‘Dead to Me’ Series-Finale Recap, Season 3 Episode 10

Dead to Me

We’ve Reached the End

Season 3

Episode 10

Editor’s Rating

4 stars

Photo: Netflix

How did we get here? It started with a grief circle, where a woman named Judy Hale tried to assuage her guilt over the death of Ted Harding by befriending his widow, Jen. Between there and here, another partner (Judy’s vicious ex-fiancé, Steve Wood) was murdered, leading to cascading cover-ups. In the end, what was Dead to Me about? Based on the emphasis of the finale, it was about life-changing friendship and how that kind of thing can develop in the most unexpected ways. Jen may have lost her husband, but that event led her to a powerful force for optimism. The Jen that opened the show was emotionally stunted, forcing her grief through rage at the unknown assassin that ruined her life. The Jen that ends the show accepts the uncertainty and unfairness of the world in a different way, finding a kind of happiness that she could never have foreseen.

It was a bumpy road in terms of quality. The first season felt sharp in its willingness to make its characters unlikable, and Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini expertly defined their roles. There’s a much worse version of this show with two performers who didn’t understand its tonal fluidity right from the beginning. Even as the writing collapsed under the weight of the plotting this year, no blame can be placed at the feet of either performer (or James Marsden, for that matter). They were particularly great in the second season, when the tables turned on the secret-keeping and somehow both characters got richer.

If the first season was about Jen and the second season was about Judy, the third season has been all about their friendship. The final episode really stresses this — almost becoming a two-hander as the ladies spend Judy’s final days at a gorgeous villa in Mexico. There’s something comforting about seeing Jen and Judy smiling and laughing so much at the end of a season that featured so much crying. The line of the season may be Jen’s when she says of Ted’s death, “It brought you to me.” It’s a startling thing to consider, and it would have been nice for the writers to unpack this idea some more — especially as Judy’s death ends the show. Sometimes the most painful days in the world lead to the best ones. No one would say that Ted deserved to die, but Jen was in an unhappy marriage and, now, ends the series with a happy new family.

The episode opens with “Nowhere to Run” playing as the ladies, well, run. They’re on their way to Mexico and giving each other awesome outlaw names like Judy Five Fingers and Bitch Cassidy. They’re just going to relax and drink for three weeks while everyone thinks Judy is in the clinical trial. Could that work? What happens then?

First they have to make it to Mexico, which suddenly seems less likely as the FBI-killing Greeks happen to find them on the road. A weird scene follows in which the head bad guy threatens Judy, prompting the sweetest character on the show to pull a gun and shoot out their tires. (Again, a little Thelma & Louise, right?) The Greeks drop their guns and get in the car, and Jen and Judy drive away. In a long episode, it’s not really a necessary scene other than maybe to illustrate how seriously Judy needs this final happy chapter.

They make it to their destination, a Wood vacation home with a gorgeous view. Steve and Judy used to come down here all the time. It’s the only place they had good memories and a good sex life. (“Bangtown City” to describe vacation sex is kinda funny.) Jen and Judy enjoy themselves for the first time in years. They laugh. They smile. They walk on the beach. They get very high They even watch The Facts of Life in Spanish, a nice callback to the formative days of their friendship.

Is Judy going to die in Mexico? Jen thinks she may have already when she wakes up to find Judy gone. She took the boat out. Not dead yet. Then they find something strange: Steve’s ’66 Mustang in the garage. Judy swears they dismantled the car that killed Ted, but there it is. Maybe Steve put it back together? It looks like nothing ever happened. This is the car that Jen was hunting for so long. Does she want to beat it up with a golf club? Nope. “It’s just a car.” It feels like a bit designed to show Jen’s growth from unbridled angry grief to acceptance.

Jen is the first to suggest that maybe they never leave. They can live Judy’s final days in Mexico. Won’t the FBI come for them? And what about Ben? And the baby? Judy refuses to let Jen be there for the final days. She doesn’t want to force her friend to go through what she’d gone through with her mom. Jen has to go back — even if it’s just for a Holy Harmonies concert. And, more importantly, the baby in her womb needs to know its father! Then Jen notices she’s bleeding a little. Oh no. Don’t do this.

Okay, they didn’t do it. It turns out to be a false alarm. The baby is fine. And the baby is a girl. Awww

After the scare, Jen and Judy go to a taqueria that looks pretty awesome, then Ben calls again. He finds out that he’s going to be a father, and Jen finds out that Moranis is dead. That was a quick plot dump. Oh, they think that the Greeks killed Steve too. Good news! Then the other shoe drops as Judy hits the floor. When she wakes up, she tells Jen that she’s not leaving, and they express tearful love to each other. “You’ve changed my life,” says Jen. The next morning, Judy is gone, drifting over the horizon in her boat, and it’s time for Jen to leave.

She goes home, talking to the ghost of Judy in the passenger seat and a new cat named Sammy in the back. And perhaps for the first time, Jen sounds like she means it when she says, “We’re gonna be okay.” She never felt that way until now. That’s why Dead to Me can now end — Jen Harding has found peace.

It really could have ended there, but a few final beats for the characters felt needed. Jen goes to see Henry and the Holy Harmonies as they sing “Get Happy.” Lorna and Charlie are there. It’s a sweet moment made sweeter by the arrival of Ben. That was quick! It’s a chance to get everyone together under all of Judy’s paper cranes. She will always be flying above them.

Then we’re back where we began: Pastor Wayne’s grief circle. Jen has a new grief now, but she has a stronger skill set to deal with her pain. And a new baby named Joey (not Judy — that would be too obvious). Later, Ben and Jen sit by the pool in a moment of family happiness. Ben tells Jen that he feels like this is all more than he deserves. She pauses, and it’s clear what’s coming next. Has she finally reached a point when she feels she needs to unload the final piece of emotional baggage about what happened to Steve? Or will a show built on cliffhangers go out on one more just for fun?

“Ben, I have to tell you something,” says Jen in the final line of the show.

• Of course, the big question is about the end, right? I choose to believe that Jen gives a full, truthful confession about Steve and that Ben accepts it. Jen has earned her happy ending.

• So has Applegate. This was such a rich part for her to display her range from ace comic timing to dramatic beats. Her MS diagnosis impacted the final run of the show, but one hopes that the amount of love and admiration that fans of this program have for her provided some comfort.

• Who’s the season and series MVP? Given how hard it was on her, I’d probably go Applegate for the season, but it was Cardellini for the series. She’s so good at those Judy Hale beats where the pain or concern pushes through the optimism.

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