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Dead to Me’s Many, Many, Many Cliffhangers: An Episodic Guide

Photo: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Dead to Me, Netflix’s dramedy about suburban women tied together by secrets and murder and friendship, led by Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, has a lot of things going for it: excellent performances across the board; an insightful exploration of grief; an ability to turn cursing into an art form; sharp, dark comedy; wine. The list goes on. But what the show really does best is embrace the binge — almost every episode in its two seasons ends with some type of big reveal or cliffhanger. The dismounts of each episode are perfect in that they immediately push you forward into the next episode. Even if Netflix didn’t have that insanely fast auto-play option, you’d be hitting play on the next episode of your own volition. (Can you even imagine? What are we, cave people?)

Some of these cliffhangers are more effective than others. A great cliffhanger will have shock value — this is exciting and surprising and HOLY HELL I NEED TO SEE MORE. It will also have plot value — the twist or reveal shouldn’t be easily explained away, and the best ones have long-lasting ramifications for the show. To figure out which Dead to Me cliffhangers thrill the most, we’re going episode by episode to see how this show works its binge-magic. All cliffhangers will be rated on a scale of how many fucks it elicits — whether from shock, anger, fear, or excitement — because Queen of Cursing Jen Harding has shown us that a well-placed fuck is really the only way to properly express your emotions.

Season One, Episode One: “Pilot”

We discover that Judy is keeping her Mustang in her storage unit, and the front is all smashed up as if she had hit … Oh my God, Judy killed her new best friend Jen’s husband!!!!!

You want to talk about long-lasting ramifications on the plot? After that moment, you view Judy and Jen’s friendship in a completely different way than before that moment. Suddenly, you are watching a different show. It amps the tension and stakes way the hell up. This information is a ticking time bomb, and like any good cliffhanger should, it forces the audience to ask questions it will want to have answered, and therefore press play on episode two: What exactly is Judy up to by inserting herself in this family’s life? Is she an outright villain? Is this all a trick that will be negated in episode two? When will Jen find out? But also, WHEN WILL JEN FIND OUT?

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: 5 fucks out of 5.

Season One, Episode Two: “Maybe I’m Crazy”

Jen takes a golf club to the neighborhood douchebag’s Lambo!

This ending reveals the depths of Jen’s anger issues, but doesn’t do much in regard to twisty-turny plot points. Sure, that may make this ending one of the least gasp-worthy, but it’s a smart move, narratively speaking. The previous episode’s ending is so shocking and revelatory that trying to top it immediately would make the cliffhanger ending feel gimmicky. Plus, that guy deserved it.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: 0 fucks out of 5.

Season One, Episode Three: “It’s All My Fault”

Jen gets on Ted’s computer to play video games with her son, only to learn that Ted’s been chatting with someone named Bambi and she really, really misses his cock. 

This cliffhanger has very high shock value: Up until this point, we’d been led to believe that Ted was the perfect husband and father, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Also, just the sentence “I miss your cock” is a little alarming, you know? Once again, a reveal that could be deemed soap operatic doesn’t feel that way because of how it’s resolved in the next episode: Without much fanfare, the ladies go hunting for answers and learn that Bambi is a young, hot waitress slinging guaca-dillas, whom Ted had been dating for a year and a half. This reveal, yes, adds complexity to Jen’s grief, but probably the best thing it does for the series is drive home the idea that everyone in idyllic suburbia has secrets.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: 3 fucks out of 5.

Season One, Episode Four: “I Can’t Go Back”

After learning that Ted effectively killed her so he could start banging a 20-something, Jen says she’s glad her husband’s dead — and Judy can’t help but smile as she drives them home.

Let’s be real: This is not a cliffhanger. If you paused here in your viewing to, you know, breathe in real, fresh air or put on clean pants, no one would blame you. It does ratchet up the tension a smidge, because it makes you wonder if Judy now sees her accidental plowing into Ted as a good thing and, if so, will she confess? She’s done very, very dumb things before.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: 1 fuck out of 5.

Season One, Episode Five: “I’ve Gotta Get Away”

Judy introduces Jen to her grief-retreat hookup, Nick, who just happens to be a cop — a cop who’s solved hit-and-run cases before. Grief ’treat, baby!

