WARNING! This article contains spoilers for Dead to Me Season 2. Do not read if you’re not caught up on the show!
I fell hard for Dead to Me Season 1 on Netflix, but admittedly, I did wonder, how could creator Liz Feldman and her team keep the cover-up concept going for another season without spiraling out of control? Turns out, the key wound up being embracing the spiral. The show began with Linda Cardellini’s Judy befriending the wife of the man she killed in a hit and run, Christina Applegate’s Jen. Much of the season focused on Judy trying to make amends without revealing what she did. In Season 2 of the show, Jen winds up in that exact same position.
At the start of Season 2, Judy is under the impression that Jen killed Steve (James Marsden) out of self defense when, in fact, that wasn’t the case. So now it’s Jen’s turn to walk around with the weight of a major secret on her shoulders, and it’s eating away at her. So does that mean Season 2 is just Season 1 all over again? Yes, in a sense, but it’s handled in a way that allows the characters to keep growing without ever letting you forget the importance of how someone’s past can forever impact their present, for better or worse. Here’s what went down:
Dead to Me Season 2 really goes into the home stretch when the big secret that Jen’s been harboring from the very beginning of the season finally comes out; Steve never (physically) attacked her. When she killed him with the bird that Judy gifted Henry, Steve was walking away. Under the impression that her husband hated her, her kids hate her and now Judy is suffering thanks to her mistakes, Jen sets a new plan into motion; she’s going to turn herself in.
Before heading over to Detective Perez’s (Diana Maria Riva) home, she puts together an emergency kit for Judy. There’s a note for her, one for Charlie (Sam McCarthy) and one for Henry (Luke Roessler) as well as a binder labeled “In Case of Emergency Binder: Everything Your Loved Ones Need to Know.” The next morning, Judy attempts to kick off her run as the boys’ guardian with a cheery attitude, but as we well know, Judy can’t hide her true emotions and they sense that something’s up. While Judy does manage to keep things secret from Henry, Charlie is a different matter, especially because he’s still got that small black case from Steve’s car and suspects that it might have something to do with the “dangerous people” that he’s heard Steve was working with. Inside the case there’s a thumb drive and everything on that drive is in Greek, immediately connecting the dots between Steve and the Greek mafia. Judy immediately runs the drive over to Prager (Brandon Scott) at the police station and, it turns out, that’s not that was in the bag. Judy also gives him a record with the Chief Hastings’ (Jere Burns) voice on it.
Meanwhile, Jen is with Detective Perez. She admits to killing Steve and takes Perez to where she and Judy buried the body. (While insisting that she did it all herself.) Trouble is, she can’t find the spot. Along the way, Jen begs her to leave Charlie out of it despite the photos of him in Steve’s car, but that’s not even what’s on Perez’s mind. She’s still trying to put the blame on Judy, especially when the mere mention of those photos means that Judy is the one who told Jen about them. When Jen insists on defending Judy, Perez is at a loss. How can Jen be defending the woman who admitted to killing her husband? Jen tells her, “She sees the good in people. Even when it isn’t there.”
On the way back to the station, Jen attempts to calls the kids but has no reception. Perez tells her, “You’ll get better reception when you’re out of the woods,” and that means a whole lot more than just Jen being able to get a call out with better cell service; she needs to get out from under the weight of this mess in order to find the best path forward for her family. Yes, Jen killed Steve, but as Perez puts it, “You said he was threatening you. You said you asked him to leave. He has a history of abusive behavior. That’ll carry weight in a courtroom.” Jen winds up getting even more understanding from Perez when she finds out that Perez lost her mom at a young age, when her mom was trying to protect her from her abusive stepfather. Remind you of anything? If Jen was indeed afraid for her children’s lives when Steve came over uninvited and irate, she was going to do whatever she had to in order to protect them – just like what Perez’s mother did for her. The big difference? Perez’s mother lost her life in the process; Jen can still be here for her boys.
While standard procedure would require that Jen to go to the police station, give a statement and be formally charged, Perez opts to send her home and insists that they they never talk about what they didn’t find out in the woods ever again. She tells Jen, “I don’t want to be a cop right now. I want to be a person. And sometimes justice just works itself out.”
Just before Judy caves and tells Henry and Charlie that their mom isn’t coming back, Jen walks through the door! Soon after, Jen and Judy have a heart to heart where Jen apologizes and Judy simply forgives her. She explains that she’s tired of feeling sad and hurt, and that resenting Jen would just be punishing herself. But then thing is, Judy also wants Jen to stop punishing herself. How exactly does Jen do that? Who knows? Judy can’t give her a list of steps to take, but she has to find a way to forgive herself. In an effort to do just that, Jen goes back to the support group. She tells them that she never really grieved the death of her mother. She was sick for most of Jen’s life. She’d be okay, but then the cancer would come back and Jen would get mad at her, like she was choosing to let it happen. Then, when she finally couldn’t fight it anymore, Jen was mad at her all over again for that. Ultimately, she wound up redirecting that towards herself and that realization seems to be just what Jen needs to finally move past it.
