THE WASHINGTON POST – A lot has changed since we met Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini), the unlikely friends at the centre of Netflix’s Dead to Me – even though the second season of the twist-filled dramedy picks up just hours after last season’s cliffhanger ending, which found Jen calling Judy to help her deal with the body floating in her backyard pool. But the twists didn’t stop there! Let’s unpack this season’s biggest (as in most pivotal) turns.
One of the biggest questions going into Season 2 was what, exactly, happened to Steve (James Marsden). Last season, Judy’s ex-husband was left floating in Jen’s pool after the two got into an argument about what happened the night Jen’s husband, Ted, died. (The first season revealed that he was accidentally killed by Steve and Judy in a hit-and-run.) The logical conclusion was that Jen shot Steve in self-defense because he refused to leave her property. But Dead to Me, with its many twists and cliffhangers, doesn’t always trade in logic.
In a bombshell reveal toward the end of the Season 2 opener, we learn via flashback that though Steve initially refused to leave Jen’s backyard until Jen disclosed Judy’s whereabouts, he eventually turned to go – but not before unleashing a vile rant. “I don’t know why you’re protecting her,” he tells Jen. “She just feels sorry for you. Poor little widow, all alone, cheating husband – boy, he was miserable, wasn’t he?”
Jen’s response is like something out of a Snapped episode. As Steve walks away, she takes her son Henry’s carved wooden bird and hits Steve repeatedly over the head. In retrospect, there are hints throughout the episode that Jen isn’t telling the full story about what happened that night.
Just before the revealing flashback, Jen attempts to comfort Judy as she mourns Steve. “He was attacking you. It wasn’t your fault,” Judy assures Jen. For a minute, Jen looks as if she may confess to Judy. Ultimately, she asks to give her a hug.
So, we essentially have the reverse of last season’s big twist. It will be several episodes before we learn the location of Steve’s body, but we can be certain we’ll never see him again (and honestly, good riddance, because he was a jerk). It’s not the last we’ve seen of Marsden, though, which brings us to …
Dead to Me takes a telenovela-esque swing with the introduction in Episode 2 of Steve’s semi-identical twin, Ben, whom Judy apparently never thought to mention! “Two sperm, one egg,” Ben explains cheerfully. (Never mind that semi-identical twins are so rare that doctors just identified the second known case in the world last year.) Ben is charming, albeit in a cheesy way. He’s also, refreshingly, not a jerk, so it’s easy to lean into the absurdity of it all.
Well, it’s easy for us. “Am I dead. Did I die?” Jen hilariously asks. “Nobody’s dead,” Judy repeats through a pained smile – just before Jen passes out. When she comes to, we learn that Ben is a chiropractor. He’s also looking for his brother. “He’s missing, and so is his car,” Ben tells Jen and Judy. Poor Jen barely has time to recover from fainting before Ben delivers the kicker: The FBI is looking for Steve.
JEN AND JUDY
Now is a good time to talk about what Judy and Jen know and don’t know, respectively.
Judy, of course, begins Season 2 in the dark about what actually happened to Steve. She does, however, know where her ex’s body is – because she helps Jen stuff him into her deep freezer. (The third episode revolves around their road trip to bury his body.)
On the heels of Ben’s arrival, Jen gets a flurry of shocking new information. She previously had no idea that Judy reported Steve for money laundering – and emptied their joint bank account – just before his death. Judy comes clean after Ben’s visit, sending Jen into a tailspin. “The FBI? I mean, they’re good at connecting dots,” Jen tells Judy. “And we are the … dots.”
Judy tells Jen that the FBI is only interested in Steve’s shady business dealings (involving his supposed art gallery) and that “they’re actually really nice”. With that, Judy reveals another doozy: “I’ve been cooperating with them.”
Speaking of law enforcement, we’re just two episodes in when Jen gets her first visit from Perez (Diana Maria Riva), the Laguna Beach detective assigned to investigate Ted’s death. To Jen’s relief, the house call has nothing to do with Steve. She’s there to deliver the restraining order Jen had requested after learning Judy was responsible for her husband’s death. Just as Perez explains that the department had been unable to serve Judy the papers at her job, the subject of Jen’s restraining order walks out of the house. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Perez sighs.
Jen explains that it was all a big misunderstanding and attempts to redirect Perez’s attention. “It was Steve Wood’s car,” Jen says before couching her truth with a lie. “Judy wasn’t even there.” Unconvinced, Perez gives Jen a dire warning: “Judy Hale is a riptide,” she said. “And Steve Wood is involved with some very dangerous people.”
