Dead to Me
The question of what it is Judy wants has been dangling over this series for a few episodes now. Is she bringing a smart detective like Nick into the case of Ted’s death because she’s self-destructive? It certainly seems like the case would be ice cold by now if Judy didn’t keep heating it up. Those who don’t like Dead to Me would probably point to this aspect of the narrative as too unbelievable, but Linda Cardellini has made Judy such a fascinating character that it’s hard not to wonder what she’s going to do next. And there’s an interesting subtext going on about how grief and regret can lead someone to make very bad decisions. Isn’t it possible that Judy is so traumatized by what happened that she’s having just as hard a time as Jen is letting it go? Maybe even more?
Whatever her reasons, she spends most of this episode in a blind panic that some sort of magical headlight scanner has proved that she killed Ted, while helping dismantle the car in which she did exactly that. Meanwhile, Jen spirals a bit after seeing photos of Ted’s mangled body, and Judy isn’t there when she needs her. In the end, it looks like Jen is one huge step closer to realizing that Judy killed her husband. What will she do when she finds out? And is it possible that it’s what Judy really wants?
Jen takes the new evidence garnered from the creepiest kid at her son’s school to the cops, demanding to see Ted’s file, and giving the episode its title: “I Can Handle It.” She probably should have listened to the detective advising against it, but Jen can be stubborn. The photos of Ted’s body, reflected in Jen’s glasses just long enough for the horror to sink in, sends Jen into an emotional spiral. The first scene in which Jen breaks down is a great acting moment from Applegate, who homes in on a perfect blend of Jen’s courage and raw emotion.
After tracking the missing car to Steve’s mother’s house, Judy learns that Steve is taking it apart with the plan to dump parts in different junkyards. “Certain things come apart a lot easier than you expect,” he says. Of course, he’s talking about more than just the car. Some of the best lines in this show drip with double meaning (sometimes a bit too obviously). Importantly, while Steve and Judy are covering up their manslaughter, Judy ignores several emotional calls from Jen.
Without Judy to support her, Jen spirals at a house showing. As the client babbles words like “sleek” and “simple,” Jen appears to be fighting an oncoming panic attack. The phrase “bamboo fusion” has never sounded more ominous. Finally, Jen loses it, calling the client “a vapid fucking twat.” Christopher claims that it’s the final straw and says he wants to break up with Jen professionally, noting that the issues here go back years before Ted died — one incident apparently involved a ripped ficus, another a racist octogenarian. “Your anger is untenable,” he tells her. Dead to Me is very smart in how it illustrates the way that grief doesn’t change people so much as amplify already existing character flaws. Jen didn’t become cynical and angry because Ted died. His death just gave her a reason to became more so.
Back at the deconstruction of evidence of a crime, Steve is talking about the time he burned his dick. What a charmer. Once again, Judy reveals her superstitious side, asking if Steve took a forbidden rock from a petrified forest, something that is supposed to lead to a life of bad luck. He claims he didn’t take one. (Of course, he did.) As usual, Judy is desperately seeking a straightforward fix to her impossible situation, as if Steve sending back a stolen rock would make everything magically better.
Jen comes looking for Judy at the nursing home, where she finally meets Abe, who advises her not to be too hard on herself. It’s a sweet, tender scene that underlines how people don’t get what they “deserve,” positively or negatively, and it does no good to think you’re being punished by the universe for some reason. Jen isn’t being punished because she’s an angry person, and Judy isn’t being punished because Steve took a rock from a forest.
Although it may be fine if the universe punishes Steve, and the season probably will go there before it’s all over. Before then, though, Judy gives in to her sexual Kryptonite one more time, and one has to feel sorry for Nick, who stops by to see his girlfriend and finds Jen alone with a glass of red wine (apparently, it’s white with Judy and red alone). They have an important conversation as Jen drops that Ted was going for a run that night. Nick notes that he was wearing Vans, not exactly running shoes. Does Jen know, then, that Ted wasn’t running? Was he seeing Bambi? She makes up a story about him not liking running shoes, but it’s hard to tell if Nick buys it.
Judy comes home to find an angry Jen, presuming that the cops have now tied Judy to the crime, but her friend is angry because Judy was MIA. It’s a good scene because Jen doesn’t just let it go. Sometimes people have a right to be angry, and she’s still pissed when she goes to bed. She does take the time to go in and look at Steve’s shoes, though — he had plenty of running ones. Why did he wear Vans that night?
The next morning, Jen gets a call that they found the make and model of the car that killed Ted. Nick is coming over with a list of owners of 1966 Mustangs — not exactly a common car. “This happened and this is the person who did it and this is the car that they drove,” she says excitedly. Judy is anxiously putting cream cheese on a bagel, noting that the owner probably got rid of the car, when the hammer really falls: Jen points out, why would the driver be stupid enough to get rid of the car? That would look way more suspicious.
As Jen walks out, ready to solve the case, Judy pukes in the sink. Twice.
• A prediction: They’re setting up Steve as a selfish jerk. What if the connection is drawn between Ted’s death and the car and then somehow Steve ends up taking the fall? He probably wouldn’t sacrifice himself for Judy, but what if she can find a way to frame him, convincing the cops and Jen that Steve was driving alone? And how would you feel about that?
• Another crazy thought: What if Jen and Nick end up together? We haven’t seen a love interest for Jen outside of the aborted hookup at the grief retreat, and Nick is a really nice guy. They could bond over Judy’s betrayal.
• The show doesn’t use music often, but I like the choice of “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand),” by Irma Thomas, a song very familiar to Black Mirror fans.
• Might this be Applegate’s best episode? I love how subtly Jen has different chemistry with Judy than anyone else in her life. (By the way, this may be Marsden’s best episode, too. It’s a good one all-around in terms of performance.)