong enough to overcome it.
Nevertheless, as “Dexter” winds to a close, it’s obvious that this series was a brilliant and fascinating window into the very nature of man — the fallen nature that conservatives comprehend and too many liberals deny.
Nancy A. French is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @NancyAFrench