Dead to Me
The pressure and grief finally become too much for Jen Harding this episode, as Dead to Me starts the closing arc of its excellent second season. When faced with the prospect of her best friend, Judy Hale, turning herself in for a murder that Jen committed, or, even worse, her son getting arrested for it, she cracks. Judy blames herself for everything — she always does — and there’s a bit of truth to the fact that Steve Wood wouldn’t have been there that fateful night if not for Judy. However, Jen has been keeping the details of the evening vague, including the fact that Steve told Jen that Ted’s death wasn’t really murder — it was suicide — before calling her the c-word. Jen snapped and killed Steve, not in self-defense, but out of anger. And now she’s ready to confess.
The arc of this episode really starts with Jen waking up next to the mirror image of her murder victim and having creepy flashes to Steve’s dead body while looking at a sleeping Ben. It sends her into another emotional episode, in which she excellently says, “You’re fucking De Niro in every movie he’s ever been in” while wrapped in a comforter on a bathroom floor. Don’t remember that scene in Cape Fear.
Which brings Dead to Me to Katey Sagal! The wonderful, underrated star of Sons of Anarchy has joined the cast as Judy’s convict mother. It would appear that seeing Michelle deal with her mother’s hospitalization and that chat with a cuddler made Judy long for contact with Mom. It’s great casting for two reasons. One, Sagal is always good and often great. Two, especially on shows like SOA, she is the anti-Judy. She is tough-talking and tough-living — two things no one would ever say about Judy Hale. And she’s suspicious from minute one, claiming in a very sketchy way that she wrote back to Judy and that she can finally breathe now. She clearly wants something. And Judy almost seems jealous of mom’s peace behind bars. It’s also revealed that Judy testified against her mom when she was younger, and that her mom has a parole hearing coming up. Maybe Judy can help? Don’t do it, Jude.
After breaking up with Ben (and a fun scene between Mr. Wood and an increasingly suspicious Charlie), Jen barges her way into a city council meeting after learning that they declined her stop sign petition. She gets to unload, which Jen just needs to do every once in a while. She gets to publicly shame Andrew Peters, the slimeball councilman who harassed her last season, and then gets emotional about her husband’s death being related to bad driving. So much of Dead to Me is about how people don’t know how to drive in California.
Perhaps to raise the money for an attorney for her sketchy mother, Judy goes to Perez looking for the paintings that were confiscated from TKG Arts. What’s going on there? Are they sentimental or is there more to it than that? Does Judy think she can sell them? It may not matter because Nick joins Perez to show Judy photos of Charlie with the car of a man missing and presumed dead. They also have CCTV footage of Charlie driving the car on the day that it was burned. That’s almost enough for an arrest warrant, or at least a long interrogation.
Charlie needs to know the truth. Jen talks her way out of it again and Charlie seems to go along with it, but he notably doesn’t give mom the case he took from Steve’s glove compartment.
It all climaxes in a heartbreaking, emotional scene between Jen and Judy. First, Judy reveals that she’s going to take the fall. She can’t let Charlie get in trouble. She’ll say she killed Steve and all will be fixed. After all, she was going to kill herself the night that Steve died anyway. As emotions rise, the truth about what Steve said and what Jen did that night comes out. Applegate is so good in this scene, capturing the kind of person who often lashes out in cruel ways when they get emotional. In one moment, Jen is apologizing and begging forgiveness, and then she’s suddenly insulting Judy. Like so many people, she’s deflecting uncontrollable anger. She tells Judy that she’ll stick around for anybody, and a scene that could have been tender and tragic gets intense and scary. First, Jen wants Judy to hit her with the car, and then Judy screams before hitting herself repeatedly. It scares even Jen, who comes in and hugs her friend before she does real damage. If both ladies don’t get Emmy nominations this year, something is broken.
Later that night, Judy is asleep and Jen is crying while she writes three letters to Charlie, Henry, and Judy, leaving them the In Case of Emergency binder regarding what to do next. Cut to Jen knocking on the door of Detective Perez: “There’s something I have to confess.”
• I don’t want to ignore the Henry scene because it’s thematically resonant and something I always teach my kids: The lie only makes it worse. Henry isn’t mad that his bird died or that Shandy killed it. He’s mad that his mom lied to him about it. As with so much in life, it’s the lie that covers up the problem and makes it so much worse.
• So does that mean Jen is now going to tell the entire truth? She can’t implicate Judy, right? And will Perez even believe her? Honestly, a jury would need more evidence or they’d likely just think that Jen was covering for Charlie or Judy. It’s not easy being Perez.
• Frances Conroy, Jere Burns, and now Katey Sagal! Liz Feldman has said she’s optimistic about a third season, but doesn’t the casting alone feel like more than mere optimism? It’s not often a show brings in heavy TV hitters like that for cameos that aren’t setting them up for more down the line. And what great choices. The casting agent this season deserves an award not just for those three but Natalie Morales, Marc Evan Jackson, and more. I wonder how many will return next year. My money is on all of them. Even Jeff. This season has made a habit of bringing back familiar faces, even if just for a scene.