Dead to Me’s creator Liz Feldman, whose previous writing credits include 2 Broke Girls and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, has delicately crafted a world featuring one of the most authentic and relatable portrayals of friendship on television. (Even though said friendship is deeply rooted in murder and deception.) Fans of the series know that Jen is quick to anger, swears, and isn’t afraid to say what she’s feeling, and that Judy is nervous, impulsive, and has good intentions that often backfire. (The brilliance of casting Applegate and Cardellini cannot be overstated.) The series effortlessly tackles complex topics including grief, sexuality, infidelity, faith, and the unbearable pain of loss, all with a comically charming edge. These final 10 episodes, however, feel noticeably different, coated in sadness. The electric odd couple chemistry between Jen and Judy that we’ve come to love is ever present, and the genuine love and appreciation they have for each other has never been stronger, but it almost seems like the characters also know that their story is coming to an end, making each episode both cathartic and ominous.
That all being said, the final season is chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments. Applegate in particular leans into Jen’s emotional flare-ups, serving the audience a healthy dose of physical comedy in the process. Season 3 picks up right where the bloody Season 2 finale left off — Ben (James Marsden) has just driven away from the intersection where he crashed into Jen and Judy’s car, with Jen suffering the brunt of the accident. Watching Jen try to contain her rage while being confined to a hospital bed and constricted by a neck brace truly never gets old, and neither does watching Judy attempt to tame her best friend. Detective Perez (Diana Maria Riva) is humorously out of character, awkwardly having to veer from her default stoic temperament to keep Detective Nick Prager (Brandon Scott) off the scent of Jen’s guilt and that she, too, is trying to cover up the murder of Steve Wood (also Marsden) that Jen confessed to in Season 2.
It’s interesting to see how much the narrative shifts in the final season. In Season 1, Jen’s story, Jen’s trauma, Jen’s family were all at the forefront, with Judy being this quirky stranger that disrupts her world even more than it already has been with the death of her husband, Ted. Season 2 navigates Judy and Jen’s lives pretty equally, with both of them at the helm of the ship dealing with the aftermath of their mistakes. In Season 3, however, there is a sharp role reversal. Jen is the most vulnerable she’s ever been and this time, Judy is the more rational thinker, taking charge and making major decisions for the both of them. Cardellini skillfully carries this fragile character through the series with grace, making her evolution and dominance in these last episodes profoundly rewarding. It’s beautiful to see how much Judy and Jen have affected each other and contributed to their personal growth.
This final season of Dead to Me feels very much like a final season, with Feldman leaving no stone unturned. Practically every character that’s interacted with Jen and Judy has re-entered the picture to some extent, giving closure to both the viewer and to the leads. A stand-out return appearance goes to the Hardings’ soul-sucking neighbor Shandy (Adora Soleil Bricher), who might be at her most disturbed yet. Marsden steals the spotlight as the dorky, fun-loving, and secretly flawed Ben. Steve’s twin runs the gamut of emotions in just one scene, leaving you with the impression that you’re watching a Marsden one-man show. Ben finally gets his chance to properly grieve his toxic brother, which, to Jen’s horror, turns out to be an incredibly performative (and public) display. The Harding children, Charlie (Sam McCarthy) and Henry (Luke Roessler), have noticeably less screen time, though their scenes do greatly contribute to Jen and Judy’s healing and move the story forward. This season features a significant number of one-on-one scenes with our best friends, some flat-out silly (see Episode 6, when Applegate and Cardellini laugh their way through an impulsive decision) and others fall-off-the-bone tender. Jen and Judy return to their roots — except this time, they have nothing to “figure out” about the other, as they are the friend equivalent of an old married couple.
There are so many gasp-worthy plot twists, developments, and revelations that cannot be mentioned (seriously so many) that drive the story to its finish line. This definitely keeps the final season from being at all predictable, though the flood of new information could also perhaps be too much for the audience to take in and digest in such a limited amount of time. (Jen and Judy even acknowledge how much is suddenly happening to them.) This season also deliberately (and adorably) calls back to earlier moments in the series, such as Jen and Judy cuddling up with The Facts of Life, their love of wine, and Judy’s constant efforts to unlock Jen’s seemingly-nonexistent spiritual side. The symbolism and parallels to previous seasons are here in full force, reminding us why we fell so deeply in love with Jen and Judy in the first place. While I can’t get remotely near specifics, I will say that each episode will emotionally hit you like a 1966 Mustang.
The final episodes of Dead to Me are now streaming on Netflix.