The series finale of Dexter is notoriously controversial, but several seasons before the show’s conclusion, another contentious ending rocked its audience. Understandably, the events of the last episode of Season 4 aggravated more than a few. Rita, Dexter’s kind-hearted and patient wife and the mother of his infant son, was murdered in cold blood by the most notorious villain to appear in the series.
Critics and much of the show’s viewers praised the episode, but many members of the fandom were upset with the message Rita’s death sent to the audience. And to make matters worse, the reason why the writers decided to kill her character off reinforces a harmful TV trope.
Who Was Dexter’s Rita (And How She Died)
Rita was Dexter’s girlfriend and eventual wife that he met through his sister, Debra. Deb answered a domestic disturbance call to Rita’s home and arrested her abusive, drug-addled estranged husband, Paul Bennett, with whom Rita shared two children, Astor and Cody. She then introduced her to Dexter, setting them up on a date. While their relationship got off to a bumpy start, with her and Dexter battling their separate traumas, the two would go on to marry and have a son, Harrison, named after Dexter’s late father.
However, Dexter and Rita’s relationship wasn’t long-lived. Arthur Mitchell, the infamous Trinity Killer, murdered Rita on her way to her honeymoon, not only as retribution for Dexter sidelining his murderous pursuits but also to prove to Dexter he can’t escape the merciless killer he is on the inside. Knowing that Arthur had their family in his crosshairs, Dexter implored Rita to leave for their honeymoon before schedule, to which Rita agreed. Later, Dexter captured and butchered the Trinity Killer, but his victory would only last a short time.
After Dexter received a voicemail from Rita informing him that she forgot her identification at home and needed to go back to retrieve it, Dexter called her phone. But in a surprise twist of events, it was ringing from her purse sitting on their table. As it turns out, Rita never went back to the airport. Soon after, Dexter hears Harrison wailing upstairs and he follows his son’s cries to the bathroom, where he discovers Rita dead inside a bathtub filled to the brim with water and blood. Harrison, mirroring how Harry found Dexter as a baby, is covered in his mother’s blood, crying out on the floor.
Why Rita Died in Season Season 4
Truth be told, Rita was more of a plot device than a fully realized character. She endured an unnecessary amount of pain throughout her four-season run, starting at the hands of her abusive ex-husband. She then experienced the emotional turmoil that comes with dating a serial killer living a double life, only to die at the hands of a mass murderer who only brutalized her to prove a point to her husband.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Clyde Phillips, the executive producer of Dexter, tried to explain the decision to kill Rita. “The story evolved and it kind of became inevitable. We knew that we had to do more than kill Trinity. It’s a little bit of a corner that we paint ourselves into . . .We had to raise the bar to as high as possible,” he said. Unfortunately, raising the bar to progress Dexter’s storyline is a prime example of the “Women in Refrigerators: trope. This cliché illustrates the sad-but-true fact that female characters are disproportionately maimed or killed in media simply to advance a male character’s story arc.
In the end, Rita was essentially a one-note character. She was perpetually characterized by her victimhood and mainly used as a tool for Dexter’s growth or as an instrument to cause him anguish. Heading into the Dexter revival, the creative team would get a leg up on its predecessor by taking better care of the female characters because creating damsels in distress with no agency of their own means characters like Rita will never be more than expendable plot devices.
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