Dead to Me: series 2 intertwines soap-opera drama with emotional storytelling
Image courtesy of Bustle
The first series of Liz Feldman’s Dead to Me began with an unlikely friendship between Jen (Christina Applegate), a recently widowed, cynical real-estate agent, and Judy (Linda Cardellini) an optimistic care-home assistant who suffered numerous miscarriages. But after several major twists in their relationship, including Judy confessing she killed Jen’s husband, Ted, in a hit-and-run, series one ended with Judy’s ex fiancé dead in Jen’s swimming pool. And while series two deals with the fallout of Steve’s (James Marsden) murder, what grounds this show in reality is the sharp humour, emotional beats, and clever writing that earned Dead to Me so many accolades.
Series two picks up where series one left off, as Jen and Judy struggle to collect the shattered remains of their lives. The pair of them quickly begin to unravel for different reasons. Judy is barely able to hide her grief and Jen quickly succumbs to guilt and paranoia, especially when her nosy neighbour Karen begins asking questions. Applegate’s range is what maintains the show’s intensity, expertly playing Jen as volatile one moment and snarky the next. There are bigger consequences for her impulsive actions as she tries to keep the real motivation behind Steve’s murder a secret, and in that way, series two feels like a parallel to series one. The show’s new murder mystery risks becoming a messy ‘copy-and-paste’ of the previous series, but Feldman is able to subvert our expectations and use Steve’s death to highlight how flawed Jen actually is. Instead of anger-fuelled grief motivating Jen’s actions this time, it is the guilt of being a killer that forces her to isolate herself from everyone. Still, she can’t cover this murder up alone, and Judy returns to support her. Because after all, no one knows that kind of guilt better than Judy.
While Jen is the steering the main plot threads for series two, Judy provides the emotional gravitas needed to make Dead to Me work. Cardellini is a powerhouse of raw emotion, expertly playing a character that can elicit laughter from viewers as quickly as she can bring them to tears. We are treated to more of Judy’s backstory this series, including her toxic childhood with her mother and the true nature of her relationship with Steve. His death opens up a wider conversation about abuse and guilt when we learn at the end of last series that Steve gas-lit Judy into leaving Ted’s body on the side of the road. Series two is a love letter to sweet Judy, who’s glass-half-full look at the world is chipped when she finally realises how abusive Steve was. This revelation comes in the penultimate episode. After discovering what really happened the night of Steve’s murder, Judy becomes inconsolable, realising her desire to make others happy stems from a traumatic upbringing and that Steve never really loved her. It’s a realistic and devastating portrayal of how abuse from a young age can affect someone even in their adulthood and so beautifully acted.
Overall, Dead to Me isn’t really a murder mystery; Steve’s death simply acts as a catalyst for an even greater story about grief, guilt and trauma. It’s a buddy-dramedy that doesn’t take the meticulous issues about, oh say, hiding a dead body too seriously because we’re more invested in how this is affecting Jen and Judy’s bond.The show only looks to the past to drive the narrative forward. Our leading ladies are flawed, but Feldman makes it clear that their transformation into being better people is as important. We might be in the midst of a pandemic, but the outlandish world of Dead to Me reminds us most importantly of all to embrace change, even if the future is uncertain.
Dead to Me: series 2 is available to stream on Netflix now.