Doppelgangers and Guilt in 501: “My Bad”


In the aftermath of Trinity’s revenge, Dexter tells the first responders that Rita is dead and “it was me.” He asks Deb to treat Harrison like her own son, and she agrees to help raise  him. Dexter decides that his family is better off without them after Astor and Cody take the news of their mother’s death poorly (and understandably so). Believing that Harry has abandoned him, Dexter sets fire to the shipping container with all of his belongings in it and destroys all digital files he once used to track down and kill his victims. Planning to make a break for it and leave, Harry finally reappears to him to tell him that his family – Astor, Cody, Harrison, and Debra – needs him. Meanwhile, Quinn is becoming even more suspicious of Dexter.

“It Was Me”: Dexter’s Guilt

The only two emotions that could describe Dexter’s reaction to Rita’s death are shock and numbness; these reactions are taken for utter emptiness and apathy by Quinn and Astor. We know that Dexter doesn’t feel all too much, but there is something there behind these two show-stopping, derailing feelings: love.


“I’ve watched 67 people die, and at the moment of truth, I looked into their eyes and they knew and I knew they got what they deserved.”

Dexter knows that Rita did not deserve death; of all people in the world, she deserved what Dexter tried to give her, a “white picket fence,” and several children surrounding her; everything essential to the American Dream, which was virtually shattered (or severed, in her case). Dexter’s heart thumps in his chest for the second time in his life; the first time was when his watery graveyard was uncovered. This is all taken to be a show by Quinn, who listens to Dexter’s 911 call, which was precise like “he’s submitting a lab report.” Angel defends that it’s Dexter’s “habit of precision,” but we know better. Quinn’s suspicions are spiked further when Vince tells him about Rita and Elliott’s shared kiss on Thanksgiving, allowing for a possible kill motive if Dexter was to be pinned as the killer. When Quinn pursues it, intimating to LaGuerta that Rita’s killer is likely Dexter, as is the case in 9 out of 10 dead spouses. Quinn isn’t the only one buzzing about the circumstances of Rita’s death, however. The FBI feds are like “vultures,” waiting to catch Dexter when he shows up to Rita’s funeral to get an official statement from him.

“She trusted me and now she’s dead.” Debra comments that she got Rita a oak casket with white roses, meant to remind us of their wedding day. Rita’s dress, like a white flower, was stained by the blood from Dexter’s broken wrist after facing George Washington King. Their marriage was doomed from the start.

Dexter is guilty of many things, but killing his wife is not one of them. He begins to relive their first date and their first few days together; he recalls “how much I lied to her, from the very beginning.” We see that Dexter used his date with Rita as a cover for stalking and hunting one of his victims; he barely paid any attention to her and left abruptly. The guilt for this careless action symbolizes much of their relationship; Rita was – is – a cover for Dexter. But now she has become so much more for Dexter that losing her has him in a tailspin.

“She was innocent.”

“So, Where Are You Harry?”: Abandoning Faith and Family

Dexter considers upping and leaving; of course we know this would make him look guilty of Rita’s death, but Dexter is too adamant about not harming his family anymore to care. When Harry fails to appear to Dexter in his time of need, he goes and torches the shipping container in which he kept his kill tools, materials, and other belongings that he kept his apartment to stash. He even deletes digital files on his computer from each of his stalks, hunts, and ritualistic research. It seems as though Dexter has hit the “restart” button when he caves in and goes to Rita’s funeral. After an ugly purging of whines and shrieks, Dexter has excised his guilt and is ready to move on. At least he thinks he is.

“She had a big heart. Big enough for the both of us. Had to be. I wasn’t even human when we first met. I never expected that to change.”

Rita Funeral

Dexter considers, for a short while, leaving his family. We see his state of mind is questionable, given the fact that he left Harrison with the crazy cat lady from the downstairs apartments. We know that he was planning to take his things and restart elsewhere, a move that his father had once prepared him for; however, a good and quick kill, in violation of the Code, excises all of the negative energy and he regains some clarity.

Ultimately, Dexter realizes that he cannot abandon his family, for he loved Rita and they need him just as much as he needs them in his life. Dexter’s survival now depends upon his ability to protect his family and continually avenge his wife’s death, for he failed Rita and he cannot bear to fail her children as well. Astor blames Dexter for her mother’s death, and rightfully so. He had several opportunities to take out Trinity, which he squandered or passed up, knowing that the longer he waited, the more dangerous Arthur Mitchell became.