Reading this reveal typed out, it admittedly sounds like a snoozer, but when you’re watching it, this really plays as an episode-ending moment. It’s insane, honestly. Why would Judy lead Jen right into the hands of someone who can really help her solve her husband’s murder? A person who could unravel Judy’s lie? It’s a reveal the show could’ve easily washed away as a gag in the following episode, but Dead to Me isn’t dumb, and it doubles down on this moment by really letting Nick get into Ted’s case. Damn it, Judy. Just leave the hot guy who enjoys lush poontang out of your accidental murdering shenanigans, would you?

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Honestly, what the fuck? 3 fucks out of 5.

Season One, Episode Six: “Oh My God”

Budding sociopath Shandy and her very underrated-as-a-character mother arrive at Jen’s door with a piece of the headlight from Ted’s crime scene. Judy heads to the storage unit to check on the one thing connecting her to the crime, only to find that the car is missing.

The missing car — which we learn pretty quickly in the next episode is with Steve, who is dismantling it — isn’t nearly as interesting a cliffhanger as the emergence of the headlight. Bless Shandy, you guys. She arrives as creepy as ever with information that signals the walls might be closing in on Judy. Now her plan to bring Nick into the investigation seems extra dumb, doesn’t it?

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Fucking Shandy. 3 fucks out of 5.

Season One, Episode Seven: “I Can Handle It”

We learn that Ted owned a hell of a lot of sneakers, and Jen was lying to Nick about what Ted was doing in Vans the night he died. Also, Jen tells Judy the good news: Thanks to the headlight, they know the car that killed Ted was a 1966 Mustang, and they have a list of everyone in the county who owns one. Basically: Ticktock, Judes.

The first reveal is a bit of a red herring: The truth behind the sneakers isn’t as sinister as the end of this episode implies. Jen’s been lying, but mostly about the state of her marriage. Ted left the house the night he died not to go for a run, but because Jen and Ted got in a doozy of a fight. The explanation is a letdown from the reveal moment, but it does add guilt to the mix of terrible things Jen’s feeling right now. The second reveal is another gradual tightening of the noose, which makes sense since we’re now in episode seven out of ten. It’s not a jaw-dropper, but it is a throw-up-in-the-sink … er.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: This is getting fucking serious. 4 fucks out of 5.

Season One, Episode Eight: “Try to Stop Me”

Judy might’ve dumped Nick, but he’s still going through the list of Mustang owners in the area, including an art gallery that happens to sell Judy’s creepy missing-heart paintings. 

Let’s see, how do I properly sum up the cliffhanger in which someone has finally connected the dots between Judy Hale and Ted’s death? Oh shiiiiiiiiiit. The good news is that this is another cliffhanger the show could’ve washed away but doesn’t. Nick goes to Detective Perez with his hunch about Judy and Steve. Again, for those in the back: Oh shiiiiiiiiiit. If you are not immediately pressing play to find out what Nick does, I cannot help you.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: 4 fucks out of 5. Fuck!!!

Season One, Episode Nine: “I Have to Be Honest”

After Judy confesses to Jen (!) and Jen tells Judy that she can die (!!), Detective Perez raids Steve’s money-laundering storage unit and can tell a car was stashed there (!!!), and Jen goes and grabs the gun from the safe (!!!!!). It’s all set to “Sing, Sing, Sing,” so it is objectively awesome.

These episode enders are less shocking than inevitable, but they do signal that the string of tension that’s been tightening all season is about to snap. All of these cliffhangers perfectly set up the finale and have enough momentum to force us right into it. Exactly what a cliffhanger is supposed to do.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: 3 fucks out of 5.

Season One, Episode Ten: “You Have to Go”

Well, friends, Jen and Steve get into a fight over who’s to blame for Ted’s death; Judy almost walks straight into oncoming traffic; and then, you know, just Jen showing Judy Steve’s dead body floating in her pool. Cool, cool, cool. Everything is fine here.

Steve floating facedown in Jen’s gorgeous pool is a gasp-worthy moment, but also, looking back on it, maybe just a touch inevitable given Steve’s assholery, Jen’s anger issues, and the impossibility of Dead to Me ending on a happy note. What did you do when you saw Steve in the pool? I guzzled a glass of California Chard and immediately said, “When’s season two?”

