Dead to Me
“Sometimes people need a friend more than they need the truth.”
There’s typically something off-putting about a show’s overall theme being put so explicitly in the mouth of a character, but Dead to Me has been so strong through the first part of its second season that it gets away with it. It’s a line that both reflects the show and could end up being what ties these two seasons together: In the first season Jen Harding needed Judy Hale to help her get over her grief more than she needed the truth about what happened to her husband, and it seems possible that Judy now needs Jen to be there for her more than she needs to know exactly what happened to Steve. All it takes to bring them back together is the death of a possessed bird.
“Between You and Me” opens with a fantastic scene that illustrates how well Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate know these characters and how to balance their quirks. The way they go from sheer panic at thinking that Jen may have buried her phone with the body they just left in a national forest, to calm at finding the device, and then back to quiet terror when they see a cop car is pulling them over is just perfect in terms of timing. The ultimate punchline — that the cop stopped them when he saw a driver with a phone — is a bit easy to see coming, but Applegate and Cardellini sell the set-up so well that it doesn’t matter. The writing here is generally strong, but it’s often the two leads who sell stuff that wouldn’t work with a lesser cast.
Jen and Judy stop at Cindy’s Restaurant so Judy can pee and Jen can get into it with a waitress. Los Angeles National Forest appears to be only about an hour away from Laguna Beach, which makes the pit stop and the hotel layover a bit odd, but that hour trip according to Google is during traffic-light quarantine days. It could be 12 hours in regular L.A. traffic.
Whatever the reality of the situation may be, the key dynamic of this episode is in the fact that Jen doesn’t take Judy’s needs seriously. She wanted a moment with Steve’s body after the burial, but Jen wanted to just move on with it, reminding her that “We are not in Snow White here, we are in Scarface.” Jen’s extreme analogy of their situation illustrates how blind she’s been to the emotion of the other person strapped into this hell ride with her. What’s even more interesting is how the practical nature of Jen’s worldview is in opposition to Judy’s. For Jen, getting rid of Steve feels like a victory. Applegate brilliantly conveys the almost literal weight off her shoulders. The same isn’t true for Judy. Not only did she not get her “sense of occasion” after the burial, but she’s not done with her grief. Judy is a more spiritual person who won’t find (and doesn’t really want to find) the same distinct closure as Jen.
What does this mean? A night out! Jen and Judy end up at a hotel that’s almost entirely occupied by a wedding party, which means they get the Presidential Suite! And they get to jump on the tab of the wedding party at the bar that’s named Whispers and Winks. The ladies dance to “Chains of Love” by Erasure and toast to Steve before getting caught stealing a few drinks from the bride and groom.
Jen comes home to a crisis: Dad Bird, the aviator that sweet Henry thinks carries the soul of his father, is gone. It’s a clever writing twist and one of several choices that make this the best episode of the season so far. First, it offers a sharp sense of closure that echoes what just happened with Steve. Judy kind of believes what Henry believes about that bird. So, to her, Ted and Steve’s soul were both in the Harding garage just a couple of episodes ago. And now they’re both gone. Forever.
Of course, it also gives Judy Hale the chance to have the ceremony she was never allowed with Steve and, hopefully, find some sense of closure. She sings “Dream a Little Dream of Me” over a montage of some of the happier days with Steve, although the writers are smart to chase these memories with the truth that Steve was an awful person. They include flashes of the night Judy hit Ted, Steve yelling at her to keep driving. Judy thinks that everything is her fault, but the show reminds us that Steve likely caused the cover-up and possibly even Ted’s death. He might have lived if they had gotten him to a hospital.
But now Ted is dead, Steve is dead, and Dad Bird is dead. And Charlie found Steve’s Mercedes Benz! That can’t end well.
• I joked last episode that Shandy was a serial killer in training, and now it’s revealed that it wasn’t smooshy little Adele that killed Dad Bird, but Henry’s dead-eyed friend that squeezed the life out of it. Everyone knows serial killers start by killing animals. Look out for Shandy.
• Is anyone else impressed that the Dead to Me writers went to the soap opera trick of bringing back an actor via an identical twin and then almost immediately sidelined him? We haven’t seen that twinkly James Marsden smile outside of Judy’s “Dream a Little Dream” montage for the last two episodes.
• Speaking of cheap tricks, Jen and Judy running into Karen’s husband Jeff while he’s clearly having an affair with another man at the same hotel as them arguably qualifies. And I hope it doesn’t become a major plot point, like a way to blackmail Jeff into getting that surveillance footage of the street? That would take an already silly moment and make it worse.
• Cindy’s Restaurant appears to be a real place with the same exterior/interior. Nice plug. They should put up pictures and Jen and Judy on the wall.
• It’s kind of amazing that we’re almost halfway through the season already and it feels like they’re just now closing loops on the season one finale. Where do you think they go in the final six? And where’s Ben?!?