The Dark Passenger – an analogy of sin and addiction

What is this within me that drives me to do the things that I do? Where does it come from? Why won’t it let me go? What’s wrong with me? Can I be fixed?

These are the recurrent question raised in season 2 of Dexter. Throughout the season, Dexter struggles to come to grips with what he calls his “dark passenger” who is with him wherever he goes and drives his need for violence. Although it rests deep within him, it feels like a stranger. Some alien force controlling his every action. He strives to hide it from everyone around him, but it’s always there.

In the show, the “dark passenger” works best as a an analogy for addiction. But, as I watched, it struck me as a powerful picture of sin as well. As Paul says, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

Here are a couple of the more powerful scenes describing Dexter’s dark passenger. (See also my post on 5 Things I Learned about the Gospel from a Serial Killer.)

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on March 9, 2011, in Sin. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Other than BSG, this has been my favorite show over the last 5 years. The two clips you posted are good reasons why (and it only gets more interesting as the show proceeds, btw).

    re: The Dark Passenger as sin.
    Assuming (for the moment) an Augustinian view of sin, that it is a privation of created and revealed goodness and not a thing itself, how does the DP work itself out positively? Is the lust for sadistic murder that Dexter experiences a disordered desire for justice, order, or something else? Or is it simply surd? (note: the show rationalizes DP – though doesn’t excuse it – as the consequence of Dexter’s traumatic experience as a child. It isn’t absurd, just extreme).

    And what is the thing that he “hates” to do, though (echoing Rom. 7)? At the beginning of the series, the “real” him is the one who follows the lead of the Dark Passenger (DP). He channels DP toward constructive ends (e.g. only preying on other killers, etc.) He goes through the motions of human emotions though, because they are foreign to him. But the emergence of Dexter is tied to him becoming more authentic in his connection to others, and not just faking it. He is being transformed by love…to some degree.

    Just thinking out loud.

    ETS needs a “Dexter” study group…

    • Great thoughts. Since I’m still in season 2, it’s hard for me to know too much about how his character develops. I have appreciated that the show does not try to excuse Dexter or his actions (even when they use the “dark passenger” motif, they make it clear that Dexter’s actions are his own), even while trying to help us be sympathetic and understand why he is that way. I find that to be a helpful way to understand sinful actions in general.

      The Augustinian privation idea is a good one to ponder here. The simple answer is to say that it’s a twisted expression of justice. But, it does seem like there’s a lot more going on. I’d probably say that it’s also an expression of Dexter’s desire for community and intimacy. It sounds weird, but if you look at how he interacts with his victims, that’s when Dexter is at his most open – he can finally be himself in a way that he couldn’t even with his father.

      An ETS study group would be great. But, we should make it a pop culture study group so we can get some papers on BSG, Firefly, and whatnot while we’re at it.

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