The first season of Dead to Me ran on two parallel wavelengths, each destined to come crashing into the other. In one, Jen (Christina Applegate) was a single mother of two, still grieving the hit-and-run death of her husband, which seemed to rest permanently in the pocket of her own spectacular anger. Then she met Judy (Linda Cardellini), who was able to break through (some of) that anger and forge a genuine, strange, and darkly funny friendship. Of course, on the other wavelength was the fact that Judy (and her emotionally cruel husband Steve, played by James Marsden) was the one who ran Jen's husband down with her car, and her friendship with Jen was part of an elaborate, misguided, and somewhat psychotic attempt to make amends. As the season went on, Jen and Judy's friendship grew more complicated as Judy's attempts to cover up the crime conflicted with her desire to ultimately come clean (which she ultimately did). In the action-packed season finale, after Jen kicked Judy out of her life, Steve ended up in Jen's backyard. Jen realized that Steve was in the car with Judy for the hit-and-run and was the reason they never went for help. Steve realized Jen knew about the crime and could send him to prison. The next thing we saw, Steve was a floating, bloody corpse in Jen's pool, and Jen had called Judy over to help deal with it.
Whch brings us to Season 2, which promises to see Jen and Judy attempting to cover up this brand new crime. But which lingering questions are most important as we head into the new season?
Obviously, this is the big one. The fact that the show cut away from Jen and Steve in the backyard just when stuff was about to get real and then returned to show Steve floating dead in the pool means that something happened in the interim that is going to surprise us. Did Jen strike out in self-defense? Did Steve slip and fall and crack his head open, only no one would believe it? Did one of Jen's two young sons get involved in some way? One thing is certain: just as Judy had secrets to keep in Season 1, it's Jen who knows the truth of what happened this time.
That is the real question, and it's a pretty complicated one. There is of course the matter of the dead body, and dead bodies are really difficult to get rid of, unless you have a whole system in place like The Sopranos, or a big ol' barbecue pit out back like in Fried Green Tomatoes. There is also the small matter of the elaborate system of security cameras that Jen had installed at the end of Season 1, which means there's video evidence of whatever happened. There's also Jen's nosy neighbor Karen (Suzy Nakamura), who Jen tried to befriend after dumping Judy, and who seems far too interested in home security to be a benign non-threat.
Then there's the matter of the police. By the end of Season 1, Judy had begun to date and then dumped Nick (Brandon Scott), a cop who subsequently began investigating the hit-and-run and became pretty certain that Judy and Steve were the ones behind it. Judy also approached Detective Ana Perez (Diana-Maria Riva) to turn Steve in for money-laundering, which will bring the FBI into this whole mess, a development that's sure to make it a lot more complicated for Jen and Judy to cover up a murder.
When all the other criminal and cover-up considerations are brushed aside, this is the true central question of Dead to Me. Ultimately, the murder plots are all just window dressing to this story of two grieving women with incredibly difficult personalities who somehow manage to find comfort in each other's company despite the fact that everything else about their lives and circumstances is telling them they shouldn't. On one level, the fact that they've each killed each other's husbands perversely puts them on equal footing, which is good news for their friendship. As is the fact that they're in this whole cover-up mess together. But remember that Judy is impulsive and given to self-incriminating outbursts to clear her conscience, while Jen can be incredibly harsh and unforgiving. Don't expect those personality traits to disappear just because they now have a corpse to dispose of together.
Ah, yes. Teenage quasi-delinquent Charlie (Sam McCarthy) and tween sweetheart Henry (Luke Roessler), both of whom have been dealing with their dad's death in different ways. Henry seems to think that a bird that's taken up nest in their yard is the reincarnation of their dad, while Charlie sells drugs at school, walked around with his dad's loaded gun in his backpack. and briefly went to live with his grandmother before returning home at the end of last season. He and Jen seem to be in an okay place at the moment, but he's also been really resentful of her, so if he ends up getting mixed up in anything surrounding Steve's death or Judy's culpability in the hit-and-run, things could get very messy.
This has been a concern since the Season 1 finale. What was truly fantastic about Dead to Me's first season was the way that Jen and Judy's thorny lives became intertwined, their dark sides became a comfort to each other, and they were able to laugh at things that nobody else finds funny. It's a deeply dark comedy about grieving and finding ports in a storm, and while Judy's guilt over her responsibility for Jen's husband's death was a juicy complicating factor, her frantic efforts to cover it up were never the best parts of the show, even if they made for compelling gotta-start-that-next-episode cliffhangers. With Steve's death in the Season 1 finale and the realization that Season 2 will be all about a second cover-up, there's a real danger that what we love about the show will get swallowed up by a plot-heavy thriller (albeit one impeccably acted by Applegate and Cardellini). Steve died in that pool at the end of Season 1. Let's hope the show didn't die with him.
All ten episodes of Dead to Me Season 2 drop on Netflix this Friday, May 8, 2020.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.