Judy also has some self-improvement to do; she needs to learn how to say “no” more often and she’s putting that skill to use with her mother (Katey Sagal). Her prison visit in Episode 9 was the first time Judy had seen her mother in 15 years. It was a clearly attempt to do exactly what Judy suggested that Jen do; put the resentment behind her and move on. But Judy still had some growing to do in Episode 9 so when her mom pressured her into finding a pricy lawyer, Judy agreed to give it a shot. Things are different for Judy now though and we get a “no” in three stages. First, Judy’s mom tries to blame her mistakes and drug use on Judy. Judy pushes back on that point and then finally takes the leap into firm “no” territory when her mother asks her again to pay for a lawyer to help her get out of prison. The real nail in the coffin though is when her mom asks her to write a letter to the parole board instead telling them that she’s changed and Judy refuses. So while Jen owned up to her mistakes and gave a sincere apology, that’s not what Judy’s mom is doing so she’s not worthy of Judy’s big heart and forgiveness.
Back at home, Judy gets a surprise visit from Perez who brings her those painting she’s been asking for. It turns out, Judy didn’t just want them because the paintings meant a lot to her; there was a ton of cash hidden in the frames. Where exactly did that money come from? While it’s never explicitly stated, one could assume that it was part of Steve’s money laundering operation for the Greek mafia. Given the fact that Judy was the one who ratted him out, it seems very likely that she also would know where he hid the cash. Now that Steve’s gone and some of the mafia folks are going to prison, Judy is safe to keep it, right? I’m willing to bet that’ll circle back to bite them next season.
But in the meantime, Jen and Judy use the money to take care of a number of pressing matters. First, they pay off Jen’s mother-in-law Lorna (Valerie Mahaffey) so that Jen isn’t indebted to her for taking care of the down payment on her house. Lorna questions if Jen is trying to buy her out of the house or out of her kids’ lives entirely, and here’s where the importance of being a mother returns. Lorna is their only grandmother and Jen is grateful that the boys have her. Just like Judy wants to move past the exhaustion of resenting Jen for what she did, the same is true of Jen and Lorna. In order to achieve that, Jen can’t work with Lorna anymore and agrees to give Lorna her new $20 million listing – the Wood estate. The importance of motherhood swoops back in yet again when Jen sincerely asks that Lorna take care of Mrs. Wood; “She needs a friend who understands what she’s going through right now.” And who better to do that than Ted’s mother?
Things are looking up as Jen and Judy drive home a very special surprise for Charlie – his own car that they bought using Judy’s painting money. As they’re driving home, Jen is thrilled to discover that her F-bomb filled speech to the city council paid off because there’s a new stop sign on the road! Trouble is, that stop sign can’t stop an intoxicated Ben (Marsden) from slamming right into their car. Dead to Me Season 2 ends with him hitting them and driving off. It doesn’t look like anyone realizes who was actually involved in the accident, so will Season 3 be Season 1 all over again with Ben coming to realize that he was responsible for what happen to Jen and Judy? And that’s not the only lingering questions with where Season 2 wrapped up.
What happened to Michelle (Natalie Morales)? Is that really the end of her relationship with Judy? The emotional rollercoaster Judy put her through by f being super into the relationship, then backing out of it and then trying to get back into it is one thing, but when Detective Perez ( tells Michelle that Judy is an accused stalker who’s part of an active investigation where her ex-fiancé is missing and possibly dead, one could see how that could be a devastating romance extinguisher. But, perhaps Perez could be the one to fix that after all. Yes, at the end of the season she tells Judy she wants nothing to do with her, but bringing her those paintings at all does suggest change is possible. Plus, Perez seemed pretty upset over the fact that Michelle moved out because she thinks Perez lost herself in her job and that she always see the worst in people. Maybe bringing Judy and Michelle back together in Season 3 could be her way to make amends.
And then there’s Ben. Poor Ben, a super nice guy who just wanted to find his brother was jerked around all season and driven back to the bottle after being sober for a year. What if Jen and Judy revealed Steve was dead right away? Would there have been a similar outcome? We can’t know for sure but there is no doubt that all three parties – Jen, Judy and Ben – are going to feel some serious guilt over what happened. The question is, who’s going come clean and/or forgive first? And is there any hope for Jen and Ben to live happily ever after? Let’s say Steve experience a similar learning curve regarding guilt and forgiveness, then perhaps because he’ll have a lot in common with Jen. But is Dead to Me really going to play that game again? Given how much they enriched the themes and ideas established in Season 1, I’m willing to bet Season 3 will veer down a slightly different path. And what happens to Jen and Judy now that Steve’s body was discovered? Are the USB drive and the record enough to 100% implicate the Greek mafia and keep them in the clear? And on top of that, let’s not forget that Jen still has the murder women in the safe. And who knew what else Charlie learned from that letter Jen wrote to Judy. Did we hear the extent of it in Episode 10 or were there more specifics about the crimes they committed in it?
Dead to Me is proving to be a never-ending cycle of mistakes, guilt and forgiveness, and I happen to think that’s a very good thing. No, you don’t want a story to grow repetitive and stale, but the format works quite well for Dead to Me because of the build. It’s a heightened scenario with a ton of forward momentum that’s kept grounded through the respect it has for the messy reality of what it can take to forgive. Feldman and her team are proven experts when it comes to crafting twists and turns to keep you on your toes and wanting more, but the more impressive quality of the writing here is how well the series addresses that overcoming something once, doesn’t mean you’re free and clear of it forever. Jen and Judy have both proven that they’re very capable of learning and growing, but that learning and growing never stops, and if the writers of Dead to Me can continue to keep exploring their cover-up with so much nuance and heart, I’ll be happy to ride this cycle with Jen and Judy over and over.