Are Rules Meant to be Broken?
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Jupiter’s Legacy, Dexter, and Dexter: New Blood.
Jupiter’s Legacy is a Netflix television show focused on a superhero family, based on the Image Comics series of the same name. Father Sheldon Sampson (a.k.a The Utopian), mother Grace Kennedy-Sampson (Lady Liberty), and their children Brandon (Paragon) and Chloe are at the centre of what is a multi-generational drama.
During the single eight-episode season, viewers are treated to current and past timelines. The “creation” of the original six superheroes occurs in 1933 after Sheldon has visions of six people being together. His father, manufacturing tycoon Chester Sampson, committed suicide in the 1929 stock market crash having used his worker’s pensions for business purposes. Sheldon begins hearing his father’s voice and eventually takes a boat trip to an uncharted island. He has gathered the six people from his vision and after some conflict, Grace realises that this is a test of their worthiness. They are granted superhuman abilities and ultimately form the Union of Justice, with Sheldon at its head.
As time progresses, more superheroes come into being, many of them children of the original six. If they want to join the Union of Justice, they must agree to a strict moral code. During the season, three of the rules are introduced. The first was that no superhero will kill another human being, including super villains. This is to set them apart from criminals and villains, who don’t hesitate to kill, and ensure that the superheroes work alongside officials and law enforcement. The second is that superheroes are not to rule. This is to ensure that they never exceed their responsibilities and use their power to enslave or become tyrants. The third is that they are never to use their powers for personal fame or gain. Their identities are kept secret for their own protection, to prevent a superhero gaining wealth or influence due to their powers, and for the betterment of society.
These rules are challenged during the course of the series. As super villains become more powerful and wreak far more destruction, the public begin to demand that the Union kill the villains. This is justified as protecting the public and preventing innocents from dying. Superheroes argue along the same lines as they watch their friends being killed in battles with villains. There are hints that George Hutchence (a.k.a. Skyfox), one of the original six, has not been seen since he broke the Code because he believed that superheroes should rule to prevent conflict. Chloe leads a drug fuelled life as a model, exploiting her super powers for monetary gain. As the world changes, The Code is constantly being questioned as to its relevance and effectiveness.
In Dexter and Dexter: New Blood a serial killer, who only kills murderers, also has a strict code. The Code of Harry was created by Harry Morgan for his adopted son, Dexter Morgan, to control his “dark urges” to kill. Viewers are exposed to the rules of the Code, usually during flashback sequences and as he is explaining to his victims why they deserve to die. The rules include:
- Don’t get caught
- Never kill an innocent
- Targets must be killers who have evaded the justice system
- Killing must serve a purpose
- Blend in socially. Maintain appearances.
- Fake emotions and normality.
- Control urges to kill and channel them.
- Be prepared. Leave no traces or evidence.
- Never make a scene. Stay calm and collected.
- Don’t make things personal as it clouds judgement.
- Don’t get emotionally involved.
- No pre-emptive killing.
Throughout the two shows, viewers witness Dexter breaking Harry’s Code. He kills perpetrators before they enter the justice system. He does kill for personal reasons, especially if the perpetrators harm children. He seeks revenge as he is emotionally involved. On one occasion he kills the wrong person. He gets sloppy and leaves evidence. Eventually, he is the perpetrator who is condemned by his own rules.
One might say that these two Codes represent the extreme range of human rules. One is an idealistic framework for superheroes to protect humanity and do no harm, working within the laws of society. The other is a way to literally get away with murder. But in both cases, neither Code can be lived up to. Superheroes and murderers alike cannot keep the rules.
Paul speaks about the Jewish law throughout many of his letters, most notably Romans and Galatians. While there may be disagreement about whether he is referring only to the Ten Commandments, to the greater purity codes or to the Pentateuch as a whole, the law is an important topic for him and for the early Christians he was writing to.
Paul understands that the law is divine in nature. It has been given by God for a salvific purpose. It is for the good of the people and it is to show them how to live wisely, lovingly and in holiness as God’s people. Paul does, however, acknowledge the complete inability of humans to follow or fulfill the law. He laments that he himself breaks the law because of sin. As such, the law has a purpose in showing people their weaknesses, failures and sin and their need of a saving God. The law, however, can’t save humanity in and of itself. It can’t empower holy living and it can’t give a full life in God. With the coming of Jesus, and his death and resurrection, the law is now subservient to Christ. It no longer holds the final say over humanity, especially those who follow Jesus. Rather Jesus is the final authority and fulfilment of the law. Yet, the law still has a role to play for Christians as he exhorts the Galatians to serve each other in love.
Listening to Jesus’ words as another Pharisee questioned him about the law may simplify, and yet make far more difficult, the way of following Christ: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)
Dr Katherine Grocott