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. All the fucks out of 5.

Season Two, Episode One: “You Know What You Did”

Jen and Judy answer a knock at the door, and there is a man standing there who looks very much like Dead Steve. In fact, he looks exactly like Dead Steve (it’s James Marsden). 

Never in my life have the words “good morning!” produced such a visceral reaction from my body. I feel bad for anyone who has this reveal spoiled because it is so insane and also a true delight. The reveal works so well because of the setup. Sure, we know Marsden will be back in season two, but we also have been assuming Steve is, like, so, so dead. Steve would be showing up in flashbacks, right? The show does a very smart thing in not revealing exactly what happened that night in Jen’s backyard, nor does it show us what the ladies did with Steve’s body. So when he’s standing there with that gosh-dang gorgeous smile on his face, for a split second you might be so confused that you think, Did Steve … somehow survive? Is this a zombie show now? And then, finally, you’ll land on twin shenanigans. It’s twin shenanigans, of course! But thanks to the setup and, let’s be honest, Marsden’s performance, which makes Steve’s dorky chiropractor brother, Ben, feel like an actual human being in just two words, it doesn’t feel like a desperate soap-opera stunt — it feels like the promise of something weird and fun and very Dead to Me.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: That is fucking hilarious. 4 fucks out of 5.

Season Two, Episode Two: “Where Have You Been”

Steve’s body has been in the freezer in Jen’s garage this whole time!!

Like season one, there’s no use trying to top the premiere’s big ending. This reveal isn’t much of a cliffhanger, but it does immediately present a problem that we know will need to be solved pretty quickly. We all know that dead bodies don’t stay buried — or, uh, frozen.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: 1 fuck out of 5.

Season Two, Episode Three: “You Can’t Live Like This”

In a desperate move inspired by an ill-timed power outage and a dead body in the freezer, Jen and Judy head to the Angeles National Forest to get rid of their dead weight (you’re welcome).

Although this ending certainly piques interest for the next episode, since you’re left wondering how and if Jen and Judy are really going to be able to bury a body and get away with it, it is one of the least shocking endings of the entire series. From the moment creepy Shandy (said with love) offers up her suggestion for how to get rid of a body, it’s just too specific to be a throwaway. You know Jen and Judy and Dead Steve are eventually headed to the Angeles National Forest. Emotionally, the payoff comes immediately in the next episode, as the experience drives a wedge between Jen and Judy. Plot-wise, the payoff comes much, much later.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: 1 fuck out of 5.

Season Two, Episode Four: “Between You and Me”

Jen’s evidence isn’t staying hidden: Henry finds the bird she used to kill Steve, and, more worrisome, Charlie finds Steve’s Benz in their storage unit. Kids, amiright?

Dead to Me sure loves ending episodes with people finding incriminating shit in storage units, huh? This one isn’t the most exciting or surprising, but it’s an important one because it introduces an entirely new set of problems for Jen and Judy — ones that play out for the rest of the season.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Well, this is going to be a fucking problem. 3 fucks out of 5.

Season Two, Episode Five: “The Price You Pay”

After Charlie and his awful girlfriend, Parker, take Steve’s car for a joyride and end up running out of gas, Jen and Judy come to rescue them. And then Jen lights that car on fire right on the side of the road. Seems very chill. 

Jen gets high marks for dramatic flair, but this is not the sort of cliffhanger ending that propels us into the next episode — there’s no way it won’t be discovered, you know? In fact, it’s found in the very next episode, by none other than Nick Prager. As we’ll learn later, the car being found burnt to a crisp is the least of the problems with the car. This ending is all flash with little payoff.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Oh wow, fuck. 2 fucks out of 5.

Season Two, Episode Six: “You Don’t Have To”

“Of all the lesbians in Laguna!”

