A blond woman smiles at the camera

Rita’s Death Was the Cherry on Top of ‘Dexter’s’ Best and Most Shocking Season

The character Rita, portrayed by Julie Benz, was a divisive character on the Showtime drama series Dexter. She appeared as our murderous protagonist’s (rather clueless) love interest in the first four seasons, and her shocking death was the catalyst that propel the action forward for the remainder of the series.

Recommended Videos

Rita was in the very first episode of Dexter, which aired on October 1, 2006. As she gets ready for their first date together, Dexter charms her two kids, Astor and Cody, displaying a soft paternal side that’s at such odds with the cold-blooded murderer we see elsewhere in the pilot episode. As the series goes on, Rita becomes an integral part of the plot: she provides the loving family Dexter craves, but she’s also an obstacle he must overcome to continue practicing his brand of vigilante justice.

Dexter’s writers always seemed to have trouble fleshing Rita out into a full character and knowing what to do with her. There are times when fans found Rita’s to be annoying, especially during season 2 when she thinks Dexter has a drug problem. She became a bit of a caricature of an oblivious/nagging girlfriend this season, pushing Dexter to attend a 12-step program where he meets the pyromaniac seductress Lila West (Jaime Murray). As a reminder, Lila was a total disaster who became obsessed with Dexter, killed James Doakes (Erik King), kidnapped Rita’s children, and almost ruined everything Dexter built in Miami. At the end of season 2, viewers took great delight in watching Dexter put a knife in Lila’s heart!

Season 4: Rita’s last hurrah

Dexter’s fourth season premiered on September 27, 2009 with an episode called “Living The Dream.” It’s an apt title because Dexter and Rita got married during the third season finale and are now parents to an infant son named Harrison. Dexter is trying his hardest to be a loving family man, but he gets increasingly edgy when he can’t satisfy his “dark passenger” with murder. He’s also getting a bit sloppy, even losing a dead body at one point, and his colleagues at Miami Metro are closing in on him.

This season, which is considered by most fans to be the best in the entire series, highlights the delicate dance between psychopath and regular guy that makes the show so weirdly relatable. It also features the best “baddie” of the bunch, Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow), also known as the Trinity Killer. Dexter grows close to Arthur and even sees him as a bit of a mentor at first because they both appear to be hiding in plain sight, with help from their families. But Dex soon learns that Arthur is a tyrant at home who abuses and controls his family, who are essentially his prisoners.

By the time we get to the season 4 finale, “Lost Boys,” the tension is palpable. Dexter does capture and kill Arthur, but it turns out to be entirely too late. In a scene that stayed with viewers long after the show ended, Dexter frantically rushes home to find the door already open. Hearing Harrison’s anguished wails, Dexter runs to the bathroom to find Rita dead in a bathtub filled with bloody water. She’d been murdered in the same manner as all of the other Trinity Killer victims … one last “eff you” from Arthur, from beyond the grave.

As if this horrific scene weren’t traumatic enough, little Harrison has witnessed it all … just as Dexter witnessed his own mother’s murder when he was an infant. We all know how that worked out for Dex, who of course fears the experience will haunt Harrison for his whole life as well.

(Later, in Dexter: New Blood, we learn that it does indeed influence Harrison. Because of course it would!)

Rita’s death was a full-circle moment

Not only did the visual aspect of Rita’s murder harken back to Dexter’s origin story, it was also the perfect mid-way marker for the series. Everything changes after this moment, and the final four seasons are all about Dexter coping with loss, trying to protect his son, and narrowly avoiding getting caught by his increasingly suspicious coworkers. Dexter may have other love interests later on, but none were as sweet, or as doomed, as Rita.

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins (she/her) is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She writes about pop culture, entertainment, and web memes, and has published a book or a funny day-to-day desk calendar about web humor every year for a decade. When not writing, she's listening to audiobooks or watching streaming movies under a pile of her very loved (spoiled) pets.