Dead to Me
There’s so much joy in the final scenes of this episode that it almost doesn’t look like Dead to Me. Where’s the crying, panic, and criminal activity? Most of the major characters of this season — Jen, Judy, Michelle, Ben, Henry, and Charlie — are smiling, laughing, and playing at an arcade that looks like a total blast. Of course, with four episodes to go in the excellent second season, the happiness can’t last long, but the final scene of “You Don’t Have To” offers a truly unexpected twist that would arguably destroy the thin suspension of disbelief on another show. But this season has been so strong on every level that it likely just produces laughs. Let’s just say that if anyone thought the existence of Steve’s semi-identical twin was the soapiest turn of the story this year, they were wrong.
Long before then, Jen and Judy are playing “good cop bad cop” with Charlie about his joy ride in Steve’s car. Jen wants to ground the kid forever and take off his bedroom door; Judy suggests a little more understanding. Much of the first season was about Jen’s journey to be a better mother to her kids, but it’s been derailed by the events of the last season finale. This episode illustrates the impact of that. Henry’s giving himself an ulcer because he thinks mom is going to be mad at him and Charlie is smoking because it’s safer than vaping. Last season it felt like Jen could get closer to her kids, but covering up murder can derail the best of intentions.
A good example of that comes when Jen spots photos of Steve’s car on Instagram, including the license plate! She goes to Charlie’s girlfriend Harper, who posted the photo, and tries to bribe her with cupcakes to take it down. While Judy and Charlie talk about STDs in the car, Jen learns that this Insta-influencer doesn’t want cupcakes—she’ll take cash. Jokes about generation gaps are often cheap, but the one in which Harper literally doesn’t recognize the behavior of Jen writing a check was pretty funny. Applegate sells it perfectly.
While talking genital warts with her makeshift family, Judy gets a call from Detective Perez, who knows that Steve called Judy nine times the night he disappeared. Judy actually plays the messages for Perez and they’re so abusive and awful that one almost wonders if Judy even listened to all of them. It also leads to the best cut of the year where Steve’s “you fucking bitch” jumps to a goofy-looking Ben, who looks like he’s literally never put those words together in that order. More importantly, Perez gets suspicious about why Judy isn’t scared of a man who’s literally threatening her life. Is it because she knows the threat is buried in Los Angeles National Forest?
The rest of the episode continues the new pairings from the last chapter, sending Ben/Jen and Judy/Michelle on parallel tracks before bringing them back together in an arcade. Jen gets the scarier arc after Ben tells her that the police have found remains (although where they found them and why they thought they were Steve’s is strangely vague). The look on Perez’s face when she sees Jen with Ben at the station is priceless. She’s just exhausted by everything Hale, Harding, and Wood (which really sounds like a law firm). They haven’t found the car (yet) and the remains end up being that of a woman. Crisis avoided, for now.
Meanwhile, Michelle and Judy are having tacos on the beach on a sunny day (and nothing you could watch on Netflix will make you more jealous during quarantine than this scene… at least until the arcade). Michelle places an amazing order (Mexican Cokes! Guacamole!) and then they run into Nick! Maybe Jen was right at the station about this really being a small town (more on that later). Anyway, Nick has barely left his house and still harbors a lot of resentment for Judy. He mentions Steve and is generally just seething with unhappiness. Nice to have Nick back, but let’s hope he finds some purpose or closure beyond a beach taco truck.
Everyone comes together at Henry’s Holy Harmonies concert. First, Ben reveals that he was in the group as a child (of course) and seems to really be enjoying the show. (He remembers the moves!) Judy is the one who invites Michelle to the show, and they all end up in the same row, listening to children sing about how they’re “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” to Jesus. But it turns out that Henry doesn’t want to go on stage. It’s too much for him.
And so they all go to an arcade! (Again, stay-at-home jealousy kicking in.) Everyone is having fun—drinking, playing, laughing, and getting along better than ever, which we all know will collapse — and soon, based on the episode’s final beats. First, we see Nick at the scene of the burned-out Benz across town. Then, Michelle and Judy start making out in the photo booth and take the action back to Michelle’s bedroom. Just as the door closes, the front one opens and in walks… Detective Perez! What was Jen saying about Laguna Beach being a small town?
• Did anyone else consider that Steve kind of fell in love with a version of his brother and that Jen is replacing Judy with the same? Like Judy, Ben seems to honestly love things like Holy Harmonies and says things like “My cup of tizzle.” That should be a crime.
• The look on James Marsden’s face when he says “Yours doesn’t have to be mock, it can be cock” is amazing. Emmy clip!
• Mexican cokes are so much better. Just had to say that.
• So, Perez is what exactly to Michelle? We’ll find out soon enough, but follow the coincidence here. Abe has to die and Michelle has to pick that nursing home and Judy has to be there that day cry-eating pudding for them to even meet. For someone like Judy, who believes strongly in forces beyond human control, it has to feel like someone on high is just fucking with her.