[Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers for Dead To Me seasons one and two.]
Dead To Me runs in circles. Netflix’s tragicomedy hinges on the strength of an unlikely companionship that is constantly tested. Let’s revisit these hurdles: Judy (Linda Cardellini) hits and kills a man while driving. The guilt makes her befriend his widow, Jen (Christina Applegate). In a fit of rage several episodes later, Jen bludgeons Judy’s smarmy ex-fiancé to death. They often lie to each other and then come clean during these events, all while hiding their crimes from the police. Dead To Me has spun a similar mysterious yarn during both seasons. The repetition succeeds because it forges an unshakable bond between two women who couldn’t be more different from each other. It’s their unexpected synergy, not their secrets, that make the show compelling.
So it’s no wonder season three’s victory lies in how it spotlights Jen and Judy’s devotion to one another. Dead To Me maximizes Applegate and Cardellini’s sublime talent and chemistry to deliver a potent goodbye that’s jarringly overdramatic. (At times, the show edges towards we’re-going-to-cry This Is Us territory.) Yet the eps still hit hard because of how committed both actors are to these roles. In less capable hands, Dead To Me’s impact would’ve crashed, but their performances somehow make a predictable script and suspense soar. (For additional waterworks, check out Cardellini’s speech during Applegate’s Walk of Fame induction earlier this month.)
The overarching structure is rehashed in season three as Jen and Judy still keep major life updates from each other. There’s no time to deal with health issues amid multiple external problems: Steve’s (James Marsden) body is discovered in the woods where they buried him. His twin brother Ben (Marsden pulling remarkable double duty) rammed into them while driving drunk in the previous finale. And then there’s Jen’s teenage son, who has potentially discovered Judy killed his dad.
Initial episodes promise but fail to deliver a meaty payoff on the investigations into Steve’s death and Ben’s hit-and-run. Garrett Dillahunt’s cameo as an FBI agent is sadly pointless, and Steve’s association with the Greek mafia remains a convenient way out for the ladies. Police officer Nick (Brandon Scott) is the only one doggedly probing these cases. And even he’s derailed by his partner Detective Perez (Diana-Maria Riva), who helps Jen out for reasons we’re supposed to chalk up to empathy.
Jen garners Perez’s affinity because of her awful circumstances, but she did still murder a man—as terrible as he was—without any consequences. At least Judy and Steve could claim running Ted over was an accident (although they chose to flee the scene). But Jen’s actions aren’t as incidental. Much to its detriment, Dead To Me doesn’t examine the massive privilege that lets Jen and Judy—two wealthy, good-looking white women living in suburbia—get away with literal murder. Perez and Nick forgo their duties to help them, and it’s never properly dissected why beyond “Steve equals bad” and “Jen and Judy equal good,” even when that’s clearly not the case.
The show fares better in meditating over grief, loss, and wrongdoing through the internal struggles of its complex heroines. Jen is an acerbic pessimist mourning her dead husband and their failed relationship, while Judy’s sunny disposition is directly in contrast to that. Their coping mechanisms are wildly different, with Jen bashing a car in frustration, and Judy preparing baked goods. (Jen is the type who will curse non-stop, whereas Judy will dole out hugs.) But all of these traits are facades that hide their respective breakdowns.
In season three, the duo tries to move beyond their crimes and prioritize their own lives, with Jen addressing her lingering feelings for Ben and Judy embracing everything life has to offer. But how can they start fresh with all the damaging dangling threads between them?
In hindsight, it’s not surprising that a show about remorse and heartbreak wraps up in a tear-jerker series finale. It’s more overly sentimental and predictable than expected, sure, but Jen and Judy’s undying love was always the driving force. Applegate and Cardellini sell the hell out of it, balancing the comedic and emotional beats perfectly. And for what it’s worth, Marsden has no right to be as charming as he is, at one point singing along to Patsy Cline, which is simply glorious. (Where’s the official petition to cast him in more rom-coms?) The mystery of the show remains cyclical, but Dead To Me is still binge-worthy and engrossingly funny to the bittersweet end.
Dead To Me season 3 premieres November 17 on Netflix.