Throughout the first four years of Dexter, I went back and forth on whether or not I believed Rita truly was Dexter Morgan's soulmate or simply a really opportune "cover." I no longer think it really matters what she was meant to be but rather what she became for him. All of his life he has known the difference between right and wrong, and although he hasn't really ever felt guilt or remorse for his actions, he has expressed desire not to hurt or disappoint those closest to him.
First there were his adoptive parents when he was a kid, who were the reason he didn't start killing other kids. "I thought you and mom wouldn't like it," he told Harry when he found the animal graves. Then there was Deb, who he not only saved from the Ice Truck Killer but also blamed himself for that connection anyway. And Camilla, who, when he realized she knew who-- or what-- he was, sparked the slightest flicker of sadness in his eyes. Rita fits into that category, too. Whether they were meant to be from the get-go, as the fifth season premiere, "My Bad," wants you to believe-- after all, he was never more relaxed or open than in that moment on the boat talking to her after their bad date-- or whether he learned to love her, around her he did let down some of his guard. He even tried hinting at what he really was with her; he wanted to share who he really was for the first time in his life. That's love.
And because our little wooden boy had grown up enough to find a person he could genuine care for, seeing Rita in the tub again-- and who can believe Julie Benz was willing to go through that again??-- was sad in its own ways. Seeing her in the coffin was worse. But quite possibly the most heartbreaking scenes were, in fact, the flashbacks to simpler times. When they both-- and the relationship, too-- held the most promise. When you could see the glimmer of something great only to know it would get snuffed out too soon.
Admittedly, I never wondered what the earlier days in Dexter and Rita's relationship was like. I never questioned if he was more awkward then than when we first met them together in season one. I never cared to see that courtship because that wasn't the point of the story; she was simply another piece of his disguise, like a fake mustache or a hat. But by the fifth season premiere going back and showing us some of those moments, it is almost a wink, like the show is telling us that what we thought we knew about Dexter Morgan-- what he thought he knew about himself-- was an assumption. Maybe even a self-fullfilling prophecy. He was told, and treated like, he would do bad things, so he did bad things, justifying the treatment and starting the cycle all again. But what if that hadn't been the case? What if he had been allowed to live out his adult life with Rita and their children-- with people who told, and treated, him like he was good. For them and in general. Would his Dark Passenger eventually subside until it sank to the bottom of the ocean with so many old Hefty bags?
We'll never get the chance to know for sure, but after seeing Dexter on the ocean, alone, caught up in the moment and the quiet, apologizing and showing true remorse, it appears that could have been where his life was headed.
It would have been nice, then, to see Harry dissipate and disappear permanently. It would have been nice to see Dexter's subconscious progressions take Rita's form. While Harry often acted as a catalyst within Dexter, the thoughts were always truly within his own head. And projecting such thoughts onto someone he loved and admired as a child can only get you so far. Eventually you grow up; you move on; you find someone real. It took Dexter longer than most, but he had found that person in Rita. And using her image to guide him just might have proven to be the catalyst he needed at this juncture to truly challenge himself.
Without her, the struggle so far has been how to appear "normal" in his grief. He still has a lot of growing up to do because he hasn't even learned yet that there truly is no "normal." "My Bad" serves to close a very distinct chapter but also, with Dexter's acts of regression within, to blow the covers off the book and rewrite the path that he may have thought was always chosen for him. And I certainly can't wait to see what happens next!