Perez then makes another house call to see her colleague Nick, who was left heartbroken last season after Judy broke up with him to get back together with Steve. At Judy’s misguided request, he was also looking into Ted’s death – before taking a leave of absence after their breakup. When the trail led back to Steve and Judy, he brought his theory to Perez, but she dismissed him because of the breakup and his resulting fragile mental state. Perez offers Nick a mea culpa: Not only was he right about the hit-and-run, she thinks there’s much more to the story.
The second season of Dead to Me delves deeper into Perez’s character, giving us a glimpse of her life beyond the police station. Her background ends up being integral to this season’s, er, intriguing trajectory. But it’s also at the center of another big twist.
BEN AND JEN
On any other show, the idea that Jen would become romantically involved with the semi-identical twin of the man she murdered would be absurd. But on Dead to Me, it almost makes sense. The two gradually get closer – so close, in fact, that Jen volunteers to host a vigil for Steve. After the event, they share a kiss, which Ben later tells Jen he forgot. But he eventually confesses that he hadn’t forgotten at all. Despite the secrets between them, their connection is undeniable.
The next morning, Jen panics and coolly tells Ben they can’t see each other anymore.
Amid Jen’s attempt to cover up Steve’s murder, she has to deal with another complicated task: teaching her eldest son to drive. Charlie pesters Jen about taking him out to practice and getting him a car to mark the milestone. During one outing, Charlie is forced to slam on the brakes when a car flies through an intersection. The incident rattles Jen to the point that she makes it her mission to get a stop sign put there to slow traffic, but she encounters a good deal of red tape – and opposition from city council members who maintain a stop sign could actually cause more accidents.
Charlie, meanwhile, discovers Steve’s car tucked away in a storage locker. In an effort to impress the micro-influencer he’s dating, he takes her out in the car – which he assumes is meant for him. Eventually, they run out of gas, alerting Jen to her son’s mischief. When she learns, later, that Charlie was caught on video driving the very vehicle she’s trying to hide, she decides she has no choice but to burn it.
Overcome with guilt, Jen tells Judy the truth about what happened. Heartbroken, Judy tries to leave. But not even two husband slayings can keep these two apart. Jen stands in front of Judy’s car, urging her to “just hit me.” Eventually, they sit in the car together, and Jen reveals the worst of what Steve said to her – that Ted had jumped in front of their car that night. Judy, who is finally starting to grapple with the extent of Steve’s verbal and emotional abuse, quickly forgives Jen.
By the final episode, Jen has managed to keep her secret from pretty much everyone except for Judy. But after her night with Ben – and Charlie’s increasing suspicions about why his mother was hiding a luxury car – it’s too much. Jen puts together a list of resources for the boys, and writes Judy a letter asking her to take care of her sons. She then heads to Perez’s house to confess.
Perez asks Jen to take her to Steve’s body, but Jen gets turned around and is unable to find the exact spot where he is buried. On their way back to Laguna, Jen breaks down about having to leave her boys, who have already dealt with the loss of their dad. Perez, for her part, opens up about losing her mother at a young age – at the hands of her abusive stepfather. That tragic history is likely the reason for the shocking decision Perez makes next: she doesn’t report Jen’s confession, despite the department’s leads on the case.
Judy and the boys are thrilled to see Jen return home. For the briefest of moments, Jen and Judy appear to find some peace. They also find themselves newly armed with the cash (presumably Steve’s dirty gallery money) that Judy managed to retrieve from the canvas of her old paintings. While some of the cash goes toward catching Jen up on her mortgage, Judy also decides to buy Charlie a car.
Unfortunately, all of his happening around the time that a hiker and her dog come across Steve’s makeshift burial site. Ben soon gets a phone call implying upsetting (but not explicitly stated) news about his brother.
The chaos converges at the intersection where Jen worked tirelessly to get a stop sign, only to be told the city council would not approve it. To her and Judy’s surprise, the council did end up approving it, which they heed in Charlie’s new car. But as they move through the intersection, a truck comes careening into them. As Judy tries to wake Jen, who took a nasty blow to the head, we see what Jen and Judy don’t: the driver of the truck is the previously sober Ben, who appears to be very drunk as he (and his truck) leave the scene of the accident.
We have so many questions. Thankfully, whether Jen is alive isn’t one of them. “What happened?” she asks Judy. “We got hit,” Judy tells her.