Yes, this is the episode that ends with the ridiculous reveal that Judy’s new girlfriend Michelle’s ex-girlfriend and current roommate just happens to be Detective Perez. It’s so outrageous that even the show is self-aware enough to joke about the contrivance. From Jen’s aforementioned exclamation when she learns of the coincidence to Judy’s comment that the whole setup “happened pretty organically, actually,” Dead to Me knows this is a true leap. The initial reveal to the audience is a hoot, but the situation within the show resolves itself pretty quickly when Judy and Perez bump into each other in the kitchen the next morning. Sure, it helps Perez see both Judy and eventually Jen in a different light, but otherwise it’s not the most necessary twist plot-wise.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Oh, fuck me. 2 fucks out of 5.

Season Two, Episode Seven: “If You Only Knew”

Steve’s vigil is quite the party: Not only does Judy catch Jen making out with Ben, but Charlie sees a photo of Steve with a very familiar Mercedes-Benz and starts connecting dots.

You’ve gotta love a kissing cliffhanger. Although many of Dead to Me’s cliffhangers are resolved by the next episode, the show wisely takes its time dealing with the complexity of falling for the identical twin of the man you murdered. On the Charlie front, this cliffhanger is worth the price of admission for the conversation between Charlie, Jen, and Judy in which the ladies try to explain why Jen would have Steve’s car, and it ends with Jen realizing that she’s gaslighting her own child. The conversation is not effective in getting Charlie to drop his hunch that something weird is going on.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Well, fuck. 2 fucks out of 5.

Season Two, Episode Eight: “It Had to Be You”

Charlie uses the shady phone in Steve’s car and ends up calling the man involved with Steve’s Greek Mafia money-laundering scheme — the chief of police. Hell hath no fury like an Instagram influencer scorned, and a heartbroken Parker sends the photos of Charlie with Steve’s car to Nick Prager. Oh, and be still, my heart: Ben of course remembers kissing Jen; it’s “all [he] remembers about anything.” And in a crazy twist no one saw coming, I actually died watching that moment. So RIP, me. 

Just over here living for all the romantic cliffhangers Dead to Me is serving up in season two. Sure, this one implodes immediately the next morning when Jen is overwhelmed by the fact that she’s found this guy who is wonderful and thinks she’s wonderful, but she, like, secretly murdered his brother. Still, it provides a great, swoony button for episode eight. The other two cliffhangers in this episode have a much bigger effect on the overall plot and will pay off in the next two episodes. They feel important — it’s more of those the-walls-are-closing-in beats — and that’s because they are important. Perhaps the most important nitty-gritty plot cliffhangers of the season. As for me? Leave me to mourn the short-lived love affair of Jen and Ben. We’ll always have them slow-dancing to an improvised nerdy chiropractor song.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Oh, fuck me. 4 fucks out of 5.

Season Two, Episode Nine: “It’s Not You, It’s Me”

Jen finally tells Judy that she didn’t murder Steve in self-defense — he was walking away, and she got angry. After learning the cops have evidence that points toward Charlie in Steve’s death, Jen arrives at Detective Perez’s door with something to confess.

This is obviously the Big Cliffhanger on which the entire season hinges. Since it’s happening at the end of episode nine and it’s doubtful that this series will end with Jen in prison, you might assume this will be a big fake-out — but Dead to Me doesn’t really do worthless fake-outs. Jen really confesses to killing Steve Wood … what Perez does with that confession is a different story.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Ah! Fuck! 4 fucks out of 5.

Season Two, Episode Ten: “Where Do We Go From Here”

With Perez and Prager focusing on their case against the chief of police and Jen unable to show Perez where they buried Steve’s body, Jen and Judy think they’re in the clear. And then a pesky dog starts digging around in Angeles National Forest. Oh, and the ladies celebrate Jen getting her stop sign built, only to be slammed by another car which then speeds away. Uh, guys, the driver of the car is a very drunk Ben.

I appreciate the symmetry of ending this thing with a hit-and-run, but it’s not as shocking as, say, a dead body in a pool, especially since it looks like both Judy and Jen are alive and speaking. It does, however, set up a whole host of new questions to be asked and problems to be solved. I’m not, like, standing up and going OH SHIT STEVE IS DEAD IN THAT POOL, but I am anxiously awaiting a season-three renewal, if that makes sense.

Cliffhanger Curse Rating: Fucking Ben?! 3 fucks out of 5.

Dead to Me’s Many, Many Cliffhangers: An Episodic Guide