‘Dead to Me’ Finale Recap: Yet Another Bittersweet Ending
Netflix dark comedy Dead to Me faced a tough prospect with its third and final season. Not only did the pandemic delay shooting by several years, but co-lead Christina Applegate received a multiple sclerosis diagnosis midway through production. Still, all the scripts were written and Applegate was determined to complete the show in the way creator Liz Feldman had intended it to be finished.
Warning: Spoilers from here on.
The final 10 episodes of Dead to Me wrapped up the story of Jen (Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) in bittersweet fashion. The decision to have Judy die might have been a surprise for some. The crux of the traumedy is the friendship between Jen and Judy, each helping the other cope with grief and trauma, buckets of wine included.
Yet when looking back at the show as a whole, a painful ending involving death is in line with the first two seasons. The reason Jen and Judy meet is because Jen attends a grief counseling group after her husband Ted’s sudden death. At the group, Jen encounters the anxious, earnest human golden retriever Judy.
Judy helped coax Jen out of her resentment spiral and back into the world, where her two sons needed her. Then, at the end of season 1, Jen killed Judy’s ex-fiance Steve Wood (James Marsden). Yep, there’s a lot of death in this comedy, but it’s called Dead to Me after all.
Michelle (Natalie Morales) and Judy having a sweet moment in a car park.
It was Judy’s turn to suffer even more grief — going through five miscarriages in addition to the death of her relationship with her scumbag ex-fiance.
She found new love with Michelle (Natalie Morales), which was rekindled in season 3 after a break. Here’s where the choice to have Judy die becomes a little dicey. It could be argued that Judy played some part in Ted’s death and was doomed from the beginning to pay a price.
She did her best to pay that penance by bringing joy and light to Jen’s family, but everything was always destined to catch up with her. That peaceful boat journey into the sunrise off the coast of Mexico was the option she chose for herself. Saying no to Jen’s wishes of signing up for a clinical cancer trial showed she’d grown as a person.
Yet, as some have pointed out on Twitter, her tragic ending echoes Villanelle’s demise in the final season of Killing Eve earlier this year. Spoiler: Villanelle (Jodie Comer) sacrifices herself to save her lover Eve’s (Sandra Oh’s) life. Dead to Me’s conclusion also echoes another show that saw one woman sacrifice herself for another: In The Haunting of Bly Manor, Dani (Victoria Pedretti) submits to her death, despite being in a loving relationship with Jamie (Amelia Eve).
life update: personally victimized in 2022 twice, the first time being by villanelle and killing eve season 4, the second time being by judy hale and dead to me season 3.
great job laura neal and liz feldman.
— agvta?dead to me spoilers! (@siIverskyy) November 18, 2022
While death is in line with the themes of Dead to Me, the execution of season 3 doesn’t feel totally convincing.
For one, it commits the bury your gays trope, where gay characters in movies and TV shows often end up killed off. Not just that, the tone of season 3 feels a little off. It opens on a glowing beach with Jen and Judy drinking cocktails.
It isn’t the melancholy-tinged world set up by the very first episode of season 1. Season 3 has a soap opera tint to it more than ever, no longer punctured by the biting black comedy and high-stakes twists which made the first two seasons sing. Jen and Judy resolve any issues with relative ease — the Greek Mafia pretty much take the blame for every one of their problems.
Surely, this could have extended to Steve Wood’s murder, instead of Judy taking the blame and suffering the death sentence in the form of terminal cancer. Surely, Jen and Judy have suffered enough trauma to hammer home the dark premise of the show. But no, in order to bring us back to the heartbreak Jen feels in season 1, Judy has to go.
It remains to be seen whether the knowledge of Judy’s death negatively tinges any rewatches of the show.
Nonetheless, Dead to Me successfully leaves a lasting impact.
Just like in the show, it invites us to grieve Judy’s death with the help of friends, family, a twisted sense of humor and wine.