Dead to Me
Let’s get right into it: Is it clever or cheap to bring James Marsden back to Dead to Me via a twin plotline? Marsden’s smarmy tone was perfect for season one, giving Jen and Judy a perfect shared enemy and balancing their energy in terms of tone. So it makes sense that the writers wouldn’t want to give him up. Did they know when they left his body floating in the pool at the end of season one that they were going to “resurrect” him with a storytelling trick straight out of the heyday of Dynasty and Dallas? Look, Marsden is a perpetually underrated actor, and always a welcome presence, but for at least this one episode it feels a little cheap to bring him back in the form of Ben, Steve’s semi-identical twin. Only time will tell if that feeling fades. The truth is that it’s probably both cheap and clever.
To be fair, giving Steve an identical twin does more than just bring James Marsden back into this great ensemble. It creates another opportunity for Judy Hale to do what she so often does: flirt with danger. Remember, Judy is the one who sought out Jen in the first place, befriending her under circumstances that really led to all of this drama. She has a habit of keeping people around who could destroy her life, and she will almost certainly do exactly that with Ben, and not only because he seems like a much better version of someone she recently loved. Judy’s guilt forced her to try to make Jen’s life better — it seems very possible that the same dynamic could lead her to try and make sure that Ben is happy, too.
Despite Jen’s encouragement to not try and influence the investigation into Steve’s disappearance, Judy does exactly that, telling Ben that his brother may have run off to Mexico, as he often spoke of doing when they were together. Oh, and the FBI is looking into the case because Judy recently told them that Steve Wood just happened to be a money launderer for the Greek mafia. Can Judy convince everyone that Steve either ran off to escape prosecution, or the criminals he worked for took care of him themselves? At least for now, it seems like a very plausible story. They have evidence that Steve was a bad man who worked for worse men. People like that end up disappeared.
While Judy deals with her latest swirl of lies, Lorna (Valerie Mahaffey) returns to annoy the mother of her grandchildren. Jen realizes that she could end up going to jail for murder any day now and does not want the boys to end up in the custody of the awful Lorna. So who should take guardianship if Jen goes to jail or goes on the run? There aren’t a lot of choices for poor Jen.
The big Ben reveal aside, “Where Have You Been” is really an episode about the walls closing in on Jen Harding. She becomes increasingly convinced, especially after seeing Ben, that her days are numbered, even asking Christopher (Max Jenkins) to help her get in touch with an attorney. The fact that Christopher’s brother is a criminal attorney feels like something that’s going to return to the plot soon, especially as Detective Perez (Diana Maria Riva) resurfaces this episode, still investigating both Ted’s death and now Steve’s disappearance. Maybe Judy and Jen can just share a cell.
It doesn’t help that Judy shares a tender moment with Ben and that leads to a confession. Tenderness always leads to confessions for Judy Hale — she doesn’t need Bad Cop, just two Good ones. And so she tells Ben that she turned in Steve for money laundering. Ben already knows too much.
After dealing with the frustration around delivering a restraining order to Jen only to discover that Judy is living with her again, Perez goes to see Nick (Brandon Scott), who does not look good. She tries to woo him back to the investigation, but he’s not having it, handing over the file he has on the case before going back to the couch to wait for his tacos.
The episode culminates in a return of “Dad Bird,” the bird that young Henry (Luke Roessler) thinks is the reincarnated version of his father. At first, Dad Bird is just missing, but he’s found in the garage, flapping against the ceiling. The minute most viewers see that freezer in the garage, even before Jen advises Ben not to stand on it to get the bird, it’s clear where Steve’s body is. The final scenes confirm the suspicion that there’s a Steve-sicle in the Harding garage, as Jen learns that Dad Bird is actually a momma.
• Perez’s speech about how people who drown think they can handle the water until it’s too late is a good one for summing up Dead to Me. Every decision that Judy makes is one that she thinks is going to make things better, but the water keeps rising. Was inviting Ben back into her life the choice that drowns her?
• Did anyone notice that the file Nick hands to Perez just appeared to be on the couch next to him, while he’s watching TV and waiting for his tacos? He didn’t exactly have to dig it out. And he didn’t know Perez was coming. It’s a subtle little nod to the fact that Nick is still thinking about the weirdness that came into his life with Judy Hale. We haven’t seen the last of him.
• Christopher’s smooshy dog named Adele may be the smooshiest dog in TV history.
• You have to love that they knew Steve was missing because he missed a nightly call with his mother. Listen, I love my mother, but don’t trust a grown man who calls his mom literally every single night. That just doesn’t seem healthy.
• Is Ben different enough from Steve? Sure, he says “frig” instead of swearing, but is anyone else worried that he’s got a secret too? Isn’t that one of the themes of this show? Everyone has a secret. So what’s Ben’s?
• Finally, Ben seems to genuinely like Judy and recognize that Steve was kind of an asshole. Is it possible that he could discover Judy’s role in the death of his brother and still cover for her in the end? This is a show about forgiveness, in that Jen had to forgive Judy for her role in Ted’s death. What if season two becomes about Ben forgiving her too?