‘Dead To Me’: Too Many Secrets

The endless twists and cliffhangers are really dumb, but Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini still have chemistry in the final season of the Netflix show

Should we watch the third and final season of Dead To Me? At first, the show seemed to be a black comedy that also served on a meditation on grief. Christina Applegate plays Jen, a recently widowed mother who lives and works in the opulent and gorgeous city of Laguna Beach, California. And since she’s a real estate agent – and this is, after all, a TV series — she works too hard, values money too much and has a lot of rage to process.

At a grief support group, the kind of group comprised of nutty and colorful characters that one finds in TV shows, she meets manic pixie dream girl (woman?) named Judy (Linda Cardellini), who’s also mourning a spouse. At first this seems like your basic female buddy series. Yin meets yang. Opposites attract. But soon it turns out, in the first of many plot twists to come, that Judy isn’t mourning anyone’s death. She’s the driver the of the car that hit and killed Jen’s husband. She’s been going to the support group to connect with Jen and make amends.

This is delicious at first , but then the show then becomes a series of plot twists followed by cliffhangers followed by a series of more plot twists followed by more cliffhangers. In fact, every single episode ends on a cliffhanger.

James Marsden plays Steve Wood, Judy’s abusive ex-fiance who has ties to the Greek mafia and is–as it turns out in a plot twist down the road–the one truly responsible for Jen’s husband’s death.  Once his character is killed off (by Jen), Marsden resurfaces as Ben Wood, Steve’s twin brother. It’s that kind of show.

The problem is that these plot twists and cliff hangers come so regularly, that after a while it’s hard to appreciate them. They are well crafted, and you don’t actually see them coming per se…but they happen so often, they don’t exactly rock your world.

There are also a lot of secrets. The fact that Jen killed Steve. The fact that Ben was the one behind the wheel in that hit and run. Someone will do something shameful or illegal and spend lots of screen time ALMOST spilling their guts. And just when you think they’re going to come clean, they blurt out something else. There should be a drinking game: drink everytime someone fails to admit a shameful secret.

Should I be watching this show?  Yes.

Why? Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini.

It’s not so much their performances. Although they are, as always, quite gifted comic actresses. It’s the good will they generate for having been around for so long.

Christina Applegate came into our consciousness as Kelly Bundy, a pre-teen on Married with Children. The show ran for several seasons and bore itself into the pop culture landscape. She was quite good on the show but you might not have noticed because she was blossoming into a teen dream before our eyes. PM Dawn name checked her in a song. She starred in a movie called “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” which despite its moderate box office success, gained a cult following on VHS and cable television. She grew up and did okay, but she wasn’t Jodie Foster.  On the other hand, she wasn’t Lindsay Lohan, either. She didn’t win an Oscar. But she worked consistently and stayed out of trouble. She even headlined a Broadway revival of Sweet Charity. She persevered. I have yet to meet someone who actually doesn’t like Christina Applegate.

Cardellini has a similar story. As sullen mathlete Lindsay on Freeks and Geeks, wearing the same army jacket day after day, she embodied–for the Gen X’ers who were watching–our awkward early 80s teen years. Cardinelli neither became a big Oscar-winning movie star nor a trainwreck. But she always worked. And was always good.

One thing really bothers me about season three of Dead to Me. And it’s tough to discuss. At the opening of the first episode, both Jen and Judy are in the hospital. Last season’s cliffhanger had Ben Wood hitting the ladies in a hit and run. To be blunt, Christina Applegate looks rough. She seems to have aged 15-20 years since the last season. According to reporting in the media Applegate was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis while filming the third and final season. Judy leaves the room to look at babies or something equally befitting a manic pixie dream woman and Jen is lying there. A doctor enters and informs her that the MRI they ran reveals “shadows.” She probably has cancer. I doubt that I was the only person who thought “oh, they’re writing her illness into the storyline.  Brilliant.”

But wait. There’s a plot twist. Jen was lying in Judy’s hospital bed. The doctor was delivering the news to a woman he assumed was Judy. It’s Judy (Linda Cardinelli) who has cancer. Stage four cervical cancer. The rest of the season features Judy coming to terms with the fact that she is a terminal case and will eventually die by the end of this final season. Meanwhile Jen is fine. In fact, Jen is pregnant with Ben’s baby. In her late forties.

It is most disconcerting that–aside from a shot revealing that he has lost a little hair–Judy has cancer but looks perfectly fine up until her off camera death. She glows with health.  It’s the sort of gorgeous terminal illness we haven’t seen since MGM in the 40s. Meanwhile, Jen (Applegate) looks like she’s struggling with an illness, but according to the plotline, she’s healthy enough to bring a baby to term. I kept waiting for a plot twist to explain all of this. (“Oh wait it’s Jen who’s actually sick and this has all be a dream sequence!”) But no such twist came.

Still the chemistry between these two veteran actresses and the goodwill that they engender kept me binging the entire season.

 You May Also Like

One thought on “‘Dead To Me’: Too Many Secrets

  • November 29, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    Really sad to still see people, men, reinforcing the “trainwreck” stigma onto Lindsay Lohan. You really refuse to let her move on.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *