The second season of “Dead to Me” lives up to the first, continuing to provide well-rounded and complex characters as well as nail-biting and thrilling plotting.
Starring Christina Applegate, Linda Cardellini, James Marsden, Max Jenkins, Sam McCarthy, and Luke Roessler
“Dead to Me” Season 1 pretty much functions as its own story. Though ending on a massive cliffhanger, it would have been perfectly acceptable to end the story there. After all, why potentially spoil the legacy of such a high quality show with a substandard second outing? Would another season be able to provide as many captivating twists and turns? These were the concerns of many fans coming into the second season. Where would the story go? Would it still work now that Jen (Christina Applegate) was aware of Judy’s (Linda Cardellini) massive secret?
Fortunately, the most enduring appeal of this series is the female relationship around which all of the action revolves. This is what defines it as a show and makes it stand out from all the other shows there are to watch on Netflix. It’s this dynamic that makes this series so utterly indescribable in terms of its genre, though perhaps the best descriptor would be a female buddy black comedy thriller. That sounds almost impossible but, somehow, incredibly apt.
The relationship between Jen and Judy is a massive draw to the audience. Complex and addictive, it’s worth watching for the pair alone, and there are phenomenally portrayed by Applegate and Cardellini respectively. The chemistry between the two is like lightning in a bottle. Cardellini bounds around like an overly attached puppy, butting up against Applegate’s entirely unimpressed and curmudgeonly German shepherd. It’s a source of much of the series’ brilliant humorous moments, but moreover it allows the audience to heavily invest in them, especially when we see the two continue to fall back into each other in their times of need.
“Dead to Me”’s second season picks up right where we left the action last year. Judy was pushed to breaking point upon Jen’s discovery that she was responsible for Jen’s husbands tragic death in a hit-and-run, a secret that Judy had desperately been concealing as she grew closer to the grieving widow. However, just before she took drastic action in ending her own life, she was called to Jen’s aid, revealing that Jen had murdered Judy’s abusive ex-fiancé Steve (James Marsden), who was now floating face-down in the swimming pool.
It is from here that the second season takes off, as the two women cover up Steve’s murder and continue to navigate their complicated and messy friendship. Along the way, the season is peppered with massive cliffhanger moments that make the journey from episode to episode irritatingly difficult to refuse. It’s a masterclass in bringing an audience to the edge of their seat, eager to discover the next segment in the tale. It is consistently shocking, high octane, palm sweating, engrossing drama throughout.
Yet, all of those stakes would mean nothing if we didn’t have a huge amount of affection for its central characters. In fact, it’s quite remarkable that we do possess such feelings, considering the unabashed way that the show airs the flaws of both women. As the pair scramble to conceal the murder, the show takes the opportunity to dive deeper into both women’s emotions.
The show adds new layer and depth to Judy’s character. A character who can best be described as energetically chaotic, positive and kind, the veneer starts to peel away. Judy’s abuse at Steve’s hands, a relatively small plot point in the first season, continues to be focussed upon as she navigates the tricky waters of mourning her abuser. We continue to observe as Judy’s anger turns inwards and she punishes herself, both mentally and physically, in what is what of the most emotional and powerful scenes in the season. On top of that, Judy also gains a new love interest, through which we see even more of the open, loving nature of this multi-faceted character.
Jen also has a massive amount of development from her characterisation in the first season, as she struggles with the weight of her enormous secret. Already prickly, and incredibly fond of her curse words, Jen seems wound like a spring the entire season; taut and ready to explode at any given moment. She becomes increasingly unstable, whilst also trying to navigate her own feelings of guilt for causing Judy’s pain, despite Judy’s role in her own grief.
This sense of role reversal is quite captivating. While it was brilliant to observe unassuming Judy, all sugar and smiles, deceiving Jen last season, it’s also hugely compelling to see the opposite, especially as Judy is so grateful for their friendship continuing. Having said that, with the two women’s relationship in tact, it does remove some of the sense of jeopardy that comes with discovery. A lot of the tension in the last season derived from the emotional ramifications that would come from Jen discovering Judy’s role in her husband’s death, as well as the dramatic push and pull that came from Jen attempting to figure it out, while Judy subtly trying to sabotage her investigation from the inside. This season’s attempts to find the truth behind Steve’s fate is less intense and driven, since we know that Judy and Jen’s relationship is assured. In this respect, the season is less tense, as the pair have each other to fall back on. The nature of the first season’s plot line also allowed for there to be a bit more relief from the murder plot, as Judy’s role was a secret, and allowed for there to be many other subplots. This season, in comparison, revolves around Steve’s murder in a much more central way.
Bizarrely, and somewhat inconceivably, the show also features myriad witty and heartwarming moments (despite the focus upon murder, guilt and grief). The off-kilter, slightly strange interactions that the characters have are the source of much of the amusement, with lines that consistently catch the audience off guard. Random throwaway lines like, “You look beautiful. I wish you would love yourself more” come completely out of nowhere and are so perfectly delivered, you cannot help but laugh out loud. The two highly inept liars attempting to cover up their misdemeanours causes much hilarity, and there’s a real enjoyment and commitment to lean the show into the absurd and increasingly chaotic situations they find themselves in, with an obscenely liberal number of hearty expletives thrown in for good measure.
Frankly, Jen and Judy work so well together as a pairing, both in the way that they are written and performed that this series could honestly work without any of the thriller elements. It would still be just as captivating, purely from a two-hander episode. There were often moments where I longed for the secrets and the twists to take a backseat to just enjoy the dynamic and their friendship.
One key indicator of the success of “Dead to Me” is the way that it stays with you afterwards. Not so much the cliffhangers – though the one that ends the season is massive – but the way that it so successfully breathes life into these characters. With a third and final season already announced, one can only hope that it continues to deliver such gripping, entertaining and funny storytelling with well-realised character growth.
Dead to Me is streaming now on Netflix.