Dexter's Freak Out

“Where were you when someone was killing her? You should’ve been there to protect her. That was your job.” – Astor to Dexter

Housekeeping and Homecoming

“Never hurt an innocent, and never make a scene.” – the Code

Debra has officially stepped up to the plate to take care of her big brother following Rita’s death.  Rather than letting the feds impersonally clean up Dexter’s house like a crime scene, Deb takes it upon herself to clean up Dexter’s bathroom to be sure that it was immaculate – even more immaculate than Dexter and Rita had left it before the great tragedy. Trinity, well he and his daughter Christine Hill, have done more than enough damage to both her and Dexter in this past season and in cleaning up his mess, we see just how hard Rita’s death hit her as well. The kill was deeply personal. From arranging the wake and funeral to taking care of Harrison, Debra is truly the housekeeper in Dexter’s life for the time being when it has always been Dexter watching out for her (following the Ice-Truck Killer incident and Lundy’s death).


As a quick aside, I have suggested that Dexter and Debra are doppelgangers of sorts – male and females halves of the whole Morgan. I’ve mentioned previously that Dexter starred in HBO’s Six Feet Under, which also featured a close (read: nearly incestuous) brother-sister relationship: Brenda and Billy Chenowith (played by Rachel Griffiths and Jeremy Sisto). Perhaps this is a take off on the idea that we all have two sides to ourselves. Each show comments on the public self and the private self, both with the characters’ private lives and issues as well as familial conflicts and public actions.

Playing House: The Freudian Morgan

As Dexter and Debra enter his bachelor pad with Harrison, their homecoming eerily appears as a restart – a reset of what Dexter’s family is, leaving his sister in the mother figure role, and Dexter in the fatherly one. Given the fact that Lundy’s recent death was like losing Harry, a father, all over again, and Rita’s death like losing Laura Moser, Dexter’s mother, all over again, the Morgans cling to one another. Given the argument that I have brought up before about Debra’s denied love for Dexter, she ends up sleeping with Quinn because she cannot pour all of the love and fear onto Dexter for fear that she will “misstep” and break a taboo. Dexter asked Deb to “love [Harrison] as if he were your own,” to which Deb says that Harrison “is my own.” Their intimate hug leaves Deb uncomfortable and itching to ditch the apartment as quickly as possible.

Quinn said earlier in season four something along the lines of “put two people together in a room long enough and they’ll f*ck.” This is exactly what happens following the cleaning of the crime scene.

Dexter: A Black Comedy

Deb: “FBI? Fucking  bunch of idiots.”

  • Astor: “Hey, Dexter. Can I talk to mom?”
  • Dexter: “Not right now.”
  • Astor: “Why not?”
  • Dexter; “She’s uh . . . she’s in the shower.”
  • Rita: “Your sister . . . Debra’s told me so much about you.”
  • Dexter: “Uh oh.”
  • Rita: “Oh,  nothing bad, of course.”
  • Dexter: “She omitted the fact that I’m an ax murderer?”


And now to put a “number” on this episode. Dexterity (neat-handedness, puns, trickery, clever sayings, placements, etc.) will judge all of the small things that I pick up on. The higher the score, the more fun I had picking apart the episode for hidden clues. Entertainment (how much I laughed and enjoyed the episode) will judge how excited I was on average throughout the episode, as well as after it for the upcoming episodes. “Xtremity” (how dramatic, but also how believable the episode was, edge-of-the-seat, white knuckles, the “holy shit” factor) will judge just how jaw-dropping the episode was.
Dexterity: 8
Entertainment: 8
Xtremity:  9
DEX-Factor: 8.66


8 thoughts on “Doppelgangers and Guilt in 501: “My Bad”

  1. This was really the beginning of the intensified Dexter-Debra relationship as Deb begins to take on part of Rita’s role in Dexter’s life. The fling with Quinn in Dexter and Rita’s house after cleaning up her blood always bothered me, but I had not thought about “she ends up sleeping with Quinn because she cannot pour all of the love and fear onto Dexter for fear that she will “misstep” and break a taboo.” Why do you think that?


    1. For the first time in a while, Dexter is available. Now with Rita gone, we know Deb will step up to the plate and help her brother out with his kids. The reason why Deb cleans up the scene of the crime in the first place is to protect her brother. Its also an attempt to clean up the blood, erase the horror and the past. Astor will comment in season five when she returns, drunk, to the house, “It’s like it never even happened.” It is as if Deb is starting to remove evidence of Rita in Dexter’s life to make room for her later on. I’m not saying Debra is selfish; rather, this erasing is an effort to protect Dexter and move forward.

      This overwhelming urge to protect culminates not only in a spotless bathroom but the fling with Quinn, a stand in for her brother.

      I understand it is a long shot, but I can’t help the feeling that Deb sees the opportunity to have her brother, and she is so “excited” that she grabs Quinn to channel those feelings and make them more appropriate.


      1. I see what you are saying and it may be more than a long shot. It’s a fascinating dynamic that’s going on at this moment between the characters: Deb understands Dexter to be asking her to be Harrison’s mother; she of course has no way of knowing that Dexter at that moment plans to opt out of being Harrison’s father and so as far as she knows, Dexter is asking that she be Harrison’s co-parent, which implies a husband-and-wife kind of arrangement. What does Deb say right before the thing with Quinn? I may be wrong about this, but it sounded to me like “I’m the only thing he has and I can’t read him”. Did you hear that or something different? And what is your observation about its’ significance?


      2. I believe that is what Deb says. I think she’s trying to explain that she is the only bit of family he has left, besides his son, and so she should know him best, since she has known him longer than anyone else alive. Perhaps she’s frustrated with herself and their relationship. She does work with him and sees him several times every single day; why shouldn’t she be able to understand him entirely? I think this need – to be understood completely and to understand him completely – feeds into the incestual desire we will see come to fruition in season six.


  2. I think you are correct – she wants to be there for him emotionally as well as with helping take care of Harrison and other things and this frustrated craving intensifies the feelings she has long buried (I sometimes wish we had been given the occasional flashback from Deb’s point of view). As she continues to pound away at Dexter’s walls, it’s interesting to me that Deb just refuses to consider the darker possibilities of her brother’s emotional detachment from her. Around this time Dexter and Deb have a couple of conversations where Deb is trying to convince Dexter that he is a good person and he refuses to acknowledge it. As you noted in your treatment of “The Getaway”, Debra has finally become aware that Dexter and ‘Rudy’ were biological brothers. My impression of that scene was that Deb became so emotional because she thought she had hurt Dexter by ‘revealing’ the truth about his biological mother and brother and she did not want him to even think about not being in her life. But in any event, her newfound knowledge of the link between Dexter and Rudy should certainly make her wonder why her brother is so insistent upon considering himself a bad person. She is not able to do so – as Sarah Colleton said, Dexter is her blind spot.


  3. As I considered this further while doing yard work (needed something to think about), this denial is completely in character for Deb though. Not only has she known her foster brother her entire life but she has loved him in a way that, though unacknowledged at this point, is not typical of siblings. Both Dexter and Deb are social outsiders who have been unable to form lasting emotional attachments with anyone else. Their parents have been dead for 10 years or so, leaving them further isolated and dependent upon each other. Not only do they work together every day, but they’ve lived together on and off even in their adult years and she hasn’t noticed anything unusual about him other than he’s a little weird (which she already knew). She is “loyal to a fault” and highly protective/possessive of him. She desperately wants to be closer to him emotionally and so is more than typically inclined to view him in the most positive light. She probably fits some kind of personality type that I don’t know what you call it but you likely do. So…yeah. The ingredients for why she doesn’t see this are all there. As Deb might say, “what do you expect me to think? That you were a f***king serial killer?”


    1. Hi Tom!

      To respond to your November 8 comment:
      I think you would enjoy Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.’s text that I have been referring to: “The Psychology of Dexter.” She includes several articles, one of which comes to mind right now, about Dexter’s psychology, as well as that of the supporting characters. There is a chapter that expounds upon the idea of Debra being “loyal to a fault,” which also explains Rita’s behavior. There was a study conducted that showed that lovers are much more likely to believe that their loved ones are telling the truth over someone else, for why would their loved ones have any reason to lie to them? This is Debra’s philosophy. I don’t know if there is an exact personality type or label for this kind of person other than “loyal to a fault” or “denial.”

      November 20:
      As far as childhood trauma, I believe I meant the trauma in their teenage years in losing their mother at such a young age, and then Harry’s untimely death in their early twenties(Deb)/thirties(Dexter), or however their ages actually break down.

      That’s an awesome observation about Deb’s “me too” response. Dexter is so desperately trying to mock others’ feelings to not appear as the hollow shell he can sometimes (usually) be, and “me too” is a filler for when he can’t find the words, or when the pressure of finding the right words is too great. In Deb’s case, the “me too” is almost skirting her actual feelings and avoiding the situation. Deb is putting up a defense, for there are so many ways that Anton and Lundy can hurt her, and so many ways she can hurt them. This is likely Dexter’s thought process as well. Neither Dex nor Deb feel genuine emotions when they say “me, too” and it’s their desperate attempt to connect or fake that emotion.


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